Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Opinion: Curing the real disadvantage in India

Government of India passed a law to reserve 27% seats in Centrally Administered Institutions (IIT and IIM included) for the disadvantaged Other Backward Castes. This law adds to already reserved 15% seats for Scheduled castes and 7.5% for Scheduled Tribes raising total reservations in these institutions to 49.5%. Our legislatures provide the rational that caste is invariably the single most disadvantage in Indian society and so we need a large scale affirmative action.

Well one thing is clear from human development indexes that India is really disadvantaged. She has a large fraction of malnourished children, low life expectancy, high income inequality, a large portion of population below poverty line, widespread corruption etc. Even after 60 years of independence, we match many African countries in terms of human development indexes (no offence to African countries). India surely needs a cure.

So what do we need to cure to realize the potential of the country.
1. Is Caste System holding down the potential of a large portion of India? Clearly those who got college education are already employed today irrespective of castes. The rural people whose only source of education is village schools are not employable in many industries. Whether it is Brahmin's from Darbhanga or Yadavs from Chappara, they just do not have the required skills. In my opinion, caste is not the determining factor. Rather it is the scarcity of quality education and little will to improve it. The private schools (till high school) in all cities have been quite successful in delivering quality education when compared to the utter failure of all government schools. Well government views everything as a avenue to provide social justice. Even government schools have 50% reservations for backward castes. Government reserved at least 50% jobs in almost every service it controls that includes DRDO scientists, bureaucrats, teachers, doctors, police etc. Proposals are available for providing faculty reservations in all institutions that include IIM/IIT/NIT/?.

2. Apart from education, Government has failed significantly in providing basic services. People are debating about what will happen when climate change will dry north Indian rivers. Now when we have water in all north Indian rivers, most places receive drinking water for at most 10 hours a day. Most cities receive less than 15 hours of electricity. Health awareness provided by government doctors to rural areas is almost null. These are not impossible issues to solve and with very little effort can be accomplished. However, government is not interested in this.

3. Law that protects rights of poor people is absent in the mind of people and its enforcer. Poor people are still stuck in usury practices, do not get minimum wages and pensions assigned by the government. Whether the police officer or regulatory officer (engineers, pension officers) is a forward caste, backward caste or a scheduled caste, his or her main objective is to sidestep laws that he/she is assigned to protect and generate money out of it. There may be honest officers but the very lack of government initiation to ensure functioning of its own apparatus explains rampant corrupt practices.

In conclusion politicians game of caste and religion and our support for those games have illusioned our path. It is imperative that we prioritize real disadvantages of Indian society.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Impact of Himalyan glacier retreat on North Indian rivers

I'm pulling relavant informaiton from the following draft "An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China." I have not read any of the cited papers except Shresta et al 2003 and right now I'm trusting this source for the following information.

A status of the glacier inventory of Ganga-Brahmaputra basins
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Basins Numbers of glaciers Glacierised area (Km2) Ice volume (km3)
Bhagirathi 238 755.0 67.0
Tista 449 706.0 40.0
Brahmaputra 161 223.0 10.0
Others 640 2378.0 -
Total 1488 4062.0 117.0
Source : Kaul et a.,1999

How much is it receding?
---------------------------------
Retreats of Important Glaciers in the Himalayas
Glacier Location Period Avg. retreat Reference
(m/year)
Milam Uttaranchal 1849-1957 12.5 Vohra (1981)
Pindari Uttaranchal 1845-1966 23.0 Vohra (1981)
Gangotri Uttaranchal 1935-1976 15.0 Vohra (1981)
Gangotri Uttaranchal 1985-2001 23.0 Hasnain, et al. 2004
Bada Himachal Predesh 1890-1906 20.0 Mayekwski&Jschke Shigri (1979)
Kolhani Jammu & Kashmir 1857-1909 15.0 Mayekwski&Jeschke
(1979)
Kolhani Jammu & Kashmir 1912-1961 16.0 Mayekwski & Jeschke
(1979)
Machoi Jammu & Kashmir 1906-1957 8.1 Tiwari (1972)
Chota- Himachal Pradesh 1970-1989 7.5 Surender et al. (1994)

How much North Indian rivers are fed by himalyan glaciers?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Meltwater draining from these ice and snowfields is important in regulating the hydrology of the Indian sub-continent. Though it contributes only to 5 percent of total runoff, it releases water in the dry season (Upadhyay 1995).

Impact of glacier retreat on precipitation
----------------------------------------------------

Similar analysis on precipitation data, however, does not reveal any significant trends though
oscillatory characteristics are present in the precipitation series (Shrestha et al. 2000). Similar to
temperature, precipitation in Nepal is found to be influenced by or correlated to several large-
scale climatological phenomena including El NiƱo/Southern Oscillation, regional scale land and
sea-surface temperature changes and extreme events such as volcanic eruptions.

Impact of glacier retreat on river discharge
-------------------------------------------------------

"More than 6,000 rivers and rivulets flow through Nepal. A comprehensive analysis of trends in
river flow has not been performed yet. However, a preliminary analysis of river discharge i.e.
trends in large outlet rivers, southern rivers and snow-fed rivers, has been carried out (Fig 15).
Among the large rivers, Karnali and Sapta Koshi show decreasing trends although the records for
Sapta Koshi are quite short. In contrast, the Narayani, another large river, displays an increasing
trend. Southern rivers do not show any trend. All of the three snow-fed rivers examined showed
declining trends in discharge. While these observations in river discharge are neither consistent
nor significant in magnitude due to the short record-lengths and high inter-annual variability in
discharge data, a separate study suggests that the number of flood days and consecutive days of
flood events are increasing."


Future impact of glacier retreat on fresh water in India (by simulation studies)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A model has been developed in joint collaboration with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), UK under the
SAGARMATHA project (2004). This model reveals that there will be an increase in river
discharge at the beginning causing widespread flooding in the adjacent areas. But after a few
decades, this situation will reverse and water levels in these rivers will start declining to a
permanent decreased level.

This model, when run for 100 years under different climatic scenarios, shows distinct differences
in the potential impacts of deglaciation both regionally, in an E-W direction along the Himalayan
arc, and within catchments. In the upper Indus, the study sites show initial increases of between
+14 percent and +90 percent in mean flows (compared to baseline) over the first few decades of
37
the 100 year incremental scenario runs, which are generally followed by flows decreasing
between –30 percent and –90 percent of baseline by decade 10. For the Ganga, the response of
the river, near the headwaters in Uttarkashi is significantly different from what is seen
downstream at Allahabad. At Uttarkashi, flows peak at between +20 percent and +33 percent of
baseline within the first two decades and then recede to around –50 percent of baseline by decade
6; further downstream the deglaciation impacts are barely noticeable. In the headwaters of the
Brahmaputra, there is a general decrease in decadal mean flows for all temperature scenarios;
glaciers are few in this area and flows recede as the permanent snow cover reduces with
increasing temperatures.

The Feast of Roses -- Indu Sundaresan

The feast of roses is a fiction that covers a detailed historical view on Mughal empire during the rein of Jahangir. The book sheds light on Mehrunisha/Noor Jahan, the twentieth wife of Jahangir and one of the most powerful women in Mughal empire. The book covers in detail how Jahangir used to run the empire and in broader perspective how Mughal empire was structured. It provides detailed information on throne inheritance, struggle for power (vested in the emperor), purpose of marriage and status of women in the Indian society and small discussions on religious freedom and trade in the society.

The focus of the book is mainly on Jahangir's faith in Mehrunisha and how Mehrunisha used that faith to gain control of the Mughal empire. Jahangir acted on Mehrunisha's advice on a number of critical decisions like in Khurram's (or Shah Jahan) marriage to Mehrunisha's cousin Mumtaz mahal, in declining trade permission to English, in deciding future of ministers and in deciding who should be fighting different rebels in the empire.

A couple of historical information surprised me. They challenged my belief which included Mumtaz Mahal was the strongest woman in Mughal empire, Mughal empire has no clear form of justice or governance, and there was really no trade and development.

State of fear -- Michael Crichton

Global warming is significantly covered by media these days and a large number of people are convinced about the scientific evidence of global warming. After all if Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consisting of more than 200 scientists have reported significant rise in temperature in future, then a common person is hardly wrong. If one is a skeptic of global warming, then it is only because he does not understand science and media headlines like "Political efforts to water down IPCC report" clearly underscore it.

Michel Crichton digs up a number of scientific papers that illustrate significant skepticism to a phenomena that covers the entire planet called global warming. This 600+ page science fiction has a lawyer with common understanding of global warming and he meets a professor involved in busting international terrorist operations. The lawyer makes several arguments for global warming from the perspective of a common person and the professor replies with concise summaries of scientific papers that cast doubt on such phenomena. Interestingly, both of them work to stop "environmental terrorists" from creating environmental disasters. The purpose of these disasters are to underscore the point of climate control but has the potential to kill a large number of innocent people. The terrorist call themselves flag bearers of greater good whose broader goal is to save the planet.

The novel casts doubt on a large number of commonly understood "truth" on global warming like:
1. Is Antarctica melting?
2. Are glaciers on Mt Kilimanjaro melting due to global warming?
3. Is all environmental disaster ranging from tsunami, melting glaciers, hurricanes all result of a single factor called global warming and a single cause called carbon-di-oxide?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Merit and Justice -- Amartya Sen

Today population is divided into two portions: one who vehemently oppose selection by merit and believe it is constructed as another tool to advance control by privileged class and the other group who believes meritocracy as a whole is the only morally sound principal for advancing society. What has caused this significant difference in perception? Is the difference in perception because:
1. losers in a meritocratic system oppose it and the winners support it?
2. one group is observing the advantaged elite and the other group focusing on importance of society to progress?
Or, Is there more in the debate?

Off course this debate has stirred academia to identify the points of justification and the points of oppose. Amartya Sen identifies societal foundations of meritocracy and its limitations in this first chapter of the book "Meritocracy and Economic Inequality". Sen argues that merit system involves rewarding good actions in a society so that it could lead to good consequences in the society. For example, giving police job and good remuneration to a person who is identified to be knowledgeable in enactment of law will cause better enforcement of laws and will benefit the society as a whole (mine own). So "meritocracy is just an extension of a general system of rewarding merit and elements of such a system clearly have been present in one form or another throughout human history".

However, rewarding merit is conditional on what we consider good in the society. For example, in a totalitarian society or a country with a foreign rule may consider enforcement of arbitrary laws, and rewarding and recruiting best people for law enforcement to be bad for the society (mine own). Similarly Sen argues that if removing economic inequality is good for a society then the society may reward those positions and actions that have distributive outcomes.

A second point that Sen argues is that the actual value of reward is separated from the action for it to have any productive role. For example, paying something for his knowledge of law enactment in a specific case has no productive aspect (and just trade aspect) and only when we assign the job of enforcement of all laws to a person with some demonstateable actions will have any productive value. Similarly, choosing students for teaching engineering cannot involve testing them for engineering and has to be something different. Sen argues that people are skeptical of the system when the difference between reward and the measure is revoltingly high. I am actually not able to combine the above two arguments well: Isn't taking account of an unrelated objective like reducing economic disparity or providing social justice into the selection of a police officer actually widens the difference between the criteria of selection and the work required of a police officer. So can we put arbitrarily any objective into the rewarding system?

Some additional arguments that may creep into judging merit:

1. Personification and genetics: Rewarding of good action by a person changing into a label of 'meritorious' or personification of the person.

2. Desert and entitlement: Rewarding good action does not necessarily mean that a person "intrinsically deserves" to get more. It has to be judged by what is good in the society which is external to the person.

3. Distribution independence: A system of rewarding merits may well generate inequalities of well being and of other advantages. But much would depend on the nature of consequences that are sought on the basis of which merits are to be characterized. If the results desired have a strong distributive component, then in assessing merit concerns about distribution and inequality would enter the evaluation.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

wireless cards supported on linux

Linux limited support for wireless devices makes one often switch to windows. I often wanted wireless cards that work on linux without any effort. If you want a wireless card to work without any problem, buy a Prism chipset supported on linux exclusively at
http://prism54.org. The card that I have is a Netgear WG511 (Made in Taiwan and not China).

Yesterday I also got a Ralink chipset exclusively supported at http://rt2x00.serialmonkey.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page for just $16.

My card is Gigabyte WMKG and it works flawlessly on linux. You can find other cards with Ralink chipset at http://ralink.rapla.net/

You may also find a huge bunch of Atheros chipset being supported at http://www.madwifi.org.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Review: Falling over backwards -- Arun Shourie

Falling over backwards
-- An essay against Reservations and against Judicial populism
By Arun Shourie (2006)

Arun Shourie presents an insightful view into the reservation debate from the most important point: Lawmaking and Judiciary. Today the reservation debate has informed common people on the positive and negative aspects of reservation. However, the major decision making does not involve common people and rests with the Legislatures and the Judiciary. Because of this distribution of power, knowing about how legislature and judiciary have answered the reservation debate in last 60 years of our independence is increasingly important.

After independence, the framers of our constitution decided that the principle of divide and rule played by the Britishers have caused the partition of India and Pakistan. They believed that Government should play an active role in removing all forms of discrimination. To achieve this goal, they incorporated a number of provisions in the constitution as the inviolable fundamental rights. Shourie provides a detailed view on the fundamental rights against discrimination as in Article 14: right to equality, Article 16(1): right to equal opportunity in government employment, Article 16(2): " No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of any employment or office under the state. For

Then Shourie provides detailed analysis of how Supreme Court interpreted Constitution in striking down different laws and some Judges accepting them by a liberal interpretation of the provision and making room for reservation. Whenever the court struck down any law, the legislatures were quick and alert to immediately change the constitution with unanimous voice and complete absence of debate on the floor. Specifically:
The first amendment in 1951 was actually carefully argued by Nehru and even B.R. Ambedkar on the pros and cons of this provision.

Article 15 (4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall
prevent the State from making any special provision for the
advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of
citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

When Supreme court ruled that quotas in promotion means differentiating between equal class of people Constitution was quickly amended to:

Article 16 (4A) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State.

When Supreme court ruled that not more than 50% of the seats can be reserved in any year, the Constitution was amended to carry over unfilled reserved vacancies to other years:

(4B) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from considering any unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for being filled up in that year in accordance with any provision for reservation made under clause (4) or clause (4A) as a separate class of vacancies to be filled up in any succeeding year or years and such class of vacancies shall not be considered together with the vacancies of the year in which they are being filled up for determining the ceiling of fifty per cent. reservation on total number of vacancies of that year.

Supreme Court ruled in August 2005 that Government cannot prescribe its reservation policy to unaided institution. The Article 15 in the Constitution was amended in Dec 2005 to reverse that:

5) Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.".

Shourie presents a detailed analysis of Supreme Court Judges in their warnings to the Government and some Supreme Court Judges who thought specific implementation of social justice was important even if it meant breaching fundamental rights.


Shourie book will make you thinking on some important questions:

1. Were other backward castes (OBC's) really "enslaved" by upper castes?

2. How discrimination based on caste started when our constitution does not allow it? How identification of backward classes was reduced to castes and how Supreme court accepted this argument even with a fractured verdict in the Mandal Case?

3. How legislatures have pushed India to have reservation in just everything from Government Jobs, educational institutions (aided or unaided) to even threatening to the private sector? How we have moved from 50% reservation in city colleges to highest institutions in the country?

4. Is there a way of providing social justice without abrogating fundamental rights on such a large scale?

5. How SC has set the limit to 50% and on what argument?

Hope I have inspired you enough to pick up the book :)



Review: Globalization and Its Discontent -- By Joseph E. Stiglitz

Stiglitz presents the composition and structure of International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the way in which IMF handled the financial crises in East Asia in 1997-98, the policies IMF adopted and enforced during liberalization of Russia. Finally he discusses the possible reasons why IMF failed, its consequences on different countries and what can be done to avoid future crises.

IMF was established to avoid financial crises caused by government irresponsible spending (bad fiscal policy), fast capital erosion of stock markets, and to tackle hyper-inflation. They have handled financial crises (hyper-inflation and fiscal irresponsiblity) in latin american countries by forcing these governments to adopt contractionary policies i.e., by cutting government spending, raising interest rates and more liberalization of their capital markets.

Stiglitz finds that same policies were doggedly enforced by IMF on the East Asian countries, the African countries and during liberalization of Russian economy. The East Asian crises happened because the hot money (foreign investors) pumped into these markets and banks were issued for real estate development and these loans turned bad. As a result, money quickly moved out from these markets causing these governments to insolvency. IMF came to the rescue and proposed Interest rate hiking to 20-25% as conditions for government bailout. The firms dependent on bank loans quickly ran out of business, the economy suffered serious setbacks and went in to deep recession.

Stiglitz presents how IMF forced African countries to cut back government spending on education, which hits these countries hard in generation of human capital. The book has a special chapter on how IMF handled the Russian transformation economy from a state owned economy to a market economy. IMF adviced Russia to quickly sell off the state enterprises to private players without any regulatory institution to monitor the sell offs. As a result they were sold at dirt prices to Yeltsin family friends and other oligarchs of the russian politics. These people had few incentives in the development of these firms and more in stripping assets. As a result they stripped assets of the newly bought firms and moved their money quickly out of Russia. IMF advice was to go for even faster liberalization rather than to concentrate on the sequencing of liberalization. IMF provided more and more money to Russia for its solvency and the oligarchs kept moving out the money.

Stiglitz argues that capital markets function well only with a good regulatory agency. Therefore sequencing of liberalization is important. Secondly, he argues that while contractionary policies were right for fiscal irresponsible latin american countries they proved deadly for east asian countries. It is surprising to find that Clinton and other american governments continue with their expansionary policies (tax cuts, lower interest rates, high government spending) and do not take advice of IMF or treasury.

The results of IMF policies destroyed economy of all these countries. The countries suffered serious setback in growth and employment and many firms were shut down or stripped of their assets.

Till now I believe I was faithful in expressing Stiglitz opinions. Off course he brings up lot of interesting questions for analysis:

1. Is letting governments continue expansionary policies during the time of crises a good macro-economic policies? Isn't reigning inflation important and how do we even know that Stiglitz policies would have succeeded?

Stiglitz argues that South Korea and China which did not adopt sharp contractionary policies prescribed by IMF and had smaller recession than countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Secondly, he argues that even if evaluation of macro economic policies is hard the IMF has dictated its policies to these countries without any responsibility, without any arguments and with no willingness to listen to these countries. It is interesting to note that IMF is not a democratic institution and only US has veto power in it.

2. Shouldn't IMF have rights to dictate its policies in loaning to a "default" government?

Stiglitz argues that IMF has got back all its loaned money and no government has ever deafulted on IMF loans. So IMF loans are not risky and always paid back by taxpayers. Actually he argues IMF money has been used for bail out of foreign investors. They have ensured this by arguing that banks should maintain solvency and by pumping in money and letting investors take out money.

3. If IMF is composed of best PhD economists, they know better of macro-economic policies. Why shouldn't IMF be allowed to enforce its policies?

Stiglitz argues that many economic theories do not incorporate crises and insolvency the exact things that IMF handles. The policies have to be well sequenced by analyzing the ground conditions and by more arguments across the board. Even IMF people are recruited and move into Wall Street firms without any regulations. This creates lot of incentives for these folks to obilige Wall Street firms.
 
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