Thursday, October 23, 2008

India now is second in the world to have exceptional remote sensing capability

India is the second country in the world that has an indigenously developed and perfected the art of producing high resolution maps of objects moving in the world. India's Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) can offer maps of objects anywhere in the world which is at least a meter apart.

Only US possessed such a capability till date. In fact, the pictures of US war on Afghanistan was captured by TES very accurately.

After its launch in 2001 (this news I discovered late and hence people who knew this should forgive me for posting the news this late), India is still the second country in the world which has this special satellite.

Here's the BBC and wikipedia sources as references.

India has the world's largest Remote sensing satellite constellation

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has always worked on projects, which have benefited the country as a whole and perhaps is the only space agency in the world involved purely in this work (except now that it has launched programs for exploration beyond the Earth's trajectory).

In this connection, as Indians we must be proud of the fact that our remote sensing satellite constellation is the largest in the world used solely for civilian purposes. We have now 8 satellites in a constellation. They are:

1) IRS 1-D
2) Oceansat - 1 (monitors the chlorophyll content of oceans and the sea surface temperature. ISRO scientists use the information to identify areas where cold, nutrient-rich water wells up from the ocean floor, which in turn attract fish)
3)Technology Experiment Satellite
4) Resourcesat - 1
5) Cartosat - 1
6) Cartosat - 2
7) Cartosat 2A (capable of detecting missile launches in all regions surrounding India. Also, it can real time 3D mappings of regions in the world. Check out this image of Delhi got from the satellite)
8) IMS 1

These provide the following services:

  • Preharvest crop area and production estimation of major crops.
  • Drought monitoring and assessment based on vegetation condition.
  • Flood risk zone mapping and flood damage assessment.
  • Hydro-geomorphological maps for locating underground water resources for drilling well.
  • Irrigation command area status monitoring
  • Snow-melt run-off estimates for planning water use in down stream projects
  • Land use and land cover mapping
  • Urban planning
  • Forest survey
  • Wetland mapping
  • Environmental impact analysis
  • Mineral Prospecting
  • Coastal studies
  • Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development (initiated in 1992) for generating locale-specific prescriptions for integrated land and water resources development in 174 districts.

National Remote Sensing Agency(NRSA) in Hyderabad is the central agency in India that collects all signals from this constellation.

The best part is ISRO has already linked 69 hospitals in remote areas of India such as the Andaman Islands to 19 hospitals in India's main cities. A health worker in a remote location can then transmit a patient's medical information to a specialist in seconds and, in many cases, a video consultation is sufficient for diagnosis.

If government could realize enormous potential of this reality it can bring drastic changes in a abysmal health system we have.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bush's greatest foreign policy success

On a blog that contains articles related to India, the title above seems contradictory to it. However, this article concerns India. The outgoing American President George W. Bush is known for all wrong actions and undoubtedly it is he who messed up the world big time. In contrast ,he is the best President who has over zealously changed US's foreign policy (favorable) towards India.

It was 1998 when Clinton came down heavily on Vajpayee, but Vajpayee, with his diplomatic skills completely altered Clinton's mindset. The result - the entire US senate started rethinking on its ties to India. US needed a country in SE Asia for strategic reasons to counter weigh communist China. India's vibrant democracy coupled with Indians in US contributing to US economy tilted Clinton in India's favor. The consequence was within 6 months of imposing sanctions against India it was lifted. US for the first time began to think India as a serious growing power and began to disengage Pakistan. The close proximity of US towards Pak took a back seat because of Vajpayee's pressure on Clinton. It was 1999 Kargil misadventure by Pak that convinced Vajpayee that he had to turn the tables in India's favor. So began the diplomatic journey of bringing the largest and most ancient democracies together.

The then US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was fully convinced with a growing India. When Bush came to power, nobody knew what his policy would be. With time, Bush became overzealous towards India. His thought about India, "The coming century will see democratic India’s arrival as a force in the world — a changing economy in which three of its five wealthiest citizens are software entrepreneurs" convinced Indian diplomats that Bush is going to change Indo-US relations.

At that time, Bush invited the then Indian home minister L.K. Advani. He remarked, "Mr. Advani, even before you came, your toughness and your history reached me". Advani began to establish a close association with Mr. Bush. The first thing Advani did was to put pressure on US to declare terrorist organizations like Lashkar and Hiszbul as international terrorist organizations. A declaration of this sort was not liked by Colin Powell (the then Secretary of State). However, Bush personally intervened and did what India wanted. Slowly, Bush isolated Pakistan and began to push relations with India without considering Pakistan. It was Vajpayee and Advani who made Pakistan dance to their tunes with the help of US. The entire US was exposed to the terror matrix of Pakistan and its evil intentions. Bush, particularly, realized the significance of India. The sudden supply of American jets, fighter plans, joint naval and military exercises with Indian counterparts, and many other such events were breakthroughs.

Bush is primarily responsible for changing US relations with India outside the Pakistan axis. He personally had laid foundation for nuclear deal with Vajpayee. But, government fell and before its fall Vajpayee clearly conveyed to Bush that India will not give up its right to test and will not sign either NPT or CTBT. Bush also could not go ahead with a deal with India without amending Hyde Act in American Senate. It was then Condolezza Rice who came in as the Secretary of State and worked together with Bush. Rice and Bush pushed for 123 Agreement just to deal with India. This is the greatest foreign policy deviation for one particular country which has not signed either CTBT or NPT. Bush overpowered all those opposing Senators who raised doubts about India's credibility. It was Bush who went at a lightning speed and met Indian PM Manmohan Singh and tabled the civilian deal. Of course, not to forget Indian NRIs and Indian diplomats worked round the clock to change Indo-US relations under Bush. And adding to all these was PM Manmohan Singh's personal government and credibility that was at stake. Mr. Singh's conviction helped him to remain rigid (It is another story that many assurances given by him later proved to be false). PM Singh must be congratulated for his perseverance. It was Mr. singh who really saw the need of getting close to US was more than a necessity. I am happy that both Congress and BJP stood same w.r.t US and not necessarily the nuclear deal.

The rest is known and today Bush had made it a law (It is another topic to debate on the intricacies of the deal). The single most contribution of Bush is that he got clearance from all NSG countries to deal with India. This event was not a joke. To personally convince all 45 nations to do deal with India and bring India out of nuclear apartheid was a herculean task. If Vajpayee's diplomacy changed Indo-US relations, Bush's pro India stance solidified the same.

Despite the fact that Bush has been a big failure, his biggest success has been his policy towards India. Hence, Bush is preferred more than Clinton with respect to Indian diplomacy.

Here are some of the excerpts from Bush's speech after Indo-US nuclear deal was signed:

"Even though the United States and India are separated by half the globe, we are natural partners as we head into the 21st century. Both our nations emerged from a colonial past to establish vibrant democracies. We have welcomed investment and private enterprise to become leaders in the global economy. We have stood against the dangers posed by extremists, who have carried out attacks in both our countries. We have demonstrated that we cherish liberty, honor human dignity, and respect the rule of law."

"This agreement sends a signal to the world: Nations that follow the path of democracy and responsible behavior will find a friend in the United States of America. The American people are proud of our strong relationship with India . And I am confident that the friendship between our two nations will grow even closer in the years ahead."

Such statements by an American President only signifies that India is now a significant player in US's foreign policy. Despite all this everything is not rosy. US is known for clandestine diplomatic moves. India must be cautious of this and work very smartly. Indian foreign policy since 1994 is getting mature and mature everyday. This cuts across the main parties - BJP and Congress which differ in semantics but not on protocol and policies. This will help foreign policy to a great extent.

For the complete speech, click here

But will Obama (if comes to power) be like Bush? No, he seems to be tough with India and this is a big mystery if and how he does incline to India.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is Indian economy really strong?

In the deteriorating days of the world economy, there are several experts, analysts, strategists, planners who become jingoistic about India's economy and its fundamentals and give strong statements like "India is very strong", "It is insulated from the world economic crisis".

Can we trust these agencies after realizing that the so called credit rating agencies miserably failed in giving right ratings about a company? Can we trust those statistics whose basic premise and analysis always do not come under scrutiny of a common man? Can we really say, "Yes, Indian economy is strong enough to wither this crisis". Now, if this is yes, next question should be "why" and "how "?

To understand and answer this question, we must also bring in China and also understand the problem with the US economy. The US economy became buzz with words like "investment banking" in early 1990's. The complete deregulation of this business led to cut throat competition amongst companies. US is an example of extreme capitalist economy in which common norms and simple logics do not apply and what matters is just where a company is headed towards. With no regulation and cut throat competition crossing the limits, each major economic entity (investment bank) collapsed. This collapse is not sudden, but has been happening very frequently whenever innovations went overboard. No doubt money was in full supply with all such banks and everything appeared smooth. Deregulation always ensured that US is competitive than any other world economy and it is precisely on this premise several economy players have wanted Indian one to be deregulated.

India, no doubt, has no good infrastructure or health care system, but its banking system is rock solid. India's banking system is so strong because of a simple single reason. These banks are tightly regulated by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which for years has been doing a tremendous job. The real impact of RBI was felt post liberalization in 1991. RBI has supreme powers in the country and never allows any bank(public and private both) to take more risks than it can handle. For this, RBI doesn't rely on credit rating agencies like in the US, but a more stronger evidence of a company's performance in meeting core banking requirements. India's major problem till 1991 was lack of external funds which could have been used for developmental purposes. Post 1991 when we opened up and till now, we have not gone back w.r.t regulation.

Every time there was a section of economists who believed in absolute deregulation while policy makers always were cautious of this approach because of already calculated and carefully calibrated risks that our economy must be mixed in the sense there should be regulation and deregulation in a balanced mode. It is as a consequence of these factors that our banks are very calculative in lending even though borrower has the capacity to repay.

Indian economy is very strong in macro fundamentals which include high growth, low inflation, sustained foreign reserves inflow which exceed its imports, and declining poverty levels. India ,of late, began to have high inflation. However, strong growth mainly driven by services sector and manufacturing have ensured that fundamentals are strong. Poverty levels are coming down and purchasing power has increased. India has also a well defined capital market system. India is very good in strong institutions which regulate both stock markets and banking. We also have very good structural parameters. What we lack is government will on ensuring fiscal deficit is low. We are very bad at this. We depend heavily on subsidies, govt funds, tax rebates for poor people and this is mainly to satisfy the election vote banks. If we can maintain low fiscal deficit, we can over power China in its economic strength. The other area we need to focus is infrastructure. This when done can match up with China. If infrastructure takes years to achieve, fiscal deficit is easy to achieve and requires policy changes.

Chinese economy is bad in everything except that it is adept in keeping its fiscal deficit low and concentrating on low cost manufacturing and sound infrastructure. Chinese banking system is extremely absymal. They don't have strong institutions like RBI which can govern independently of the government. This exactly makes China more vulnerable to a crisis than India. However, given the fact that US depends heavily on china, China is stronger than India today.

So, in answering the fundamental question, Is indian economy strong, it is very clear that we still are very strong in our macro fundamentals. However, our stock market is so much exposed to foreign ones that any impact there will affect us. Moreover, our services sector very much depends upon world economies. If we take out these we still continue to be very strong. Secondly, our foreign reserves have seen quantum jumps. This has been primarlily because our markets are giving that profits to foreign investors. This continued trust has ensured foreign direct investment to flow despite recession. Last month despite recession, there was 180% jump in FDI flow than the same month last year.

Today, our FDI reserves are much more than debts we owe to other countries. Unlike 1991, where we had shortage of money, we don't have it now. India is so strong now that if there is a need, liquidity can be pumped in very easily because of our strong reserves. Our reserves are not going to deplete as long as our demands don't decrease. A growing population coupled with increasing purchasing power parity will always ensure that we have continuous demands.

We, even today, can target our home grown goods and services to ourselves and yet end up making reasonable sales than depending upon exports for higher profits.

However, India needs serious measures to contain its increasing fiscal deficit by reducing subsidies,unwanted expenditures on sectors solely for vote banks and increase infrastructural growth. Furthermore, a factor that will continue to plague fiscal deficit is also the fact that all states don't grow at the same rate and do not maintain the same deficits. Some states are growing at twice the rate as the national one, while some don't even show signs of economic growth.

India doesn't have to depend upon foreign reserves if it can contain its fiscal deficit.

Kashmir gets its first train..An Engineering feat

For people who have studied the time line of Kashmir railway line, it appears rather pathetic that the project has always been involved in bureaucratic delays. This project, however, is a real arduous task because it has to be realized by passing through some of the toughest terrains in the world - The Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas.

Jammu and Kashmir people have never seen a railway track in their state. Till 2004, it was cut off from the rest of the country. Way back in 1980's, Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone for connecting Jammu to Baramulla in Kashmir. However, geo-technical problems and funding delayed the project till 2001 when Vajpayee made the project as National Project which means no matter what happens the project will have continuous flow of funds till completion. So, work began at a war footing pace.

The entire 300 km railway track connects North to South of J&K and is divided into following tracks:
  • 55 km Jammu Udhampur (already functional)
  • 25 km Udhampur Katra-Vaishov Devi (most challenging and yet in construction)
  • 140 km Katra Qazigund (The toughest track to be made and don't know if will be made ever)
  • 66 km Qazigund Srinagar (functional now as inaugurated today)
  • 60 km Srinagar Baramulla (will be opened soon)

Udhampur railway station above

The 2.5 km long tunnel (required great engineering skills to make this tunnel and is immune to landslides)

Finally, Jammu-Udhampur railway link was open in May 2005 by Lalu Prasad Yadav...Here is an article which describes the journey through the railway line by an Indian express journalist

First, salient features:

53 km track connecting Jammu to Udhampur Cost: 550 crore 20 tunnels, 158 bridges, has a 2.5 km tunnel longer than NH1 (Jammu-Srinagar highway) Gambhir bridge is an engineering feat and is 77m above sea level.

Here's the video of Gambir bridge which is higher than even Qutub Minar

Now, coming to Kashmir:

The Katra (Vaishov Devi)- Qazigund is a 140 km railway track that is the most challenging and has been constantly delayed because the soil is loose and making tracks on such high altitudes is a very daunting task. This line however is not yet opened and not sure if it will open even in 2010. However, Qazigund-Baramulla link will be opened soon which is abt 120 km of which 66 km Budgam to Anantnag track has been opened. It is historic because it passes through Budgam, Anantnag, Srinagar. Srinagar will get the first railway track ever since 1947. The salient features include:

The info below is taken from here

The Valley train has a specially designed 1,400-horse power engine and an auxiliary engine that will generate heat to keep the engine and its lubricants from freezing. It will also pump hot air into the coaches to keep passengers warm. The railways has also developed its own snow-cutting "cattle guard" for the engine so that the train runs in sub-zero temperatures without any problem.

  • The main engine has a sleek aerodynamic profile with fibre reinforced plastic. The driver's cabin will be provided with a single glass screen to give a wider view. Along with "cab heating," the driver's screen has an inbuilt de-snowing and de-fogging unit.
  • The "snow-cutting type cattle guard" has been developed by the Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala, to clear snow from tracks during winter. "This will enable the train to run even in the absence of snow-cutting machines," a senior Northern Railway official said.
  • Each coach has a capacity to seat 90 persons. Each coach has a 900-mm wide door to enable easier entry and exit.
  • They will also have sliding doors like the ones in the Delhi Metro. The coaches have roof-mounted heating units, necessary during the severe winters.
  • The heating units will keep the temperature at a constant level of 20 degrees Celsius. The windows will be wide, made of unbreakable splinter proof polycarbonate sheet, to provide a "breathtaking panoramic view of the Kashmir valley," the railway official added.
  • The coaches have been provided with pneumatic suspension for better riding comfort and fitted with executive chair cars with fire resistant grade upholstery and a reclining mechanism. The coaches will have a public information system with display and automatic announcement features just like the Delhi Metro.
The best part is Qazigund Srinagar train which has been equipped with some of the latest equipments and machinery that can withstand extreme low temperatures.

The most important effect will be on the livelihood of the people which will get better. There are several people who can use. Look at the price. Jammu udhampur or even Anantnag Budgam is Rs.15 one way which is so affordable to the common man there. The rail links will also connect J&K to the rest of the country once Katra-Qazigund is opened.

Images courtesy: Skyscraper and Wikipedia