Monday, December 19, 2011

A Typical Indian Christmas Decoration

I found this decoration (for the tree) at the shops on the weekend.

How cool is that ??

The Christmas Party

The High Commission had it's Chritmas party on Friday night (16 December). It was a pretty huge night as you can see from this selection of photos:

This one is my personal favourite

Farewell to the Defence Advisor

On Friday (16 December), the High Commission bade farewell to the Defence Advisor (& my boss) - Tim.

Here's a photo of the Defence Section, at the farewell morning tea for Tim:

We'll miss you Tim. Best of luck in the new job.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Happy Birthday New Delhi

Yesterday (12 December 2011), New Delhi celebrated 100yrs as India's capital.

Here's an article from "The Telegraph" (UK) about the event:

British-built Indian capital New Delhi marks 100th anniversary

New Delhi, the British-built capital of India, marked its 100th anniversary today in a series of low-key events which played down its colonial origins.

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
3:20PM GMT 12 Dec 2011

The capital's chief minister had originally planned a series of landmark events, including the recreation of the 'Coronation Park' where King George V convened the 'Delhi Durbar' as King-Emperor of India and announced his decision to build a new capital to replace Calcutta.

The 1911 Durbar brought together more than 200 of India's princes, nawabs and mahajarahs, in an extraordinary demonstration of colonial pomp, complete with caparisoned elephants, model railways, and a city of tent palaces for the royal guests.

But the plans to recreate the original ground as a history park and museum to celebrate India's links with the commonwealth and English-speaking nations, were delayed and scaled back amid criticism by opponents who described it as a 'celebration of slavery'.

Instead, the city's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, was on Monday night planning to launch a book commemorating the 'seven cities' of Delhi, which do not include New Delhi.

The celebrations, including a photographic exhibition of the city's historic monuments and a showcase of its ancient culture and local food, will use the centenary as a reminder of the city's ancient buildings and culture which preceded the creation of 'New Delhi.'

'Dilliwallahs' are proud of their capital, including Sir Edwin Lutyens' unique garden city and original 'colonial' bungalows. But while many of its leading figures had felt India had reached a point where it could be more relaxed about its colonial past, they underestimated the enduring sensitivity of empire.

O.P Jain, a leading conservationist and one of the leading advocates for recreating the Coronation Park, said it was important to mark the centenary of New Delhi, but it could not be 'celebrated.'

"To call it the 100 years of New Delhi is OK but Delhi has been a capital all along. We're not celebrating the slavery of our country. The coronation park was an important event in the history of Delhi and should be preserved, but it is not something which has to be celebrated. I feel everything is part of history, good and bad moments. It's not a great memory because the wounds of 1857 [The Indian 'Mutiny' and its defeat by British-led forces] were still alive," he said.

Some Indian newspapers, including The Hindu questioned 'what are we celebrating?' with critics complaining that New Delhi's growth from a small, leafy town to a sprawling, polluted metropolis of more than 14 million with poor sanitation left little appetite for rejoicing.

C. Raja Mohan, one of the country's leading commentators, said it was time for India to face up to its colonial legacy. "The British Raj is part of our history and modern India can't simply disown it," he wrote in the Indian Express.

He said India's current foreign policy aims to extend its influence from Suez to the South China Sea, its resistance to foreign interference, and its protection of smaller nations in the region, all have their origins in British India

"A rising India will find that her emerging foreign policy priorities are not entirely different from those of the Raj," he said, but modern India will only succeed "if it recalls the legacy of the Raj, accepts it as an integral part of our history, and above all, is willing to learn from it."

Here's a link to a selection of articles from "The Times of India":

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An interesting series of articles on the Caste system

I've been mulling over a blog post on the caste system for some time but it's proving a little harder than I expected.

In the meantime, here's two articles from "The Wall Street Journal" regarding the Caste system that I though you'd find interesting:

• DECEMBER 9, 2011

For India's Lowest Castes, Path Forward Is 'Backward'

Sanjit Das/Panos for The Wall Street Journal

Mohammad Rafiq Gazi, third from left, supports his community's effort to be called 'backward' though it might not aid him because he is too uneducated. He sat with family members.

HASNABAD, India—Decades ago, Siraj Gazi's grandfather changed his last name of Chowduli to the higher-caste Gazi. He hoped it would erase the social stigma of his low-caste roots.

Today, 23-year-old Mr. Gazi, a college graduate, is trying to prove that he is, in fact, a Chowduli—a surname so low, it is akin to a racial epithet here.

"My grandfather wanted to stop people from looking down on us as ignorant and backward," says Mr. Gazi. "But to get a better job, I'm willing to go back."

Despite India's expanding economy, the fruits of rising wealth—and opportunities for economic and social mobility—have largely bypassed many rural areas like Mr. Gazi's fishing village near the Bangladesh border.

So India is trying to engineer advancement for its underclass through a vast and growing affirmative-action program. To decide who should benefit, officials are adapting a means of categorization long viewed by many as one of the great evils of Indian society: the Hindu caste system.

Since 1993, India has almost doubled, to 2,251, the number of groups on its official list of "backward classes" that are entitled to 27% of central-government jobs and university admissions, and a varying proportion of state jobs. Officials are in the process of classifying roughly 200 more groups as officially "backward" so that they benefit as well.

And for the first time in 80 years, the nation is conducting a "caste census," tallying India's thousands of sub-castes. A caste census has long been taboo, for fear it would reinforce discrimination. But this year, lower-caste groups forced the government's hand. Their hope: The tally will show low-caste numbers are much higher than thought, justifying more government benefits and perhaps even job quotas in the private sector.

For centuries, caste determined not only peoples' social status but their marriages and occupations as well. The hierarchy is based on four broad caste groups (topped by the priestly Brahmins), each divided into thousands of subgroups. An Agarwal from the Bania caste married within that group and grew up to become a businessman; a Yadav would herd cattle. Members of the Paraiyar group—from which the word "pariah" is derived—performed menial labor and because they were considered unclean, lived outside of villages.

Across India's estimated 6,400 sub-castes, the system came to define a person's socioeconomic status. It continues to serve fundamental economic needs: Absent strong market forces or public institutions, people use caste networks to obtain jobs, loans and housing.

But caste can be fiercely discriminatory. Communities developed incentives to maintain their rung on the caste ladder, lest those below pass them.

Even though the lowest social group, the Dalits—once known as "untouchables"—has produced some successful businesspeople, it still lags well behind higher classes who have twice the median household income, a recent survey shows.

Around the time India opened its economy 20 years ago, ending decades of Soviet-style central planning, it also set out to create a society of equal opportunity. It did so by more than doubling the quota of jobs and seats in government colleges reserved for disadvantaged castes. India's lower castes—a huge voting bloc—have used their newfound influence to express frustration at their lack of economic mobility as the economy races ahead.

The danger in using caste as a development tool, critics say, is that the government is perpetuating ancient divisions that still run deep. Just this April, the Indian Supreme Court in a wide-ranging ruling blasted the caste system as "a curse on the nation," saying "the sooner it is destroyed, the better." That ruling outlawed India's unofficial courts that sanction "honor killings," in which families kill young lovers who are from different castes rather than suffer the stigma of a marriage across caste lines.

India's Constitution guarantees equality to all. But it also enshrines caste-based affirmative action for Dalits, known in legal terms as "scheduled castes," and for indigenous forest-dwellers, known as "scheduled tribes." In time, the government created a third group, the "Other Backward Classes."

There are limits: People earning more than $9,000 a year are considered part of a "creamy layer" that doesn't get benefits. But overall, almost half of all government jobs and college seats are reserved for the disadvantaged.

Among the Hindu groups now petitioning the government to be considered "backward" are the Devangas in the state of West Bengal, traditional weavers whose name means "those who make clothes for God."

Caste Divide

"Granting the status of 'backward' isn't necessary if everyone is allowed to shine in life—but in reality this opportunity is lacking," said M. Kesava Rao, the acting administrator at a high school serving mostly Devangas. The group is already recognized as "backward" by the state; it wants national recognition to qualify for federal quotas as well.

The Devangas migrated generations ago from the south of India to work in West Bengal's jute mills. But the jute business is declining. A lack of other industries leaves them with little hope for social or economic mobility.

In Serampore, a town an hour's drive north of Kolkata, about 6,000 Devangas live in tiny, pastel homes. Sewage flows along open drains lining dirt footpaths. Inside, women sit at pedal-operated sewing machines, making sari blouses they sell for about four cents each. Only one in five of the women can read at a primary school level, government figures show.

Kondaka Kameshwar Rao, 42, who is married with two children, is among the better-paid Devangas. He earns $140 a month operating a winding machine at a surviving jute plant.

But he can't afford private tutors for his children, 11 and 14 years old. In the overcrowded classrooms of India's public schools, tutors are key to scoring high enough on college exams to gain admission.

The only avenue Mr. Rao sees to give his children the economic mobility he lacks is to get the family "backward" status. "There's nothing to be ashamed of," he says. "Not everyone is Brahmin."

India is unique in having such a complex social system to identify people in need. Yet critics say the affirmative-action program promotes inter-caste resentment as India's 1.2 billion people compete for too few jobs.

China, which also struggles to lift its rural poor, has taken a different approach, investing more heavily in public health, education and infrastructure. While China had a head start—opening its economy roughly a decade earlier than India did—it outranks India in measures including poverty and maternal mortality. India is also pouring more money into schools and rural-employment programs.

Being categorized "backward" in India is no guarantee of benefits. Despite the job quotas, many people still can't meet minimum requirements to get hired. Even most of the lowliest jobs in most state offices require an eighth-grade education, which many people lack.

In the Hasnabad area, where 750 Chowduli families live on the edge of ponds and canals, 40% of students don't show up to elementary school for half the year, teachers say, when their parents travel to work in brick kilns several miles away.

The Chowdulis are Muslim, and therefore outside of the traditional Hindu caste system. But the word "caste" is routinely used by government experts to refer to social strata in underprivileged Muslim communities. West Bengal state, where the Chowdulis live, has nearly doubled its number of backward classes to 108 the past two years, largely by the inclusion of Muslim groups.

The Chowdulis already have state "backward" status. Now, like the Devangas, they are seeking federal recognition to benefit from more quotas.

Siraj Gazi, the young man who wants to change his name back to Chowduli, is the first member of the community whom anyone in the area can remember getting a college degree.

He paid full tuition—all told, about $200 for a three-year degree at a state school.

Not even his degree has helped him land a decent job. He works part-time in a plant that filters arsenic out of drinking water. Thus he has been trying for two years to get an official government certificate identifying him as a Chowduli to gain the advantages of "backward" designation.

"I'm willing to go back and suffer people's insults because the name is going to help me to get a job," he says. "The truth is that even when we didn't have the Chowduli name, people knew we were Chowdulis."

His uncle, Mohammad Iman Gazi, lives down a mud path a five-minute walk away. He remembers the day several decades ago when he and Siraj's grandfather decided to drop Chowduli as their last name. "We wanted to get some respect," he says.

After the change, "We were still looked down upon, but we didn't get looked down upon as much," he says, standing in his two-room brick house, which he was able to build after winning $400 in the lottery a few years ago.

He says he will never change his name back to Chowduli. But if the younger generation sees something to gain, he says, he won't stand in their way.

His own biggest regret, he says, is that he was so poor when his two sons were in school that he made them drop out at age 10 to work. Now they're stuck in the tailoring industry, lacking the education to benefit from new opportunities.

One son, Mohammad Rafiq Gazi, 22, says he wanted to become a doctor, but his father couldn't feed his family on the $15 a month he earned wading into a nearby canal and scooping fish into a net. Today, 12 years after quitting school, he earns $30 a month sewing women's clothing.

"I don't like the job, but there's nothing else to do," he says. "The job is always sitting, 16 hours a day sitting."

He supports his community's effort to attain "backward" status even though it might not help him personally. He wouldn't qualify for most jobs reserved for "backward" groups because he lacks the required eighth-grade schooling.

The government would do better to invest in schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, rather than promise jobs to people who aren't qualified, says Anirudh Krishna, a public-policy professor at Duke University who studies poverty in India. "The government is just taking a symbolic shortcut," he says. "This is a crying scandal."

Today Rafiq daydreams about setting up his own garment shop. His older brother did so about three years ago after selling some goats for about $300 to buy several sewing machines. On a recent afternoon at his brother's one-room factory, six boys ages 11 to 16 sewed red frocks.

But Rafiq doesn't have the goats, or the savings, to buy his own machines, he says, so he feels stymied. "What will be the end?" he says.

Nobody in the family of his college-educated cousin, Siraj, can explain exactly why they pushed him to keep studying toward his degree. He graduated this year with a bachelor of science, majoring in geography.

"We're illiterate," says Siraj's stepmother, Murjina Bibi, "so we don't really know what things he can do with an education." But the family is "very proud" of his degree, she says. "We hope he can find a good job."

Siraj's part-time work in the arsenic-filtering plant pays him about $3.20 a day. His goal is to move up to "any kind of permanent job I can get that has job security," he says.

Asked what job that would be, he pauses to think. The only employers he knows of in the area are a kiln and an ice factory, he says.

At length, Siraj says, "The best thing I can hope for is a government job" of the type he might get more easily with the "backward" status that the Chowduli surname will confer. "Beggars can't be choosers."

—Krishna Pokharel and Arup Chanda contributed to this article.

Write to Geeta Anand at and Amol Sharma at

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


• December 9, 2011, 4:29 PM IST

The Other Side of Caste

After bashing the caste system for decades, academics in recent years have been focusing on how members use it for socioeconomic advancement and suggesting the ties that bind could be used to support weak government health-service programs.

One of the academics who have done extensive research on caste networks is Kaivan Munshi, an economist at Brown University who researches the caste system’s influence on economic development.

“Obviously the standard problems of prejudice and discrimination are terrible. But the point is there is another side to caste that would explain the persistence of the institution, if nothing else,” Mr. Munshi said in a recent interview with India Real Time.

“To view the caste system only as a negative, persisting solely because of India’s caste-based affirmative action programs, is to miss the complexity of the system, and the role it plays in the nation’s emerging economy, Mr. Munshi says.

One of the fundamental challenges of economic development is to create mobility to enable people to move from rural to urban areas, from farming to other industries, says Mr. Munshi.
“The reason caste persists is because as long as market institutions don’t function, people are using caste as a substitute, relying on caste networks to get the loans and connections that are needed to support economic activity,” he says.

Mr. Munshi’s research shows that some castes have used their social networks to move their entire groups into new occupations. Lower caste farmers from Gujarat, for example, used the close bonds of the group to move into the diamond business between the 1970s and the 1990s, he says.

“The networks substituted for the capital or connections you would have inherited if you were the son of a businessman, or if your country had the market institutions or public institutions to support business,” he said. By the 1990s, hundreds of sons of Gujarati farmers from the Kathiawari community had become diamond exporters, running jewelry exporting businesses, some with annual revenue exceeding a million dollars, his research shows.
“That’s a remarkable transformation in one generation,” he said.

In his book, “India’s New Capitalists: Caste, Business and Industry in a Modern Nation,” journalist Harish Damodaran tells similar stories of communities using caste ties to advance in business. But as much as caste ties can propel communities forward, they can also hold them back, Mr. Munshi notes.

In a lower caste Maharashtrian community he studied in Mumbai’s Dadar neighborhood, he found that the social networks hurt the community’s mobility by delaying members’ decision to get an English education for their sons, which is key to getting better-paying jobs that became available with India’s economic liberalization.

The Maharashtrians, who had for several generations used their social networks to channel their sons into jobs in the mills in Mumbai, continued to school their sons in Marathi, even as members of other groups adjusted more quickly to the new economic reality, according to Mr. Munshi’s research.

“To understand the problems and the benefits of caste, you really have to look at the context of each particular situation,” Mr. Munshi says.

Follow India real Time on Twitter @indiarealtime.

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The saga of Western supermarkets in India continues...

The other week, I mentioned that the Indian government had passed legislation allowing foreign supermarkets chains into India. Well......that's now been put on the back burner. Here's an article from "The Wall Street Journal" discussing this:

• DECEMBER 12, 2011

Foreign Retailers Regroup in India


The potential of the booming Indian market is captivating to the world's biggest store chains, which long to make it a linchpin of their growth strategies. Now, with the Indian government backtracking from retail liberalization, retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Tesco PLC are retooling their plans.

The political backlash against foreign retailers was a major setback for Wal-Mart, which for years lobbied Indian officials to change the rules, arguing that allowing international retailers to run their own stores in the country would not only improve shopping options for the public, but modernize the entire economy.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Indian government backtracked on a plan to open the country to foreign mass merchants amid a public outcry, led by small shopkeepers.

The world's largest retailer also has been vocal about India's potential impact on its bottom line. Executives of U.S.-based Wal-Mart said during a March investors' conference on its international business that the company expected to turn a profit more quickly in India than in China, where the process took a dozen years.

The enormity of the Indian retail market has dazzled major corporations: Consulting firm A.T. Kearney, which has been polling companies about global-expansion aspirations for more than a dozen years, said India now ranks only below China on their priority lists, ahead of markets like Brazil and the U.S.

But public opposition to the move in India remains rife. Radha Krishna Store in Bengali Market in central Delhi is typical of the mom-and-pop stores the Indian government wants to protect from big-box retailers like Wal-Mart. The small store's shelves are stacked with items as diverse as shampoos, cooking oils, diapers and milk. Kamlesh Gupta and her husband have been operating the store for 25 years.

If chains like Wal-Mart and Tesco are permitted to operate in India, "everything will be over," Mrs. Gupta said. "If they sell goods cheaper than us, who will come here? Already, we have lost 20% of our business since Big Bazaar and Reliance started operating in the last two years," she said, referring to two Indian retailers.

To protect stores like these, Uma Bharti, a leader of the main opposition party, the right-of-center Bharatiya Janata Party, had threatened that she would personally set fire to any Wal-Mart stores if they were allowed to enter India. She said she was prepared to go to prison for it. This party's voting constituency includes small retailers.

The political opposition to loosening the foreign-investment rules ensures that, for now, Wal-Mart's only way to grab a piece of the lucrative market is through a partnership with Bharti Enterprises Ltd. to operate wholesale-style "cash and carry" shops selling bulk items to small-business owners. The joint venture only had nine stores as of the end of October, a minuscule presence for a retail giant with more than 9,000 shops in 28 countries.

Carrefour SA, the world's second-largest retailer behind Wal-Mart, has long pegged India as a strategic market. For years, the French company has been seeking a local partner with whom to launch a chain of supercenters. A person close to Carrefour said the company is unswayed in its quest, regardless of whether the retail law goes into effect or not, though this person added that having a majority stake would be important "symbolically."

Impatient to get its business started in India, Carrefour has opened two wholesale cash-and-carry stores in the meantime. The first opened in Delhi a year ago, and the second opened in Jaipur in November. The opening of the second store coincided with the passing of the retail law, and protesters demonstrated outside the store against the new law. Carrefour intends to open more wholesale stores next year but hasn't detailed its plans.

The Indian government's decision to put the proposal for multibrand retailers on ice came also as a blow to Tesco, which along with other British businesses has advocated changing the regulations. Tesco has been unable to open stand-alone retail stores in India and instead operates through a franchise deal with Tata Group unit Trent. "The decision to defer [foreign direct investment] is a missed opportunity for Indian producers, farmers and consumers," Tesco said.

Saloni Nangia, senior vice president and head of retail and consumer goods at Technopak, a consulting firm based in New Delhi, is hopeful that the decision to allow foreign retailers to open supermarkets in India might still happen.

"A number of brands were already in the country and will continue to believe and be a part of the India opportunity," Ms. Nangia said. "While the discussion has been put on hold, it will come back in due course of time and the government will come up with a plan."

The door remains open to "single brand" retailers in India, like Ikea Group of Sweden, Nike Inc. of the U.S. and Marks and Spencer Group PLC of the U.K. Until now, single-brand foreign retailers like Nike could only hold 51% of an Indian joint venture. Now, the government is allowing 100% foreign investment in single-brand retail, which is attractive to companies like Ikea that have publicly said that they weren't interested in partnerships.

Brands like Levi Strauss & Co., Nike and Reebok International Ltd. have been in India for several years. Their products have been popular among a brand-conscious generation and were being sold in India initially through department stores and more recently through their stand-alone stores operated via joint ventures or franchisees. Marks & Spencer entered the market in 2001, initially as a franchise business. In 2008, the company, which has 23 stores in India, signed a joint-venture agreement with the Indian company Reliance Retail Ltd., a unit of Reliance Industries Ltd., which has allowed Marks & Spencer to open larger stores and tap into local sourcing.

More recently, brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Mango and French Connection have set up stores in the bigger cities, offering more choice and providing more competition to increasingly discerning consumers.

These brands, under the new policy, will now have the opportunity to buy out their partners or franchisees with the condition that they source at least 30% of their future products from Indian small and midsize enterprises.

But this requirement poses a problem for companies in the luxury-goods sector, many of which make their products in Europe and export them to markets like India.

An example is Burberry Group PLC, the British trench-coat maker. The company has seven stores in India, all of which are operated as a joint venture with the Indian company Genesis Colors Pvt. Ltd. Burberry, which opened its first store in India in 2008, owns 51% of the venture.

Burberry faces high import duties in India because many of its products fall under a so-called luxurytax on high-end goods. The company would face difficulty satisfying the sourcing requirements if it decided to take full ownership of its Indian operation. Burberry's traditional raincoats are made in England, and most of its leather products come from Italy.

—Paul Sonne and Christina Passariello contributed to this article.

Write to Miguel Bustillo at

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wal-Mart in India ??

Here's an article from "The New York Times" about a recent law that was passed allowing foreign shopping chains access into India & the debate that has been going on the last week or two:

December 5, 2011

Wal-Mart Debate Rages in India


JALANDHAR, India — For multinational merchants like Wal-Mart, it seemed to be the long-awaited opportunity to jump into India with both feet. But on Monday that moment appeared to be delayed once again.

Late last month, as part of a push to modernize his nation’s notoriously inefficient retail economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that for the first time big foreign companies like Wal-Mart and the British company Tesco could open retail stores in India.

Until now, foreign companies have been restricted to serving only as wholesalers in India. That has already helped create more modern distribution networks, often while generating better prices for farmers and other producers, and giving customers better deals, too.

But expanding the foreign presence to retailing has been seen as the necessary next step for modernists like Mr. Singh, who has been urging the move for years. Praise for his announcement came from India’s corporations and some of its 175 million farmers, who see the move as part of a wave of changes that might help jolt a slowing economy.

And opponents — representing the 34 million people who work in retail and wholesale businesses, as well as left-leaning politicians — were just as loud.

On Monday, leaders of two opposition parties said Mr. Singh’s finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had agreed to a delay. Mr. Mukherjee is expected to make a statement in Parliament on Wednesday.

All of this places Wal-Mart in a position hardly new to the company: at the center of a raging debate that pits the multinational giant from Bentonville, Ark., against local mom-and-pop businesses.

For more than a year, Wal-Mart has been operating a wholesale outlet in this northern city known for its fertile farms and hearty food. Local businessmen like Ravi Mahajan, whose family has had a wholesale general store in the narrow alleys of the Imam Nasir market for 40 years, say their sales have been cut in half as their customers — retail shopkeepers — stock up at Wal-Mart.

If the government eventually lets foreign firms expand beyond wholesaling to open retail stores, Mr. Mahajan said, many of his retail customers would be forced out of business, while squeezing out traders like himself who have long served as the crucial middleman in Indian commerce.

“We’ll be destroyed,” Mr. Mahajan said last week, minutes after he and dozens of other traders burned an effigy with a bloated belly and a crudely drawn face, meant to represent multinational marauders.

But Indian business is far from united in opposing foreign retailers.

Farmers like Avtar Singh Sidhu, who sells potatoes to PepsiCo for its Lays chips and has sold baby corn and other vegetables to Wal-Mart’s local partner, the Indian conglomerate Bharti, argues that foreign retailers will be a boon to India’s struggling agricultural sector. The multinationals, he said, will buy directly from farmers and pay better prices than local wholesalers.

Already, he said, PepsiCo is offering 6 rupees per kilo (or 11 cents) for his potatoes, while local traders offer only 3 rupees (6 cents). “We need more competition,” Mr. Sidhu said.

Policy makers are looking for ways to stimulate economic growth, which fell to an annual pace of 6.9 percent in the three months that ended in September. It was the first time India’s growth rate had fallen below 7 percent in two years.

The announcement by Mr. Singh’s administration on Nov. 24 called for allowing foreign companies like Wal-Mart to team up with Indian partners to open retail stores in metropolitan areas with more than one million people. Jalandhar has 2.1 million people.

The plan ran counter to the views of many politicians who say a slower approach is needed to protect indigenous firms and the rural poor.

But Mr. Singh and his backers have argued that foreign retailers could help reduce chronically high food inflation — which has run around 10 percent for the last year, on top of 20 percent increases the year before. The retail proposal, proponents say, could improve the lot of the more than a half billion Indians still tied to the land, by improving the supply system from farms to consumers. An estimated one-third of some types of vegetables and fruits rot before ever reaching retail shelves.

Speaking of the Nov. 24 announcement, an adviser to Mr. Singh, Raghuram Rajan, an economist at the University of Chicago, said, “This is a bold move, and I think this is a necessary move.”

At present, barely 6 percent of India’s $470 billion in retail sales takes place in organized retail stores, according to Technopak, a Indian consulting firm. The rest takes place in small shops. By contrast, organized retail makes up more than 20 percent of sales in China and 36 percent in Brazil — the two emerging economies to which India most frequently compares itself. (The figure is 85 percent in the United States.)

For decades, Indian regulations and the country’s weak infrastructure have favored small shopkeepers. Foreigners, since 1997, have been allowed to participate only in wholesale trading — a segment in which indigenous operators have historically thrived.

In some cases, the government has granted these traders monopolies. Many Indian states, for instance, require farmers and retailers to sell and buy fruits and vegetables only through wholesale markets controlled by committees of traders.

But Wal-Mart’s experience here in the state of Punjab, one of India’s richest and long the country’s bread basket, provides a glimpse at what could lie ahead for the Indian retail sector.

Two years ago, the company started opening Indian wholesale stores called Best Price, that can sell only to retailers, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The stores are owned jointly by Wal-Mart and Bharti in a partnership that has four wholesale stores in Punjab, among its 15 total in the country.

Raj Jain, president of Wal-Mart India, said that the partners were now expanding in India’s south and west and that Wal-Mart and Bharti had begun discussing plans for a new retail strategy that, he said, would be announced in the “next few months.” But it will depend on what government officials say on Wednesday to Parliament.

Wal-Mart, which does not disclose its revenue in India, had about 4,000 employees in the country as of August. The Jalandhar store, which opened in August 2010, looks and feels like Wal-Mart’s American outlets, with broad aisles stacked high with merchandise.

Rajat Agarwal, who runs his family’s grocery store on a busy market street nearby, said he had come to rely on Best Price because it almost always had the products he sold at his store. Often, he said, traditional wholesalers run out of the most popular brands like Sunsilk shampoo and Aashirvad wheat flour.

Prices also tend to be consistent at Best Price, in contrast to the constant jockeying by the local wholesalers who offer deep discounts when they have too much supply and then push up prices when they are running low.

And yet, Mr. Agarwal complains that the Best Price store has also effectively become a competitor. That is because anybody with a valid business registration can buy from it, and the store has 50,000 member-customers. As a result, in addition to buying supplies for their businesses, many people end up doing their household shopping there, too.

Loading a large consignment of supplies at Best Price one day last week, Mr. Agarwal complained, “This is not a wholesale store.” Instead of being able to buy single items, as at a retail store, he said they should be required to buy wholesale quantities. “They should have to buy six or 12,” he said.

Sumit Gupta, the Best Price store’s manager, said there was little he could do to prevent its members from buying whatever they wanted, as long as they could show that they were registered business owners. The company stocks individual packets of many things, he said, because small retailers demand the option to buy in small quantities.

For now, Mr. Agarwal straddles two commercial worlds.

The morning after stocking up at Best Price, his own shop, Kwality Super Store, was buzzing with customers. Mr. Agarwal and his father, Anil, stood behind the counter. As in most Indian stores, there was no cash register. Mr. Agarwal asked customers to call out the items they were buying, and he hand-tallied the totals on small slips of paper.

One customer, Bhupinder Singh, bought tea, soap, lentils and other supplies. He said he frequented Mr. Agarwal’s shop — but also the Easy Day retail outlet that Bharti has opened down the street.

Easy Day often has prices of up to 10 percent less on packaged goods like biscuits. But he sells the milk from his dairy to the Agarwals, and the family offers him credit on his groceries or offsets his purchases against what it owes him for milk.

Which store he visits, he said, “depends on how I feel that day.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dogs at the local shops

Here's a photo of a dog at our local shops (Basant Lok). This is what alot of the dogs seem to do at any shops here in Delhi.

It's a dog's life indeed !!

Mela at the High Commission

Yesterday, the High Commission hosted it's annual Christmas Mela (think of a fete). The stall holders were all NGOs except for three stalls run by the High Commission: the book stall, the cake stall & the christmas decorations stall.

Tania & I manned the cake stall.

Here are some photos from the day. I hope you like:

The cupcakes Tania made the night before

Coconut Ice for sale

Fruit mince pies for sale

Lovely Portuguese Tarts for sale (they were yummy !!)

Honey Joys for sale

Manfred & Dr. G.

Tania at the cake stall

Cynthia, Kirsty & Melissa

The great organisers of the Mela (Lynne & Caitlin)