Tuesday, December 25, 2007

fifteen killed as bridge collapses after hindu festival

By Jason Overdorf in Delhi
Published: 26 December 2007

At least fifteen people were killed and hundreds missing feared dead last night after the collapse of a suspension bridge over a river in a remote part of rural Nepal, a local official said.

The bridge across the Bheri River, near Chunchu village in western Nepal, collapsed when 300-400 local people crowded on to it on their way to a Hindu religious festival. As many as half of them swam to safety, but many others were swept downstream and are feared to have drowned. Last night police officers at the scene predicted the death toll would rise.

"It was not an old bridge, but there were too many people on it," said Yam Prasad Suvedi, the district administrative officer of Surkhet District, the area where the accident occurred. The steel suspension bridge was about 350 metres long, Mr Suvedi said.

The Bheri River is said to have strong currents and be difficult to swim in, although the winter flow is said to be slower than at other times of the year. Some people were seen scrambling to safety.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, local agencies deployed a helicopter ambulance. After dark, the rescue efforts continued with boats. One local report estimated that rescuers helped about 40 people swim to safety and about 150 others managed to reach shore on their own.

The Nepalese Army, Armed Police Force, Nepal Police and Nepal Red Cross Society were mobilised along with several helicopters to search for survivors. The remote location of the bridge, however, about 240 miles from the capital, Kathmandu, delayed some of the relief efforts.

The timing of the incident, which occurred during the Bheri's low winter ebb, may have mitigated the effects of the disaster by allowing some of the victims to swim to safety.

The incident took place at around 1.30pm, as the victims made their way to a temple to celebrate the occasion of Dhanya Poornima, a full moon festival.

Last night hopes that a significant number of the missing would be rescued were fading. Anil Pandey, chief district officer in the area, said: "There were possibly 500 people on the bridge when it collapsed because of the weight. Some of them managed to climb to safety, some fell on the banks, but the ones who plunged into the river are the ones still missing."

Police and troops had been called in to help the rescue effort. Mr Pandey told the AFP news agency: "The rescue work has been halted for today as darkness has gripped the area. Police and army have set up temporary camps to begin rescue works from early Wednesday morning. "The remoteness of the area and poor communication facilities has delayed rescue efforts," Mr Pandey added.

According to some local reports, the majority of those missing are women and children. Deputy Inspector General at the regional Armed Police Force Office, Krishna Bahadur Bista, said that most people crossing the bridge had been women and girls.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

cashless in the hinterlands

Mobile banking might save the government and banks money and reduce fraud that plagues the public-distribution system.

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek (Dec. 17, 2007)

Mobile phones are making life better for people in remote, underserved areas of India. They no longer have to walk kilometers to public call offices to use a telephone—an essential tool for buying and selling goods based on the latest market data, getting credit from lenders and other commonplace activities. So far, most of the benefits have come from one of the phone's simplest features: voice calls.

With more than 250 million mobile users and 6 million new ones added each month, India now has the "teledensity" to support more-sophisticated mobile technologies, which could have a big impact on Indian society and the economy in the next few years. (An extra 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country leads to an additional 0.59 percentage points of growth in GDP per person, according to a London Business School study.) These include "voice broadcast" services that would let a truck owner inform residents of a village about a scheduled trip to the city, or doctors announce the availability of polio vaccinations. A more complex system would allow a small business, say, to keep track of shipments. What's holding up these services is the lack of mobile banking.

With urban markets nearing saturation, global giants like Nokia are now looking to appeal to the hinterlands. Reliance Communications, which has offered Internet service over its mobile phones since 2002, is sponsoring a contest this year for developers to invent new rural services. "We want to really take advantage of our mobile platform, our data network, and our ability to provide the mobile Internet experience to bridge the digital divide," says Mahesh Prasad, president of applications and development.

Several small companies are at work on mobile banking for small businesses. New Delhi-based ekgaon technologies has developed a system for tracking transactions made by so-called Self Help Groups, which pool members' money and offer small loans to poor people. The system uses a camera-equipped mobile phone to scan forms and a voice-recognition system. A.Little.World, a mobile software business in Mumbai, has developed a microfinance and payment system that lets customers perform banking transactions through a local agent affiliated with a bank (a practice allowed for the first time in January 2006). Customers get a secure electronic identity via phone or smart card; agents take deposits and dispense cash. Biometric data, such as fingerprints, make the phones and smart cards more secure than paper-based banking. A.Little.World has extended such services to about 400 local businesses acting as agents. And it's now working on a national rollout with the State Bank of India—the biggest player in the rural market. Meanwhile, ekgaon, whose partners include CARE, WorldVision and the World Bank, has a pilot transaction-management system for 10,000 Self Help Groups, with plans to extend it to 14 Indian states.

Mobile banking services can reduce the cost of transactions for loans and other services—the main obstacle to providing banking for the poor—by as much as three quarters, according to ekgaon's chief operating officer Rohit Magotra. Mobile transactions could have an even broader effect applied to India's social-security payments and public-distribution system, which sells essential goods to the poor at subsidized rates. By March 2008, people in 8,000 villages in Andhra Pradesh will get their benefits zapped via mobile phone to their smart cards, which they may eventually use instead of cash to buy goods at the ration shop. A.Little.World, which is building the system, says a nationwide service could help reduce fraud in the public-distribution system. It would also mean going from a bankless world to a cashless one, maybe even faster than America or Europe.
URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/74440

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

clear skies ahead?

India's economy reaches the "takeoff" point. But will tumultuous politics put it in a holding pattern?

By Jason Overdorf/New Delhi
(Newsweek Web Extra - November 24, 2007)

India's politics may be in turmoil, but so far the chaos hasn't put a crimp in the country's economy. Last quarter, GDP grew by more than 9 percent, a huge improvement over the 3.5 percent the country averaged in its first 30 years.

The explanation for the disconnect, according to a recent report by Lehman Brothers, is that India's economy has reached what experts call a "takeoff" point where the "old blocks and resistances to steady growth [have been] finally overcome." The report predicts that India's economic momentum has become virtually unstoppable, thanks to two main factors: an average 6.9 growth rate in per capita GDP since 2003, and a trade-to-GDP ratio that has doubled over the past seven years.

The surge in per capita GDP to about $800—from less than $350 in 1995—has more than doubled the size of India's middle class to about 50 million, increasing demand for consumer goods and stimulating manufacturing. The increase in the trade-to-GDP ratio shows that India's economy has finally opened up to the world as dramatically as China's and South Korea's did before it. Meanwhile, a boom has boosted India's investment-to-GDP ratio into the 30 to 40 percent range, from about 15 percent in the early 1990s—hitting the level many analysts believe was essential to the rapid growth experienced in other parts of Asia. And the trends, according to Lehman Brothers, suggest that India is just getting started. If it continues to make economic reforms, such as simplifying taxes, loosening labor laws and changing the pension system to help build a healthy corporate bond market, the economy could soon hit China's mythic 10 percent annual growth rate.

But that's a big if. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reforms—most of which he made as finance minister between 1991 and 1996 (one reason he doesn't get credit for them now)—succeeded so well that they eliminated any sense of urgency. In this sense, the prime minister may be a victim of his own achievements. The problem, says Subir Gokarn, chief economist at Crisil, a credit-rating agency, is that "when the economy is doing so well, you cannot create a constituency for reform." The ability to make big changes, he explains, is "independent of the individual, independent of the party, independent of the system. When there's a widespread perception of crisis, then reform happens. When there isn't, it doesn't." In 1991, such a crisis atmosphere came from an exchange-rate drop that nearly depleted India's foreign-exchange reserves. But the country has faced no similar threat since 2004.

Thus reform has slowed dramatically. Singh's government has failed to take steps like relaxing India's stringent labor laws and selling off state-owned industries. That said, it has managed to make some important improvements in recent years—despite fractures within the governing coalition and the lack of an outside prod. For instance, after becoming prime minister in 2004, Singh, despite local opposition, began measures to allow foreign direct investment in the retail sector and to facilitate the creation of large domestic retail chains. He also moved to encourage public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects—potentially bringing more money and better management to one of India's biggest laggards. And he unleashed what could be the biggest stimulus for India's manufacturing sector since 1991, setting up a huge number (386) of special economic zones last year, where industry will enjoy preferential tax policies and government assistance in acquiring land. (Between 1965 and 2004, by contrast, India established only eight.)

The alignment of economic agendas between India's two largest political parties—Congress and the BJP--is perhaps the best sign of all for the country's economic future. Politics in India can prove unstable; four different governments ruled during the 1990s; the BJP-led alliance held sway from 1998 to 2003, and a coalition led by the Congress Party has ruled since 2004. But as the politicians have traded seats, economic reforms have continued apace. This suggests that despite some resistance and reluctance to make further changes, both of the major parties believe there's no going back on reforms already undertaken. Moreover, as the Lehman Brothers report points out, "The general pattern in democracies worldwide is that governments find it easier to push through reforms—and other potentially controversial legislation—earlier in their term of office." That means the 2009 general elections might give the Indian snowball another push, bringing 10 percent growth into view at last.
URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/72071

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

deal or no deal

By Jason Overdorf/New Delhi
Newsweek Japan (published in Japanese)

Not long back, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a group of executives that his fractured mandate has made it difficult for his government to do “what is manifestly obvious” to maintain his country's impressive economic growth. For Singh, who is renowned, and sometimes even criticized, for his humility, that was as acerbic as it gets. But the message hidden between the lines is the one that international observers should heed: If doing the obvious is difficult, then achieving the unexpected and controversial is well-nigh impossible. And unfortunately, by pushing forward a nuclear deal with the United States, that is exactly what the man often called India's weakest prime minister in history has set out to do.

To many, the nuclear pact, which was clinched between the two governments in August, does indeed seem obvious. For India, it is essentially an invitation to come in from the cold without substantially altering its nuclear policies. The pact would finalize the rollback of sanctions imposed when India tested its first nuclear device in 1974, allowing for the free transfer of technologies classified as “dual use” because they can be used for both peaceful and military projects. That in turn would spark a boom in the construction of nuclear power plants in a country which desperately needs more electrical power to meet its future targets for economic growth. For the US, the deal would provide a measure of international oversight for India's nuclear program by requiring international inspections of some of its facilities, even though it would not bring India under the ambit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It would facilitate billions of dollars worth of business agreements. And, perhaps most importantly, it would put an official stamp of sorts on India's gradual alignment of its foreign policy objectives with America's, making the one-time leader of the Cold War's Non-Aligned Movement into a full-fledged, bankable US ally.

But there's the rub, according to policy analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research. India's left sees the deal as the first step in a major overhaul of India's foreign policy that will force it to take a strong position against Iran—which some see as a natural regional ally; reorient its military spending from Russia and other former principal allies toward the US; and take on a pre-scripted role as the US-friendly counterbalance to China in Asia. “Part of it is a trust deficit,” says Mehta. “The prime minister wants to say, 'Trust me, I'm not going to sell India out to the US. And the others are saying, 'Well.... you sort of are.'” Many in the left, in fact, believe it was only their opposition that prevented India from sending troops into Iraq. As a result, India's communists--who hold 59 seats in the parliament and thus have the power to bring down Singh's United Progressive Alliance coalition government if they choose—said in no uncertain terms that they will withdraw support for the UPA and force new elections if Singh moves to implement the pact. This week, the deal received a new lease on life as the left relented and agreed to allow the government to send negotiators to talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on a nuclear safeguards agreement that needs to be signed before the pact can be implemented. But many observers suggest the move is designed to allow Singh to save face by conveniently letting the IAEA talks fail.

Because the question of a strategic alignment with the US is a sticky one, Singh, who has yet to give up, has of late begun to emphasize the economic benefits of the deal. India desperately needs more electrical power, the argument runs, and foreign-built nuclear plants will help meet that need while decreasing India's reliance on oil and gas imports and improving carbon emissions. "It's imperative for India to diversify its energy portfolio and enhance the share of nuclear energy because its heavy and growing reliance on [imported oil and natural gas] is going to be expensive and inflationary," argues Professor Anupam Srivastava, director of the Asia Program at the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade & Security. "The government cannot subsidize energy imports beyond a point, which makes 8-10 percent economic growth simply unaffordable. And as this growth slows down to around 5%, foreign capital and technology investment will also slow down, and in turn reduce India's ability to leverage economic gains in other strategic sectors."

To avert that problem, India plans through the pact with the US to increase the share of nuclear power in its energy mix from around three percent to as high as 20 percent by 2050—a goal that would involve building more than 40 new nuclear facilities. For US nuclear suppliers, but also for French, Canadian and Russian firms, this could mean orders running into many billions of dollars over the next several years. However, the deal's opponents argue that India's nuclear power targets may be overly ambitious, and may not even be necessary. In one recent study, for instance, the international development consultancy Dalberg found that even though India will need to increase its power generation capacity from today's 127 gigawatts to around 960 gigawatts by 2032 to meet its GDP growth target of 9%, that increase can be achieved without a dramatic increase in nuclear power production and the biggest gains in emissions will come through the use of clean coal technologies. “[The government's] projections are essentially doubling what they have done historically, so there are big questions about whether they'll be able to hit these numbers,” says John Stephenson, a senior consultant at Dalberg. “And even if they do hit these numbers, it [nuclear power] is a marginal energy source.”

However, focusing on the energy aspect of the agreement—whether to insist it is necessary or to denigrate it as trivial—is to ignore its real significance. And assuming, as do many pundits in India, that the ever closer political and economic relationship between India and the United States has attained an inevitable momentum may be a mistake. “India above all wanted to end its status as a 'nuclear outcaste,'” explains Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The deal would accomplish this.” On the other hand, if Singh fails to push it through after the US has agreed to virtually all of India's demands, it could have serious consequences for India's future ability to conduct bilateral negotiations with the US and other nations. “It [India] will start to look like a country that can't take yes for an answer,” Schaffer says.

Meanwhile, this deal could be a “now or never” proposition. President George W. Bush's status as a conservative hawk who was willing to invade Iraq over the perceived threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons grant him an authority to revisit the usefulness of the NPT in much the same way that former President Richard Nixon's anti-communist credentials made rapprochement with Mao Zedong politically feasible. If India blinks now, the deal will run into next year's American electoral campaign—guaranteed to put it on hold—and whatever president succeeds Bush will likely have neither the desire nor the mandate to put it back on the table. “I genuinely doubt that any successor, whether Republican or Democratic, would be in a position to make the same offer,” says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at the University of Indiana.

Likely, that's music to the ears of India's communists.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

in the comfort zone

India has wealth-building consumers rather than export riches. In today's market, that's a good thing.

By George Wehrfritz and Jason Overdorf
Newsweek (October 21, 2007)

By many measures, the economic picture in Asia looks pretty good. Despite subprime-induced global recession worries, stock markets from Hong Kong to Mumbai hang at dizzying heights and today's growth rates are faster than they've been in a decade. Of course, this prompts the question of whether the region is headed for a big fall—there's no avoiding the fact that cash-strapped American shoppers still undergird all the major economies. With one exception: India. As a credit crunch unfolds in the world's financial centers, the country of 1.1 billion is arguably Asia's most sheltered economy. The reason: "India is the only economy in Asia driven primarily by domestic demand," says Christopher Wood, chief strategist of the Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA.

In short, India's weaknesses have become its strengths. The country's oft-lamented inability to challenge the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut means that today's growth isn't as tied to ever-increasing toy, apparel and electronics exports. The relatively high cost of borrowing in India is one reason its roads and bridges are so bad, but that looks almost like a plus compared with China's near-zero interest rates and widespread overinvestment. And India's vibrant service sector is more insulated against a global slump than Chinese manufacturing. Services historically fare better in down markets, because of their lack of inventory issues.

Not that India set out to become recession-proof. While China's boom was planned from the center and executed by state companies, India's welled up from the private entrepreneurial and business classes, set loose by market reforms in the early '90s. Unlike China, India never forced consumers to funnel their savings to state export industries. The result is more flexibility and more balance, with India's GDP growth running at a 9 percent pace in 2007 for the third year running, sustained mainly by domestic consumption and a burgeoning middle class.

Already, India's domestic market is larger than South Korea's, at about $370 billion. By 2025, concludes a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, its consumer class will swell tenfold from today's tally of 50 million, making it the fifth largest market on the planet. This year India's per capita income will break through the $1,000 threshold on its way to tripling by the late 2020s. "India's lower level of investment relative to GDP has meant that consumption has played a bigger role in its growth story," says the McKinsey study. "Consumption in India is closer, proportionally, to developed countries such as Japan and the United States than it is to China."

China's spending on construction of roads, factories, condos and other infrastructure is approaching 50 percent of GDP, compared with India's healthier 32 percent. China's trade surplus is also roughly twice India's in percentage terms and, in 2006, China took in $63 billion in foreign direct investment to sustain its manufacturing boom, whereas India grew slightly slower but needed just $16 billion from abroad to do it. The net effect is that India's economy will feel less pain should the global economy weaken. "India's exposure to the global trade cycle is one of the lowest in the region," concluded a Morgan Stanley report to clients, issued in mid-September, "and therefore the impact of slower foreign trade [on India's economy] is likely to be one of the lowest."

Policymakers deserve some credit. Reserve Bank of India has kept the economy on a lean burn, setting interest rates in the 6 percent range, which is low enough not to stymie economic activity but high enough to discourage profligate investments. Elsewhere in Asia, ultralow rates—be they 2 percent mortgages in Hong Kong or near-zero loans from China's state banks—have driven overinvestment in both real estate and industry. And whereas India's passbook savings rates of 3 to 4 percent encourages household savings, negative returns in China have driven money into the only high-yield option available to average households: speculative stock and real-estate plays. Because India's boom has not been driven by dirt-cheap money, analysts argue, it is therefore more resilient to global credit tightening.

Recent forecasts back up the picture of Indian economic resiliency. One from Citibank in September analyzed the likely impact of a U.S. recession on Asia's two giants. The bank estimated that its 2008 GDP growth forecast for China would fall from the 11 percent level to 8.5 percent, whereas India's would dip about half that amount, from 9.4 to 8.1 percent. A new study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded that, by further liberalizing its labor markets, India could push its sustainable growth rate above 10 percent by 2011. Pai Panandikar, president of the the RPG Foundation, a prominent economic think tank in Mumbai, wrote last week that a U.S. recession would hit goods exporters hardest, while driving American companies to cut costs with further use of Indian software and technology services. "It is possible that the growth of merchandise exports may dip, but the [demand for] service climb," he argues.

What comes next in the resilient India story? Ironically, it could be a manufacturing boom akin to China's in the 1990s. India's huge domestic market, ultralow average wages and potential as an export platform to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe are attracting interest like never before, as manufacturers seek to limit their vulnerability to future political or economics changes in China. A handful of foreign carmakers such as Ford, General Motors, Hyundai and Suzuki have already opened plants, aiming to service customers abroad, as well as India's own large and rapidly growing domestic market for small cars. Lucrative Korean electronics and white-goods ventures already dominate the local market. In a new survey of more than 300 global manufacturing companies released last week, European consultancy Capgemini found "very keen interest" in India as a manufacturing base, says Roy Lenders, the report's author, who predicts that "India could challenge China as the manufacturing center of the world in the next three to five years." Such a shift would soak up millions of surplus rural workers, thereby widening the country's already formidable consumer base. "Thinking of China as a benchmark for successful development is still very strong in India," says Shankar Acharya, an economist with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. China has been growing much faster than India, for much longer. But the eventual lesson of this period of global uncertainty may be that India should just build on its own strengths, not worry about China's.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/43340

bowling for big bucks

A burgeoning middle class is giving the nation's beloved slow sport, cricket, new sex appeal

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek (October 21, 2007)

By today's sports logic, cricket should be dead. In its purest form, the game takes five days to play. Its upper lip remains so stiff that a batsman who declares himself out when the umpire blows the call gets cheers instead of boos. Its heroes aren't giants, either of height or girth. Some players, like Australian spin bowler Shane Warne, look like they have just set down a plastic cup of beer and climbed out of the bleachers.

But strangely, cricket is thriving. Over the past month or so, two new cash-rich professional leagues have been unveiled, ESPN Star Sports has launched a 24-hour cricket channel and a new, faster-paced version of the Cricket World Cup is gaining steam. Based on sponsorship rights being paid to the International Cricket Council, it's likely that cricket over the next few years will earn well in excess of $2 billion, twice what it has since 2000. The reason: new competitive forces within India, and a cricket-crazed Indian middle class, are making the sport big business. Australia may have won the last two World Cups. But James Fitzgerald, ICC spokesman, says, "It's no secret that India is becoming the sport's financial powerhouse."

Cricket is the cultural unifier of India, the most populous and most passionate of the cricketing nations (which also include England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka). Even bigger than Bollywood, televised cricket matches can capture 60 percent or more of the Indian viewing audience, some 450 million people. Yet the country has won a World Cup only once, thanks in part to the sclerotic Board of Control for Cricket in India, which has been failing to promote talent over the past few decades. Political concerns dictate the selection of the national team, and local and state feeder teams are chronically underfunded.

Media tycoon Subhash Chandra, chairman of India's largest listed television company, Zee Entertainment, aims to change all that. Last month he unveiled plans for a breakaway Indian Cricket League, with a $1 million prize for the champions and player salaries as high as $400,000 (top players in domestic leagues currently make about $32,000 in India, and rarely more than $80,000 even in England).

The Board of Control responded swiftly, threatening to ban players who join the new league from the international squad. When that proved unsuccessful, it announced 40 percent raises and revealed plans for its own new conference—the Premier Cricket League—which will include players from many nations and pay out $3 million to the winning team.

The new leagues will be backed by global advertisers, including Unilever, LG, Hutchison, Honda and others eager to reach Indian consumers. Average Indian incomes will triple by 2025, making India the fifth largest consumer market in the world, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Cricket, notes Guru Prasad Rao, vice president of the Mumbai-based media-buying firm Network Media, "is the one language that unites the country." Ad rates for matches are skyrocketing. Spots for a recent India-Pakistan championship game sold for $25,000 for 10 seconds (prime-time movies net $5,000).

Sponsorship rates are rising, too. Indian mobile operator Reliance Communications and PepsiCo India have reportedly paid between $60 million and $100 million apiece for rights to various contests over the next eight years, more than double what was paid between 2000 and 2007. Similarly, ESPN Star Sports is reported to have paid $1.1 billion for the broadcast rights for a package of games including two Cricket World Cups between 2007 and 2016.

What will it all mean for the sport? Just as football's English Premier League attracts the world's top players through powerful franchises backed by fanatical fans, the future could well see India displace both England and Australia as the home of the biggest cricket matches and best players.

In the short term, there will simply be more cricket—a lot more. In a country where replays of classic cricket matches draw better ratings than live broadcasts of other sports, ESPN Star Sports recently launched a 24-hour cricket channel—which will show domestic matches from Australia and England—to supplement its two existing sports channels. "I did not know how to fulfill the demand for cricket with just two channels," explained ESPN Star Sports' managing director Jamie Davis. "Forty-eight hours of cricket a day is not enough." Not for India.

URL http://www.newsweek.com/id/43341

Friday, September 14, 2007

kashmir's glacier opens to climbers as tensions thaw

By Jason Overdorf in Delhi
The Independent - 14 September 2007

Kashmir's treacherous Siachen glacier, battleground for the high-altitude standoff between India and Pakistan – sometimes termed "the coldest war" – is now set to become a tourist attraction.

In what has been pitched as a vote of confidence in a ceasefire that began in 2003, the Indian army announced yesterday in Delhi that it plans to open the 72 kilometre-long Siachen glacier to civilian trekking expeditions.

India and Pakistan – which have fought three wars for possession of Kashmir – are perhaps closer to a peaceful resolution than ever before. But to cynical observers, the move fits neatly into the tradition of oropolitics – or using mountaineering for political purposes – that has framed the conflict for many years.

Cadets from Indian military academies will begin a climb to the 16,000 feet Kumar Post next week, according to local reports.

If that expedition is successful, regular civilian expeditions – including some catering to foreign climbers – will be launched next year.

"The glacier can become a major tourist attraction. Since the ceasefire agreement with Pakistan, things have been safer and it is possible to hold such activities," a senior army officer was quoted as saying.

The first batch of trekkers, scheduled to set out from Leh on September 19, will be provided with basic training at the Siachen base camp by the Indian army. Ten experts on glaciers will guide the expedition, and the Indian army will provide equipment, lodging and logistical support for the trekkers.

An army spokesman indicated that the move to open Siachen to trekkers was inspired by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call to turn the glacier into a "peace mountain" in 2005.

India and Pakistan have battled intermittently on the forbidding glacier since 1984.

Monday, September 10, 2007

outsourcing goes upscale

By William Underhill and Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue - The infamous "race to the bottom" may not be over. But increasingly, service industries are moving operations not to nations at the bottom—which is to say, nations like India, where labor is cheapest—but to where the work will be done best. The new race is to find the most-competitive service. And it speaks volumes about the rapid modernization of India that its companies are still out front.

This is even more remarkable if you consider how many new players and new kinds of services are crowding into the outsourcing market. According to consultants A.T. Kearney, there are now 55 countries, from Vietnam to Poland and Brazil, actively selling themselves as "remote service locations" to multinationals. And the kinds of services on offer continue to expand from call centers and back-office functions into new areas of information technology and R&D for industries as diverse as consulting, law and medicine. Western giants like IBM are getting in the game by setting up their own outsourcing arms (usually in developing nations). IDC research predicts that the world market for offshore IT services will grow to $37.8 billion by 2011, more than double last year's figure. Yet no new rival has derailed India's rise.

In the past decade, India's outsourcing revenue has increased tenfold. By some reckonings, Indian companies still capture more than 80 percent of the IT offshoring business. With growth in the Indian industry still running at a healthy double-digit rate, the top companies—Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys—are evolving as fast or faster than the outsourcing market itself. Each now has a total stock-market value of more than $20 billion, when none were even listed 10 years ago. They are, in short, flourishing in a market that is now far more complex than the old caricature of Western firms' "exporting" well-paid jobs to poor nations, where salaries are far lower. "The smart companies are seeing outsourcing and offshoring not as a cost play but as a strategic way to transform their business," says Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Indian IT giant Infosys. "The customer is no longer just paying for 100 people to work for him, [but for a specific business outcome]. Therefore, the Indian companies have to improve the capacity of their people, so we have more people with a consulting mind-set. And we have to be willing to take risks."

The reason Indian companies can stay out front seems pretty clear: India, on the whole, remains poor and backward, but its leading companies are already world-class. Once humble and happy to take the IT drudge work of big U.S. or British multinationals, Indian firms are now multinational in their own right. The skills of their employees are improving fast, so they are able to offer higher-level services to Western blue-chip clients. And the sheer scale of past savings that Indian firms have delivered to Western clients puts them in a good position to win future contracts when those and other clients look to move more-sophisticated operations abroad. Kiran Karnik, president of India's National Association of Software and Services Companies, puts the matter simply: "While cost continues to be an important consideration, it's not the only one."

Geography is reasserting itself. Indian outsourcers are maintaining their edge in part by moving closer to clients, establishing their own bases in the West. Last month Wipro paid $600 million for an American infrastructure-management firm called Infocrossing, creating a beachhead that allows Wipro to deliver services and recruit U.S. talent more easily. (Last year Wipro hired more than 200 college and business-school graduates from the United States and Europe.) Proximity matters, says Suresh Vaswani, president of Wipro's global IT practice. "Data centers [for U.S. clients] have to be in the U.S., fundamentally because of customer comfort," says Vaswani. "That way all my servers ... are not so far away."

Trendspotters would do well to watch Sashi Reddi, whose relatively new Indian company is already moving to base employees overseas. A 42-year-old serial entrepreneur, Reddi founded AppLabs six years ago with a staff of less than 10, and it is now the world's leading independent software-testing firm, with 1,900 on its payroll and a client list that includes Sun Microsystems and Cisco. Already, some 400 of his employees are based in Britain and America, ready to bag ever more ambitious projects—with labor paid at Western rates. "You can only do so much with an offshore cost advantage," says Reddi, noting that customers want work done close at hand. Location can trump labor costs, says Reddi. "All the decent players are faced with the same decision."

Competition is helping to force the evolution of India's big players. A clutch of big-name operators has muscled into the business even on India's home territory. IBM Global Services, Accenture and Electronic Data Services now have a combined work force in India of about 100,000. And many nations are entering the outsourcing industry with built-in advantages. The Philippines, for example, has an edge in accounting services because it is well known for producing a generous supply of graduates. Bilingual Mauritius is rebuilding itself as a "cyberisland," and has an edge pitching to corporations that need services delivered in English and French. And new EU members, like Bulgaria and Romania, can help fellow members avoid violating EU regulations on matters like privacy, which insist that certain types of work must be handled inside the Union's borders.

For entrepreneurial Indians, the answer is simple: set up alongside emerging rivals. Look around any promising IT hot spot in Central or Eastern Europe and the Indians are there. Infosys already employs 250 people—almost all recruited locally—at a service center in the Czech city of Brno, handling business in 25 languages. And next month Infosys will open a facility across the border in Poland as part of a $250 million deal with Royal Philips Electronics. "Central Europe can't compete with countries like India on cost alone but it can better meet specific European customers' outsourcing needs due to the local talent and language skills and being in the same time zone," says B. G. Srinivas, the head of Infosys operations in Europe.

Nor are the Indians about to relinquish the low-cost advantage that provided their initial selling point. Inevitably, white-collar Indian salaries are climbing fast, but a staffer in Bangalore will still cost barely a tenth of his counterpart in Baltimore, and a youthful population should prevent serious labor shortages or wage spikes. And when it makes sense, India is now outsourcing the routine work to new outsourcing nations, some (like Vietnam) with even cheaper labor rates than its own. Satyam Computer Services, founded less than 10 years ago, now runs operations centers in Malaysia, Brazil and China and has plans to add more in the Czech Republic, Russia, Vietnam and Thailand. It was perhaps inevitable—Indian offshoring has finally gone offshore. That's the kind of flexibility it needs to stay ahead in this game.

With Katka Krosnar in the Czech Republic
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20546427/site/newsweek/

Saturday, September 01, 2007

bollywood: a primer

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Sept. 2, 2007 - In its heyday from the 1950s through the 1980s, Bollywood produced dozens of beloved films. These classics made superstars out of actors like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan—a hero so well-loved the nation came to a standstill when an on-set injury in 1982 left him at death’s door for two months. Colorful song-and-dance spectacles that encompass melodrama, slapstick, high romance and cheap thrills—all in the same three hours—these movies rank second only to yoga among India’s most successful cultural exports. Here’s a primer on some of Bollywood’s best films—including a few from the “New Bollywood.”

Awaara (1951)
Directed by Raj Kapoor
Bollywood bwana Raj Kapoor directed, produced and starred in this melodramatic tale of a boy cast out of his law-abiding home and raised by bandits. When his father, an unforgiving judge, throws out his mother because he suspects her of infidelity, Raj (Raj Kapoor) finds succor with Jagga (K. N. Singh), only to discover years later that Jagga was the one who spread the lies that caused his mother’s disgrace. Enraged, Raj kills Jagga but fails to kill the judge, and is sentenced to years of rigorous imprisonment—by his own dear old Dad (Prithviraj Kapoor). The movie was a sleeper hit abroad in China, Romania, Turkey and Russia, where some still cherish fond memories of its signature song, “Awara Hoon” ("I Am a Tramp").

Mother India (1957)
Directed by Mehboob Khan
Nominated for an Oscar in 1957 in the best foreign film category, this sentimental, patriotic tribute to Indian womanhood stars Nargis as a poverty-stricken village mother whose marriage has left her in the clutches of an unscrupulous local moneylender. Even though her husband abandons her, she spurns the moneylender’s offer to marry her and cancel her debts. In what would become a classic Bollywood trope, one troublemaker son is driven from the village to become a bandit, while the other toils away as a farmer. In the end, the bandit (played by Sunil Dutt) returns to kill the moneylender and steal his daughter. But “Mother India,” who has vowed her son will do no wrong, shoots him and he dies in her arms. In real life, Sunil Dutt and Nargis married a year after the film was released.

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
Directed by K. Asif
This epic period flick about a Mughal emperor and his son took nine years to complete, set the bar for lavish productions and held the all-time box-office record until 15 years after its release. In the film, the Mughal prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) falls in love with a beautiful slave girl named Anarkali (Madhubala) when she dances for him in a palace of mirrors to the song “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya” ("I Have Loved, So What Is There to Fear?"). But when the prince tries to marry the slave, his father, Emperor Akbar, throws the girl in jail. A battle ensues. The prince is defeated and sentenced to death, but the slave girl bargains for his life by offering her own in return.

Padosan (1968)
Directed by Jyoti Swarup
"Cyrano De Bergerac" meets "Romeo and Juliet" meets Milli Vanilli in this tearjerker. Village simpleton Bhola (Sunil Dutt) wins the love of his neighbor Bindu (Saira Banu) with his beautiful songs. The only trouble is, Bhola can’t sing—he’s lip-synching tunes crooned by his buddy Guru (Kishore Kumar). When Bhola finds out he’s lied, she dumps him and decides to marry her music teacher. But Bhola wins her back by faking his suicide. Tears pour, and a wedding ensues.

Sholay (1975)
Directed by Ramesh Sippy
A crackling Bollywood-style Western—chapati Western, some call it—Sholay brings together two lovable crooks, a principled policeman and a ruthless gangster in a tragicomic, action-filled caper. The story of two convicts (Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra) who help a retired policeman capture the ruthless bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who massacred the policeman’s family, Sholay was loved by audiences so much that one Mumbai theater ran the film for 286 consecutive weeks—more than five years. Even today, millions of Indians can quote rafts of the superstylized dialogue from memory.

Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)
Directed by Manmohan Desai
Undoubtedly one of the zaniest Bollywood movies, this film may be the greatest of all the stories to follow the once-beloved “lost and found” formula. With three major stars (Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor) and three equally big heroines (Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi and Neetu Singh), "Amar, Akbar, Anthony" was an old-school blockbuster about the three sons of an ex-convict who are abandoned when their father is forced to flee his old mob boss and their mother goes blind. One son (Amar) is adopted by a Hindu policeman and becomes a policeman himself. Another (Akbar) is raised by a Muslim tailor and becomes a singer. The third (Anthony) is raised by a Catholic priest and becomes a rebellious scofflaw. In the end, the boys are reunited and join forces in fighting, singing and dancing; they find their mother, and take revenge on the evil mob boss—and Mom miraculously regains her sight. Throughout it all, Amitabh Bachchan delivers the goods—tears, guffaws, funny accents, goofy costumes—as Anthony. And the smash song “My Name Is Anthony Gonzalves” remains on most Indians’ list of desert island discs.

Umrao Jaan (1981)
Directed by Muzaffar Ali
Set at the time of the Indian Uprising (or Mutiny, as the British called it) of 1857, this poetic and atmospheric film tells the story of a young girl—Umrao Jaan, portrayed by the incomparably gorgeous Rekha—who is kidnapped by a neighbor and sold to a brothel to be trained as a courtesan. Skilled in poetry, song and dance, she charms the local prince (Farooque Shaikh) but winds up running away with a handsome bandit (Raj Babbar). But when the police kill him and the British attack Lucknow to put down the mutiny, she is forced to flee the city and winds up—can you guess?—back in her old village, where she meets her old mother and younger brother and sings a heartbreaking song.

Mr. India (1987)
Directed by Shekhar Kapoor
Not many non-Indians know that Shekhar Kapoor—a former model in ads for “suitings and shirtings”—directed this crowd-pleasing fantasy before moving to Hollywood to make "Elizabeth." But its goofy comedy and good-natured spoofing of James Bond hijinks made "Mr. India" a smash. The story pits Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor), an orphan who makes his money busking with a violin, against Mogambo (Amrish Puri), a dastardly villain as absurd as Dr. Evil with his own high-tech island. It’s a mismatch until Verma receives a mysterious letter revealing that his late father invented an invisibility cloak. After that, the common man becomes a crimefighting superhero—Mr. India—and takes down Mogambo and his mad scientists.

Hum Aapke Hain Kaun ...! (1994)
Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya
Perhaps the first of the lavish “family dramas” that became the staple, and then the bane, of Bollywood, "Hum Aapke Hain Koun ...!" ("Who Am I to You") is the story of two Indian families brought together by the (of course) lavish wedding where musclebound pretty boy Salman Khan and curvaceous screen siren Madhuri Dixit meet and fall in love. The three-and-a-half-hour spectacle with 14 songs and big dance numbers is hard to beat.

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
Directed by Aditya Chopra
The first and most successful of the “NRI movies” (films featuring, and in part targeting, nonresident Indians), "DDLJ" as it came to be known was a megablockbuster, attracting enough fanatics to keep it running for 600-plus consecutive weeks at one Mumbai theater. Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol play Raj and Siman, Indians living in the U.K. who meet and fall in love on a tour of Europe. But Siman’s father insists that his daughter will have an arranged marriage with the man of his choosing—a pompous, arrogant ass (of course). In a socially regressive turn typical of later NRI movies, Raj refuses to elope with Siman, but insists on convincing her father that he’s the right choice with lots of (smarmy, but in a good way) singing and dancing.

Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Directed by Farhan Akhtar
Many consider "Dil Chahta Hai" ("What the Heart Desires") to be the spark that began the current stylistic revolution in Bollywood filmmaking. The story of the lives and loves of three friends (Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna) leaving college for the adult world, the movie was the first film to depict India’s modern, urban youth. Though it didn’t do well in the hinterland, it won critical and popular acclaim for its easygoing, realistic humor and its postmodern tributes to classic Bollywood songs. And for the upwardly mobile kids of India’s cities, it provided as seminal a cultural touchstone as the TV series "Friends" did in the U.S.

Lagaan (2001)
Directed by Ashutosh Golwarikar
One of the earliest films to break away from the romance formula, Lagaan tells the story of a 19th-century Indian village under the thumb of a ruthless (and racist) British officer. When the British officer doubles the tax on the village crops despite a ravaging drought, a rebellious villager (Aamir Khan) wagers him that the villagers—who’ve never played before—can beat the legation team at a game of cricket. If the village wins, the tax will be canceled instead of doubled. If the British win, the tax will be tripled. The story unfolds with all the gimmicks of Hollywood’s classic sports flicks, as well as a few Bollywood twists—like the village untouchable whose mangled hand turns out to make him a wicked spin bowler! As usual for Bollywood, the English-language songs were dismal. But the high drama, British villains and terrific Hindi soundtrack made "Lagaan" a moderate success around the Commonwealth.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20537192/site/newsweek/

bollywood takes on hollywood

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue - Ronnie Screwvala is the front runner in the race to become Bollywood's Jack Warner—the man who began the transformation of parochial U.S. cinema into its modern global form. Yet Screwvala is rarely picked out of a crowd in India, let alone in the United States. But Hollywood insiders know him well, for producing the "The Namesake," the groundbreaking hit about Indian immigrants, and for coproducing a Chris Rock comedy ("I Think I Love My Wife"). Now he is coproducing "The Happening," a new sci-fi thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") that seems destined to vault him into the big leagues. With a budget of $57 million, it will cost as much as 10 Indian blockbusters, setting a new bar for Bollywood. "Our ambition is to be a global Indian entertainment company—there's no reason we can't make big-budget Hollywood movies, too," says Screwvala.

At 45, Screwvala is a stocky, soft-spoken man whose urbane colonial English is a far cry from Jack Warner's notorious bluster. But his innovations are fast putting his Mumbai-based company, UTV Software Communications, on the world map and setting the modern standard of studio efficiency in Bollywood, the way Warner did in Hollywood. A multimedia conglomerate with interests in film, TV, animation and videogame production and distribution is also the closest thing to the diversified Warner Bros. that India has ever seen.

Indeed, over the past five years Screwvala has led the transformation of India's prolific but chaotic film industry. India makes about 1,000 movies a year, including Bollywood's 200-odd Hindi pictures and others in regional languages—about 10 times Hollywood's total. But until recently, every Bollywood movie was an independent film made by a producer-director who ran his operation like a mom-and-pop shop. Deals were cut off the books between film families. Marketing was left to theater owners. And writers scripted scenes on the day of shooting, following stock formulas: brothers separated at birth; village rebel vs. rapacious landlord, or cops vs. robbers. It was considered the height of innovation simply to meld these elements, creating, say, a story about brothers separated at birth who grow up on opposite sides of the law but then ultimately join forces against an evil landlord after much singing, dancing and weeping.

In its heyday, from the 1950s through the early 1980s, Bollywood managed to pack cinemas throughout this movie-crazy country with such fare. But its formulaic plots grew stale at just about the time that TV penetrated middle-class homes. Film revenues virtually stagnated between 1985 and 2000 at about $1 billion annually —less than one third the box office of a single major Hollywood studio. India's poverty and low ticket prices started making foreign markets more alluring. But Bollywood couldn't produce a global hit.

That may finally be changing. Indians are getting wealthier. The younger generation is spending more on entertainment. And innovators like Screwvala have begun professionalizing the business, bringing in outside investors and accounting standards and aggressively marketing films with novel plots. His production company has cut the old three-and-a-half-hour marathons to between 90 and 120 minutes, and has hired Hollywood scriptwriters to make its features more watchable. He's also gone straight to foreign shores—backing Mira Nair's New York-based production of "The Namesake," a story about the Indian diaspora—to prove that his model will work. The film grossed about $14 million at the box office—nearly 95 percent from the United States, more cash than any other Indian production has earned abroad to date.

Indian movies are also enjoying an impressive domestic boom. In 2006, India's film business grossed about $2 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2004, and PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that revenue will leap to more than $4 billion over the next five years. "Our growth rates are much higher than Hollywood's, but in value terms we are way below [the U.S. movie industry]," says Timmy Kandhari, head of PWC's media and entertainment practice. But that will change as ticket prices—which now average less than $1 in India—swiftly catch up with the racing Indian economy.

This anticipated boom has foreign and domestic players scrambling to get in. Disney bought a 15 percent stake in Screwvala's UTV for $14 million in 2006. This year, Viacom inked a 50-50 joint venture with budding news-media mogul Raghav Bahl, head of the Indian entertainment conglomerate Network 18. The venture, called Viacom 18, will produce and distribute TV shows, digital media and (eventually) 10 to 12 movies a year. A separate entity called the Indian Film Company—in which Network 18 and Viacom own stakes—will begin financing about 40 to 45 films a year within three years. Billionaire Anil Ambani's Reliance ADAG conglomerate has acquired a 51 percent stake in a leading movie company called Adlabs Films for a little under $90 million. And three Indian studios held IPOs in London this year, raising a combined $220 million.

That's big money in a nation where until recently the average film budget was only about $150,000, and should dramatically increase the number and quality of Indian films. But very little cash will likely flow into coproductions with Hollywood, an area where Screwvala remains at least several years ahead of his competitors, most of whom still shy away from big Hollywood gambles. Screwvala is contributing $27 million—more than an Indian hit would gross—to the $57 million budget for Shyamalan's "The Happening." But the returns can be huge: "The Sixth Sense," which cost Shyamalan around $40 million to make, grossed nearly $700 million.

Screwvala has more than one wager in play. UTV has also forged coproduction deals with Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures, and with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment. Hollywood—which requires endless cash injections and has for years been looking for outside funding from sources as diverse as German pensioners and private-equity funds—is only too eager to cut more such deals. "I think [these coproductions] are going to become more common," says Jose L. Rodriguez, Shyamalan's U.S.-based coproducer on "The Happening." "Ronnie is sort of leading the pack."

He's also shaking up Bollywood. Until recently, India's film industry was controlled by a few powerful producer-directors, like Yash Chopra, who enjoyed strong family or personal ties to Bollywood's fickle superstars, many of whom were also related. The heads of these "film families" never worked out a budget in advance and started shooting with only a fraction of the cash they needed in hand. Preproduction was a 20-minute meeting. Writers made up the dialogue as they went along. There were no production schedules or contracts; stars walked in and out of projects at whim. With hundreds of local distributors and tens of thousands of theater owners who habitually underreported box-office returns, it was hard to tell who, if anybody, was making money. "Nobody thought of this as a profit-and-loss [business]," says Screwvala. "They thought of it as a cash-flow [business]. So if a producer-director made a movie and it lost $5 million, but he got advances to make his next movie of $5 million, [in his mind] he'd broken even."

UTV, by contrast, went public on the Mumbai Stock Exchange in 2005, becoming one of the first listed film companies in India and introducing modern methods. The studio spends as long as two years in preproduction selecting scripts and setting casts, budgets and distribution plans. UTV has also taken control of marketing and raised spending to 25 percent of each film's production costs, nearing the Hollywood average (about 50 percent). And UTV shoots pictures in three months—on budget. To improve collections from the foreign market, UTV has avoided selling the overseas distribution rights to its films and built its own distribution network instead, setting up offices in the United States, Canada, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Now the company is focusing on turning the 20-odd other countries where Bollywood films have established a niche market into a meaningful part of the business.

Screwvala says he shook things up out of necessity. "I was an outsider," he explains. "I hadn't grown up with these stars and directors." The son of a businessman (his father retired as managing director of a cosmetics firm), he was hardly destined for the movies. But after graduating with a degree in commerce from Mumbai University, he cut his teeth in television. He was the first to launch multichannel TV in India, schlepping around to meet with the residents' associations of Mumbai apartment buildings to sell closed-circuit cable at a time when the only other option was a single, state-owned broadcaster. Later, his company produced India's first daily afternoon soap opera, "Shanti." Working with Disney to dub its library of films into Indian languages in 1996 gave Screwvala the idea to try and create a modern, Western-style film company himself.

With little capital and without the family ties needed to attract big stars, he attacked the industry's fringe first. UTV got into film distribution in 1996, and then in 1997 Screwvala produced a typical low-budget Bollywood romance named "Dil Ke Jharoke Main" ("In the Windows of the Heart"). It bombed, convincing Screwvala of the need to work with a new generation of actors, directors and writers who were willing to experiment. UTV then inked deals to coproduce three films with big budgets (for Bollywood) and A-list stars. All three strayed from the Bollywood formulas and laid the foundation for the company's subsequent hits, including "Rang de Basanti"—a realistic film about Delhi youth.

UTV wasn't the first to make innovative movies; director-producer Ram Gopal Varma preceded Screwvala on this count. And Yash Raj Films, the perennial box- office leader, was quick to adopt many of UTV's Hollywood-studio-style practices. But Yash Raj was slow to see the potential of genre-breaking films, making its first such attempt this year with "Chak De," a movie about women's field hockey. This delay let Screwvala harness new-style films to new corporate structures more quickly than his rivals.

Hollywood is impressed. James Lassiter, Will Smith's partner in Overbrook Entertainment, says he and Smith were blown away last year when they met Screwvala in India. "We connected with Ronnie," Lassiter says. "He's more ambitious [than other Bollywood players], the way we're more ambitious [than Hollywood] ... He's smart, he has excellent taste, he has a global perspective and I think ultimately he'll be a big winner in worldwide cinema."

At home, Screwvala has already come a long way. He has crept steadily up the charts to become the second biggest box-office success in Indian film after Yash Raj, which still focuses on romances and big-budget song-and-dance extravaganzas. And Screwvala now takes in more than any of the other big producers from India's film families, many of whom are now scrambling to adopt his basic business model. Where there were once scores of director-producers who made one or two films a year, operating by the seat of their pants, now many of the best directors have been absorbed by the three major studios, which produce eight to 10 films a year. Thanks to the recent IPOs and other deals, three more studios—each with serious financial muscle—will produce their own slates next year.

The next challenge for Bollywood is to branch out into the broader media and entertainment business, which is expected to grow in India from about $11 billion to $25 billion by 2011. Screwvala is building UTV into what he calls a 360-degree media and entertainment company. He already has ventures in animation, gaming and TV content production, and he has eight to 10 TV channels in the works. UTV's animation division is producing four features for the world market this year, including one starring Will Smith and another directed by Simi Nallaseth, one of the animators of "Ice Age." Earlier this year, UTV acquired a British videogame company called Ignition Entertainment Ltd. Ignition is set to release Wardevil, a high-end game for the Sony's PS3, in 2008 and hopes to turn it into the linchpin of a multimedia franchise. UTV is also partnering with Richard Branson's Virgin Comics on a line of superheroes based on Indian mythology.

UTV can expect plenty of competition, with many big Indian media players now seeking out foreign partners and new markets. With Viacom's backing and marketing muscle, Network 18 is also building a media and entertainment empire. Apart from its fast-growing film operation, it is already one of the biggest players in Internet content and TV broadcasting, where it has teamed up with NBC Universal and Time Warner as well as Viacom. With its dominance in TV news, it could soon play News Corp. to UTV's Warner Bros. Deep-pocketed Reliance ADAG, one of India's biggest conglomerates, is going into satellite broadcasting, launching 45 radio stations, and recently established a second film production company, Big Motion Pictures, to complement its majority stake in Adlabs.

It's difficult to predict where the deal making will end. Hollywood, which has been going global for the past several decades, now earns more than 60 percent of its revenue abroad. While it's tough to imagine Indian films ever developing as broad a global market, the PricewaterhouseCoopers projections show the ticket sales for Indian productions rising fastest outside India, even as its increasingly wealthy middle class heads to the box office at home for more unconventional fare. Meanwhile, Bollywood seems set to continue its development as a financier and marketer of global products—whether created at home or abroad. As the muscle of the new media titans like Screwvala increases, it won't be long before they truly become household names—in India and beyond.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20546429/site/newsweek/

Monday, August 13, 2007

do-it-yourself education

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Aug. 20-27, 2007 issue - In India, education is supposed to be free and universal through age 14. In fact, it often doesn't work out that way. Consider Dhiraj Sharma, the 10-year-old son of a bicycle rickshaw driver in Dehli, who was forced to stay home last year after the local state denied him admission because he didn't have the right papers—a common problem. So Dhiraj is now applying to a private school. For just $6 a month, the R.S. School offers a much better education than the state, says Dhiraj's father, Ramesh, complaining that his son "finished class three in government school, and he can't read anything!"

Such problems have sparked a boom in private schooling throughout the developing world. In 2000, James Tooley, an administrator for Orient Global, a Singapore company that invests in education for the poor, went walking in Hyderabad, India, and was startled to find private schools on virtually every corner. He launched a full-scale study in India, China and Africa, and everywhere, officials and aid agencies told him such schools for the poor didn't exist. But when his researchers explored the villages and slums, they found that not only did they exist, they were flourishing. "It's a tremendous success story," says Tooley. "Entrepreneurs are catering to poor, low-income families, and they're achieving better than the government at a fraction of the cost."

The story was perhaps most dramatic in China. Tooley and his chief researcher, Qiang Liu, traveled to the poorest, most remote villages of Gansu province. Officials there insisted there were no private schools. And so it seemed, until Qiang woke up one morning at dawn and canvassed the vegetable market. Sure enough, women who'd traveled there from the neighboring countryside told him about private schools farther up in the mountains. "In the end, our survey found 586 of them in these remote villages, where the government and [aid workers] said there were none."

Elsewhere the private schools were easier to spot and even more numerous. In Delhi, hand-painted signs advertise low-cost private schools at every twist of the narrow lanes. In Hyderabad, 60 percent of the schools serving poor neighborhoods are private. None of them get state aid, and two thirds are not recognized by the government at all—meaning they are essentially black market. In the hinterlands of Accra, Ghana, Tooley's team found the same phenomenon: 65 percent of kids there attended private, unaided schools. In Lagos, in three different slums, the figure jumped to 75 percent.

The numbers suggest that despite the low prices (as little as $1.50 a month), parents believe such schools do a better job than the government. And they're generally right. Harvard's Michael Kremer found that though private-school salaries were lower in India than in public schools, teachers at the former skipped fewer classes (absenteeism is a notorious problem in India's state-run schools). Similarly, a 1999 survey conducted by Delhi University's Centre for Development Economics found that while teachers in state schools spent their time sitting idle, the makeshift private schools enjoyed "feverish classroom activity."

Harder-working teachers, of course, get better results—even when they lack qualifications. Kremer's 2002 study of Colombia's PACES program, one of the largest school-voucher projects ever implemented, found that three years after switching to relatively low-cost private schools, students had accomplished more, repeated fewer grades and scored higher on tests, and were less likely to have dropped out to take jobs, than were their counterparts still stuck in the government system. Other studies have reported similar results in Thailand, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Indeed, it's remarkable how many cheap private schools manage to do more with less. In Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorer Indian states, for instance, Oxford University's Geeta Kingdon has found that private, unaided schools are about twice as cost-effective as government schools, achieving better results in math and comparable results in reading at half the cost. The explanation lies in basic market forces. Competition forces these schools to work effectively. It also produces greater accountability.

In India, teachers' unions are so powerful that educators are almost never fired or transferred for transgressions. And parents are powerless. "At government schools, parents won't even be allowed into the compound, let alone to meet a teacher, but in private schools, in most cases, they have parent-teacher associations," says Parth Shah, president of New Delhi's Center for Civil Society and coordinator of India's School Choice Campaign—a program that promotes vouchers to allow poor kids to attend private school. "Parents feel they have a right to ask a question of a private school."

This higher standard is on view at Priya Adarsh School, another low-cost private operator in northeast Delhi. Here the principal—keen on keeping customers—watches his teachers on a closed-circuit television while he pecks away at a spreadsheet on his desktop PC. The standards aren't perfect, of course; when NEWSWEEK visited, the camera caught one teacher whacking a pupil with a ruler. But at least every teacher was in his or her classroom teaching, and every student was sitting at a desk and paying attention.

Skeptics decry this "at least they're trying" argument. In many regards the cheap private schools are substandard—with poor infrastructure, high teacher-student ratios and poorly qualified instructors—even if they are better than state schools. R. Govinda, head of the department of schools and nonformal education at New Delhi's National University of Educational Planning and Administration, says embracing cheap private schools is defeatist. "I'm not ready to settle for a substandard alternative," he says. "Comparing them is like comparing two people who are drowning. One is drowning in 20 feet of water, the other is drowning in 30 feet of water. Does it make a difference?"

Other opponents, both in India and elsewhere, argue that ceding the educational field to private players will put an end to any hope of an equal education for all. A study based on a survey of parent satisfaction published earlier this year by researchers at Columbia University found that relying on private markets can undermine educational equity and universal access. Furthermore, it argues, private schools strive for superior quality only where they compete with government schools; otherwise they offer "lower-quality, second-chance" educations to children without any other option. "There is no reason to assume that private markets will necessarily improve the quality of education," the study concludes.

School-choice advocates respond that it is a fantasy to suggest public education is providing a quality education to all. "You can't compare the reality of private education with some myth of what public education has been like," says Tooley. At least cheap private schools are responsive to parents, and the more parents who choose this route, the better private schools will get, thanks to increased capital, higher demand, more competition and economies of scale. "These are [now] small cottage industries," says Tooley. "They're mom-and-pop stores. There are thousands and thousands of them. Some of them are beginning to consolidate, and you're getting small, embryonic chains."

That's where he's looking to invest much of the $100 million education fund he manages for Orient Global. Already the fund has given grants to six private-school associations or institutions in Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Nepal, and Tooley's team is conducting research in India ahead of opening a chain of budget private schools for the poor there that would set new benchmarks in quality. "It's an inadequate analogy," says Tooley. "But when I go shopping in a supermarket, I go to one of several chains, and poor people also go shopping there. Poorer people. They have the same diversity of choice and the same quality. The chain doesn't discriminate between us. Also, some of them have food stamps or social-security payments, which are like school vouchers. So when you have competing chains of schools, when the market system develops, that inequality will become less relevant." In the meantime, as the slums of Delhi, Lagos and Accra show, black-market schools will continue to thrive, ensuring that, even in places where government has failed them, poor kids can get an adequate education—on the books or off.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20226757/site/newsweek/

Monday, July 16, 2007

doctor of death

A busted terror plot in Britain puts the spotlight on radicalized Muslim professionals

July 16, 2007 issue - What could possibly have inspired Bilal Abdullah, a medical doctor, to ride a blazing Jeep Cherokee into the busy Glasgow airport terminal? Last week Shiraz Maher, a former member of an Islamic fundamentalist group that had tried to recruit Abdullah, told the British media this story:

In the ancient university town of Cambridge, Abdullah shared an apartment with a man who played the guitar, apparently not well, and sang off key. Abdullah later "boasted," Maher recalled, that he had warned his flatmate that if he kept on playing and singing, "I'm going to smash the guitar." To make his point a little more emphatically, Abdullah popped a video into the DVD player. It showed Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the vicious chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq (killed by an American airstrike last summer), beheading a hostage. "If you think I'm messing about, this is what we do," Abdullah warned his roommate. "This is what our people do. We slaughter." (Maher says that Abdullah thought the threat was funny.)

Last week every intelligence service engaged in the War on Terror wanted to know: was Abdullah inspired by the example of Al Qaeda in Iraq to try to set off a pair of car bombs in London and then immolate himself on a suicide mission in Scotland? Or was he actually carrying out a mission planned by Al Qaeda in Iraq? The answer is not known, at least publicly. Counterterrorism officials who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive matters told NEWSWEEK that there is some evidence of links between Abdullah (or alleged co-conspirators) and Al Qaeda in Iraq. But they could not be sure if the ties were coincidental and possibly irrelevant—or part of a larger plot. The ineptitude of Abdullah and another would-be suicide bomber, who tried to set himself on fire after the car failed to explode, suggests an amateurish operation. Abdullah and the other man survived, and their car bombs in London turned out to be duds.

Still, intelligence officials were asking themselves if the aborted bomb plot was a fire bell in the night. Last week President George W. Bush was once again warning that if America failed to defeat terrorists in Iraq, "they will follow us home." The president's many critics learned about Abdullah's story—how he had been radicalized in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion—and saw the fulfillment of their fears, that the war in Iraq would serve only to breed terrorists, who would, in time, strike out against the West.

The story line was made more chilling by early reports that police had rounded up eight suspects in Britain and Australia—seven of them physicians and one a medical technician. How could doctors, sworn to save lives, be so zealous about killing? Abdullah, of course, is hardly the first M.D. with mass murder on his mind. Haiti's butchering Papa Doc Duvalier was a doctor. So is Osama bin Laden's sidekick, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Indeed, the most dangerous extremists are not embittered young men without jobs or hope. They are the elites, or, more typically, the sons of the elite, who are working out some grievance or vengeance and have the know-how and means to find truly dangerous weapons. Evidence collected from the caves of Afghanistan suggested that Zawahiri had a special interest in chemical and biological weapons. More readily than most people, doctors can lay their hands on the ingredients for gas or germ warfare. Some also have access to the sort of radioactive material that could be used to fashion a dirty bomb.

It is possible that the bomb plots will turn out to be the work of a sinister "doctors' cell" embedded by Al Qaeda to cause mayhem in Britain. It is also possible that the medical personnel rounded up by the authorities were friends or colleagues of the would-be suicide bombers, but not involved in a conspiracy. At least three of them are thought to be related by blood—brothers Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, and Mohamed Haneef, the doctor detained in Australia.

Kafeel seems to have been the other man in the Jeep Cherokee. Jumping out of the car as it crashed into the airport terminal, he poured some sort of flammable liquid over his head and lit himself on fire. Badly burned, he has yet to be questioned, according to investigators. Going to Britain from India, Ahmed is an engineer, not a doctor as initially reported. There is some suspicion that he was the bombmaker, working out of a garage in Scotland. If so, he does not appear to have been a very clever one. Instructions on making a car bomb are not hard to find on the Internet. But the two Mercedeses found in Central London packed with propane cylinders and nails were crude and possibly ineffectual. A government expert following the investigation pointed out to NEWSWEEK that propane cylinders require prolonged exposure to heat before they will explode, and the resulting blast would not have been powerful enough to shatter the vehicle into metal shards.

Ahmed and Abdullah may have been bunglers, but their story is still ominous. Scion of a prominent Iraqi family, Abdullah, 27, was born in England, where his father had come to study medicine. The family returned to Baghdad, where they reportedly enjoyed the privileges of a Sunni family with good connections to Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. Quiet and studious, Abdullah was always devout. A high-school classmate and friend, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, recalled seeing Abdullah become worked up when classmates said "Merry Christmas" to each other. "This is not for us Muslims, it's only for Christians," Abdullah shouted. He was radicalized, says this friend, on a trip to Jordan in 2000. "When he came back he was completely changed," says the friend.

A British relative told The Washington Post that Abdullah showed his zeal, preaching in the place of an absent mullah at a mosque in Cambridge, where he lived for a time while he episodically pursued his medical studies in Britain. Abdullah's father, a prominent doctor, had wanted his son to study medicine. "His heart was not in it," the Post quoted the relative as saying. "To be honest, he passed because his father was a well-known professor, and that's the way it worked in Iraq." The troubled young Abdullah would have preferred being a mullah, said the relative. "I saw him praying one time and he had tears in his eyes."

Abdullah was in Baghdad when the Americans invaded and deposed Saddam—a disaster for Abdullah's prominent Sunni family. As sectarian violence spread, Mohammed Rawi, the president of Baghdad University and the former dean of the College of Medicine, was found shot in his office. Rawi was a Baathist who allegedly had provided medical care for Saddam. Not long after the killing, Rawi was replaced by a Shiite. This infuriated Abdullah, according to his high-school friend. At the time, Abdullah told his classmates, "A Sunni dean was killed and a Shiite dean must be killed." Abdullah also began speaking out bitterly against the American occupiers.

Abdullah returned to England in 2004. Living over a kebab restaurant in Cambridge, he tutored the owner's children in religion, chemistry and biology. He also intensely followed the news in Iraq by Internet. The relative interviewed by The Washington Post said that he did not know what or who might have influenced Abdullah, but as for Al Qaeda, "he liked what they were doing in Iraq." At some point, he became friends and possibly roommates with Kafeel Ahmed. A devout Muslim from India, Ahmed had fought with the leaders of the mosque near his home in Bangalore over his attempts to get its followers to adopt more-conservative practices. (Angry local toughs reportedly threatened to break his arms and legs.) Some investigators say that Ahmed left behind a last will and testament before the two men set off on their failed suicide mission.

Of their mutual friends and acquaintances swept up by police after the bombing attempt, the most intriguing may be Mohammed Asha, arrested, along with his wife, Marwa, as they drove up the motorway between England and Scotland. The child of educated, middle-class parents, Asha graduated from the Jubilee School in Amman, Jordan (set up by Queen Noor for gifted children), with the third highest academic ranking in the country. His grades in medical school were a perfect 4.0. "About once in 10 years a student comes along that good," says Zuhair Abu Faris, head of the Jordan Medical Association.

In 2005 he went to Britain to work as a neurologist and continue his studies. Last week his family denied that Asha could have possibly been a terrorist plotter. "He was no more religious than normal," his father, Jamil, told NEWSWEEK. "It's impossible for my son to do this; he has no time but to study. I know my son and he is not into these things." But family members seemed to struggle to gloss over some sort of change in Asha and his wife when they returned to Jordan on a visit in 2006. Asha was sporting a long, Islamist-style beard. Asha's father put the physical change down to his son's admiration for a mentor who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It may or may not be significant that Asha made at least preliminary inquiries about coming to practice medicine in the United States. Asha, as well as another doctor held for questioning last week in the bombing attempt, contacted a U.S. organization that licenses foreign doctors. But according to an FBI official speaking anonymously about the ongoing investigation, no evidence has turned up that any of the British suspects ever traveled to the United States or had any significant connections inside the country. Generally speaking, U.S. counterterror officials contacted last week by NEWSWEEK were not flashing red alerts about the prospects of an imminent terrorist attack on the homeland.

In Europe, there is more jitteriness in the intelligence community. In April, the London Sunday Times published a hair-raising leak of a secret British intelligence document prepared by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center. The newspaper reported that Al Qaeda in Iraq was planning "large scale" terror attacks against Britain and other Western countries. It quoted a member of the network vowing that the operation would be on a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and would "shake the Roman throne." Concerns heightened last month when a video surfaced, purporting to show a "graduation ceremony" at which a senior Taliban commander was depicted sending off squads of masked men to be suicide bombers in Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States.

Most intelligence officials dismissed the tape as fanciful propaganda, but some acknowledged it could contain an element of reality. German authorities are particularly on edge. Last month two German citizens were arrested by Pakistan as they made their way over the border from Iran, apparently headed for Afghanistan. Some German investigators believe the two suspects (still believed to be in Pakistani custody) were on their way to be trained for attacks on the West. A senior Interior Ministry official, August Hanning, told a press conference that the current situation recalled the summer of 2001, when, as he put it, "obscure threats surfaced, which, as we know, became reality."

With Stryker Mcguire, Ginanne Brownell, Emily Flynn Vencat in London, William Underhill in Glasgow, Silvia Spring in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad, Sudip Mazumdar in New Delhi, Christopher Dickey in Paris, Jason Overdorf in Bangalore, Rod Nordland and Ranya Kadri in Amman and additional reporting from our Iraqi staff

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19651928/site/newsweek/page/0/

Sunday, June 10, 2007

4 hours in Chennai....

Newsweek International

June 18, 2007 Issue - Once known as Madras, India's fourth largest city is known as the unofficial capital of the jasmine-and-sandalwood-scented south.

VISIT the ancient Kapa-leeswarar temple, devoted to the Hindu god Shiva (Kutchery Road, Mylapore; 4 a.m.-noon and 4-8 p.m.).

EAT tiffin, the all-purpose south Indian meal of idlis (fluffy steamed rice cakes), dosas (slightly sour pancakes made from fermented rice and lentil flour) and vadas (tiny, spicy doughnuts) at Saravana Bhavan (77 Usman Road, T. Nagar; saravanabhavan.com).

STROLL through the botanical gardens of the Theosophical Society, which include a 400-year-old banyan tree once thought to be the largest in the world (Adyar Bridge Road; 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4 p.m., Monday-Saturday).

SHOP for silk saris at Sri Kumaran Stores (45 Usman Road, T. Nagar; srikumaransilk.com) or Nalli (100 Usman Road, T. Nagar; nallisilk.com).

—Jason Overdorf

jason overdorf's favorite restaurants in chennai

Newsweek Web Exclusive

Sarvana Bhavan (77 Usman Road T. Nagar, Phone 2434-5577). Locals swear by this no-nonsense, diner-style restaurant, which offers the full list of vegetarian Tamil staples and has opened branches as far away as California. Traditional South Indian grub comes in two basic categories in Chennai, “tiffin” and “meals,” and Sarvana Bhavan offers both. For tiffin, try a combo of idli, dosa and vada, all of which come with a spicy tamarind-lentil curry called sambar and coconut, tomato and mint chutneys. Idlis are fluffy steamed rice cakes, dosas are slightly sour pancakes made from a fermented mixture of rice and lentil flour, and vadas are tiny, spicy doughnuts. For “meals” (i.e., curry and rice), your best bet is the thali or “dish.” It comes with four different vegetables, sambar, rasam, rice and puffed fried bread called puri. For full style points, eat with your fingers—right hand only!—from a banana-leaf plate.

Anjappar (#7/2, J.P. Towers, Nungambakkam High Road, Phone : 825 6662, 8217200). Founded as the Anjappar Chettinadu Military Hotel in 1965 (“military” because it serves the meat soldiers crave), Anjappar has risen to the top among Chennai’s many restaurants specializing in food from the Chettinad region of southern Tamil Nadu. There’s a veg and nonveg side to the place, but only a Brahmin would eschew the incredible spicy meat gravy and delicacies like “country chicken” (pheasant). Make things easy on yourself and order the all-you-can-eat nonveg “meals” (don’t worry, it arrives in the singular despite being ordered in the plural). If you come in a crowd, order one “meals” each and ask your waiter to recommend some interesting side dishes. He won’t suggest veggies. Not for the chili-impaired.

Kumarakom (AB 105 4th Avenue, Shanti Colony, Anna Nagar; 4261-1877). This restaurant serves food from the neighboring state of Kerala, which you must not leave India without sampling. Your best bet here is to order a la carte. Try the karimeen pollichathu (pearl spot fish that is stuffed with spices and grilled in a banana leaf). This dish is to Kerala what crawfish etoufee is to Louisiana or chili crabs to Singapore. Don’t miss it. Other good bets include the prawn fry (which isn’t what you expect) and beef olarthiyathu (yes, beef!). For veggies, get an order of avial—a melange of root vegetables and green beans cooked in a coconut and green chili paste.

Zara’s (74 Cathedral Road, Mylapore; 2811-1462). Pretty much the only bar worth visiting in Chennai, Zara’s serves Spanish-style tapas with an international twist. Depending on the whims of government, you may or may not be able to order imported booze. But the bartenders can mix a good cocktail even when forced to resort to I.M.F.L. (Indian-made foreign liquor), the crowd is as chic as Chennai gets and noticeably short on red-eyed mustachioed marauders glowering over their whiskeys. And if you go heavy on seafood, the tapas are as good as any you’d find in, say, Cleveland. A few tapas and a couple drinks may run you $25-$40, so carry more cash than you needed at the other joints.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

killing sparks global chase

Man held in India after flight from U.S.

(Toronto Globe and Mail, April 3, 2007)

VANCOUVER, TORONTO, NEW DELHI -- Travelling at about 900 kilometres an hour over the Atlantic, on a Continental Airways Boeing 777, Avtar Grewal may have thought he had left his problems behind.

But in a blood-spattered home on the outskirts of Phoenix, Ariz., police were making links to Mr. Grewal, 32, a logistics manager from Abbotsford, B.C., that would soon trigger an international chase for the alleged killer of Navneet Kaur, his estranged wife.

Phoenix police began their investigation on Friday, just after noon, when an alarmed co-worker of Ms. Kaur's from Assist Technologies, where the 30-year-old ran a product testing team, called to say the young woman had missed work -- and there appeared to be signs of violence at her home.

By 12:30, a police team was in the affluent, newly built neighbourhood in south Phoenix on a routine "check welfare" call, but soon the home where the young woman lived alone was the focus of intense activity.

"It was very quiet. It was a hot afternoon. Police put yellow crime scene tape around the front of the house. Some of her co-workers were standing across the street in kind of the shade of the house, just waiting for detectives to come to interview them. There was a police chaplain who was there who was kind of chatting with them," said Doug Murphy, a reporter with the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Detective Bob Ragsdale said yesterday that investigators found evidence of a violent altercation in the home - and Ms. Kaur's lifeless body.

"It looks like the victim was going to seek a divorce," Det. Ragsdale said in an e-mail. "The husband was seen in Phoenix some time between 22:15 and 22:30 hours . . . outside the residence. Investigators found information from the suspect, inside the victim's residence, related to homicide. There were further indications that the husband was suicidal."

That's when the chase began.

Police soon tracked Mr. Grewal's movements to Sky Harbor International Airport, a 20-minute drive away, north on Maricopa Freeway.

There, investigators found he had taken a one-way flight to Newark, N.J. -- a major transit point in the United States for travellers bound for India.

Deborah McCarley, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Phoenix police contacted her office, and soon, international law enforcement connections were being made.

"The Phoenix PD . . . had information that this individual was involved . . . they knew who they wanted, we just tried to figure out . . . if he was on a plane and if he was, where he was going."

By then, Mr. Grewal was aboard a Continental Airways flight bound for Indira Gandhi International Airport, in New Delhi.

Ms. McCarley said the FBI's strategic information and operations centre was called into action and soon Indian police were on the case.

"He was arrested in New Delhi when he came off the plane," said Ms. McCarley. "He didn't give the authorities any problems."

Ms. McCarley said the U.S. government has 60 days to put through paper work requesting extradition.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kaur's family has been struggling to deal with their grief. Sukmindher Singh Cheema, news director at Radio India in Vancouver, said he had spoken with Ms. Kaur's father, Rattan Singh, a former superintendent in the Indian Police Service.

He was told Mr. Grewal and Ms. Kaur had met in California at a family function and then got married in 2005 in India.

"Grewal wanted Navneet to leave her job in Phoenix and stay with him in Canada," Mr. Singh told Delhi reporters. "But Navneet, a qualified software engineer working at a senior level, didn't want to quit. This led to strained relations between the couple."

Ms. Kaur's younger brother, Sandeep Singh, told The Times of India that he spoke to his sister the morning of her death, and there were obvious tensions in the relationship.

"He [Mr. Grewal] put many restrictions on my sister Navneet and used to keep her confined. A few months back, she wanted to attend our cousin's marriage and asked him to accompany her, but he said he would not go and did not let her attend the wedding either," Mr. Singh said.

Monday, April 02, 2007

accused killer facing extradition from india

Globe and Mail Update

TORONTO AND DELHI — A Vancouver logistics executive is under arrest in India and facing extradition to the United States for allegedly killing his estranged wife and fleeing to his homeland.

A worldwide Interpol arrest warrant was issued for Avtar Singh Grewal, 32, on Friday after the body of his estranged wife, Navneet Kaur, was found in her home in Ahwatukee, a bedroom community of Phoenix.

Ms. Kaur's co-workers from Assist Technologies, a world-leader in electronic data collection, were worried when the project manager did not arrive at work on Friday.
Checking on Ms. Kaur's home, her colleague found signs of a violent and bloody struggle, and called police, reports say.

An alert was issued that day for Mr. Grewal, who was reportedly seen outside Ms. Kaur's home at 10.30 p.m. Thursday night.

Delhi police arrested Mr. Grewal late Saturday night at Indira Gandhi International Airport after the Interpol Red Corner notice was declared by the U.S. police, the Indian press reported.
He had allegedly flown from Phoenix to Newark, N.J., where he reportedly caught a one-way Continental Airlines flight to India.

Mr. Grewal appeared in front of a magistrate at the Patiala House Courts on Sunday and was placed in judicial custody.

He appeared in court again Monday for the initiation of extradition proceedings to the United States. Delhi police said they are not investigating the matter, saying the accused had not committed any crime in India.

Mr. Grewal and Ms. Kaur married in Delhi in 2005, but they had been living separately due to their jobs, said Ms. Kaur's father Rattan Singh, a former officer in the Indian Police Service.
“Grewal wanted Navneet to leave her job in Phoenix and stay with him in Canada,” Mr. Singh told Delhi media.

“But Navneet, a qualified software engineer working at a senior level, didn't want to quit. This led to strained relations between the couple.”

Phoenix police told local media Ms. Kaur was seeking a divorce.

Ironically, Mr. Grewal fled virtually into the arms of his alleged victim's family, as Mr. Singh lives near the IGI Airport in Gurgaon with his wife and son.

On Monday, Mr. Singh left for America to bring back his daughter's body.
Ms. Kaur's brother Sandeep Singh told Times of India that he spoke to his sister the morning of her death.

“He (Mr. Grewal) put many restrictions on my sister Navneet and used to keep her confined. A few months back, she wanted to attend our cousin's marriage and asked him to accompany her, but he said he would not go and did not let her attend the wedding either,” Mr. Singh said.

Friday, March 30, 2007

indian state gets ready for an onslaught of rats

Rare species of flowering bamboo puts rodents in a feeding and breeding frenzy

(Toronto Globe & Mail, March 30, 2007)

NEW DELHI — At nightfall in the remote state of Mizoram in northeast India, villagers listen with apprehension to the rustling of thousands of rats foraging and breeding in the jungle. For now, the rodents are gorging themselves on flowering bamboo. But when the bamboo dies and the rice harvesting season begins, a scurrying plague will descend on their paddy fields.

An unusual species of bamboo blankets Mizoram, a remote state with an ethnically distinct tribal population. Melocanna baccifera flowers only once every 50 years or so, generating millions of high-protein seeds that turn the local rats into incredibly prolific breeders. But when the seeds disappear, the huge number of rats left over invade the rice paddies of the area's farmers, destroying the crops the villagers depend on for survival.

In a single night, the legion of rodents can clip the ears from every rice stalk in a field, says James Lalsiamliana, the Mizoram Agriculture Department official who heads the state's rodent control cell. During last year's harvest -- when the bamboo flowering began in the eastern part of the state -- more than 40 villages lost their entire crop. And this year, the flowering has peaked across all of Mizoram.

"They depend on this paddy for subsistence," Mr. Lalsiamliana said. "The state will now have to arrange financial support for these areas."

Local villagers call the once-in-50-years phenomenon mautam, or "bamboo death." And the last time it hit, in 1959, it was indeed deadly. The central government dismissed local forecasts as superstitious raving, and was unprepared to fight off the rodents or provide adequate relief for the massive food shortages that followed. The famine spawned a revolt against Indian rule by the Mizo National Front that lasted until 1986 and took more than 3,000 lives. Now, one of the movement's leaders, Pu Zoramthanga, is Mizoram's chief minister.

This time around, the government has released more than $125-million to fight the problem. And as much as five years back, Mizoram began tapping experts to develop a co-ordinated plan to limit the effects of the flowering and control the rodent population. The Ministry of Environment and Forests drew on experts from the International Bamboo and Rattan Network (INBAR) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to help find new ways to utilize the bamboo and thus encourage local villagers to harvest it before it flowers. The ministry also called in Canada's John Bourne, a 30-year veteran of Alberta's rat patrol who helped make the Canadian province rat free, to study the local rodents and develop a plan for killing rats. Last season, the program Mr. Bourne helped develop allowed villagers to kill hundreds of thousands of rodents using homemade traps and poison supplied by the state.

Mr. Lalsiamliana says the state paid villagers 100 rupees (about $2.50) for every 50 traps they set and distributed more than 15,000 kilograms of rodenticide.

T.P. Subramony, head of INBAR's Delhi office, says India now has a comprehensive plan that covers extraction and management of the bamboo, how to regenerate the forest cover, controlling the rodent population and dealing with health hazards that may arise with the proliferation of the vermin. But he says the key to a solution lies in realizing the value of the bamboo itself.

Although locals cut down and burn bamboo to collect ash that they use as fertilizer, experts from the state's Bamboo Development Agency estimate that less than 1 per cent of the 850,000 hectares of bamboo gets harvested, which is why a panel of researchers from UNIDO and India's Rain Forest Research Institute has recommended the promotion of cottage industries such as the manufacture of tooth picks and bamboo mats and a temporary ban on harvesting bamboo in other parts of the country for the paper industry, along with a host of other economic stimuli.

"One issue is the dying bamboo," Mr. Subramony said. "Then there is the question of how to utilize it. There is a threat, but there is an opportunity also."

Nevertheless, this flowering season, averting a food shortage depends on killing rats. And that may not be enough.

"There will likely be a food shortage, and that may lead to famine," said S.N. Kalita, formerly the principal secretary of forests and head of the environment and forest department of Mizoram. "But the situation cannot be compared with 1959. Now our communication by road and air transport are improved, so transporting in food will not be a problem. Already, some reserve stock has been created. All I can say is that the state government and the government of India is fully prepared."

Special to The Globe and Mail