Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Tata Jaguar X-type anyone?

Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata group plans a major boost to his portfolio of companies with an intent to bid for world renowned automotive brands Jaguar and Land Rover.

Tata already has an impressive list of international acquisitions under its belt that include the Teltey group of United Kingdom, Daewoo Commercial Vehicle Co. of South Korea, Eight O'clock Coffe of the US and Corus Group of Britain.

The purchase will give Tata's automotive group access to networks, factories and expertise to further develop its own automotive line in India, which by most standards has not had a stellar market performance.

No word if Tata will tag its name on to the models, somehow Tata Jaguar and Tata Land Rover just dont have a ring to it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Top 10 most polluted cities- The other list

Every year the World Bank releases its list of top 20 polluted cities of the world. The list is based on air pollutants and the big news was that 16 of China's cities were on that top 20 list for 2006. This year we were introduced to a new list of polluted cities with more relevant criteria. Unfortunately the list does not look kindly on India.

The Blacksmith group compiled a list of the 35 most polluted cities in the world for 2006 from among 300 cities that had been presented to it over the past seven years for support in clean up by local communities, non-government organizations (NGOs) and a broad range of environmental authorities around the world.

India made a strong showing with 6 of its cities making the short list. The Indian contingent included Ankleshwar; an industrial township in Gujarat, Bhopal; site of the Union Carbide Industrial disaster in Madhya Pradesh, Kanpur, on the shores of Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, Picnic Gardens; to the east of Kolkata in West Bengal, Ranipet; about 100 miles away from Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Vapi; an industrial estate in Gujarat. In the group's top 10 list as voted by its technical advisory board, Ranipet was India's only entry. The list was compiled based on a scoring system that gave varying weights and importance to criteria such as; the size of the affected population, severity of the toxin or toxins involved, impact of children's health and development, evidence of a clear pathway of contamination and existing and reliable evidence of health impact. Considering the variability in individual scoring and the difficulty in assessing the parameters accurately, the list does not ascribe any hierarchy stating that "being on the list is bad enough".

One of Blacksmith's goals in compiling the list was to garner worldwide media attention so as to spread the word of urgency in containing pollution considering it has to compete for space in all forms of media with various other environmental issues. The strategy seemed to work and got extensive media coverage around the world.

I do not have any data but do hope the cities on the list took notice and have instituted measures to take the appropriate measures. The description and pictures of how the pollution has affected the area are heartbreaking and shocking. Its unfortunate that we had at least six cities that merit such notoriety.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Farmer suicides - Searching for a solution

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will review the situation on farmer suicides on August 31st during his visit to Mumbai and attempt to work out comprehensive strategies to combat the problem. Will it be more of the same? More aid packages or a true solid plan.
Trade liberalization and globalization now has our farmers competing in a global market whose complexities befuddle even the most educated among them.
With the opening of India's agricultural sector, international agri-business giants now get to sell genetically modified seeds with promises of high yielding crops. The modified seeds are often twice as expensive as the traditional ones and require costly pesticides and fertilizers to sustain their growth. Farmers have abandoned the traditional growing methods and seeds for the new branded ones, accepting the high costs as a measure towards eventual profits......
Read more on how Farmers have been forced into alternate farming methods and eventual debt at "India Indeed: Indepth"

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hyderabad survives, US blinks

Two explosives were detonated killing almost 40 people while at least 15 other unexploded devices were discovered and inactivated. Why does a terrorist attack of this scope receive such subdued condemnation and scant news coverage around the world? Here in the US, it barely made the front pages of the dailies. A day later it even disappeared from the front pages of the online edition of BBC.
A “Times of India” lead story in its online edition claims that India is only second to Iraq in the number of deaths related to terrorist incidents since 2004. Apart from the sheer disinterest the worldwide media have in such stories emanating from India, America’s involvement in Iraq has also made a lot of people less reactive to death tolls unless they match or rival those that the war creates each day. The exception of course is when the death is local or in recognizable cities from what the media considers the developed world. I guess Hyderabad is yet to make the list. With their worldwide implications in politics and business, New Delhi and Bangalore are more likely to figure in international news stories.
Whatever the reaction of foreign media or government might be India’s resilience and courage in dealing with such incidents is beyond compare. Panic, outrage, fear were quickly replaced by recovery and optimism. No color-coded threat levels were instituted!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Novartis in Pain!

A court in Chennai stood up to a pharmaceutical giant and in major setback to the company ruled against it.

No prescriptions and a little change would buy you almost any medication at the local drugstore in India. That seemed all set to change in 2005 when India amended its patent law to fall in line with WTO requirements. Until then India allowed pharmaceutical patents only on the manufacturing processes used to produce drugs, not on the end products themselves. So Indian pharmaceutical companies were able to manufacture generic versions of expensive and valuable medicines by just changing the manufacturing method. This system encouraged companies to compete in low-cost manufacturing, developing the nation's industry and making medicines widely available at low prices. It also seemed to be of great public health value. Bringing India’s patent law in step with that of the European and US laws seemed a logical and rational move in the direction of modernization and globalization. Or at least that is what the pharmaceutical companies and the developed world attempted to convince the detractors of the amendment. With little or no parliamentary debate the amendment became law in 2005. Even the communist party of India voted for it acknowledging the major reservations it had with the change. The people at greatest risk are those needing HIV/AIDS medication and cancer chemotherapy. With the patenting of these medications the drugs would become unaffordable for most creating a public health crisis.

As disconcerting as the new patent law was it seems that the authors did put in a few clauses that serve protectionism and to make it less destructive. One such clause is allowing patenting of only those drugs that were invented after 1995. But in the ruling against Novartis, its Section 3(d) that saved the day. It was effectively used to prevent this hugely profitable company from making yet another life saving drug unattainable to India’s poor.

Section 3(d) is a clause in India's patent law that states that modifications or new uses for existing substances are not grounds for a patent unless they significantly increase its effectiveness. Novartis' challenged this section attempting to have it removed. This was its response to the rejection of the company's patent application for the cancer drug Gleevec in January 2006. The patent was rejected on grounds that the company had modified the drug with little if any change or improvement in efficacy or effectiveness.

Bravo Chennai!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Is India's Boom Trapped in the Mall?

Like most Indians living abroad I too have been basking in the glory of new India. The buzz about India's booming economy and burgeoning middle class has been almost deafening. So when I did return to India after a three year lapse I expected to see tangible evidence of this metamorphism. The most dramatic change has been the retail and entertainment bonanza the country now has to offer its residents. There are glitzy shopping malls and specialty stores dotting every street corner. There is definitely less that you can take from the US to wow your friends and family. It's all available at the corner "Metro" or "Lifestyle". All the old style thousand-seater theaters have disappeared to make way for "multiplexes" that now play the latest Hollywood releases along side the Bollywood musicals. Spiced lattes and flavored teas are the uber cool must have beverages at the many "Baristas" and "Coffee Day" coffee shops. While I probably will and have already made myself readily available to use and enjoy all these new products of globalization and modernization, I felt a bit disappointed at a lack of change where it mattered most. The water and power supply continue to be spotty and unreliable, the destitute and homeless still wander the streets and crowd the traffic stops, slum dwellers still need to defecate on the sidewalks for either the lack of plumbing in their residences or the inability to pay to use a public toilet, while hunger and poverty still survive boldly and openly.