a change of government, it's now time for the inevitable bureaucratic
reshuffle. Already the Prime Minister's Office has seen a complete
makeover, including the appointment of J.N. Dixit as the National
Security Adviser in place of Brajesh Mishra, and T.K.A. Nair as
the pm's Principal Secretary. However, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram
is keeping his inherited team intact, given that he has a Budget
to present in the first week of July and that Finance Secretary
D.C. Gupta is due to retire in September this year. Others like
D. Swarup, Expenditure Secretary, and N.S. Sisodia, Department of
Banking and Insurance, will continue in their respective posts.
Apparently, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath is also not
too keen to replace Dipak Chatterjee, Secretary in his ministry,
because he retires by June-end. Possible contenders for the post
thereafter includes K.M. Chandrasekhar, India's ambassador to WTO.
A New Spin
1907, James Finlay founded the company to produce the world's best
cotton. Surviving more than 50 years of independence, nationalisation
and competition, Finlay's, now part of the National Textile Corporation
(South Maharashtra) Ltd, has got a new lease on life.
ntcsm's Managing Director of two years, V.K.
Tripathi, is investing almost Rs 40 crore to give the brand, reputed
for its superior cotton fabric, a makeover, including a modern plant
at Lalbagh, Mumbai. Some of the products planned: a line of cotton
shirts that weigh a mere 95 gm apiece and F-74 mulls for turbans,
popular for its light weight and superfine quality. A coup would
be to get South Block's new occupant to sport it!
UP AND AWAY
Watch: What Could Soon be Dearer?
LPG, Petrol and Kerosene
The elections are over and oil companies are waiting to exhale.
Prices may go up save, perhaps, LPG
Fresh supplies have dropped because of a sugarcane shortage, but
there's enough stock to hold prices
Housing and Construction
If the Chinese economy cools off, expect steel prices to drop too
Fruits and Vegetables
The met department is sanguine about good monsoon but a ritualistic
seasonal hike in prices cannot be ruled out
Saving Media Lab Asia
Life after MIT looks uncertain, but not unexciting.
|Looking for help: Media Lab
Asia's G.V. Ramaraju
It doesn't have
a CEO, it's got just a handful of researchers, and it is near broke.
But Media Lab Asia (MLA), still trying to find its feet a year after
its much-publicised divorce from MIT's Nick Negroponte-founded Media
Lab, has a couple of things going for it: One, the government of
India has agreed to pump in another Rs 262 crore in a bid to revive
it. And two, it's got some cool projects in the works. Take a look:
A hand-held polysensor that can identify common pollutants from
a teaspoon of water in five minutes, whereas the fastest lab takes
25 hours. Its cost: Less than Rs 10,000 apiece. A data-transmitting
device, the size of a cellphone, that gets activated by certain
pre-programmed parameters, say, variations in temperature or touch.
It then uses whatever network is available (cellular or WI-FI) to
transmit the data to a base computer. A hundred of these devices
planted along the course of a river like Ganges can provide real-time
data about the level of pollution. The cost of such a project: Rs
20 crore. (This technology is not available elsewhere).
These are just two of several innovative projects
underway at MLA. The others include an "Info Thela", which
is a rugged wireless internet-enabled computer on a thela, or cart.
The computer doesn't need electricity, but runs on a battery that
is charged automatically as the driver pedals the cart. Besides
email and fax, the cart can allow rural Indians to get agriculture-related
information. It can also double up as a diagnostics-facility-on-wheels
and generate an on-the-spot report. "A private body can fund
the Media Lab as a whole or research in a specific technology domain,
or individual projects," says G.V. Ramaraju, Research Director
Yet, there are issues that face MLA, including
sharing of intellectual property rights. For example, if an MLA
partner institution and one or more corporate has invested in a
project, not necessarily equally, who gets the patent? Besides,
as R.S. Sirohi, Director at IIT Delhi, points out, "An academic
lab can solve an industrial problem only if industry is involved
at each step." But given the uncertainty over MLA's future,
industry seems most reluctant to cash in on what was supposed to
be a bleeding edge research lab.
Why Diesel is Sexy
recently as 1999, some automotive experts were willing to write
off diesel engines. Not only was the fuel considered environmentally
unfriendly, but the regime of administered pricing was set to go,
taking with it the huge price differential between diesel and petrol.
Circa 2004, things are vastly different.
"Within the last four to five years, the
market for diesel cars has grown from 2 to 3 per cent to 17 per
cent of the total car market," says Jagdish Khattar, Managing
Director, Maruti Udyog, who incidentally was part of the Bhure Lal
Committee that, in 1999, recommended phasing out of diesel vehicles.
Today, though, Khattar's Maruti Udyog is plonking down Rs 350 crore
on a diesel engine plant, which will go on stream by 2006 and churn
out a lakh of engines every year. This year, the share of diesel
cars should go up to 20 per cent.