Friday, May 30, 2014

Using IT for Real Estate Registration and making the use of Black money risky

The following comment in an Indian Express column by Pratik Kanjilal reminded me of my own feelings that we talk of money in Swiss banks and ignore the elephant in the room which affects almost anyone needing to buy or sell property:
But gentle reader, do put yourself in the shoes of the black money-wallah, who has allegedly salted away $1.5 trillion. Would you stash it in a European bank where a return of 3 per cent looks fantastic, or in an Indian real estate project where 25 per cent is boring? When shall we see a programme on black money which asks why it must be recovered dramatically from foreign shores, when most of it is obviously here in India?
And I wonder what if the property registration process was modified as follows:

  1. Register a sale on a web site.
  2. An auction is initiated for, say, 10 days.
  3. Anyone can bid over the registration price.
  4. At the end of the auction, if a successful bid is present:
    1. The seller received the extra amount
    2. The buyer is refunded his purchase price
    3. The government gets extra stamp/registration duty.
  5. Property is registered in the name of the buyer of the successful bidder as the case may be.
 Wouldn't everyone benefit :)

Friday, May 23, 2014

The True Right to Education - Goan experience 20 years ago

When I think of the RTE act, I think of my personal experiences around 20 years ago.

I had been transferred to Goa and it was the middle of the school year. I sought help of colleagues for admission to schools and was suggested a school near my residence (and office). We went to meet the principal. I was terribly scared.

The experiences in Delhi with schools were memorable and by no means pleasant. We had been lucky with our elder son. A new school had opened and admission was relatively simpler. I had been deeply disturbed about the alternate of taking help of my father's connections for admission. Situation is most likely much worse now in Delhi than it was a quarter of a century ago.

Anyway, after a brief talk, our sons were admitted and we happily went to the school office. We asked where to pay the fees. The office was confused. It took them and us a while to understand that the education was free. No fees whatsoever!

So, this brings me to the point which bothers me about RTE. Private schools are being asked to reserve seats for the under privileged, whereas I would have preferred a scenario where even the rich want to go to public(as in free) schools as our children experienced in Goa.

The more I read about the teachers being absent from school or not teaching and the more I fail to understand.
  • How can a person stand in front of children for years and ignore their needs? 
  • What sort of a person would do that?
  • How do such people wind up in the school system?
    • Is the selection process the culprit?
    • Is the schools' culture such that the teachers conform to not teaching?
    • Has the society become so perverse that we do not feel any shame or guilt about not fulfilling our responsibilities?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Indian Elections and a Definition of Insanity

Can election results get rid of corruption?

The expenses on elections are visible. What is not visible is the amount, its source and the givers' expectations. So, what can zero tolerance for corruption mean?

But I still vote. Oh, well, the following quote helps :)
Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way & expecting a different outcome. Attributed as Chinese Proverb
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bureaucracy and rules versus reasonableness and operational constraints

My mother gets a family pension. The pension amount, as it was two years ago, is transferred to a joint account by standing instructions. So far so good.

The pension has increased as per per the defined pension policies (ridiculously generous for the officials by the officials). I wanted to get the standing instructions for the amount transferred increased. I tried to convince the bank to apply reasonableness as I am the nominee of the pension account anyway. However, the bank officials do not know what to do as there is no way for them to communicate with my mother and get a confirmation that she wants the standing instructions to be modified in her present state of health.

The additional monthly income hardly matters to me but I decided to pursue as there will be people for whom this would make a major difference.

In the process, I found that to contact RBI, I needed to use IE! Submitting the form on Linux/Firefox failed. I have a vm of windows xp for such exigencies.

I have also communicated with Central Pension Accounting Office. Let me see if I get any response of any use.

While I sympathize with the bank officials' constraints, I also see news like  Wilful bank loan default crosses Rs.70,000 cr. Oh, well. I suppose rules were followed in those cases. I also wonder what is the source of the money for elections, no matter who out-funds whom :(

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Indian Elections - Feeling cheated - time to add a negative vote as well

In the winner take all, I am reminded of the information asymmetry in Economics. While in economics, it can lead to market failures, in elections it can lead to failures in outcome of elections which can aggravate the differences in the social groups and lead to a worse environment for all people.

There are two ways I could use decide for whom to vote - for a specific candidate or against a specific candidate. This does not cause any conflict if there are just two candidates. But how to chose in a scenario with more than two candidates? There is no rational way for me to decide as there is no information. Polls may be useful, however, they may very well be unreliable and misleading.

The winner take all leads to obvious misuse of dummy candidates standing for election as seems fairly obvious in the case of Manpreet Singh Badal.

In a fragmented society like ours, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever evolve to a two party system. In fact, that may not even be desirable.

A simple option could be a rerun of the leading two candidates - so that in the first election I can vote for a candidate and in the second, I can vote against a candidate in case needed. I would not feel cheated of my vote.

We could avoid a rerun by having two votes in the beginning only - one for a candidate(positive) and one against a candidate(negative) and the winner is the one with the maximum net votes. This could create an environment in which cooperation is the preferred outcome.

The alternate way to avoid a rerun would be to use a proportional system similar to that of Germany.

I hope the system is changed no matter what the outcome of the election this year. The trouble is that how to get the elected majority to change rules which may be against them :(

Friday, May 9, 2014

xkcd radiation chart putting fear of nuclear power in perspective

I came across the xkcd radiation chart again and was reminded of the irrational fear many people have of nuclear power. Fortunately, Supreme Court finally cleared Kudankulam nuclear power plant. Good news now that the summer season of power cuts has started. At least it gives hope that cuts may be fewer in future.

I was surprised to find that the nuclear agreement Dr. Manmohan Singh had fought for has had an impact - Nuclear power the one bright spot in year of core slowdown.

I wouldn't be surprised if the fear of anti-nuclear lobby discourages the government from highlighting the achievements in power generated from nuclear power plant.

Someone(on Lok Sabha TV?) had suggested that government should give subsidized and 24 hour power supply to all people in the area surrounding the power plant.  This may be a great motivator if the Rajya Sabha tv report was correct - villages and towns in the region surrounding some of the largest and oldest thermal power plants in UP get power only for 4 hours!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Elections, News Channels and Allergies

John Oliver's satire on Indian elections is remarkably funny, especially his description of our commercial news channels.

I appear to have developed an allergy to a number of people caused by overexposure even though I hit these channels only while channel surfing. I begin to feel physically sick if I pause on one of our commercial news channels for any length of time.

And I feel tempted to blame Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV because if they did not interrupt their shows with advertisements, I would not be channel surfing. Why do they have the interruptions when the interruptions are announcements for other shows and public interest messages is beyond me. Why can't they follow the continental Europeans if they are looking for role models :(

While DD News channel is rather boring as it wants to play it very safe, the discussions on RS TV  & LS TV are often enlightening aside from being calm. This, sadly, is not the case if the guests include representatives of political parties. The participants on their shows are more varied as well, only a few guests are repeated occasionally.

One tragedy is that both these channels are trying to absorb the gimmicks of the commercial channels, like multiple windows, distracting graphics and more guests than appropriate. The worst shows are when there are four guests and the silent guests are staring into space waiting for their chance. The guest speaking at times does not get a chance to complete his thought because the other guests need to be accommodated. And some hosts insist on have their own say and dominate the discussion time with elaborate questions.

Robots will take jobs, Inequality will grow & Rich will inherit more

I read A billion shades of grey in the Indian Express a couple of days ago and the next day came read Today In Dystopian War Robots That Will Harvest Us For Our Organs.

Reading the two makes it obvious that the Economist article is wishful in thinking that
But governments should focus not on redistributing income but on generating more of it by reforming retirement and education.
Seems odd given that their analysis also states:
Wealthy old people will accumulate more savings, which will weaken demand. Inequality will increase and a growing share of wealth will eventually be transferred to the next generation via inheritance, entrenching the division between winners and losers still further.
One would expect that some way of fairly increasing inheritance tax seems to be obvious option.

If more people are educated better, it is far more likely that even programmers will earn minimum wage and a smaller proportion of them will be employed. 

It is interesting that discussions around what the kind of an economic system we will have - After Technology Destroys Capitalism is becoming common.