1 No power, no boom in India (Vikas Bajaj in The New York Times) India has long struggled to provide enough electricity to light its homes and power its industry around the clock. In recent years, the government and private sector sought to change that by building scores of new power plants, but that campaign is now running into difficulties because the country cannot get the fuel — principally coal — to run the plants. A complex system of subsidies and price controls has limited investment, particularly in resources like coal and natural gas. It has also created anomalies, like retail electricity prices that are lower than the cost of producing power, which lead to big losses at state-owned utilities. An unsettled debate about how much of its forests India should turn over to mining has also limited coal production.
The power sector’s problems have substantially contributed to a second year of slowing economic growth in India, to an estimated 7% this year, from nearly 10% in 2010. Businesses report that more frequent blackouts have forced them to lower production and spend significantly more on diesel fuel to run backup generators. Analysts say India’s economic woes could have been easily avoided if policy makers had better addressed problems like its electricity shortage, weak infrastructure and restrictive regulations. Instead, policy makers have been distracted by corruption scandals and turf battles.
A major problem is the anemic production of coal, which provides 55% of India’s electricity. Coal production increased just 1% last year while power plant capacity jumped 11%. Some electricity producers have been importing coal, but that option has become more untenable recently because India’s biggest supplier, Indonesia, has doubled coal prices. India has one of the world’s largest reserves of coal but it has not been able to exploit it effectively, largely because a state-owned company, Coal India, controls 80% of production. The company has been hamstrung by political decisions like a policy that requires it to sell coal at a 70% discount to market prices.
2 When men turn to bikini waxing (The New York Times) Years after the word “metrosexual” entered the mainstream, there’s nothing eyebrow-raising about men getting a manicure or a facial. Lately though, guys’ grooming has gone one step further, deep into territory that was previously reserved solely for women: bikini waxing. The below-the-belt treatment — which, just like the women’s version, removes either some or all pubic hair — is becoming increasingly popular, and not just among competitive swimmers or underwear models. “What we’re finding is, it’s everybody,” said Mike Indursky, the president of the Bliss chain of spas, which offers a men’s Brazilian called the Ultimate He-Wax for $125. “It’s the gay community, it’s the straight community, it’s very conservative guys, it’s very liberal guys. All different age groups are coming in. It’s much, much bigger than we ever thought.”
But as women well know, bikini waxes can hurt a lot (though results last four to six weeks, without the stubble that shaving leaves). To deal with the pain, some men take an Advil beforehand (aspirin is not advised because of its blood-thinning properties) or have a glass of wine to relax. At Strip, a Crayola-colored stress ball is left in each treatment room for clients to squeeze as necessary.
3 Thirty five may be the best age to be (The Guardian) What’s the best age to be? Carefree 16 or a young-enough-to-have-fun but old-enough-to-leave-home 21? Or maybe a wise and stately 65? No – it’s 35, according to research by insurer Aviva. It asked more than 2,000 adults from across the age ranges what they thought the best age was to be, and the average came out as 35. By 35, those questioned said they expected people to have reached milestones like buying a house, finding a partner and having a first child, but have several years to go before reaching the peak of their career at age 39. You can see how having that kind of stability behind you, and the hope of more success ahead of you, might make it an attractive age.
According to the same survey, 35 is also an age when you can be at or around the peak of your earnings. When Aviva asked people about their household income it found that those aged 25-34 had most coming in, earning an average of £27,444 a year after tax, with 35-44 a close second, taking home an average of £25,092 a year.
4 Increased acid attacks on Pak women (BBC) Campaigners in Pakistan say cases of acid attacks are increasing in most areas, even though tougher penalties were introduced last year. An Oscar-winning Pakistani documentary has put the crime under the spotlight, but it is estimated that more than 150 women have acid thrown on them every year – usually by husbands or in-laws – and many never get justice.
A young mother of four, Shama, has just joined the ranks of Pakistani women doused in acid. She is scarred for life, with burns on 15% of her body. Her crime was her beauty. “My husband and I often had arguments in the house,” she said, in her hospital bed. “On that day before going to sleep he said ‘you take too much pride in your beauty’. Then in the middle of the night he threw acid on me, and ran away.” When her husband fled, he took her mobile phone with him, so she could not call for help. “I feel pain at what I was, and what I have become,” she said, with tears coursing down her scorched cheeks. “All the colours have gone from my life. I feel like I’m a living corpse, even worse than a living corpse. I think I have no right to live.”
Shama now lies in Ward 10a of the burns unit in Nishtar Hospital in Multan in Pakistan’s Punjab province. “I can’t say anything about the future,” she says, “maybe I won’t be alive. I will try – for my kids – to get back to how I was. I have to work to build a future for them. “If I can’t I’ll do what one or two other girls have done. “They killed themselves.”
5 Africa sitting on reservoir of water (BBC) Scientists say the notoriously dry continent of Africa is sitting on a vast reservoir of groundwater. They argue that the total volume of water in aquifers underground is 100 times the amount found on the surface. They stress that large scale drilling might not be the best way of increasing water supplies. Across Africa more than 300 million people are said not to have access to safe drinking water. Demand for water is set to grow markedly in coming decades due to population growth and the need for irrigation to grow crops. Scientists have for the first time been able to carry out a continent-wide analysis of the water that is hidden under the surface in aquifers, and mapped in detail the amount and potential yield of this groundwater resource across the continent.
6 Guilty of hurting your kids (Khaleej Times) Schools try to create an environment for sport but only 10% get involved. The other 90% are either not interested or are far too involved in reaching home or getting back to the console, their best non-human friend. Food is the next culprit. Parents, caught in their own spiral, use food as a bribe to keep their children happy or simply allow the wrongly balanced diet to take over because it is more convenient.
So, as children sans exercise regimes bloat in front of their very eyes, parents continue to ignore the pending avalanche of medical problems they are bestowing upon their progeny, packaged in false colours but still potent. When they finally wake up to the fact they either place them on thoughtless diet, rush to the doctor for immediate solutions or just as suddenly become draconian and start confiscating the very toys they gave to the children in the first place.
In far too many cases the child is far too gone down the road of sloth to suddenly start playing soccer. He is also horrified that his precious ‘other world’ has been banned and he seeks solace in more food. Neither mum nor Dad nor the kids know what to do next. If you have read so far, start pulling back now and make your children healthy…don’t condemn them with misplaced affection.
7 Indian missile pride hides flaws (Khaleej Times) India’s pride at the successful test of a long-range, nuclear-capable missile hides weaknesses in strategic military planning that undermine its global power aspirations, analysts say. Thursday’s launch of the Agni V triggered a round of intense, patriotic self-congratulation. But while acknowledging the technological achievement, a number of analysts noted it was just a tiny step towards achieving any military parity with its giant regional rival. “We are still way behind China. In terms of missile numbers, range and quality, they are way ahead of us,” said C Raja Mohan, a security analyst and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a policy think-tank in Delhi.
Mohan also argued that there was too much focus on “demonstration” launches, which only proved that India’s missile policy was led by the scientific community rather than the government and military bureaucracy. “We can all wrap ourselves in the flag today, but there’s a dearth of real strategy on how to actually deploy missile technology,” he said. The Agni V remains some way from actually being inducted into the armed forces. Experts said it would require four or five more tests to confirm its flight path, accuracy and overall competence, before production could actually begin.
8 India trade gap at record high (The Wall Street Journal) India’s trade deficit in the last fiscal year ballooned to its highest ever level, driven by a surge in imports of crude oil and precious metals and despite exports exceeding the full-year target, the Commerce Secretary said. The situation may not improve this year as waning global demand is dimming prospects of export growth, Rahul Khullar said at a news conference. Weak export growth in the key US and European markets is straining India’s trade balance, although the federal government’s efforts to encourage exports to new markets in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa have helped the situation.
Exports rose 21% from a year earlier to $303.7 billion in the last fiscal year, topping the government’s target of $300 billion. However, that figure was dwarfed by a 32.1% expansion in imports to $488.6 billion. This pushed the trade deficit–a key piece of the current account deficit–to $184.9 billion from $118.6 billion in the previous year.
9 Vietnam upstaging India in commodities (PK Krishnakumar in The Economic Times) When the Singapore Mercantile Exchange, the first pan-Asian commodity exchange, opened for business in February, it chose Ho Chi Minh City as the delivery benchmark for its pepper contract, constituting a fresh setback for India in its losing battle against Vietnam for supremacy as South-East Asia’s commodity hub. Prices set on the Mumbai-based National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) have traditionally moved the global pepper market, but now this edge is in danger of being lost.
The annual global pepper market is worth around $2 billion. Singapore Mercantile Exchange’s preference for Vietnam as the new market mover is an indication that the global market no longer considers India as an influential player due to its declining volumes. This is the latest in a series of setbacks that India has suffered on the commodities front as a combination of stagnant yields, rising labour costs, tiny farms, low mechanisation and faulty government policies erode the country’s competitiveness in comparison with its South-East Asian rival.