Monday, January 31, 2005

Indian oil firms successful in Libya

While US firms grabbed 11 of the 15 blocks available for bidding, the Indian duo of IOC and OIL have won one. This is India's third block win in Libya. The first two came in an era when US and European oil firms were not allowed to invest in Libya. Thus this win should be seen in the right perspective of Indian oil firms taking on the best in the world - and winning, however small the victory.

Libya is significant because it is the biggest oil reserve holder in Africa, which after the former Soviet states, is the biggest new frontier for oil exploration in an OPEC mandated high-priced-oil environment. A lot of African states would not have been significant oil producers if oil was selling at half the current value.

Iraq polls a success!!!

Experts contend that while the polls were not perfect, they were also not the debacle they were widely expected to be. And that is great, because now Iraq will finally have its own democratically elected Govt in place (thanks to a decent poll turnout the results will have sanctity), and the US troops could be pulled out completely in as little as 18 months from now.

The Indic View congratulates everyone who made this election in Iraq a success.

Update:General VP Malik, former Indian Army Chief of Staff, commends the American political and military authorities on the election-conduct.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Pipeline Politics Update

Pakistan's PM Shaukat Aziz has called on India to raise the trust quotient between the two countries by becoming a part of the pipeline project. Translated into plainspeak does that mean, put a noose around your neck and give me the end, so I know I can trust you?

So how about Pak doing something to raise the trust quotient from its side? MFN status, buying diesel from India (both super saving propositions for the Pak consumers), access to Afghanistan and Central Asia (normal behaviour between civilized societies).
"Let's walk before we run," he said.

Asked by an Indian businessman whether his company could bid for Pakistani infrastructure projects, Mr Aziz said this would not be possible for now.

But if India accepted Pakistan's pipeline offer, relations would be so improved that the "whole gamut of economic relations" could be up for discussion, the prime minister said.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Marina takes Tata past Hyundai

The second position in the passenger car sellers pecking order has been nabbed for the first time in the liberalized era by Tata Motors. Before the entry of the Korean Chaebols, Puegeot (they were here too remember?), Fiat and Ford (the first wave of foreign entrants), Tata Motors (then Telco) held about 2% of the Indian market with their Tata Sierra and Tata Estate MUV's. The Amby and PAL held some equivalent amounts, while Maruti (with mostly just the 800 and the Omni) held the rest.

The entry caused a rapid erosion in market share for Maruti, and the Tatas then did not stand a chance unless they tied up with a foreign collaborator to license technology and manufacturing. They did not, and where they are today stands as a testimony for the viability of Indian manufacturing.

A quick note: Maruti has mostly been into licensed manufacturing (with less than 100% indigenization). They are talking about research only now ("Asian small car hub"). Hyundai's Santro (at least) is 100% indigenuously made, but no R&D happens here - only licensed manufacturing. Tata Motors, which rode up the charts with the Indica and other cars on the same platform, built its cars in the country from the conception phase.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Recording India's biodiversity

The Times reports on India's struggle to document its bio-diversity. The main reason for this is that there isnt an agreement among all the concerned parties on how this is to be done. According to the director of the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), a characterization "up to the molecular, chemical level" is necessary to protect all species. Many believe this may not possible for all species given the time and resources at disposal.

The disagreement is leading to the loss of possible synergies between the NBRI and also all the other bodies working on a similar task, from Pachayats to NGO's to Govts.

Right to vote negative

One of the silver bullets being proposed for improving the quality of the Indian Democracy has been the negative vote. It has several forms but essentially entails letting voters do something more than just select one of the contestants for their vote to count.

One suggestion that went around was to let voters "invalidate" their vote, or select "None of the above". The winning candidate would then have to win more votes than the "None of the above" votes.

Another suggestion is to actively allow voters to vote against a given candidate. The number of negative votes that a candidate gets would then count to subtract from his/her number of valid votes in deciding the final count.

While not a panacea against booth-capturing and mass proxy or bogus voting, which is generally rampant in the country, it will certainly go someway in making it more difficult to violate the sanctity of the elections.

The EC recently told the Supreme Court that they (the EC) would support a negative vote. The matter went to court after the then Govt vetoed the suggestion during the last parliamentary elections.

Monday, January 24, 2005

US to roll out war robots in Iraq

Some years ago, now President APJ Abdul Kalaam, in his then role as chief scientific advisor to the nation and the head of DRDO, presented a vision to the country - an unmanned future for the frontline tanks and figther aircraft of the Indian armed forces. He had predicted these to be operational by 2010-2015. The idea was so simple, and yet so powerful - the human intelligence needed could be provided by soldiers sitting some miles away in simulators in a safe location - all the required software and hardware was already in place, and all that was needed was a secure high speed communication link between man and machine.

In Iraq now, the US intends to put that idea into action - only they are going to replace foot soldiers! 18 1-m high robots will be rolled out in the first round. This is after similar robots were already in use as bomb detectors for a while. The actual soldiers will be about half a mile away from the scene of action, and there is a proposal to include the latest features available in simulation games to the robot operators. Talk about the ultimate in converting soldiers into hi-tech war machines.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Soyuz to be launched from Kourou

A landmark deal between Russian and the EU, will see a new era of cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Further it was claimed that this deal did not mean Russia's immediate entry into the ESA. What is puzzling about this declaration is why would Russia be interested in such a deal. In space, Russia is aeons ahead of the ESA both in terms of past performance and current capability. The ESA has funds, which Russia lacks, but it would be naive to believe that Russia space exploratory efforts would be sponsored by European funds, unless perhaps Russia merges into the EU and there is a greater integration of their economies among other things.

As part of the current deal, the ESA's spacecraft launching facilities at Kourou, in French Guyana, will be upgraded to facilitate a Soyuz launch. Currently Russia launches the Soyuz from Baikonur in Kazakhstan as it does not have a cosmodrome on its own territory (a legacy of Stalinist policies in the days of the Soviet Union). So this gives Russia an important alternative launch pad at little additional cost. The cost of this project is put at around 344 million Euros, and Russia will contribute just over one third of that total. The first Soyuz launch from Kourou is tentatively scheduled for Dec 2006.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

India, Japan collaborating on the telecom stage

Japan remains the foremost nation in the World as far as implementing the latest in telecom technologies is concerned, to the extent that NTT Docomo has been pushing forward with its plan to make the mobile phone a replacement for identity cards and credit cards.

In the short period over which private telecom operators have been allowed to operate mobile phone services in India, India has built up a decent leadership in implementing latest technologies in the telecom scene. The average mobile phone user in India expects far more from his/her phone than counterparts in a lot of richer countries that had gone mobile much earlier - a rare example of Govt policies having gone right in India. Then of course, India also does have the lowest cell phone tariffs in the world.

Considering this, it makes sense for the Indian Govt to push for some sort of collaboration with the Japanese telecom industry, and this certainly appears to be a move in the right direction.

However what is not clear are the implications of this statement: "Press reports said Japan and India wished to make Asia's information communications technology an international standard."

It must be noted that China's insistence on pushing ahead with its own CDMA standards has been behind the recent rush of handset manufacturers into India. Lets hope that there is no effort to change that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A movement to revolutionize PCO's?

He is credited with drastically altering the telephony scene in India via the PCO revolution, which also provided employment to so many. However with the entry of private operators on the scene, and the resultant dip in rates for long-distance calls, has made the PCO business unviable for many operators. It was in a way the new openness in the Indian economy threatening to wipe out the inefficiencies of the old license Raj based systems.

Now Sam Pitroda is hoping to re-invent the PCO's. In his new avatar as a private entrepreneur (appropriate in the new age of privatization too!) he hopes to enable the humble PCO offer a range of services of high relevance in the net-enabled economy of today so that you can, "rely on the ubiquitous local phone booths to buy tickets, pre-paid shopping cards, money order/transfer, person-to-person transactions and even make bill payments".

C-Sam Inc, US, a company founded by Pitroda, along with the state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd has launched MerchantWallet and OneWallet, secure payment and transaction platforms for fixed line and mobile phone users, respectively.

The transaction platform will allow mobile phone users to securely load an empty wallet and create a personalised account at a web-based transaction portal. MTNL OneWallet is a software which stores soft versions of cards - credit, debit, identity, travel, medical and phone cards.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Internet for the rural masses

After the AP Government's drive towards broadband villages, BSNL and ISRO are getting into the act too, planning to bring the Internet into far-flung and remote villages via satellites.

For ISRO, who have always tried to fulfill Vikram Sarabhai's vision of utilizing space to help uplift India's rural masses, this should be a golden opportunity. Previously there was an attempt to use satellites to beam educational programs into villages. Obviously this attempt was not a roaring success. But today the Internet provides an opportunity like little else has before. A range of solutions are today available over the Internet that would provide much needed services to the rural masses at little cost. To a certain extent the Internet can indeed revolutionize life in our villages.

Meanwhile at the launch of BSNL's broadband Internet services in Chennai, Union IT minister Maran also declared that computers at Rs 10,000 would soon be available. Though even these would be too expensive for a typical rural household, it should give a boost to kiosks at least.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Iran cosying up to India a little more

We have had a lot of reports of late on Iran wooing the Indian oil and gas market. This new development puts some of that wooing in perspective and also fits in nicely into Aiyar's petro-diplomacy on the Asian stage.

Iran is now trying to get Indian manufacturing expertise invested in Iran. There has been a recent drive by the Iranian Government to reduce dependence on the oil sector alone and this move should be a direct consequnce of that drive.

Apparently the payback for Indian Industry would be in the form of more investment opportunities in the oil and infrastructure sector in Iran, suggesting a win-win situation for both.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Nanotechnology driven efficient Solar Cells

For years we have been hearing and reading about nanotechnology and how it is the next big thing. Now we might just see the next killer application coming from nanotech research.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed a paint that could replace solar cells. Being a paint, it can be coated over all sorts of surfaces. Moreover it is infrared-sensitive and five times more efficient than current methods.

The discovery could lead to shirts and sweaters capable of recharging our cellphones and other wireless devices, said Ted Sargent, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university...

...there's enough power from the sun hitting the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times over," Sargent said...
Though with the new technology scientists cannot claim to harness all the solar energy falling on a surface, and it is also at least 5 years away, it still makes for a significant advancement. Consider for example the following implications for solar power plants:
  1. What if the efficiency of existing solar power plants could be pushed up by 5 times?
  2. If the material is going to be cheap enough to put on shirts, how much cheaper does that make setting up a solar power plant?
No wonder that venture capitalists are all excited over this development.

Burmese Gas pipeline to India

Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shakar Aiyar, is currently in Rangoon. There is a proposed tri-partite deal between India, Bangladesh and Burma to lay a pipeline to export Burmese natural gas to India. Here are some ironies:

  1. We would probably not have been looking to Burma in the first place if Bangladesh had agreed to sell us gas. They did not for purely political reasons.
  2. We can bypass Bangladesh to get the gas into India, but that would make the gas more expensive, as the pipeline would have to be much longer.
  3. Bangladesh wants India to give them, in return, access to landlocked Nepal, so Nepal can use their port. Well India can collect transit fees for the access, and at the same time, provide better access to the Calcutta port. We do need a good all-weather highway that goes right through West Bengal, which will provide port access to the North-East and to Sikkim, anyway.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

India's bid for Yukos asset

After the huge Sakhalin investment, India is now hoping to get some of the assets of the beleagured Yukos. During his visit to India Valdimir Putin famously acceded to Aiyar's request for a "Christmas gift" by giving permission to Indian companies to form joint ventures with Russian firms bidding for the main Yukos company last month. This did not fructify because there was no time left to finish the fomalities of forming the joint venture then.

However now when its the turn of Yukos's its giant oil plant and former prize asset, Yuganskneftegaz, there should be no time pressures in ensuring the formalities required a completed.

For the record, these Indian maneouvres pale in comparison with the Chinese efforts. Apart from its likelihood of getting a 20 percent stake in the same plant, as against ONGC's 15 percent for $2 bn, we also have a Chinese bid for the American giant Unocal Corp for all of $13 billion.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Will the Reliance magic work on Arabia?

Reliance Industries is probably the most successful company in India, when it comes to implementing projects - in other words properly doing what they set out to do. The latest mission, if successful, would get India much sought after oil equity in the biggest black gold territory in the world - Saudi Arabia.

Chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd Mukesh Ambani has made a strong pitch for developing oilfields in Saudi Arabia in a closed-door meeting with Ali Ibrahim Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s minister for petroleum and mineral resources.

Saudi Arabia is traditionally pretty picky about giving away oil equity, and India does not have a cent worth in that country, though we have been trying for a while. When oil prices were at their peak last year, Saudi did commit to increasing production by 2 million barrels a day. If they hold on to that commitment, even with the now fallen prices, then that is the scale of the opportunity.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Simputer's latest avatar - SATHI

The Acorn reports that the Simputer has made it as Situational Awareness and Tactical Handheld Information (SATHI), a hand-held computer for the Indian Army, and it is currently undergoing final user trials. According to, the latest avatar of the Simputer, while retaining its overall dependence on open-source and indigenous sources, has a first in the world to its credit.

The world's first integrated battle computer, SATHI works on the open source Linux platform; customised Geographical Information System (GIS); internal radio modem; encrypted software and has powerful batteries and capabilities to send text messages.

The Indian Army's choice of the Simputer makes sense even if we disregard the open-source and India angles - the Simputer is a much more powerful device than any commercial PDA, with features approaching a normal full fledged PC. Could this be just the boost the Simputer needs to finally make it a commercial success?

Flyover in 36 hours - in India!

Using technology that is common place in Texas, an Indian company proposes to complete a long pending flyover in Delhi, in just 36 hours.

Anyone living in a city with flyovers know the nightmarish traffic congestions that result when constructing these structures. As such this new effort sounds like a dream come true for most of us in India used to flyovers taking years to complete. The economics of the deal sound killer too:

Gupta said the concrete used in the prefabricated material was stronger and had a longer life — 50 years against 15. However, it will cost 10 pc more than normal. ‘‘But if you calculate the hours and the fuel lost in the endless traffic congestion during the construction, the ordinary flyovers are more expensive,’’ he said.

Best of all "Whatever the length of a bridge or flyover, the time taken for assembling the prefabricated material would be the same — 36 hours".

Christmas Bonanza for Infrastructure in Bangalore

Within three days, between Dec 21st and Dec 23rd, Dharam Singh did two of the things Bangalore had be craving for ever since he came into power.

On Dec 21st, the final approvals for the Bangalore Airport finally arrived (of course it remains to be seen whether the March kick-off will be on schedule still). Even if it does, it will only be two months before the Hyderabad airport construction kicks off, and this one was concieved 8 years later.

Then on Dec 23rd, newly Garam, Dharam finally revived the Bangalore Action Task Force. While the work on this group had been widely commended for long, purely political reasons were blamed for the non-revival of this group after the SM Krishna Govt was dissolved. Bangaloreans stuck on the daily jam going to Whitefield will have something to cheer themselves for a while - and probably more people to blame!

India emerging a power in the Clinical Trial space

Rediff says that "a vast, unwieldy population, a plethora of diseases, and rampant poverty" make India "irresistible" in the world of clinical trials.

Global consultancy McKinsey & Co estimates that by 2010, global pharma majors would spend around $1-1.5 billion just for drug trials in the country....

"The world is simply attracted by the facilities that India offers for pharma companies, their product developments and trials. The biggest advantages many look at are, of course, India's huge population of more than one billion, and cheaper costs," Dr Reddy points out...

India's drug industry officials say the clinical-trials outsourcing has just begun in the country.

According to a Confederation of Indian Industry study, clinical trials in India in 2002 generated $70 million in revenues.

It predicts that it would grow to $200 million by 2007 and anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion by 2010.

The moot question here is, how are advantages like this one going to help the general population? Companies basing more of the operations here, and India becoming a bigger market for them too, does not automatically translate into affordable life-saving drugs, esecially if they are path-breaking. It does help the economy in general though, but is that enough compensation? Debatable.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Chandrayaan to have "landing" component too!

India's proposed mission to the moon in 2007-8, Chanrdayaan-I will now have a component that will also land on the dusty surface of the moon. This is not an official landing mission, so the 25 kg cargo will be as an impactor.

''Echoes of the Chandrayaan lander impact will tell us a lot about the interior of the moon,'' says Manuel Grande, group leader, planets and magnetospheres group, at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, shortlisted for an experiment aboard Chandrayaan-1.

Essentially it will be dropped to the surface and ISRO will check if they can control how and where it lands on the surface. This is obviously a predecessor to future official landing missions.

The Broadband Village

After years of listening to litanies about the potential of the Internet to transform rural India, by providing remote services in vital areas like education and healthcare, we are finally seeing what could turn out to be a killer solution for the problem in Andhra Pradesh.

According to J C Mohanty, Principal Secretary for IT in Andhra Pradesh government who heads the ambitious project, the rural broadband network is an innovative and revolutionary project with three broad components:

* Electronic delivery of all government services to the people through 6,000 rural IT kiosks to be set up across the state. A team of specially trained rural women to be appointed through self help groups under the rural development department will run the kiosks.
* Computer literacy for at least one person in each family in all Andhra Pradesh villages.
* Broadband connectivity for all villages of Andhra Pradesh spread across the state's 2,75,000 square kilometers by December 2006.

Being touted as a dream project of YS Reddy whose heart supposedly beats for the rural hinterland as against the Cyberabad dreams of his predecessor, we can only hope that whatever the politics, may the project succeed.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I read a lot of news articles in my areas of interest - particularly the happennings in the technology and business fields, as they pertain to India. This blog is intended to be a place where I log some of the important news items along with my own observations. I believe in a scientific scheme of thinking and analysis into every event that I read of, try to make my observations rather insightful. Having said that I dont particularly fancy my own writing and observational skills, but I try!