Be it introduction of MNP or respite from pesky calls and SMS, it was the telecom subscribers who benefitted as the government rolled out a slew of initiatives ensuring service quality and coverage to over 800 million mobile users in India
New Delhi: Controversies seem to have become a constant companion for the Indian telecom sector and 2011 was no different as former minister A Raja and many officials got embroiled in the second generation (2G) spectrum scam and newer debates around third generation (3G) roaming pacts and licence cancellation came to the fore, reports PTI.
Though the multi-crore 2G scam had come to light last year, it was 2011 which was action-packed as Mr Raja, telecom ministry officials along with many high-profile business heads were put behind the bars for their alleged involvement in the case.
Later in the year, the telecom ministry sent notices to operators asking them to discontinue their 3G roaming agreements terming them illegal. The telecom operators had spent over Rs68,000 crore in 3G spectrum auction and another multi-crore investment was made to put in place the infrastructure to offer the high-speed internet service.
The operators have since then approached the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) and got a stay on the notice, but such decisions put a question mark on the future of investments in the sector.
The government also issued 69 notices to telecom operators during the year for failing to roll out services, pushing the future of many new telecom operators in the lurch.
The 2G scam had led to a change of guard last year at the telecom ministry with Congress leader Kapil Sibal taking over.
He ensured that the sector, which has been the poster boy for economic growth, continues its growth trajectory in 2011 with a slew of initiatives for the end-consumer.
The announcement of the formulation of a new and comprehensive National Telecom Policy-2011 (NTP-2011) at the beginning of the year was a step in that direction.
Aimed at infusing greater transparency into the sector, the NTP 2011 also sought to bring in the much needed clarity and promised a consumer-oriented approach.
The new policy offered a leaf of hope with its theme of ‘One Nation-One Licence’ which, if implemented, would help consumers make calls without paying roaming charges and change operator outside their circle while retaining the same number.
The stellar growth of the Indian telecom sector continued with the addition of over 12 million new users every month as operators increased their penetration to the farthest part of the country and improved their network coverage.
Be it introduction of mobile number portability (MNP) or respite from pesky calls and SMS, it was the telecom subscribers who benefitted as the government rolled out a slew of initiatives ensuring service quality and coverage to over 800 million mobile users in India.
After much delay, on 27th September, the government finally implemented the recommendations of sectoral regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) putting in place a framework to curb the menace of unsolicited calls and messages.
Subscribers were given the option of choosing to be under the “Fully Blocked” category, akin to the “Do Not Call Registry” and prevent a telemarketer to call the person.
However, the user can choose to receive communication from specific sectors like education or retail by choosing the category under the “Partially Blocked” category.
In case of violation by registered telemarketers, TRAI has recommended penalty ranging between Rs25,000 to Rs2.5 lakh.
There is a further provision for disconnection as well.
Another customer-centric service launched during the year was that of MNP, which empowered users to switch operators within a circle without losing their phone numbers.
Launched in Haryana in November 2010, the service was rolled out pan-India in January this year. Next on the cards is an inter-circle MNP, which will allow users to retain their numbers even when they move to a different telecom circle.
Analysts feel the new policy will also important as it will bring in a new set of dynamics since there have been many changes since the last NTP, unveiled 11 years ago in 1999.
From a few million subscribers, the industry has grown into the world’s second largest telecom market with over 800 million mobile users and over 12 million monthly additions.
The draft NTP-2011 envisages creating a policy framework which ensures reasonable revenue for the government, affordable services to users and robust growth of the sector.
Another important feature of the draft is that licences would be given without spectrum bundled, which has in the past created rift between old and new players over the quantity of airwaves given.
This would also ensure that the government is paid for spectrum at relevant prices and there is no under-pricing of the precious asset.
Also since a lot of licences are coming up for renewal, the extension this time is expected to be for 10 years, instead of 20 years, as part of the new policy.
Another major step the NTP seeks to bring in is liberal mergers and acquisitions norms. With some circles having as many as 12 players, the new rules may actually bring respite to a lot of the new players as well who are also financially stressed in the capital intensive telecom industry.
The draft rules also ensure that monopoly doesn’t arise post the implementation of the new rules. While maintaining that a circle should have at least six operators, the draft says that if the resultant entity (post M&A) has between 35% to 60% market share, the case would be referred to TRAI.
During the year Indian wine received its long due recognition at the international level. While there was excess production in 2011, wine producers were not complaining as sales remain on higher side
After three years of sluggish growth 2011 was in the favour of Indian wines. Over the past three years sales were flagging and with over-capacity, globally, wine producers were stuck with excess supplies. The financial slowdown also took a toll. But things remained cheerful this time around.
Sales surpassed the earlier records, international stores displayed Indian wines and India become a formal member of Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), an elite wine-producers’ club.
In June, this year, according to All India Wine Producers Association, there was an estimated 30%-35% jump in sales over the past three months. Wines such as Sula's Samara Red, Vinsura's Valentino, Migo from Renaissance and Figuera by Indage, are among the leading ones which led the growth chart.
Liquor companies increased prices in April, after the Maharashtra government announced a steep hike in excise duty on liquor products, including country liquor, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) of 50% and an astonishing 100% duty hike on beer. On the other hand, wine enjoys a 100% excise duty exemption in Maharashtra. Naturally, state wineries have decided to make full use of the government largesse and reduced costs by nearly 30%-35% to attract new customers.
Soon after, UK's leading supermarket chain Waitrose Ltd showcased two Indian wine brands, Zampa syrah 2008 (a red wine) and Ritu viognier 2010 (white wine), as part of its collection of unusual wines from across the world. The report stated that these two brands were popular among wine lovers and were sold at a discounted price of £8.49 for the red wine and the white wine at £6.99. Expert cited it to be positive news for the sector.
In October, India became the formal member of Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), an elite wine-producers’ club. Experts have welcomed this move as it is expected to improve the ‘quality standard’ of Indian wines a step further. OIV is an internationally-known intergovernmental scientific and technical body in the field of vine and wine, with 44 countries as its formal members. Even leading players in the sector such as Sula, having market monopoly and new entrant, Fratelli Wines managed good sales.
Ealier in November, Rajeev Samant, founder and chief executive of Sula Vineyards, country's leading wine producers told Moneylife that, “The future is really bright for the overall (winery) sector. Our sales jumped by 42% compared to previous year. So the production, obviously, has been in pace. We have also expanded our operations at Karnataka apart from Maharashtra.”
Fratelli Wines, a new entrant in the industry managed to break-even with three different varietals of wines during 2010-11, its first year of operation. It is adding six new wines to their portfolio, targeting different price segments and expecting an increase in sales of around 20% - 25% in FY12.
Subhash Arora, a veteran wine expert and founder of Indian Wine Academy, believes that since the past five years things are in positive direction, but the growth has been very slow. “Government needs to be educated about wine and its business. That is very crucial for the growth of the sector,” he says.
Mr Arora, on his blog says that imported wines are still suffering from high taxes and higher costs of distribution. Distributors, retailers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, the government paper and procedure chain continuously demands a higher share, making it very frustrating for the importers who are being crushed with higher investment requirements, pressure from foreign producers to sell more, higher interest costs and the demand that is growing slower than expected. The hotels are either unaware of the quality of several fine wines or their clientele is price conscious but they prefer low quality with even lower prices making it a catch -22 situation. Despite the cap of 250% margin allowed on the cost of wine, hardly any hotel follows the guidelines strictly. They in turn feel pressured by the high license fees and their finance departments who insist on the multipliers to be like coca-cola.
“In general both the domestic producers and importers are quite upbeat as the year comes to a close, each expecting a growth of 20-50% over last year,” Mr Arora says.
Hope 2012 would be even more positive for Indian wine.
Books are our collective memory. Without them we would not have a sense of place or of where we came from. We would, without them, examine ourselves very darkly through a very myopic lens
I must confess that I am inspired by Howard Jacobsen. He writes like the essayists of yore, like Lamb and Hazlitt and Arnold. His wit is rapier, and his language is like a stiletto between the third and fourth rib. He makes me laugh while he makes me think, which is so rare. And the subjects of his admiration and his disdain are as varied as diatoms in pond water.
So when I was reading him on the subject of reading and language and a delightful segue to the subject of his library, I was inspired to think about the need to read, the sense of individual history and the nature of memory.
By now, you who are reading this would have guessed that I love reading. Let me qualify that. I love reading everything and anything. I am gourmet and glutton, refined and philistine, civilized and savage when it comes to the written word: I read potboilers, poetry, essays, critiques, critics, cookbooks for the hungry stomach and recipes for the soul, reasons to be reasonable and causes to be mad about, explorations into space , outer and inner, the Bible and the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, history, travelogues, biographies, fairy tales, erotica, science fiction and science fact, dungeons and dragon tales, the unexpurgated classics and the unpunctuated comics, fast adventures and quieter perambulations, humour and tragedy, and the commonplace in-between; the list goes on.
I confess to needing reading like a meth addict needs methamphetamine.
Reading moves me; so much so that I need to read when I retreat to my personal adytum in the toilet. And once to my own self deprecating amusement I found myself reading the small print on the side of a washing powder pack which was the only reading matter in the washroom of a house I was visiting.
Unlike movies and TV, (and as a disclaimer to snobbishness, I confess to liking them, too) I find myself living various lives, inhabiting new minds, exploring uncharted wilderness within, and reinventing my view of the world when I read. I am as Alice in wonderland.
I find myself defined by reading in many ways. I can be raconteur, hedonist, philosopher, creator, voyeur, expressionist and impressionist, thinker and feeler all together. The selves emerge appropriately. Maybe I channel writers and words like some people channel the Great Rameses to give them wisdom and advice.
I owe books an unpayable debt.
Books are our collective memory. They tell us where we have been and where we might be today. They hint at our futures. And they stitch together our different myriad of lives into a fantastic patchwork.
Without them we would not have a sense of place or of where we came from. We would, without them, examine ourselves very darkly through a very myopic lens.
When I for example walk into my meagre library, I can see where I have been. I can pick up an old book, say Rhinehart’s The Diceman and suddenly remember, as I re-read it, that I was once fascinated by the idea of chance and destiny. And today I can wonder whether it is chance that I am here. I am empowered by wonder.
Writing transcends language. The heart can speak with many tongues.
And when translated well Marquez and Cortazar can make me smile and wince and cry as much as Updike and Bellows. Premchand and Narayan are book fellows. Chekhov can make me feel as desolate as Ibsen.
Books also transcend time and space: the poems of Kalidasa can have a conversation with Neruda, and Shakespeare has tea with Cervantes. The myths of Gilgamesh find comfort in the story of Manu, and the nonsense of Leacock would giggle with Mr Pickwick. Would Holmes like Feluda, would Nero Wolfe think highly of Father Brown , and would Miss Marple say to Precious Ramotswe, “Go for it girl!”? The pain of Juliet is no different from that of Laila. The wisdom of the tenth century Persian master, Hafiz, sings from the same music sheet as that of the seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho. And the dreamtime and song lines of the Aborigine travel well with Coelho and his Alchemist.
Yeshua aka Jesus asks the same questions of us as the unknown author of the Brihandakarnya Upanishad. And Teresa of Avila cries with the same longing as Rabia wandering the desert or Meera in a palace. The musings of Ibn Battuta about customs and language in strange lands are as redolent with the richness of travel as that of Herodotus in ancient Egypt or Abbe Dubois in Hindu India.
The Astra Shastras of the Mahabharata re-occur in the Excalibur and the Lord of the Rings: Magic lives forever. Verne creates flying machines, and the demon Ravana abducts Sita in one. Wells makes aliens fearsome and Clarke makes them messiahs.
As mirrors, books can show us as fat, thin, ugly, beautiful, tall, short, statuesque or misshapen: We can read about the evil in man when we dare delve into Mein Kampf. Or we can see God in the human soul when we read the stories of Tolstoy. Tagore asks us to be better than we are. Genet believes that we are meaningless. Capra wants us to see infinity dance on a pin, and Hawkings wants us to dive into the ever nothingness of a black hole. De Chardin sees divine wonder in evolution and Dawkins sees the selfish gene.
When we read, all these warriors of the Word ask us to question and think. They provoke us to refresh resolution and intention. They invite us to forget our limitations. They beguile us with possibilities. They want us, sometimes, just to relax and make time flow more slowly.
They are us and we are them.
Reading is probably the finest argument for our humanity. And the best way to become un-mired from the sloughs of despond.
Now read the amazing TH White as he educates Arthur in his once and future classic:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then―to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
Reading is one of the best ways to learn.
And if a book can just create one curious inquisitive mind, it fulfils itself.
The mind gets wings and the spirit can travel.
I worry with possibly the anxiety of archaism, about multimedia as we now call it and to the digital revolution and whether the instant blurb, the sound bite, the flashed subliminal will make us read less. Whether we seek only those words that have utility like a balance sheet, or writing that offers comfort like a one night stand.
Will we forget how we came here, who we are in our blood and why we are going anywhere?
Will we stop reading?
Reading creates writers, not the other way around.
When we stop reading, all of these people will finally die and with them will die our history and our evolution.
And Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpischore,Urania and Melpomene will all vanish as wisps of imagination, leaving possibly only the sound of a sigh.
(V Shantakumar is the former chairman & CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India and now the managing partner of Doing Think)