Monday, September 24, 2007

Why are Indian pharma firms cutting back on R&D?

I gather that Indian pharma companies budgets for R&D have never been particularly generous.

However, I gather that they are being cut even further. Many whole projects have been slashed in at least one of India's top pharma companies, and foreign visits are no longer
allowed at all.

In other companies, R&D has been separated like a pariah into a spin-off.

Insiders tel me that even more changes may come soon - and they may not be positive ones.

It would be useful to understand the reasoning behind this downgrading of R&D.

Do our firms really want to be involved only in generics and never become pioneers and brand-builders? Sphere: Related Content

Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny (or First Indian War of Independence")

A friend writes to ask about William Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny, according to which it was a war of religion, not a protest against the economic policies of the British.

My response:

This is not a new point of view - though it is doubtful if Muslims and Hindus drew a distinction between "religion" and "economics" in the manner that the West had begun to do some centuries earlier - almost certainly by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. And it was always clear to everyone that the British were making a huge amount of money out of India both commercially and as a result of sheer loot from "war booty" - but so had every conqueror - which was why it was not a particular talking-point

However, it was the fear of such "religious reaction" from Indians, on the part of the commercially-minded British East India Company, that was behind the ban on the entry of British missionaries (and even pastors to the British!) in India up to 1827 or so (when Evangelicals forced the Company to open the doors to missionaries....)

But William Carey and his friends (working from Dutch-controlled Serampore) had bypassed the British ban and begun the work which eventually modernised India (just as the Reformation modernised the West) and my view is that the Mutiny was not so much a war of Independece (the trendy Indian "nationalist" view) but the first violent reaction against modernisation in India - the BJP and RSS are the remaining last gaps of that reaction

that Mutiny demonstrated to the satisfaction of the the commercially-minded British that they had been right in their fear - that is why British policy in India was always highly circumspect in matters of religion and culture - in spite of the fact that Evangelicals came to dominate among the British in India till the 1890s certainly (and perhaps till as late as 1900s), so that the "mission" to civilise India proceeded but in a much more subtle way...(there were never very many foreign missionaries in India - if I recollect aright, the total never exceeded 6000 at any time during the Raj and, after Independence, the number of missionaries actually climbed slightly higher for about a decade; today, the number of missionaries is about 100 according to the latest reports)

however, the rise of Darwinism from about 1880 resulted in the decline of Evangelicals and the rise of a fashionable mocking of Evangelicals (e.g. in E. M. Forster's Passage to India)

With the decline of males in the British population as a result of WWI and (particularly) WWII, it was clear that the Empire was going to end - the only question was WHEN... and Gandhiji and the national movement drove the time-table possibly with too much haste (as Cornelia Sorabji always maintained and for which she became persona non grata with the national movement) Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How can you be too efficient?


As the new divisional boss, demand "out of the box" or (in James Collins' language) "big hairy Big Hairy and Audacious Goal" (BHAG) efficiency and productivity improvements.

When your subordinates provide these BHAG gains, you will of course earn a massive bonus in your first year.

Now, repeat the procedure in the 2nd year.

And, if you have really deserved your bonuses, take careful note of the fact that this is the time to jump to another job.


Because if you don't, your CEO will certainly demand a similar or greater improvement in productivity in the 3rd year, and you won't be able to perform at all becaue there won't be any other real savings that can be made. So the system will seize up if you make additional cuts....

However, I must not forget to mention that you do have an alternative to moving jobs: cook the books...

That's probably how half the current "cooked books" problems have arisen in the past few years. Sphere: Related Content

Already much worse trhan carbon tax would be

One of the main arguments that is mentioned to me against imposing a carbon tax is that it would have a huge impact on tourism.

Well, here I am, sitting in the beautiful city of St Petersburg in the same clothes since yesterday, having arrived yesterday - but Swissair and SAS between them managed not to bring my luggage on the same flight.

Not only that, but I have wasted a huge amount of time trying to track down my luggage - most of the time, frustratingly, trying to get through to the Lost Lugagge Department's telephone number - which seems permanenty engaged.

BTW I am not sure why it is called the Lost Luggage Dept, as the airline knows precisely where my luggage is, and the only problem is that the airline did not put my luggage on any flight till now.

If I was the only person to whom it happened in the last week, I wd just put it down to bad luck or something.

But as it has affected at least 10 out of the 100 people in "my" group here.

Just as the "inner London tax" has reduced vehicular traffic into london by about 25pc, so its possible that a carbon tax would reduce air traffic to the sort of level that can actually be coped with by the existing systems of logistics in relation to baggage.

Certainly, from the viewpoint of anyone in a similar situation - with money and time and effort already spent, the frustration of dealing with systems that don't work, and the disappointment of expectations regarding an enjoyable holiday or potentially profitable business meeting - the existing lottery regarding the random distribution of the sytem's inefficiency is worse than any carbon tax. Sphere: Related Content

Why does Putin's country not work?

The usual explanations of why countries don't work range from poverty through lack of education to corruption.

None of these appear to be true for Russia.

The people are intelligent, higly educated, charning and hard working.

The country is relatively uncorrupt (whatever corruption exists takes place at high levels and does not appear to affect everyday life).

There are of course lots of poor people, but the country is rich - for example, it has spent a vast amount of money in renovatiing the city of St Petersburg. While not all other cities have been so renovated, I am sure that is not because there is lack of money.

So I don't know the answer to the question I have raised. I am just puzzled. Sphere: Related Content

Is it at all worth being a tourist in exotic locations now?

Perhaps it is just one thing after another:

we can all take one delayed flight or two... but a rather senior executive I know (travelling first class) to St Petersburg missed his connecting flight even though they landed bang on time!

Why did he miss his connecting flight? Because the doors of his airplane would not open!

They sat and sat and sat, till it was too late for him to catch the connecting flight....

And as there is only one flight a day to St. Petersburg, the result was a scramble to find a bed for an unscheduled night in a hotel.

The next morning, he found himself in a city which, had he intended to stop and planned for it, might have been quite nice but, as it was, he simply wasted some hours of his life away from his family with whom he had hoped to rendezvous and have a lovely time with the previous evening. Sphere: Related Content

The Vatican on the Road

The Vatican has always been on the side of the elites. That is why it opposed even by violence those who worked to reduce its absolute control of Europe before the Reformation.

I had thought that the Vatican might have learnt something in the 800 yers since people started struggling to reform the Roman Catholic Church, or at least in the 500 years since the actual Reformation, but it seems to have only learnt to become even more skilled at politics.

That comment is occasioned by coming across, recently, the Roman Catholic Church's attempt to distract attention from its numerous current problems by issuing a set of "Ten Commandments for the Road" - or "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road".

These "Commandments" are addressed only to ordinary people.

But are most of the real problems of life on the road created by ordinary pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle drivers or rather by governments and by the transport businesses?

So if the Vatican were to issue "Commandments" for transport businesses or, even better, "Commandments" to governments, I am sure that would make them most popular. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The world's most polluted places

For the main article, see:

The most polluted place in the world, according to Blacksmith Institute's just-published list of top 10 such sites, is Sumqayit in Azerbaijan. Then there is (surprise!) Chernobyl in Ukraine. However, each of these countries only has one of these "most polluted" sites. That also applies to Zambia, whose 2nd largest city, Kabwe, is the 4th most polluted; and Peru's La Oroya is one of the smallest communities on the list (population 35,000) and the 5th most heavily polluted place in the world "due to lead, copper and zinc mining by U.S.-based Doe Run mining company".

If you followed the list above with any care, you should have wondered: whatever happened to the 3rd position? Well, that place belongs to Russia's Dzerzinsk — a center of Cold War chemical manufacturing. The city's 300,000 residents have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world: 45 years (that's 15 to 20 years less than the Russian average - and about half the life expectancy of a European or US citizen).

So why did I pull Russia out of the proper rank order? Because Russia has the distinction of having TWO of the ten most polluted places in the world, the other place being Norilsk, a city above the Arctic Circlem which takes the 7th prize in the Blacksmith Institute's list. Norilsk apparently contains the world's largest metal smelting complex and, therefore, some of the world's worst smog. Apparently, there is no living piece of grass or shrub within 30 kilometers of the city, and contamination by heavy metals has been found as far away as 60 kilometers.

My conclusion is that Russia tops this list, if one considers countries rather mere places.

The country that takes second place in the Blacksmith Institute list of top ten is China, which also has two cities that make the list. Linfen — a city in the heart of China's coal region in Shanxi Province - takes sixth position, and its three million inhabitants not only choke on dust but also find their drink laced with arsenic that leaches from the coal. And the air is so heavily polluted that it is difficult to see. Then China has Tianying in 9th place — a city of 160,000 that is the center of Chinese lead production, which the Chinese government acknowledges as one of the eight most polluted places in the country: lead concentrations in the air and soil are between 8.5 and 10 times (and local crops 24 times!) above China's national health standards.

The country that takes third place in these unfortunate stakes is India, which also has two cities on the Blacksmith Institute list. At 8th place in the list is Sukinda (population 2.6 million, Jajpur District, Orissa), which is home to some ten chromite mines (including one of the world's largest) — stainless steel is at least 10% chromium. The waters of the valley contain massive amounts of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium compounds because of the 30 million tons of waste rock lining the Brahmani River. Then, at 10th place in the Blacksmith Institute list of most polluted places is Vapi (population approximately 80,000; Valsad District, southern Gujarat) which has some 1,500 small-scale manufacturers (70% of which are involved in petrochemicals, pesticides, dyes, paints, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals). Though Vapi's Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) is the largest of its kind in Asia, and treats the pollutants of these units before the effluent is released into the Daman Ganga River, the resulting muck has nowhere to go.

Overall, the 10 sites in seven countries affect more than 12 million people

However, as you and I know, such lists sometimes provide too narrow a picture. So if one takes not the top ten on the list but the whole of Blacksmith Institute's "Dirty Thirty", then one finds
that Argentina, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Peru and Philippines each have one place.

India has two additional places in the "Dirty Thirty" (Mahad Industrial Estate, and Ranipet).

China and Russia have four additional places each.

But one important point to keep in mind when considering such a list is the criteria which were used to compile it. Apart from the discretionary element that always goes into the making of such a list, the criteria for the Blacksmith Institute list are:

A1: Severity of toxins
A2: Amount or scale of pollutant
(These two factors are taken as multiplicative)

B1: Evidence of Human Exposure (via single and/ or multiple pathways)
B2: Reliable Evidence of Health Impact
(These two factors are taken as additive)

C1: Number of People Potentially Affected
C2: Level of exposure
(Factors C1 and C2 are taken as multiplicative)

C3: Number of children particularly at risk
(This factor is taken as additive to C1xC2)

If one uses the cruder measure of simply the number of people who live in these "most polluted places" , the figures work out as follows: Ecuador 30K, Peru 75K, Dominican Republic 85K, Kenya 100K, Philippines 250K, Zambia 255K, Azerbaijan 275K, Kazakhstan 300K, Bangladesh 500K, Russia 4.2 million, Argentina 4.5 million, Ukraine 5.5 million, and Mexico 15 million. Kyrgistan is a special case since the list's compilers did not have sufficient evidence on the basis of which they could make up their minds whether the affected numbers were only 23K or several millions. China and India each accommodate about 6.5 million people in their polluted locations - that is, after Mexico (which is the undoubted champion by this measure), China and India tie for 2nd place in terms of the number of their people in "most polluted"locations . Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The terrible threat of foreign missionaries in India

According to the 2006 US Report on Religious Freedom, there was the incredible figure of approximately one hundred registered foreign Christian missionaries (Catholic and Protestant) in the country!

That means that, for only 12.5 million Indians, there is one whole missionary! Which is of course far too much!

In fact, my sophisticated computer model, which was installed by me as soon as such computer models came into existence, has been entirely devoted for the last decades to the sole purpose of calculating the overload of missionaries in India - and it has very precisely calculated this morning that, when the number of existing missionaries is compared to the number of missionaries we should have in India, we have approximately one hundred too many.

And we must not overlook the dangerous fact that most of these missionaries are over the age of seventy. As we all know, normal human beings grow weaker and more helpless as they grow older. On the other hand, missionaries, as they are not normal human beings, grow stronger and more wily every day.

No wonder then that my sophisticated computer model informs me that these gray-haired old people are a dangerous menace in every way (social, cultural and religious) to India's ancient civilisation - which has successfully held over 70% of the population under our control for some thousands of years. In fact, my computer model informs me that we will no longer be able to continue to hold the vast majority of our people in subjection if this terrible band of 100 is allowed to continue its nefarious activities, which consist of offering not only medical and agricultural help but even education to outcastes (who are now called "Dalits", specially by missionaries and other anti-national and anti-Hindu forces).

I demand that the Government of India, in the next session of Parliament, states:

1. how many civil servants, how many members of the police forces, and how many members of the intelligence services are wholly devoted to the cause of monitoring and countering the activities of this band of one hundred undesirable people;

2. whether the Government regards this number of employees as sufficient for the purpose of keeping an eye on this hyper-active and over-clever band of 100; and

3. what plans the Government has to expand the number of civil servants, uniformed policemen and policewomen, and members of the secret services and intelligence services, so that the threat posed by these 100 old people can be contained and neutralised.

Whatever the view of the Government, it is totally obvious to me that the present (and indeed any realistic foreseeable future) combined weight of the Indian Army, Air Force, Navy, Police Forces, Secret Services, Intelligence Services and (most of all) the civil services, is totally inadequate for the purpose.

Every true Indian must immediately make all possible efforts to identify and locate, and then beat up, sexually violate, strangle, stab, burn or (preferably) eat alive each of these one hundred missionaries.

Only then will our glorious civilisation have the chance of emerging from the present kaliyuga, where even Dalits are being given a chance to be our equals.

Jai Bharat! Jai RSS! Jai Bajrang Dal!

Let us hasten the day when Dalits can once again have thumbs cut off if they acquire any practical skill, when molten lead can once again be poured into their ears if they hear anything even half-intelligent, and when their eyes can be gouged out if they so much as catch sight of a book, pamphlet, computer screen, television, telephone dial, street hoarding or matchbox advertisement. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New publication from the Netherlands on India (with implications for all emerging markets)

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has recently released a report titled "India 2050: scenarios for an uncertain future".

What will be of interest to the average reader is the report's discussion of several scenarios for India (and the options for improving prospects for India), with implications for the realism of current projections regarding where India is headed as a country.

For example, the publication argues that while it is certainly *possible* that India's population could be over 1.5 billion by 2050, and that this population momentum *could* continue to drive economic growth, these are ONLY possible if there are sufficient investments in health care and education NOW (as far as I know, such investments are not going to be made right now, and so most of the predictions for India will prove to have been over-optimistic).

Further factors indicating that most predictions for India are over-optimistic are that suchpredictions do not take ecological and socio-economic constraints into account: "only rigorous government policy initiatives striving for sustainable management of India's resources (land, water, energy) and appropriate investments in education and health can lead to a real increase in well-being for a large part of the population", argues the report.

This is the first fully-rounded examination of Indian (and developing country) prospects that I have seen, and I am convinced that Goldman Sachs' (and others') BRIC-type predictions will be proved false as the prediction deadlines draw near - at least for Brazil, India and China. Russia is a bit of an exception to my downbeat assessment of country prospects but only because of its huge oil and gas supplies - which will become even more important as West Asia descends further into chaos.

However, so far as India is concerned, I note that 12 Indian companies have made it to the (just released) third annual ‘Forbes Asia Fabulous 50 List’, followed by 10 from Taiwan and only seven from China. Taiwan's 10 will be secure, in my view, but China's 10 will not be secure - for various reasons. The Indian companies include four IT outsourcing companies, for example Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), whose revenues jumped 45 per cent in the last twelve months and whose market capitalisation has doubled since listing three years ago (it has now crossed USD27 billion). Tata earns nearly all of its revenues overseas and so will continue to be a good investment long term, even if its market cap declines sharply from time to time in the wake of the volatility which is, for example, hitting the markets as a result of the current global credit crunch.

The other Indian companies on the Forbes Asia 'Fabulous 50' list are: Bharat Heavy Electricals, Bharti Airtel, Grasim Industries, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Infosys Technologies, Larsen & Toubro, Reliance Industries, Satyam Computer Services, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel and Wipro (the last of which, in my view, continues to be severely undervalued).

Interestingly, Grasim, Larsen & Toubro and Reliance, are deeply involved with infrastructure development in India (though of course, as with all conglomerates, not only to infrastructure). One needs to take a somewhat more cautious view of companies which are more exposed to the vagaries of inward investment: their revenues and earnings may well be secure but the value of their shares will depend on the volatility of the global market.

ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Bharti Airtel are growing by reaching out to the country's rural customers - and their prospects will be linked to commodity prices. Commodity-focused companies in general, worldwide, are even more exposed to the vagaries of the global market.

Do note that my assessments have had no input from, and are totally unrelated to, my employer's view of India, of developing markets, or of the companies mentioned - I emphasise that these are simply *my* views. Sphere: Related Content


David Aikman's concern about the "stupidification" of the USA's bureaucracy ( may be supplemented by my experience yesterday.

I should explain that I have a European passport, and that all holders of European passports can visit the USA for up to six weeks without a US visa.

Yesterday, on seeking to check in for my flight to leave the USA and return to Switzerland, I was asked by the lady at Check In (apparently according to TSA regulations) to produce "evidence of onward flight or residence".

I do not normally carry my Swiss Residence Permit with me since the Swiss authorities have it on computer at every port.

In any case, I thought somewhat strange the request that I provide proof of "onward travel or residence", and enquired what would happen if I could not provide such proof. The lady said that I would be denied boarding. I said that this would be tantamount to the airline becoming complicit (if not directly to blame) in my violating US visa requlations and that I could then sue them for that!

However, the lady asked if I really had nothing that could establish Swiss residence.

I recollected that I had with me my Swiss driving licence and produced that. Having inspected it, the lady concerned said that she was unauthorised to consider this as adequate evidence of my Swiss residence and that, in the USA, non-residents often obtain driving licences (I would be surprised if this is so, since my son's experience in the USA so far shows that you can pass a driving test in the USA without residence there, but you cannot even apply for a driving lincence without official residence in the USA).

However, I pointed out to the lady that, if it WAS possible for non-residents to obtain US driving licences even though they were not resident in the USA, this was a problem for the USA, and that she and the Airline/ TSA ought to be aware that it was certainly not possible for non-residents to obtain a Driving Licence in Switzerland.

As you can imagine, this produced an impasse, since she had her orders and they did not include anything about Swiss Driving Licences.

So I suggested she invite her eupervisor's attention to the case. This she kindly did.

The supervisor was an equally or possibly more intelligent person and, in any case, appeared to respond to logic, as I explained the situation to her, emphasising that I was on the RETURN leg of my journey and that I was, after all, seeking to leave the USA, not to enter it.

However, the supervisor too was not AUTHORISED to approve exceptions to the system that is in place, and had to ring New York in order to get their OK before she could allow me to check in.

Dear Mr Aikman, here is my conclusion: sometimes it is not only individuals who are stupid. Entire systems can also be stupid - and stupidifying.

The entire TSA system in the US is in urgent need of review, and the US will continue to lose an enormous amount of goodwill as long as the current "stupid and stupidifying system" is in place. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Alternatives to the Elite as well as to the Counterculture

It appears to me that there are 3 main alternatives to the right-leaning elite and the left-leaning counterculture.

A piece I wrote some months ago, evaluating these three alternatives, has finally been published, at: Sphere: Related Content

Fun At Work

For an international but not huge e-mail based discussion group on a crucial range of subjects, I invited a well known senior executive from an international company to contribute regarding a particular matter.

I received the following response from him: "Dear Prabhu, we have become so "damned client-focused", that we do not have the time for the fun part of our business... So I would rather refrain from contributing".

A revealing comment on our times...

But can this executive (or can any of us?) last long in a job if the major part of our lives (working hours!) becomes devoid of fun? Sphere: Related Content