Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mahindras planning huge investments in Bihar

The diversified Mahindra and Mahindra group on Monday said it was keen on entering infrastructure, rural finance and the IT space in Bihar, besides utility vehicles but refrained from assinging any investment figures.

Sectors like tractors, infrastructure, rural financing and information techonolgy are some of the key areas in which the Mahindras would like to reigster their presence in the state in a big way, Group Vice-Chairman Anand Mahindra told reporters after a meeting with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar here.

"We are a big group and when we will arrive in the state.. it will be in a big way," he said when asked about the quantum of investment proposed by his company.
Mahindra said he was "very much impressed by the papers presented by Bihar government officials regarding investment opportunities in the state" and that his company was keen on availing of the "growth opportunity" the state presents.

Flanked by the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and state planning board Vice-chairman N K Singh, he said agriculture and agro-based industries had a great potential in Bihar and that Mahindras would like to help the state emerge as the number one agro-product exporter in the country.

Kumar said the NDA Government had succeeded in creating a conducive atmosphere for industrialists to make investments in Bihar and that the state had decided to form a development council, which would have top industrialists of the country as members.
"I am happy to announce that Anand Mahindra has agreed to be a member of the council", Kumar said.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Go to Patna, young man

By Suhel Seth
The author is CEO of Equus Redcell Advertising and also a well known businessman.

For starters, it is a better-looking city than most I have ever been to in India. It is certainly better than most parts of Delhi; there are more schools and colleges which have first-rate syllabi and students than the ones run in Delhi and Mumbai: most of which with dubious ownership! The Bihari people are more large-hearted and far brighter than we would have ever believed, and in many ways Bihar today is at the cusp of what I would imagine will be a boom time in its rather sordid history.

I don?t know how much real progress Lalu Prasad Yadav is making with the Indian Railways, the IIM sojourn notwithstanding, but there sure is a silent revolution taking place in Bihar under Nitish Kumar. I never ever imagined that I would visit Patna. For anything. But I did just that last week and am delighted I did. For starters, it is a better-looking city than most I have ever been to in India. It is certainly better than most parts of Delhi; there are more schools and colleges which have first-rate syllabi and students than the ones run in Delhi and Mumbai: most of which with dubious ownership! The Bihari people are more large-hearted and far brighter than we would have ever believed, and in many ways Bihar today is at the cusp of what I would imagine will be a boom time in its rather sordid history. And much of the blame for that must rest with people who?ve governed Bihar.

I sincerely feel that the rulers of Bihar have consistently damaged the cause of Bihar more than anyone else has or will ever do. There are perceptions about it being a mafia state, which are completely untrue. I saw Bihar?s chief secretary drive in a Tata Indigo without any escort, whereas in Delhi and Mumbai every third-tier secretary also uses a silly red light atop his car with fancy escort vehicles. There was none of the red tape that Bihar is so well-known for. I had gone for some work and the presentations that were made by some officers of the Bihar government were first-rate; and it was only then that some interesting trivia about Bihar became all the more relevant.

Bihar today consumes pharmaceutical drugs worth Rs 1,500 crores per annum: the largest consumption amongst any state, and yet the tragedy is, there is no pharma company in Bihar ? an outcome of the negligent manner in which Bihar was run at the state-level and the treatment that was meted out to it by the Centre. Bihar today sends more people to the administrative services than any other state in the country. Of the 47,000 odd medical professionals working in the United States, 50 per cent are from Bihar. Bihar contributes 50 per cent to the patient inflow at AIIMS in New Delhi and so on and so forth.

The attitude of the Bihar government has also seemingly changed and it was no surprise that in the week gone by they?ve had Ratan Tata, Ashok Ganguly, Analjit Singh visit them, with people like Anand Mahindra and others expected this week. There is the obvious influence that the well-regarded N.K. Singh wields over the corporate world in India which plays a large role in getting these corporate honchos there. But having said that, one must applaud the changes that are being slowly brought into the very fabric of Bihar. And with N.K. heading the Planning Commission in Bihar, expect some more miracles.

The fact that you finally have a chief minister who is not a clown but a serious politician also helps, aided by people like G.S. Kang, the chief secretary whose integrity is unquestioned. I guess what Bihar now needs to do is cleanse itself of the past it so remarkably engendered and entrenched into people?s minds. In the serious talk for creating better infrastructure, for encouraging medical tourism, optimising the value of the hot sulphur springs in Rajgir, not to mention religious tourism in Bodh Gaya, you have a blend that just might work.

I believe from a marketing point too there is a lot of potential in Bihar that most of us, sadly, have not woken up to. I saw stretches of markets, not some odd number of shops, and I saw for myself the pattern of frenetic consumer buying: much more than what happens in our malls in the metros. I sometimes wonder why people have missed the Bihar bus.

Finally, the fact that the families in Bihar continue to lay a lot of emphasis on education, augurs well. I feel there may also be some merit in Bihar also becoming an important destination for the services backbone that Eastern India so desperately needs. I know Patna sounds a very incredible destination, but I guess this is what Incredible India is all about. We are so consumed by what we see and what we are fed by the so-called urbane media that we fail to observe the silent changes that are occurring right under our noses.
Go to Patna and see how India is really changing.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Investing in Bihar

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had promised to bring in the winds of change in Bihar and his wish of putting Bihar back on track seems to be coming true.

In a first step of sorts, Ratan Tata visited Patna today (Sept 21), a big step in itself given the troubled ties the Tata's have had with the state. However, it is still too early for Nitish Kumar to smile, as only time will tell whether this visit translates into anything concrete.

When he first came to power, Nitish Kumar had said: "We want governance, and we also want to ensure that the new government will start developmental work and put Bihar back on track and we want everyone?s support."

And since then, it has been his constant endeavour to market Bihar and play down its reputation as a place, where muscle power is the only language that works. And after courting big bollywood directors like Prakash Jha, it is now the turn of business bigwigs. With Ratan Tata visiting the state after a personal invite from Nitish Kumar and raising hopes that after years of isolation, India?s biggest business house will look at Bihar again i.e. apart from its legacy in Jamshedpur, the TATA's have stayed away from the state.

Interestingly, Tata's are expected to be the first of many. It is learnt that Anand Mahindra is also expected to look at investing in the state.

However, for Nitish Kumar getting the men to his state is just the first step. He has to do serious work to raise the status of Bihar as an investment destination.

According to the World Bank report, Bihar is rated as India's poorest state and Bihar's per capita income ranks at the bottom of national income indices. To add to its woes, the state's industrial output is less than half the national average.

It's a tough task, however, for the past few months, Bihar politicians seem to be making news for their sharp business acumen. After all, if Lalu Prasad could turn around the fortunes of sagging Indian Railways, is it wrong for his biggest competitor to hope to turnaround the fortunes of Bihar, and for once, the state is hoping competition pays.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

China can build things. Why can't India?

India?s top science and technology official is in China, making excuses about why his country?s infrastructure is so shoddy. Shanghai has brilliant new skyscrapers and museums and parks and trains ? and Bombay can?t manage to have a decent airport. According to Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal, it?s all because of democracy. ?There is a different model of growth in our country,? Sibal told reporters in Beijing, according to this report from wire service PTI carried on Indian portal Rediff.com. ?We can?t, for example, build a Pudong overnight.?

Well, neither did the Chinese. Pudong today is the result of more than a decade?s worth of work and planning and investment. The place is hardly paradise; Pudong can feel overwhelming, especially along the district?s broad boulevard. I?m not saying that Indian officials should be trying to replicate Pudong in Bombay. But falling back on the old ?We?re a democracy, don?t expect too much of us? argument doesn?t cut it. Yes, the Chinese don?t have elections. But the Japanese do. So do the Koreans and the Taiwanese. They manage to build things anyway.

Monday, September 11, 2006

An Awakening In Bihar-How one rural school helps prepare poor youths for the Indian Institutes of Technology



Every April, some 230,000 Indian youths sharpen their pencils and sit for the intensely competitive entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) -- the seven prestigious schools that train India's top-notch engineers and entrepreneurs. After the grueling six-hour test, only 5,000 students are offered a place in the IITs. Most come from middle-class backgrounds and prepare for the exams through private coaching. But in the past few years, a small group of desperately poor, talented students have made it into the IITs, thanks to the Ramanujan School of Mathematics.

The school, named after a famous Indian mathematician, is even more intense than the IITs themselves. Located in Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of India's least developed states, the Ramanujan School trains just 30 students a year to take the IIT exam. Anand Kumar, 33, a local mathematician, and Abhayanand, 52, Patna's deputy director general of police and a lover of physics, founded the school in 2003 to help promising locals get ahead in the caste-based society.

They scoured Bihar's least privileged communities for 30 bright students to coach for the exam, providing free lessons and housing. They call their group the Super 30. "Intelligence is not birth-specific," says Abhayanand. In the first year, 16 of the group made it into the IITs. The next year, 22 made it. "This year," Kumar says confidently, "all 30 will get into the IITs."

Santosh Kumar, 19 (no relation to Anand Kumar), is one of this year's Super 30, and his story is typical of his classmates. He's from Dumari, a village in the Bihata district, about 22 miles from Patna. Nearly all the village's 3,000 residents scratch out meager livings as farmers. Santosh's sister and three brothers studied up to 10th grade but then returned to the fields. "Studying further required money, so that was that," he says.

Santosh wanted more. His school had no roof, no doors, and no teachers half the time, but he borrowed books and tutored two young students for 70 cents a month. He also sold vegetables the family cultivated in a nearby market town. "I didn't even know which subjects I was good at, and I'd certainly never heard of IIT. No one had," he says. Then an eighth-grade teacher noticed his mathematical talent and encouraged him to study further.

Santosh saw that "education was the only way out of poverty," he says. At first, he planned to study so he could become an officer in the Indian civil service. After high school, he enrolled in the Patna College of Commerce, and then he heard about the IITs and the Super 30. "I went straightaway to Anand Kumar and told him: 'I dream of IIT, but I have no money.' He gave me his test, and I came second in the class. [He] let me into his Super 30 -- free," Santosh recalls.

For seven months, Santosh studied every morning for four hours, then sat down for a three-hour test in math, physics, and chemistry, and after a break studied three more hours. From six to nine in the evening, he attended a class in the same subjects and prepared for the next day's test until 2 a.m. His work paid off last spring, when he won a coveted seat at the IIT in Kharagpur, near Calcutta. (He ranked 3,537 out of the 5,000 students chosen.) Santosh now aims to earn a doctorate in chemistry and become an inventor. His hero is Abdul Kalam, India's current President and father of the nation's missile program. Just as important, Santosh is on track to be the first person from Dumari to graduate from university, making him a hero in the eyes of his village.