Friday, June 12, 2009

The Irony of the Indian Cabinet

With the elections giving a clear mandate and the numerous meetings of the top bosses of the congress a cabinet has been formed and an impressive list of people have taken to the benches. The president has also addressed the house and the game is on. In this situation i do like to have a look at the people who decide the fate of our country for another 5 years. 

It is to be noted that the PM Dr Manmohan Singh had little say in appointing his ministers but he had "veto"ed some from entering the council of ministers. Some of the old faces were kept out at the apparent intercession of the prime minister, others were rejected by the voters themselves. The power to veto had been given to him by the power centre of the congrees..(Ultimately Sonia Gandhi)

While the Congress swept Andhra Pradesh, Renuka Chowdhary lost Khammam by over 100,000 votes. Mani Shankar Aiyar was defeated from Mayiladuthurai though the DMK-Congress alliance did well in Tamil Nadu. Santosh Mohan Dev was beaten in Silchar though his party won half the seats in Assam.

Five years ago Shivraj Patil became Union home minister despite losing from Latur and P M Sayeed became power minister fresh from his loss in Lakshadweep. This time the voters' mandate has been respected.

So much for the electors's veto, how about that of the prime minister? T R Baalu was elected from Sriperumbudur. Arjun Singh and Hans Raj Bhardwaj are both sitting Rajya Sabha members. Nevertheless, all three were kept out -- and by all accounts it was at Dr Manmohan Singh's own initiative, out of exasperation at their poor records.

Most Indians would be grateful to the prime minister for exercising the veto. That said, it is idle to pretend that this ministry will be particularly efficient.

There is already heartburn in some quarters in Delhi. The single largest contingent of Congress MPs come from Andhra Pradesh, where the party won 33 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats. Only one of those MPs is a full-fledged Cabinet minister, S Jaipal Reddy.

Meghalaya has only two Lok Sabha constituencies, Tura and Shillong, with the NCP winning the first and the Congress getting the second. The NCP insisted on making Agatha Sangma a minister so the Congress made Vincent H Pala one too.

The biggest snub of all has been to Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress stunned everyone by winning 21 seats. There is not a single full-fledged Cabinet minister from the state even if there are ministers of state.

In theory none of this should matter since ministers are supposed to consider the interests of all of India, not of their own home state. The practice belies the theory. Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee has already made it clear that she can keep only half an eye on her duties in Delhi. Many of her colleagues shall think on similar lines.

Even if every state got its due, the very structure of the council of ministers breeds inefficiency. Far too many people had to be accommodated and jobs found for each. Each minister -- bureaucrats too -- will now build little fiefdoms.

The United States is served by a single transport secretary in President Obama's cabinet. How about India, about a third the area of the United States? We have a railway minister, a road transport minister, a shipping minister, and a civil aviation minister. Good luck trying to build a holistic policy out of that set-up!

Or take the racial attacks on Indians in Australia. Who deals with those, the external affairs minister or the minister for overseas Indian affairs?

The United States has a single energy secretary. (The 1997 Nobel Laureate in physics!) What happens if Steven Chu wants to talk to his Indian counterpart? Does he call Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, or Petroleum & Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, or Coal Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal, or New & Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah? Or possibly Dr Manmohan Singh, who retains the Department of Atomic Energy?

The confusion does not stop there. Jaipal Reddy is the urban development minister but Kumari Selja handles housing & urban poverty alleviation. Does that mean Reddy builds auditoriums for the rich and the middle class while his colleague puts up houses for the poor?

Anand Sharma is the commerce & industry minister. But we also have a minister for heavy industries & public enterprises (Vilasrao Deshmukh). And a steel minister (Virbhadra Singh). A textiles minister (Dayanidhi Maran). A minister for food processing industries (Subodh Kant Sahay). A minister for chemicals & fertilisers (M K Alagiri). A minister of micro, small & medium enterprises (Dinsha J Patel). So what exactly is Anand Sharma's responsibility?

Mukul Wasnik is social justice & empowerment minister. Kantilal Buria handles tribal affairs. Salman Khurshid has the minority affairs portfolio. Krishna Tirath has independent charge of women & child development. Who claims jurisdiction in a case involving a tribal Christian woman?

And then there is M S Gill, who handles the most useless portfolios of them all, sports & youth affairs. The only sport India cares for is cricket, and the BCCI is the one sports federation that refuses to report to the sports ministry. (Probably why cricket does relatively well!) As for 'youth affairs', what is that? Child abuse will be handled by Krishna Tirath, education by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, and jobs by Labour & Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge.

What does that leave?

That is the final point. It is good that Dr Manmohan Singh exercised his veto, but it is a shame that the world's largest democracy still has a chief executive who does not belong to the list of persons elected by the people.

P.S. With a note of thanks to rediff for the data

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Second Blogger ID!!!!!!!!!

Launch of second blogspot.. dedicated to Music... do visit and post ur comments and views.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tired of Charging mobiles and IPODs??

This is my true technical blog considering that i am a postgrad in electrical engineering. There is an interesting development going on in the electrical faternity for easing customer troubles. I had attended a IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) seminar of charging of mobile phones without the use of wires. It dealt with nano-transformers based charge pads. The charging could be done by just placing the mobile phone on a pad which would charge the phones. Upon further online scouting i found an interesting research going on in this field. 

In a research presented at the American Chemical Society's 237th National Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 26,2009, scientists from Georgia describe technology that converts mechanical energy from body movements or even the flow of blood in the body into electric energy that can be used to power a broad range of electronic devices without using batteries.

"This research will have a major impact on defense technology, environmental monitoring, biomedical sciences and even personal electronics," says lead researcher Zhong Lin Wang, Regents' Professor, School of Material Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The new "nanogenerator" could have countless applications, among them a way to run electronic devices used by the military when troops are far in the field.

The researchers describe harvesting energy from the environment by converting low-frequency vibrations, like simple body movements, the beating of the heart or movement of the wind, into electricity, using zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires that conduct the electricity. The ZnO nanowires are piezoelectric — they generate an electric current when subjected to mechanical stress. The diameter and length of the wire are 1/5,000th and 1/25th the diameter of a human hair.

In generating energy from movement, Wang says his team concluded that it was most effective to develop a method that worked at low frequencies and was based on flexible materials. The ZnO nanowires met these requirements. At the same time, he says a real advantage of this technology is that the nanowires can be grown easily on a wide variety of surfaces, and the nanogenerators will operate in the air or in liquids once properly packaged. Among the surfaces on which the nanowires can be grown are metals, ceramics, polymers, clothing and even tents.

"Quite simply, this technology can be used to generate energy under any circumstances as long as there is movement," according to Wang.

To date, he says that there have been limited methods created to produce nanopower despite the growing need by the military and defense agencies for nanoscale sensing devices used to detect bioterror agents. The nanogenerator would be particularly critical to troops in the field, where they are far from energy sources and need to use sensors or communication devices. In addition, having a sensor which doesn't need batteries could be extremely useful to the military and police sampling air for potential bioterrorism attacks in the United States, Wang says.

While biosensors have been miniaturized and can be implanted under the skin, he points out that these devices still require batteries, and the new nanogenerator would offer much more flexibility.

A major advantage of this new technology is that many nanogenerators can produce electricity continuously and simultaneously. On the other hand, the greatest challenge in developing these nanogenerators is to improve the output voltage and power, he says.

Last year Wang's group presented a study on nanogenerators driven by ultrasound. Today's research represents a much broader application of nanogenerators as driven by low-frequency body movement.

The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

P.S. This article was picked by me from Science Daily.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Greenback to be replaced????

The last few years of dominance of the USA as a world power and every countries dependance are round the corner.. or atleast it seems so with China's bold statement some weeks back. China wants the US$ to be replaced as the reserve currency with some other currency. Well, this is an odd situation which needs deep research and ratifications in the world financial policies as this will surely cause a huge shakedown of the already dim economic situation.

Before i move on.. for starters i'll explain the concept of reserve currency. reserve currency (or anchor currency) is a currency which is held in significant quantities by many governments and institutions as part of their foreign exchange reserves. It also tends to be the international pricing currency for products traded on a global market, such as oilgold, etc. This permits the issuing country(Presently USA to purchase the commodities at a marginally cheaper rate than other nations, which must exchange their currency with each purchase and pay a transaction cost. (As we do when we convert INR to USD or vice versa)  It also permits the government issuing the currency to borrow money at a better rate, as there will always be a larger market for that currency than others. The current leader in reserve currency is the USD comprising of 64% of all official foreign exchange reserves. Euro a distant second with just 26%(Mainly because of the origin of the EU. Before the Euro came USD was nearly 75%). And some negligible percent of the Pound and the Japanese Yen.  

We shall look at the reasons for China's demand and its effects. China's central bank governer, Zhou Xiaochuan, had shot a letter to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) stating that it create a new reserve currency disconnected from individual nations so that it will remain stable over a long run and be free of the uncertainities  caused by using credit based national currencies.  The current economic crisis has led to this kind of a drastic statement. His words were "The outbreak of the [current] crisis and its spillover to the entire world reflected the inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system" 

The Asian countries had learnt a severe lesson during the 1997 crisis. In view of the crisis they had built up huge amounts of foreign reserves in USD to save themselves against further backdrop. The emerging economies like China and India started to build up their foreign reserves, which led to the econimic boom of these countries and henceforth higher growth(remember both had double digit growth). With China having nearly USD2000 bln of foreign assests in USD, it is the largest holder of assests in the world. This was translating into a huge advantage for the Americans, because the transaction charge incured by these assests were huge and it was an income for the Greenback(Read USD). The current econimic crisis, led the US government to place its internal debitors in higher priority than the foreign creditors. At the same time China was convert the huge USD assests to other currencies. But the move failed as it led to huge losses. Now China can neither sell those assests nor keep it for long, due to the reason the assests being stagnant leading to weaker USD and further losses.  

China earlier had cleverly kept back its currency making it weaker to the USD so that it would help its export oriented economy. This paid hugely and led to its high growth over a few years. Having much confidence, it built huge reserves of assests. This move is sure to backfire if the current crisis contines further. With a eye on economic stability and gains in 2020, China is trying to woo investors to make use of its highly growing market. The government handling of the current crisis has come for praise from many quarters. It has created demand by huge public spending and thus keeping the cash registers ringing all-round. But the US is not in mood to look so further and this is a dangerous sign to China and other emerging economies. 

With an view of all problems the Chinese bank governer is putting forth ideas which are being heard the world over. Ideas like expanding the role of Special Drawing Rights, Introduced by IMF in 1969 to support the Bretton Woods fixed exchange regime (But collapsed in the early 1970s to bring in an era of USD domination). Today the SDR is based on a basket of USD, Yen, Euro and Sterling. China's proposal would mean expanding the basket forming the basis of SDR valuation to all major economies and set up a settlement between SDRs and other currencies. The IMF could later manage collectively the different portions of SDR reserves and gradually replace the existing reserve curriencies. This would largely weaken the USD and would not be accepted by the US Govt. 

Lets see what happens in the years to come. Are we in for a huge change. As Mr Zhou states "This proposal would require extraordinary political visoin and courage"