From the Desk of Chairman (February 2024)

Recently, by accident I waded into an unfamiliar territory on the internet when I got a chance to listen to Erci Malayalam Podcast that claims to discuss ‘Normalising Cheating/Relationship/Living Together/Kerala Tourism/Bali/Long Distance Relationship’ through engaging discussions, insightful conversations and thought-provoking content spanning a wide range of topics. I was zapped listening to the podcast, not so much for the claimed salacious content but for the structure of the presentation of the podcast. There were about four participants and an anchor in the age group of late twenties to early thirties. This, I am guessing based on the conversations they were having.  Now let me come to the point. The entire session was for nearly an hour, I guess.  Though the subjects for discussion were a little sensitive, the participants could discuss them authoritatively with the knowledge they already had.  But nothing to write home about. That is not my point either.  The entire discussion was conducted in a bilingual format – Malayalam and English; sorry let me put it the other way around.  It was in English and Malayalam – the former 65% of the time!  Again, I have no problem with that format. However, the discussions were simply intriguing for another reason. Let me come tome to that.  If I were to put the flow of the conversation, the subjects were covered broadly in English (say perhaps living together, cheating, wife, marriage, etc., etc.). However, the continuity of the conversation was being maintained in Malayalam  where deployment of verbs play a crucial part. Someone who is unfamiliar with both the languages could ride easily with the flow. If you understand English, you are home and dry.  I was simply zapped. I had switched on the podcast, convinced that the Malayalee participants, all of them, would struggle throughout.  I was mistaken.  If you know both the languages, like me, you wouldn’t even know that they were using a bilingual form of communication. As long as you are not judging the language proficiency of the participants,  you should have no problem. It is no secret that many a Malayalee find themselves challenged when comes to both their pronunciation and mastery of the English language. Here they are circumventing the challenge posed by the language. Even for this format of communication, they use the English expression – blending! They use nouns in English for adjectives when it comes to retaining continuity of sentences, they deploy their native tongue thereby seamlessly stitched together both the languages. In fact, it is better than Hinglish, the colloquial blend of English and Hindi.  Lord Babington Macaulay, a British politician and historian was tasked with the assignment of reforming the education system in India during the British days. He had held the view that Indian learning was inferior to European learning. Macaulay landed in India in 1835. In February 1835, he provided the Council with his famous Minutes saying so, which Lord William Bentinck accepted. Accordingly, a resolution was adopted in March 1835 that the British government should focus primarily on promoting European science and literature among Indians and “all money appropriated for the purpose of education would be best spent on English education alone”. Macaulay also held the view that if Indians think that all that is foreign like English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become, what we want them, a truly dominated nation.” Lord Macaulay would be jumping about these days in the narrow confines of his grave thrilled that his country’s language has got so well blended with a little-known Indian language called Malayalam. Do I compliment the canny Macaulay or clever Malayalee for evolving this convenient format of conducting a conversation?

It is generally believed and for good reasons that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) headquartered in the Hague, Netherlands is more a paper tiger than a genuine judicial forum where enforceable judicial decisions are handed down. Even while putting together this august judicial forum under the UN Charter there were limited expectations of it turning out to be an effective platform handing down enforceable judicial decisions.  It is now a judicial forum that dispenses orders that ICJ itself cannot enforce without the active help of members of the UN. The orders of the ICJ can at best be a little more than advisories clothed in legal jargons. For them to be effective the judicial forum needs some teeth. The Court has a motley crowd of 17 judges drawn from member states. Member nations may not be afraid of the ICJ but are loathe to take matters to it as adverse observations by ICJ can engender diplomatic problems for member states.  This is exactly what happened when South Africa approached ICJ with a complaint alleging that what Israel is doing in Gasa is nothing short of genocide. It is not easy to miss the irony of the situation here.  Jews by far were the worst sufferers of genocide at the hands of Hitler. The same nation is being accused of genocide now!  The Holocaust resulted in more than 17 million Jews getting executed by the time World War II ended. When the case was admitted by the ICJ no one expected any thing significant to happen. Yet this case did generate an unusual level of interest as people around the globe were aghast to see at what was happening to the Palestinians. Many a country wanted Israel to be held accountable for the brutalities in Gaza and for good reasons. Such an order becomes a legitimate reason for countries to stop funding Israel’s war efforts. The revulsions at the violence perpetrated, whatever be the justification, is too much to accept especially against people who have no way to defend themselves. If this is not inhuman, it is time to take that very word out of the dictionary.  However, many a country including South Africa is unhappy with the decision of ICJ for the reason that the Court stopped short of ordering a cease fire. Now it remains to be seen how the whole situation in Gaza pans out.  The carte blanche enjoyed is over. Again, this Order of the Court should act as a moral suasion for Israel. Moral suasion is when someone seeks to persuade a country to act in a certain way through rhetorical appeals, persuasion or implicit threats as opposed to the use of outright coercion or physical force.  Among the comity of nations Israel has turned out to be a pariah.  One can only hope that the barbarity in Gaza against Palestinians comes to an end.

On 3rd January we witnessed on our television screens a terrible tragedy unfolding and some outstanding examples of professionalism born out of extraordinary discipline when a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane collided with a Japan Coast Guard plane at the Haneda airport in Tokyo. It was an Airbus 350. Though the accident was an extremely tragic one, sending a chill down your spine if you can only imagine what it could have been.  There is also this moot question whether lives of the passengers would have been saved if this accident had happened with some other airlines in the world. Let us look at the human side of the tragedy that eventually, in one strange sense, turned out to be a profile in courage born out of sheer professional discipline – Japanese style. The plane was carrying 379 passengers. While landing it rammed into a small plane that was about to take off from the same runway. These are bare facts for record. Let us leave it at that and turn our attention to the passenger plane. The moment the passenger plane hit the smaller one on the runway, some passengers noticed that the worst was inevitable – another number in statistics and a certain death sentence to oneself.  That must have been the thought in everyone’s mind except those petty and smart airhostesses in the aircraft. All of us have read about what emergency evacuations entail but none of us what they are.  The moment the plane came to a bumpy halt they made the announcements to the seated and passengers with seatbelts on. They were told to approach the doors of the aircraft and slide down the escape chutes. No piece of luggage was to be carried with them except themselves! Can you imagine?  The passengers did exactly that thereby saving precious seconds while disembarking from the burning plane.  To cut a long story short, the passengers, all of them, slid down the chute when plane was still burning behind them.  They did that when the entire cabin was full of smoke with little visibility. From the account of some of the passengers they were expecting the plane to explode any time before they could feel the earth at the far end of the chute. As per the standard operating procedures on air safety such an emergency evacuation should take 90 seconds. JAL crew managed to get the passengers out in all of ten minutes. That aside, just imagine what would be the situation if it were to happen in any of our airports with our passengers including you and me. Our first instinct would be to reach for our bags above, inevitably delaying the evacuation.  A passengers bag may be carrying sufficient currency for important transactions! The luggage could have also jewellery meant to be worn for a wedding to attend as soon as you land. These statements are not meant to be hypothetical discussion points. Do we care for the instructions given by the stewardesses?  We, particularly those from the corporate sector are told all the time the importance of discipline. Instances like these though costly, reminds us why the Japanese dominate in the fields in which they work. Next time when my plane lands, even if the passenger sitting next to me pushes me to stand up and get out, I know what I will do.  I will simply refuse – for my own sake. Thank you, the staff of JAL, for sensitising me on what I should do for my own safety. It is for nothing that they say that safety records are written in the blood of others who have not been fortunate enough to escape tragedies of similar kind. No wonder that Japanese management principles are the most preferred palate in the corporate circles.

The Census is conducted once every 10 years. The most recent Census was conducted in 2011, and as per the original schedule the subsequent Census was scheduled for 2021. However, the 2021 Census had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conducting a Census in India is daunting task.  Still India had been quite regular in this statistical exercise till the pandemic struck.  For reasons better known to the authorities, we now do not even know when this all-important government initiative would resume.  There is a reason for bringing up this point here.  What is not measured is not controlled that is the basic management lesson. There is also one more factor.  The Census data is routinely used in various measurements and parameters.  One of the reasons for not resuming this exercise is the issue of caste census which is a political hot potato. Be that as it may, let me come to one other matrix, measurement of which is dependent on the decadal Census – the information about the country’s poverty levels. Probably to overcome this issue and to fill a gap in information, NITI Ayog came out with a National Multilevel Poverty Index (MPI). MPI typically considers factors such as health, education, and standard of living to provide a comprehensive understanding of prevailing poverty. It assesses the intensity and breadth of poverty at the individual level.  It has three dimensions – health, education, and standard of living. These dimensions are represented by another set of twelve indicators including nutrition, maternal health, and school attendance. Again, according to NITI Aayog, the proportion of people in India who are multidimensionally poor has decreased from 55.34% in 2005-06 to 14.96% in 2019-21. The discussion paper of NITI Ayog claims that 24.82 crore people escaped from multi-dimensional poverty during the last 9 years. According to the Ayog’s Report, India is well on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) halving multi-dimensional poverty by 2030.  The Report finds that this feat was as a result of a slew of government initiatives which incidentally were achieved during the tenure of the current government over last 9 years.  The jury is still out over the claims made by the NITI Ayog’s Report. One of the biggest criticisms against Ayog’s claim is that it has anchored its findings on the data provided by the Census of 2011 that is outdated and unreliable to today’s realities. If the findings are correct, what explains India’s worsening rank in the Global Hunger Index? In the end, it is like a clever bureaucrat in the ministry of a clever minister preparing a clever Report.  Remember the saying – “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Sci-fi (short form for scientific movies) is a genre of speculative fiction which typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life and what have you. Looks as if it is no longer futuristic. This genre is at your doorstep.  Elon Musk, the high priest of innovation and creativity has recently decided to act God. He announced the other day that his startup called Neuralink had successfully installed a brain implant in a human patient with promising results. Neuralink is the product of neurotechnology, a company co-founded by Musk in 2016.  It makes it possible for this implant to build direct communication channels between human brains and computers.  The stated objective of this experiment is to treat neurological disorders like Parkinson’s which will inevitably lead to achieving a symbiotic relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.  This startup has already won approval from US regulators to test its brain implants in people. According to the company, Neuralink’s technology will mainly work through an implant called “Link” – a device about the size of five stacked coins placed inside human brains through invasive surgery.   Neuralink’s capabilities are touted to be that it would enable a blind man to see and someone with a severed spinal cord, ‘full-body functionality! In the evening of my life when I look back at my life these sort of ‘miracles’ were either as a result of what is called faith healing, or some such miracles that were confined only to an imaginary world in the sci-fi territory. Nor did I expect to see such miracles to happen in my lifetime.  Now that it is happening, let me add one more oxymoron to my dictionary – the human robot!

As always, this year also we covered the Budget presented by the Finance Minister on 1st February 24 and also did a clause-by-clause analysis of the changes proposed in the Finance Bill. These were circulated to all on the same day with our views on them. We believe that you will find them useful. We thank you for the enthusiasm shown by you in the Webinar conducted by us following the Budget presentation explaining the changes proposed in the Interim Budget as part of our knowledge sharing initiative.



Thank You

Venkat R Venkitachalam

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