November 28, 2005


What is this fuss all about?

When Indian Express(IE) reported about Manjunathan's murder, it received responses from readers. Bloggers also commented about it. The next day Indian Express carried some of the letters along with some excerpts from a few blogs.

Bloggers Amit Varma and Rashmi Bansal voiced their protest saying they did not send the comments to IE, and charged IE with 'stealing' their content. Indian Express carried a clarification the next day to the effect "some comments were taken from blogs." For the bloggers, that is not enough. They won't be happy with a phone call from the paper admitting their mistake. Their stand is, anything less than written apology from the paper won't do.

Multiple questions need to be answered here.

Did the bloggers accuse Indian Express of plagiarism?
No, since the comments were attributed to the rightful owner. Rashmi's comments were published with Rashmi's name in bold face.

Did Indian Express lie about receiving outpouring of letters from readers?
While Amit clearly thinks IE lied on this count, I feel, this is a grey area.

For a moment, let's assume, IE lied about "receiving letters" part. Does that by any account dilute the importance of the matter? Didn't they clearly attribute the comments to the owners instead of some lazy reporter writing an article with tidbits from these blogs and claiming to be his/her own?

They might have received quite a few letters. But, if most of them sing only one tune, "See, this is how the honest people are rewarded in this bloody country", it hardly makes sense to publish all of them. Instead, they chose to publish clearly articulated views, which otherwise won't make it to print media with big readership (few thousand blog readers vs few lakhs print readers). In the past, IE did carry the comments from online petition on Satyendra Dube murder case.

Next, Rashmi says unlike the Satyendra Dube story, this one was reported first on blog and then print media followed it up. Wrong! Rashmi learnt it from Gaurav Sabnis, whose blog has a link to IE story. So, in a way, Rashmi did react to the story published in IE and commented on it. In spirit, bloggers, including Amit and Rashmi, responded to the story published in IE.

More on the ethics. For multiple posts, Rashmi has picked the pictures from various sources without attributing the original source. Her posts, though, have links to the sites/articles where those images were hosted. Here is a list.

Rashmi may consult Amit to verify if such copying of images, hosting on a different server tantamount some violation of copyright laws.

Rashmi claims, this story has received attention in the Main Stream Media(MSM) due to bloggers.
"The Manjunathan episode illustrates the importance of bloggers and MSM collaborating - not competing with each other. And this can happen only when we both treat each other respectfully."
What collaboration she is talking about? What is the actual contribution of bloggers to the whole incident, except spreading the news by linking to various stories from IE and Gaurav's brilliant post? This is not the b-schools story which could throw up interesting facts with "google journalism". This story needs leaving the ivory towers and visiting the war zone, which is done mostly by the MSM - with IE as the front runner. I hope, they will come up with more ugly secrets as they follow the story.

Amit gets it wrong when he compares this case with that of DNA. That was a clear case of plagiarism. This is not! Amit's interpretation of Manjunath's job description - to check for the adulteration of petrol in petrol pumps - which sounds more like quality inspector than Sales Officer, which he actually was, is also incorrect.

To sum, the flag bearers of truth and ethics, knowingly or unknowingly violate the copyright laws, quote unrelated incidents, question the ethical standards of a paper whose intentions are crystal clear, and refuse to forgive minor errors by the paper even while the paper admits it. I find this implacable behaviour utterly obnoxious.

I subscribe to IE, but I am not a fanboy of IE. I think, IE deserves better treatment than this.

When such a grave incident has happened, focusing on non-issues like a questionable case of copyright violation, is sad. This is the noise that may affect the seriousness of the actual issue.

November 25, 2005


Talk about intelligence...

I read this blog post by Rashmi Bansal with great amusement. She picks up one remotely offensive sentence in a book, interprets it and tears it apart with great logic and eloquence. But, as Dilbert says, it is wrong on so many counts.

She starts the blog quotes from the book -

"Remember", the instructor said to the class,"a 35 year old American's brain and IQ is the same as a 10 year old Indian's brain.... Americans are dumb, just accept it. "

- pg 53, One Night in a Call Centre

She counters this with example from some FM radio station, and "proves" that the educated, upper middle class is as ignorant as the average American. So we need not brag about our intelligence.

To begin with, the quote from the book is faulty. It implies that IQ increases by the age. Gaaawd, how can somebody get THAT wrong? A child can have an IQ of 200 while an 35-year old can have IQ somewhere in the higher double digits. (I give verbosity a miss for I respect the IQ of the reader.)

Her argument is simple. The quiz conducted by a FM channel contains utterly ordinary (junta-level, to use her phrase) questions which can be answered by anybody with an IQ of room temperature - in degree Celsius! The questions are "Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of which US state?", "In which country is carmaker Hyundai based?", etc. I wonder, what makes her think, this is trivial information and everybody should be answering with the ease of telling somebody their own cell number?

Let's forget about somebody else's country. Lets name all the North Eastern States of OUR country - Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim. (I am still not sure, I got it right.) Now how about their Capitals? Guwahati, Aizawal (I think, that's spelt incorrectly), Gangtok, Kohima,...uummm... I give up! Now information about Chief Ministers is so volatile, that only serious quizzers consider it to be valuable. Nope. Not even a "regular" guy with an IQ of200 will keep track of that information.

So while I can tell that Arnold Schwarznegger (one more typo, I am sure!) is Governor of California, he is an immigrant from Austria, I can't tell something about my own country.

Now, am I intelligent because I can answer the question listed? Or am I dumb since I don't even know "supposedly common" things about my country?

You see, I am not from K-Pax like Kevin Spacey who casually says, "It's common knowledge on my planet."


No takers for Manjunath's sacrifice

When Rita, a Category 5 hurricane, was approaching Texas, Infosys evacuated its employees and their families on a chartered flight as "roads were blocked due to traffic". [1]

Two months later, Manjunath, a young sales officer of Indian Oil Corp (IOC), is ridden with seven bullets for performing his duty with highest standards of integrity. [2] IOC is yet to release an official statement to the media condemning this crime. Only statement I come across is from IOC Chairman. And he is quite conservative with words. All he has to say is, "We are very upset and in a state of shock."

The website of IOC gloats about its 170th rank in the Fortune 500 list, but what's the value of that ranking if you cannot stand up for your own employee?

IOC is a PSU under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas looked after by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, recently recognized as Stars of Asia by BusinessWeek. His ministry sends out a press release [3] condemning the murder - but with a caveat. It says,
"The Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas condemns the dastardly heinous murder of Shri S. Manjunath, a Sales Officer of Indian Oil Corporation posted at Lakhimpur Kheri. Shir (sic) Manjunath was a bright young officer who showed great promise and potential. Apparently he was put to death for doing his work sincerely in bringing to book some dealers indulging in malpractices. The Committee recommends to the Central and State Governments to give full support to the officers of IOC and other PSUs engaged in curbing malpractices in distribution of petroleum products to consumers and calls upon the officers of IOC and the PSUs to carry out their work with full sense of responsibility."
In one stroke, the Ministry turns a blind eye to the fuel adulteration scam which is estimated to be worth Rs 10,000 - 40,000 Crores [4]. While, Ministry acknowledges the problem, understands that PSU employees have their life at risk, it shirks from owing the responsibility. The Ministry squarely puts the onus of controlling scam on the oil companies, or to be specific, the Manjunaths working for these companies. One of the reasons for the move is that the Anti-Adulteration Cell (AAC) of the Ministry was scrapped after some officers were found to be corrupt [5]. But biggest reason is there is no political will since most of the petrol pump owners are in some way associated with the politicians belonging to both - the ruling and the opposition.

Mr Aiyar, how many more Manjunath's have to offer their aahuti to clean the glut of corruption, which essentially, is created by former occupants of your ministry? And how long do you plan to disown your duties? All those dreams of making PSUs world class organization, Mr Aiyar talks glowingly about are nothing more than a seasoned politician's hollow words.

There was no immediate statement from UP Govt, which indicates, they consider it a routine incident in the state.

Couple of days later, Kutty, an Indian driver is killed in Afghanistan by Taliban. Prime Minister describes the killing as "cowardly" and "brutal," saying that Kutty had "given his life as a soldier for peace" and announces a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for his family[6]. This is an international event, you see.

Honourable PM , Wasn't the murder of Manjunath "brutal" enough, Sir? Didn't he lay his life for the values which you yourself stand for?

Another whistle-blower, Santyendra Dube, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, met the similar fate couple of years ago. IIT fraternity came forward with campaigns, used their clout that made PMO order an CBI inquiry. I suppose, IIM alumni will also take similar action as Manjunath is IIM Lucknow alumnus. One person who should be actively involved in this crusade is Mr Sarthak Behuria, Chairman of IOC and alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad.

Will an organization survive in the long run if it has its values system so broken? Do the organizations like IOC deserve service, let alone sacrifice, by Manjunaths of this country?


[1] Infosys airlifts its employees out of Houston jam : Indian Express

[2] Five more held for IOC staff'’s murder : Indian Express

[3] Press Release by Petroleum Ministry

[4] Impure For Sure : Outlook

[5] Muck In The Tank : Outlook

[6] PM condemns killing of Indian by Taliban: NDTV

November 20, 2005


Latest addition to the list

Sania Mirza joins the list (in no particular order) of Pervez Musharraf, Mukesh Ambani, Amitabh Bachchan, RSS chief K S Sudarshan, Javed Akhtar, Union Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, PepsiCo President Indra Nooyi, Nagesh Kukunoor, Former Defence Minister George Fernandes, BJP Vice President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Vivek Oberoi (to some extent) .... There are many more.

These are the people who have been "quoted out of context".

Well, that's the occupational hazard, dear Sania. If you love to be quoted on every sundry topic under the Sun, be prepared to be misquoted. And, me thinks, it would be easier for you to beat Williams sisters in tennis than dish better sound bytes than Mahesh Bhatt, Shobha De. Choice is yours.

November 17, 2005



"India's performance follows sine wave", I said, looking at India's score of 35 for 5 in yesterday's ODI against South Africa.

"Sine wave?", Mr Bojangles asked quizzically. "Square wave!" he gave laconic answer. I recalled, we India thrashed Lanka 6-1.

Some good performance by Yuvraj and Pathan, India escaped the humiliation.


BSNL's valuation

According to Mr Sunil Mittal, BSNL is worth $30 Billion. [1]

Let's analyze some numbers.

In fiscal year 2004-2005, BSNL posted [2] a profit of Rs. 10,183 Crores on revenue of Rs. 36,000 Crores which approximately translates to profit of $ 2.2 Billion on revenues of $ 8.8 Billion. So, Mr Mittal values BSNL at 13 times its profit (also called PE ratio of 13 in Dalal Street parlance) and 3.4 times revenue.

How about his own company? In the first half of fiscal year 2005-2006 [3], Bharti logged a revenue of Rs 961 Crores on revenues of Rs 5038 Cr. If similar numbers are to be taken for next half, we arrive at Rs 2,000 Crores of profit on Rs 11,000 Crores revenue. ie. profit of $ 450 M on the revenues of $2.5 B

Recently, Vodafone picked up 10% stake in Bharti for $1.5 B, which gives Bharti valuation of $15 B. This valuation is 33 times the profit and 6 times revenue.

In comparison, BSNL's valuation look very conservative. But fine print says, BSNL earned Rs 5000 Crore as ADC.

What is this ADC?[4]
All telecom service providers treat roaming calls as premium service and charge you outrageously high (monthly rental plus triple the normal call charges). To start with, this is ridiculous, at best. Technology has been enslaved by some invisible geographical boundaries. BSNL said, we're fine with this tariff structure, provided we get a cut in it - Rs 0.30 per minute for national long distance calls and Rs 3.25 for international calls. This cut is Access Deficit Charge (ADC).

Thanks to telecom cartel, BSNL earned a profit of Rs 5,000 Crores without carrying a single byte on its network!

Coming back to the original topic, is the valuation of $ 30 B reasonable? A sarkari company grown to this size due to sheer monopoly and political protection can only bleed down the road, given the super-heated competition it has to face. So, $30 B is reasonable.

Govt can test the waters by off-loading 10% stake in the market via IPO. That would be the biggest ever IPO surpassing that of ONGC. Then, may be Govt can sell 20-30% stake to global telco majors at a premium. Govt has a great opportunity to make a killing in this bull run. Who knows, BSNL may get valuation much higher than $30 B.

Pipe dream, you may say! Blasphemy, Left will scream.

You never know. Dreams, however wild, can come true someday.


[1] Mr Mittal's musings - Sell 50% of BSNL for $15B.

[2] BSNL's 'managed' profit numbers.

[3] Bharti's financials

[4] ADC explained by TRAI

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