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Showing posts from February, 2006

India Union Budget 2006-07: Where Are The New Tax Payers ?

Forget Anything ? Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram After Presenting The Union Budget On Tuesday (Pic courtesy: Business Standard)


Within two weeks of skipping a credit card payment, I would get a call from the bank . "We are calling to remind you," they would say. This was more than seven years ago. Today, if I do a slightly large dollar purchase, real or online, I get a call within the hour asking whether i am aware of it.

The reason credit card companies and banks have been so up to date when it comes to payments and the like is technology. Fifteen years after liberalisation, the Government of India in general and the revenue authorities in specific are grappling with systems that put our otherwise claim of an IT Superpower to shame.

All the talent that goes into writing some of the most sophisticated banking technology software the world over is useless or not used when it comes to our country. The same technology that drives the credit card companies is not available …

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa And Then What ?

Brij Mohan Lall Munjal of Hero Honda Motors has several accolades to his name. They include a host of richly deserved lifetime awards for his contribution to Indian business. As an entrepreneur, he's put India on the world two-wheeler map. He gave Rahul Bajaj a run for his money. He's also somewhat reserved, not one for limelight. If he wanted to, he could have sought and got a greater personal profile. He's avoided it deliberately. That's the impression he conveys when you meet him as well.

Yet, the other night, he was on stage announcing the winners of one of the country's biggest singing competitions. This was live and past midnight. He was looking reasonably energetic. The event was taking place in a suburban Bombay stadium. He gave an appropriate but quick backdrop to the competition. He reeled off the numbers and then went on to announce the results. "And the winner is...," he said..waiting for perhaps 30 seconds or more, knowing the nation was watch…

Faster Guys, Faster..

Quaint, but its time to speed up !

The distance from Bombay to Delhi is approximately 1,300 km. From Bombay to Bangalore is 1,000 km. From Bombay to Madras is, maybe, 1,100 km. Now, if I wanted to go to Delhi by train, I could board the Rajdhani at 4 pm in the evening in Bombay and reach next morning around 9.00 am. Total time taken is 17 hours. More than the 17 hours taken, I can work most of the day in Bombay and catch a train. The same applies when if I want to travel to Bombay from Delhi.

Now, if I wish to travel from Bombay to Bangalore, its a different story. One train I know leaves in the morning and reaches next morning. Another leaves in the evening and arrives next evening. It takes 24 hours, not a minute more, not a minute less. Its the same story with Madras. And it has taken the same time for perhaps 30 years. Its possible that before that it took less time. As has been demonstrated in some sectors.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has unveiled a new railway budget full o…

India's Own Davos

Nasscom 2006 in Bombay was a TCS show. No doubt about it. The fact that TCS CEO S Ramadorai is also chairman of IT industry body Nasscom this year helped. Infosys Technologies, on the other hand, was not all there. Possibly out of choice. Not that they would have to revise guidance downwards next quarter. But a lot of people noticed the low-key presence.

The India Leadership Forum was perhaps the biggest of its kind till date. And it demonstrated that the India IT story is getting stronger. Not just that. Companies from world over are as locked into the problems and solutions of India's growth on the IT services side as we all are. They will treat avian flue with less paranoia than ever before. And best of all, they will soon do a better job of selling the India story.

TCS swung INS Vikrant, yes the ship, as the venue for the closing ceremony of the three-day event. Delegates were driven into dark and brooding Ballard Estate on the south eastern tip of Bombay in the evening. And fr…

The President Approves

Is the Indian IT industry giving back to society as much as it takes ? The Government of Karnataka has lagged in infrastructure investment, but what have the big IT firms done, on ground ? The debate is not simple and the answers are not in black and white. Big IT (read Infosys) distinguishes between personal and corporate philanthropy. For firms like TCS and Satyam, the distinction is blurred.

In his discussion (not speech), at the India Leadership Forum 2006, Nasscom 2006, three days ago, president Dr APJ Kalam made a longish reference to the rural information technology work being done by the Byrajju Foundation. The foundation is run by Satyam Computer’s B Ramalinga Raju. A passing reference to a project by someone like Kalam would make most people blush and glow in pride. This was a full-blown dissertation.

But Raju, possibly with the wisdom and experience that makes successful people what they are, appeared unmoved. Instead he gazed stoically at the plasma screen on the ground. The…

Ladies & Gentlemen, The President Of India

SM Krishna, Kiran Karnik and President APJ Kalam (courtesy: www.rediff.com)

President Dr APJ Kalam was late for his keynote address at the India Leadership Forum, Nasscom 2006, by more than an hour. Since I (partly) came on the same road and it was reasonably empty, he couldn't have got stuck in a traffic jam. Turned out, he was stuck in one. Nasscom president Kiran Karnik revealed the president was delayed by a fog at Delhi airport. This was a literal one, not a metaphorical one, he added.

Karnik is very good at doing these things. He maintains a perfect balance. He is respectful but does not grovel. Not like some of the manufacturing guys. The worse I have seen I think belong to the construction industry. Reckon the grovelling is proportioniate to favours received. Karnik was equally business-like with Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on the first day. But then the IT chaps, within Nasscom and outside, are different.

Rather than wait endlessly, Nasscom smartly kicked o…

All Roads Lead To Indian IT's Biggest Show, Maybe

All smiles at the inaugural.

At the Grand Hyatt hotel in Kalina, suburban Bombay, the who's who of the Indian information technology industry has assembled for The India Leadership Forum, Nasscom 2006. Its brighter, grander and more slickly put together than ever before. In the Grand Ballroom, six giant screens and a crystal clear JBL speakers ensure video and audio reach every corner of the room. Later, the Grand Ballroom splits into three Ballrooms for specific `tracks'.

The quality of attendance is pretty impressive, perhaps the most impressive ever. The chief technology officers (CTOs) of Citibank, Microsoft and British Airways are here. They look like they want to be here, not a grudging `let's check it out' presence. So is the Director General of IT for UK's NHS. Top IT guys from banks like ABN Amro and Deutsche Bank are there as well. Joining them are a bevy of top notch venture capitalists, IT consultants and academicians from the world over.

To make an old…

The Airport Strike Is Off ?

The Worst Airport In The Country ?

Passed through Delhi airport a few days ago. It now classifies as the worst domestic airport in the country. One will of course continue to hunt for new benchmarks. And if anyone wishes to contribute, they are welcome.

My flight was supposed to depart at 7.40 pm. It was delayed, progressively, to 8.45 pm. It finally left at 9.05 pm. It was over Bombay at around 10.30, roughly on the fly-time schedule. The pilot announced that we were 11th in the landing sequence. And quickly added it was beyond his control. And then we circled, as always. Landed a little after 11 pm. To the airline's credit, they called twice to inform me of the scheduled delays.

The Delhi domestic terminal (for private airlines) belongs to another era. Which one that would be precisely it is not clear as yet. The awkwardly located airport lounge cum restaurant on the first floor was overflowing with people. After all its the only restaurant in the whole airport, apart from a few ki…

Privatisation Not Solution For All

Do You Trust Them To Run Your Airports ?(Pix: BBC/AFP)

A few years ago, I travelled to Ratnagiri, around 500 km south of Bombay on the western coast. Until a decade ago, Ratnagiri could only be reached by road. Now, there is a railway line. Its called the Konkan Railway and connects Bombay and Mangalore in Karnataka via Goa, hugging the coastline all the way.

So, we were off on a Konkan Railway train with blue coloured coaches. This one was headed to Goa. It departed from the venerable VT station. The train runs on the old Central Railway tracks uptil Thane (one of the first railway lines in the world in 1853)turns west towards Panvel and then south. I was actually a guest of the Konkan Railway. The objective was to visit Ratnagiri station and its surroundings to understand how this railway system was managed.

The 741-km Konkan Railway is a post-Independence engineering marvel. It boasts 2,000 bridges and 92 tunnels and represents one of the most arduous infrastructure efforts ever unde…

Drama At Davos and Fiasco At The Airports

Got a call last night from one of the bidders for the Delhi/Bombay airport modernisation projects. He sounded pretty miffed that their bid had not been considered. Now, bidding processes are supposed to be simple and straight. So that the winner and loser both know why they got it or didn't. Clearly not in this case as this insightful Indian Express article explains.

Meanwhile, workers and staff of the Airport Authority of India believe its their god-given right to run airports. Despite the Government deciding to award the airport modernisation to private bidders (after bidding) AAI workers went on strike this morning..and got lathi charged for their efforts in Mumbai. So, the message here is: the Government's decision and the debates for all these years on this issue do not matter. By extension the Government or state does not.

The private bidders on the other hand want to take the Government to court as well. Dark threats have already been made. Unlike the AAI workers, they h…