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Cool Bihari: April 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007

Another Proud Bihari

“I am a proud Bihari,but I have done nothing for Bihar and Jharkhand " says Anil Agarwal who is the executive chairman and founder of the London Stock Exchange-listed Vedanta Resources,which is growing at a very fast pace — from Rs 15 crore in 1985 to nearly Rs 20,000 crore in the nine-month year to 2006.

Agarwal’s is a classic story of a small trader becoming metal king. The secret, he says, lies in believing in himself and in the country’s potential.

“Also, I am fortunate to have wonderful people with me. Without them, it would not have been possible for me to reach this level,” he told Business Standard after announcing the acquisition of Sesa Goa on Tuesday.

Agarwal came to Mumbai when he was 19 after completing his matriculation from Patna in 1975. He was so impressed with the grand edifice of the The Oberoi that he decided to lodge himself there as he set out to pursue his career as a scrap trader.

But due to his poor command over English, he had to seek the help of a friend to book himself in the hotel. Once there, he would eat out so the cost would not exceed the daily rent of Rs 200.

Today, his annual salary is over Rs 4.5 crore, not to mention his stock options and shareholding. He owns a home in Mayfair, London, drives a Bentley, wears the most expensive suits and has the best staff in the industry working for him. An ambitious Agarwal wants to have a production capacity of 1 million tonnes each in his three areas of business — copper, aluminium and zinc, and wants to set up a 10,000 MW power plant. “We are investing $13 billion to achieve the target and are half way through [to it],” he says.

It was this ambition that drove him to launch a hostile takeover bid to acquire Indian Aluminium (Indal) from the American giant, Alcan, which failed. Instead, he bought the ailing Madras Aluminium. Later, he acquired Bharat Aluminium and Hindustan Zinc from the government and purchased India Foils from the Khaitan group of Kolkata. In all these cases, the Birla group was one of the contenders. On his part, Agarwal shrugs off the theory of rivalry with the Birla group. “There is enough water in the sea for every fish,” he says.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Future of Bihar

Sometimes I wonder why I'm so optimistic and sanguine about the future of Bihar. Despite reports on violence and high kidnapping figures there’s a strange optimism about the future of Bihar. Often we question our own beliefs about the way we see our native state. Are we blind to the realities of Bihar and oblivious about the facts of the state? Are we simply building our own castles in air and far away from the realities of the day?

The answers to these facts are simple and very clear. We are all aware of the challenges which Bihar faces today, we are all connected to our villages and have ourselves braved the odds at some point in our career. My generation has survived the odds of some dark days in Bihar during the days of effete leadership. We have spent our times in the street of Bihar and spent hours in the Patna University campus and have some precious memories of our lives. Bihar has a flavour which only a true bihari soul can appreciate. You need not be a born Bihari to relish the essence of being a Bihari. What you need is a big heart and an even bigger attitude to be proud of what you are and the way you are.

You may be a Harryies of the world who takes dig at every thing which goes wrong with Bihar and also showcase yourself as someone special atypical Bihari .You may also be Bhai G’s like us who are out of Bihar but you can never take a Bihari out of them. The quintessential Bihar by heart who relishes the unique gustatory bliss of Liiti and chokha, the rustic beats of Bhojpuri Music and takes pride in everything which Bihar has got to offer. We are proud of our History and what we have achieved and are also committed to have a better tomorrow for our beloved state.

We have the courage to tell the world that what if we have lagged behind but at least we are trying. What if we may not have the best roads in the world but we are on our way .We may not have the best literacy figures to boast of but we have made a sincere effort to improve. We may not have the best police force in the world to fight odds like this; however we are hoping to improve it. We may not have the best leadership in the country but we have someone who is willing and humble enough to learn from others. We may not have loads of investment flowing in to our state but we have started the process and hope to see some thing positive.

We are going to see a new Bihar in the days to come and let’s take pride and put our best in reviving our golden past and take our state to new heights.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Educational Reforms in Bihar

One of my previous posts marked the changes which are being witnessed in the campus of Patna University. The academic environment in Bihar continues to improve thanks to the efforts of Chancellor.

Ever since he took over last year, Chancellor-cum-Governor of Bihar RS Gavai singled out revamp of higher education as his main priority. Nine months on, there are many firsts to his credit. The Chancellor's office has made it compulsory for teachers to stay on campus for a minimum of five hours and banned private tuition.

He has taken disciplinary action against the errant teachers, something unheard of earlier. For the first time, a team from Raj Bhawan has so far inspected over 120 colleges in different parts of the state to improve the scenario.

Like schools, colleges are organising parent teachers' meet to improve attendance. The Chancellor office has made it clear that those having less than 75 per cent attendance should not be allowed to take examinations at any cost. To streamline the derailed academic session, there is deadline of July for the universities to set things right. For the first time, all the VCs in Bihar were selected after their interview with the Chancellor.

In an exclusive interview with HT, Gavai said that he would not tolerate if teachers shied away from their duty. "Teachers' primary job is to teach. That is what they are paid for and that is what I want from them. They cannot remain on unauthorised leave and still draw salary. I have asked all the vice chancellors to enforce campus discipline," he added.

The Chancellor said that he had already initiated a number of measures. "I, as a Governor, have involved myself and accepted the challenge to set higher education right. I take actions accordingly. I am doing it with my heart. Whatever I am doing is within my rights as the Chancellor," he added.

Gavai said that efforts were already on to streamline the academic session. "There will be a uniform academic calendar and holiday calendar in all the universities. I have asked my OSD (Education) Krishna Kumar to work out a detailed plan to revive inter-university sports and culture meets in the state," he added.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Confronting Challenges in Bihar

Stanford-India Mirror Conference took place in Patna this week. It was part of the state government’s programme of confronting the state’s challenges with an open mind to best practices from around the world. The conference brought together a team from the Stanford Center for International Development, members of the state government, researchers from area universities and thinktanks, members of the global and local Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and other members of civil society, to discuss policy challenges for Bihar.

Nick Hope (Stanford) made a presentation on lessons from China, Anjini Kochar (Stanford) on education policies, Ward Hanson (Stanford) on IT and growth, TN Srinivasan (Stanford) on employment generation as well as centre-state relations and AN Sharma and Pinaki Joddar on povert. We spoke on public private partnerships and investment climate.

The Chief Minister of Bihar summarised the reform and legislative initiatives over the last 15 months, and laid out his vision for the coming years. The deputy CM, ministers of HRD, RCD, energy, rural development, science and technology, apart from the chief secretary and commissioners of HRD and finance, among others, provided insights into Bihar’s current strategies. Ramesh Yadava, a charter member of Silicon Valley TiE, also brought out the importance of accelerating the pace of implementation of the multiple commitments made in its recently launched Approach Paper to the XIth Plan. The theme running through all sessions: given the pressing needs, administrative challenges, and constrained financial and human resources in comparison with the task at hand, what steps deserve priority?

Some consensus did emerge:

Learn from others’ experience. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel in all cases. The world is full of relevant experiences, both successes and failures, to learn from. On SEZs, for example, much of the debate has focused on comparing India and China’s fiscal policies. Nick Hope brought out the importance of an exit policy to wind up any special preferences once their purpose is over.

But tailor this experience to local conditions. Nick Hope’s presentation on China’s development strategy raised a number of suggestions that would need to be tempered to suit India’s democratic setting. China’s differential treatment of coastal and interior provinces, for example, would not be feasible here as a way to focus resources.

And take advantage of India’s conditions. Democracy might look like a ‘constraint’ when policies fail to reach consensus, vested interests block reforms, or people occupy land intended for a power plant. But it is actually an advantage in other ways. The freedom to protest provides information about preferences and needs.

Take unintended consequences into account. Anjini Kochar’s presentation on education pointed out that education policies’ focus on creating access to education by localising the school system seems to also have affected the level and variance in quality. Schools designed to serve small localities effectively become segregated when there is residential clustering. Localisation also means that school size is determined by population density more than efficiency. In the end, Professor Kochar recommended an adjustment of the policy to take these multiple dimensions into account: place pre-schools in localities to draw people into the system, but then aggregate students to the efficient scale for higher grades.

Leverage technologies to create change. India’s development efforts, especially its rural policies, are taking place in an era where ICT can (in theory) mean the ‘death of distance’. The challenge: to develop the content to be diffused through this network and ensure greater access. We discussed in our session the need to create an open-access rural Internet backbone to support government programmes (like agricultural extension) as well as any other applications and services that private entrepreneurs can dream up.

Rework institutions to enable change. Sessions looked at not only the state’s institutions, but also the state’s institutional context. TN Srinivasan emphasised the importance of rationalising intergovernmental transfers, reconsidering the role of the Planning Commission and restructuring the mechanism for Centre-state relations.

In the end, implement. Policy pronouncements are just words and aims. Changing outcomes takes concerted actions, coordinated by pragmatic strategies. In all of these areas, Bihar is not alone or unique in India. What is good for Bihar could also be good for India.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stanford Mirror Conference in Bihar

Acknowledging the change in the governance atmosphere of Bihar, Stanford University has decided to hold a 'Mirror Conference' in Patna for the first time.

The two-day conference, beginning on Thursday, would not only reflect the format and intellectual debate at Stanford itself but also engage the Government in generating a meaningful dialogue on new-generation policy reforms. It would also suggest further action for taking the development thrust to the next level.

Addressing newsmen, NK Singh, vice chairman, State Planning Board, said that Stanford, which has been fostering a policy dialogue with Union Government over the years, realised the role of state governments in the pursuance and implementation of new-generation policy reforms and had started the practice of ‘Mirror Conferences’ at state levels four years ago.

These state-level dialogues have since been held with West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala and Rajasthan.

Now, at the invitation of the State Government, Stanford Centre for International Development would be holding the ‘Mirror Conference’ in Bihar, which would also serve as a prelude to the Eighth Annual Conference of Indian Economic Reforms at Stanford slated in June, informed Singh.

Leading experts like T.N. Srinivasan, Nicholas Hope, Anjini Kochar, Ward Hanson and Jessica Wallack will present papers on Bihar's economic strategy.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Radio Mirchi in Patna

Music lovers in Patna finally got to listen to FM Radio Mirchi on Monday. Radio Mirchi is the first private radio station to provide the city with a bouquet of entertainment. The momentous event was inaugurated by the famous Bollywood personality -- Manoj Bajpai -- who played RJ for a day and welcomed people of Patna to the new age music. Telephone lines were abuzz as calls poured in from every nook and corner of Patna.

Radio Mirchi Patna Station Director Mandar Patwardhan is confident of winning the hearts of the people of Patna by "delivering programmes that are relevant to the people of the city. This is a station for the people of Patna - playing their music and speaking their language." Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM will broadcast a diverse mix of shows including their breakfast property Hello Patna, Khoobsurat which deals with contemporary women's , Total Filmi for the latest Bollywood gossip; Bumper2Bumper, a gaming show; Purani Jeans for retro music and Dil Chahta Hai, a dial in request show.

Positioned as an entertainment channel, with music forming the core of its programming the station promises to entertain and inform audiences. Contemporary music, city happenings, Bollywood gossip, special interviews and exclusive film promotional tie-ups is what the listeners in Patna can tune in for.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bihari flavour dazzels fashion world

Gone are the days when Biharis used to compete only in the field of engineering, medical, banking and management .The new Bihari kids on the block are also making their presence felt in the field of fashion which is mostly assumed to be a metro phenomenon. Sunday express report on how Small-town India has sashayed on to the runway, thanks to a handful of designers bringing a fresh, unrehearsed ethnicity to fashion.

Take Shubhra Chaudhary, for instance. In the mad rush of the just-concluded Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, this designer from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, stood out—no make-up, deglamorised attire. So did her creations. The sequins-crystal regime was dumped; instead she used hand stitches on clothes and hand-printed some others. Some of the surface treatments were derived from time spent with her grandparents in villages in Bihar. There were the obvious connections too. “When I go to Dilli Haat, I see people going gaga over simple Madhubani paintings. Back home that’s so commonplace,” she laughs, adding: “I want to bring Madhubani painting into mainstream fashion.”

Samant Chauhan has made a similar crossover. Chauhan’s father worked in the eastern railway services as a cleaner and expected his son to move on to bigger things once his high school education was over. Instead, the shy 26-year-old from Bhagalpur wanted to get into fashion designing. Today, he stands vindicated.

His collection Kamasutra, showcased at WIFW, was one of the best seen on the runway at this year’s event. Chauhan worked with Bhagalpuri raw silk to create Western streetwear. “When growing up, I’d only find people using the material for home furnishing. I thought it would be interesting to do it on clothes,” he says. Lots of texturing, interlacing and knits produced a layered look on a palette that was mostly pastel. Images from Vatsayayan’s classic and Khajuraho were printed on the clothes. “He is going to be another (Rajesh) Pratap, See how he uses Bhagalpuri silk with digital prints. That’s quite ingenious,” noted buyer Sunil Sethi.

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