If you are looking at reducing your household budgets and at the same time interested in learning more on how the direct to seller with minimal middle-men concept works in India, then attend your friendly neighbourhood ‘haat’ or weekly market regularly
The FDI in retail or not debate continues, with most of the action being taken up for big and for small debates, while reality is that the smallest on the ground, the weekly ‘haats’ which are India’s equivalents of the “farmer's markets” elsewhere in the world, are rapidly gaining ground in an era of better roads, smaller trucks and mobile phone-based supply chains. A visit to one such weekly ‘haat’ just opposite Noida’s upscale and swanky Sector 50 and not far from the tony Noida Golf Course revealed prices at easily half or even lower than the going levels for everything from food items of all sorts to footwear both new and repaired to new and second hand electronic items.
More interestingly, the wide variety of upscale luxury motor vehicles parked in the vicinity and the familiarity that their occupants revealed with the merchants and their wares spread out on most everything from durries on the ground to hand-carts up front with mini-trucks as back-ends for more variety, was a revelation in itself. Frankly, there was hardly anything not available there which is not also found at prices way higher in Delhi - from foei gras to FabIndia knockoffs - all ostensibly from the same vendors who supply the bigger stores in town. Armani meets AR Mani, in a manner of speaking.
This is hardly rocket science or news anymore, but there is a generation of people who believed that the world began and ended in malls, who are now picking up brand new silk waistcoats otherwise retailing for Rs1,500 at about Rs300 and loading up on potatoes at Rs10 for 3-kg pre-packed paper bags is a sizeable saving on budgets. This is right next to the stack on the ground selling denim trousers in all sizes for Rs50 and upwards. And there is no dearth of newspaper ads and inserts of prices prevailing for the same items at bigger stores, for direct comparisons. Also, in one section, are vendors who will buy your scrap and ‘kabaddee’ at way higher rates than the gent going past your house on a cycle.
But then, it is not only about prices, either, though bargaining is an art form which also expands one’s forgotten humour horizons. The sheer range of knowledge that these sales persons display, micro-mini entrepreneurs, all is mind-boggling, and the rapid fire comments on how much customers can pick up for less than the cost of parking in a mall is sure to hit the correct spot—on weekends, parking rates at many of the malls have now gone into three-digit numbers, and perception is that if you go there in a smaller car, then you get a parking slot far away from the access points in the dingiest corner of the basement parking lots—while here you walk across or bring out the cycle for better deals, dressed in your pyjamas if you so desire.
There is the young man selling freshly ground ‘atta’ of all sorts and combinations, coarse and other grains mixed with everything from soya to dried vegetables and more, holding forth confidently on the subject of gluten free and why the older coarse grains are better for us in India. And giving small combo sample packs of different mixes good enough to make a dozen or more rotis for the impulse purchase price of Rs10. In reasonably decent English, the young man explains to potential customers how he sells these sample packs “at cost”, also because they have his mobile number and mini calendar inside for future, repeat and regular home delivery. And that he cares for people with diabetes, too.
Not too far is the young lady, confident that the world will be saved from lacto intolerance and much more with her range of tofu, again, the small Rs10 sample bag is an ice breaker. Here the story is on how intelligence as well as strength for adults is directly linked to the benefits from soya-based products, while milk is good too, but only for growing children. Does any adult animal drink milk is what she states and asks—and that’s logic which is unbeatable, probably has some scientific significance somewhere, too.
The dhaniya-pudhina-fresh lime-fresh chillies seller has his own pitch going—offering a small bag of free potatoes with his wares, with a ditty about changing times, to the effect that how his stuff used to be free with vegetables at one time, but is now soon going to offer free vegetables with his repertoire, so buy before the prices go up. Prod him further, and he reveals that in the back of his truck, he stores fresh herbs for those who know what they want—keeping it there to reduce spoilage by handling.
To add to the colour and fun, major MNC brands as well as multi-level-marketing products of the branded and packed variety of consumer goods are also available—often at prices below the “best deal” rates advertised by shops in the neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything that can be bought in a mainstream market or mall, is also available here—and if is not, they will offer to source it for you and deliver it to your home. There is the usual slew of “Chinese goods" too, of the glassware and electronic gadgetry kind, even spices from Pakistan and Afghanistan, reportedly picked up in bulk from the recent trade fair.
If you are looking at reducing your household budgets and at the same time interested in learning more on how the direct to seller with minimal middle-men concept works in India, then attend your friendly neighbourhood ‘haat’ or weekly market regularly. You don't have to buy, pavement-watching in lieu of window shopping is a well recognised sport here, and repeat visits will make you a regular with other benefits—including free sampling of products.
There are, of course, some caveats here which need to be made very clear:
Reducing expenditure is now a fact of life, across the board, and the haats take some of the bite away. Good luck.
A host of gold fund-of-funds were launched one after the other recently. IDBI Gold fund will join the list soon
IDBI recently filed an offer document with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to launch an open-ended fund-of-fund (FOF)—IDBI Gold Fund. The scheme would invest 95%-100% of the assets in units of IDBI Gold Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) and the remaining would be invested in liquid and debt schemes of IDBI.
This comes just a month after IDBI launched its gold ETF. IDBI has been late to join the trend in the launch of gold FOFs. We had eight such funds launched this year where the scheme invests in the gold ETF of the same fund. Reliance was the first to launch its scheme and the rest soon followed. Religare, which launched its gold fund on the 5th December, was the latest addition to the list. Gold FOFs are mainly targeted to those investors who are not able to invest in gold ETFs since they did not have a demat account, they can now participate by investing in such funds not only by lump sum payments but through systematic investments, as well. But does it make sense to invest in gold FOFs? On seeing the returns of the funds since inception up to 30 November 2011, most of the funds have almost matched their benchmark return. And some have trailed by more than 2%. But these have been launched recently; hence there would be some tracking error as the fund has yet to gather assets.
But is gold a safe investment option as many think it to be? Moneylife has written several times in the past that gold is a high risk asset class and one should be aware of these risks before investing in a highly speculative product like gold. The price of gold has gone up six times in the last 10 years. Any asset that has gone up so much for so long a time carries a huge risk of a crash. How will a risk-averse investor react to an ETF that can crash by 20%-30% like equity?
Veteran journalists express their concerns about ‘paid news’ at a panel discussion
“India needs to have some strong media watchdog, which will not interfere with journalistic freedom but must come down heavily on paid news,” said Geeta Seshu, a veteran journalist She was speaking at a panel discussion organised by Moneylife Foundation on paid news, following a screening of the movie ‘Brokering News’, directed by Umesh Agarwal, which deals with the subject.
Smruti Koppikkar, associate editor (West) and bureau chief at Outlook, pointed out that disclosures of reporters or media houses holding stakes in companies or earning favours from politicians is not feasible regularly in the long run. She also said, “The problem is also that people do not want to pay for the news that they read.”
Dnyanada Deshpande, who had worked as an editor for television channel IBN Lokmat talked about the nexus between regional media publications and politicians; and also about the awards given to individuals by media houses. “If a media house manages to get some very credible people on their jury or as awardees; they legitimise their stand. People then stop questioning their content. Awards are more about who give them than who receive them.
Ranjona Banerji, eminent journalist, said, “Somewhere, media house management also needs to be held accountable and be made to introspect—because they force in a lot of content. And one must be wary of correspondents who double up as advertising agents for corporates or political parties.”
The panel discussion ended with a lively interaction with the audience which comprised many journalists and social activists, and ended in applause.