Sarkar is the new Santa
Christmas is over. But Santa Claus may have places to visit throughout 2013 with a bagful of cash. The government has discovered its delivery pipes leak like a sieve and will change channels altogether. The name of the new pipe is Direct Cash Transfer (DCT).
That makes sense for a government set to face fresh elections barely 18 months from now. It has little time to fix leaky pipes. Instead, DCT holds the potential to block avenues of petty corruption across sectors using technology with brutal efficiency that no other governance reform could have achieved.
It also forces states to quickly computerise their beneficiary records so that Delhi can direct the cash - right from rural employment guarantee wages to food subsidies - directly into the bank accounts of millions.
For a Prime Minister to try to appear like Santa is no big deal. The real surprise was when his government - held back by allies from taking crucial decisions and mauled by the Opposition over the Comptroller & Auditor General's coal allocation scam report - broke out of its policy paralysis mode in September.
Whatever the cost of replacing Mamata Didi with a Mayawati and a Mulayam Singh Yadav, the government did manage to get Parliament to vet its move to open retail trade to foreign direct investment. Equally remarkably, the government finally stuck to its plans to cut gas cylinder subsidy and ended, once and for all, any possibility of crippling the right to information law anytime soon.
Even so, that in a sense was the easy part.
The difficult part remains to be addressed in the new year.
Aadhaar is still limping and, thanks to a tug of war with the home ministry, added barely 10 crore more numbers through the year.
That apart, if the government expects the middle class and the poor to bear the brunt of subsidy cuts, it too is yet to demonstrate its austerity.
Its leaders will also need to communicate with the people; listen to them and explain - articulately, coherently and repeatedly - the steps being taken. Staying silent isn't an option any longer.
An equally important task for the government ahead is to do something concrete to set up institutional mechanisms such as the Lokpal to check corruption. If it could get a parliamentary nod to open the doors to foreign investment, it can certainly mop up the numbers for the Lokpal.
The absence of any effective anti-graft institution means the CAG may be the only mechanism left to reveal - if not check - corruption. This year, the CAG put the spotlight on the billions that India may have lost due to bad policy in coal block allocation, prompting the government to freeze further allocation of coal blocks.
The lack of such effective institutions is one of the biggest challenges ahead, feels Gautam Pingle formerly at the Hyderabad-based Centre for Public Policy and Governance. "We are really stripped down (of institutions)," he said. But to meet the challenges head-on requires long-term vision, planning and follow-up. And Santa may not be of much help there!
THE WRAP:Leaders will need to communicate with people; listen to them and explain - articulately, coherently and repeatedly - the steps being taken. Staying silent isn't an option any longer.
Blockbuster of a year
Unlike other businesses across India that groaned and whined and were pinched black and blue by the mean economy, the entertainment industry not only remained untouched, but 2012 turned out to be its golden year.
The year Bollywood turned 100, it also churned out nine Rs 100-crore films, making the centenary celebrations sweeter.
The nine films in the elite Rs 100 crore club are Agneepath, Housefull 2, Rowdy Rathore, Bol Bachchan, Ek Tha Tiger, Barfi, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Son Of Sardaar and Dabangg 2.
The Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash crossed Rs 93 crore (approximately) and Khiladi 786 made Rs 75 crore (approximately), certainly no mean contribution.
"This has been a golden year for Bollywood, with hits coming week after week. Multiple grossers also proved that the coveted Rs 100 crore club is no more a distant dream.
The net box office collections for this year might be approximately Rs 1,750 crore, with a gross of approximately Rs 3,100 crore," said trade analyst Atul Mohan.
The jingle of the cash register also kept up the morale of the film industry. "It was a remarkable year for the entertainment industry both in terms of content and business," said film distributor Joginder Mahajan.
He also added many movies achieving the Rs 100-crore mark this year showed that the entertainment industry was not affected by any "negative factor in the economy".
And it was not just the moolah that poured in thick and fast.
2012 was also a year when Bollywood churned out a neat bunch of small-budget films with unconventional storylines.
Among these were films such as Irrfan Khan-starrer Paan Singh Tomar, the nail-biting Kahaani starring Vidya Balan, the story of the swashbuckling sperm donor from Lajpat Nagar Vicky Donor, Anurag Kashyap's two-part hinterland series Gangs of Wasseypur, Paresh Rawal's Oh My God and the evergreen Sridevi's comeback flick English Vinglish.
And then there were all those goodbyes.
The man who spun chiffon romances Yash Chopra, the baap of Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh, Shammi 'Yahoo' Kapoor, India's first superstar Rajesh Khanna, tailor-turned-character-actor AK Hangal and social satirist Jaspal Bhatti.
THE WRAP:The magic number this year was 100. Not only did Bollywood score a century, it also made many Rs 100-crore films.
Biz and economy
The big bang reforms theory
From a foreign investors' darling to a slowing economy prone to risky policy flip-flops, the turnaround of India's image in 2012 has been as dramatic as its sizzling growth during 2004-08.
This will be remembered as a year when global rating agencies - Standard and Poor's, Moody's and Fitch - launched a scathing attack on India's economic management, or rather the lack of it.
In each of these the phraseology was uncannily similar: stalled reforms, policy missteps, mounting deficits, galloping inflation, fractious politics and creaky infrastructure.
Yet, amid growing protests of policy paralysis, 2012 also saw the UPA government try to silence its critics with a booster shot of reforms, boldly ushering foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, aviation, insurance and pension sectors. It even bit the bullet on fiscal discipline by raising the prices of diesel and cooking gas.
In a move fraught with political risks, the government raised diesel prices by Rs 5 a litre - the steepest ever hike - and capped the sale of cheaper cooking gas to six cylinders a year for each family.
The government's economic managers, battling to reverse a slowdown, traded short-term price pains for medium-term growth prospects. The burst of reforms came after P Chidambaram took over as finance minister.
On the corporate front, 2012 will also be remembered as the year when 44-year-old Cyrus Mistry took over as the new chairman of Tata Sons from Ratan Tata.
Industrial growth remained low and flat resulting in fewer jobs and smaller pay hikes.
Companies stalled investment plans, slowed down hiring and pruned wage bills.
Policy pronouncements such as a retrospective tax on corporate transactions such as the Vodafone-Hutch deal and uncertainty over general anti-avoidance rules to clamp down on tax evasions dented India's image as an investment hotspot.
But the reforms rush towards the end of the year ushered hopes of a turnaround. "The change is encouraging. The worryingly anti-business political rhetoric seems firmly behind us," said global banking major Credit Suisse.
THE WRAP:From an investment hotspot to an investors' 'not-spot', the transformation was dramatic. And then came the reforms rush...
Science and technology
Indians, flavour of the reason
Away from the public glare, Indian scientists made remarkable advances in 2012 - so many that one can at best provide a flavour of a handful.
One highlight comes from tuberculosis research. Scientists at New Delhi's International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, using a mouse model, identified a key mechanism facilitating the survival of the tuberculosis bacillus in the cell.
With this bacillus becoming increasingly resistant to drugs, this finding has huge implications for prevention, because by targeting this mechanism, you can eliminate the infection - whether or not the bacillus is resistant to drugs. Cell Host & Microbe, a leading international journal, published their research in November.
"We are now working with a pharmaceutical company to come up with a drug-like molecule that can target the mechanism," said professor Kanury VS Rao, the project leader.
Another significant advance, with ramifications for treating blindness, came out of the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad. Its researchers found a novel surgical technique to treat corneal damage, a method more efficient than existing ones. They discovered a way to harvest stem cells - special cells that can develop into other specialised cells - from around the patient's cornea and grow stem cells in the damaged eye itself instead of in the lab.
"This technique requires less donor tissue than conventional autografting and does not need a specialist laboratory for cell expansion," said the scientists in the paper published by the British Journal of Ophthalmology in February.
"If a patient with a damaged cornea comes in, you can now cover the scar tissue with a wound-healing substance, sprinkle the harvested stem cell tissue on this substance, bandage the eye with a soft contact lens and send the patient home in an hour," explained Professor D Balasubramanian, the Institute's director of research.
In the physical sciences, professor Ajay Sood at the Indian Institute of Science and Rajesh Ganapathy, a faculty fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, both in Bangalore, led research on the behaviour of "grains", ordered collections of atoms that influence a material's strength, and shed light on how metals such as copper and steel could be strengthened. The prestigious US-based National Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences accepted their findings in October. "A problem in physics ended up having implications in materials engineering," said Sood.
THE WRAP:Tackling the TB bacillus, quick fix for corneal damage and lots more