Sunday, 27 December 2015

E-Tax on E-Commerce

Every time you shop in a large departmental store, mall or a shop belonging to some retailers association, you are made to pay for the polythene shopping bag. You pay as per the size which cost may vary from Rs. 3/- to Rs. 9/-. This rule was made to dissuade people from using polythene bags, encourage recycling, reduce dependence and move towards an environmentally friendly end user packaging regime. This is a user pays model. You may bring in your own shopping bag and save on some money.

Now this rule covers a walk in customer in a shop. What about shoppers in the digital world of E-tailers.

Sometime back I had posted about the new age entrepreneur who made money on the packaging material of the E-tailers. See link

To me the E-tailing packaging is far more serious threat to the environment than the polythene bags of the brick and mortar retailer. In a regular set up, you buy the product, put it in your shopping bag and walk out. This is not the case in E-commerce. Assuming you buy four products and irrespective whether you get free delivery, it is likely that you will be delivered four different packages as the goods will be sourced from four different locations. So what would otherwise be carried in a shopping bag worth Rs. 5/- may see a packaging cost of Rs. 50/- collectively. The customer is not complaining here with the kind of deals going on. He doesn't really care who pays for the packaging or who is paying for the discounts or the delivery.

I recently happened to order some laminated paper posters. I got a discount of 25 % on list price and having crossed a certain threshold with purchase of other products I also got free delivery. Since the posters were sourced from the same seller, I would have expected a single package. But that was not the case. The pictures given below will be proof of the wastage that goes in. Now mind you these posters can be rolled easily and hardly have any weight.

The single rolled up poster and the six foot carton it came in

The other two rolled up posters and their carton with the third poster hanging in the background

The empty space in the carton filled with air pillows
So effectively I got two packages where the cost of packaging and delivery may have possibly exceeded the cost of the posters. FYI each poster cost me Rs. 90/- and three such posters were ordered for a total cost of Rs. 270/- inclusive of delivery.

I understand there is a need to package goods in way so that no damage is caused, but how much of protective packaging is the question. Typically the outer packaging will be a paper carton with the inside filled with bubble wrap or air-pillows. The invoice will be in a polythene bag stuck on the outside with lengths of sticky tape. Effectively there will be more polythene in this than in your regular polythene shopping bag.
Now given this background, I do not see any harm in the government charging an Environment Tax on this business. If there could be a Swacch Bharat cess on services, why can't there be a similar cess on e-tailing. There could be different ways of charging it. It may be charged on per package or a percent of the sale value. It could be a user pays model or the seller pays model or the platform pays model. I would much prefer a user pays model and cess of at least Rs. 5/- per package is not much to ask for. News reports talk of a single E-tailer getting 100,000 orders in a day. Assuming there are a 100,000 packages delivered per day across the country (and growing), Rs. 18.25 crore per year (@ Rs. 5/- per package) is not a bad collection to start with.

This needs a serious thought by the government.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Light House at Fort Aguada

The lighthouse at Fort Aguada as most people will associate with is the one built by the Portuguese in the year 1765. This is tall round structure built on the upper fort and closed in the year 1976. Painted white, you can only view it from the outside and remains closed for entry to the general public "by order".
The Old Light House

If one were to look towards the sea on the west, you will see the new lighthouse built by us Indians in the year 1976. All lighthouses are governed by the Lighthouses Act of 1928 and are under the control of the Directorate of Lighthouse and lightship (more on this later) and so is this one. Architecturally it has no value and is a tall square structure with light unit on top. As I was viewing it from the upper fort, what caught my attention was the presence of civilians atop this government property acting in a very touristy manner posing for selfies. This had to be investigated. If they can be up there, why can't I?
The New Light House inside the Compound

As I exited the fort, I turned to the left where a road was leading to a grey compound about 50 metres away. I strode in that direction and came to a visibly "sarkari" looking property with concrete structures within its high walls and an iron gate for entry. Yes it was the entrance to the lighthouse and the best of all open to viewing by the general public. For the price of a half cup of tea, you could enter the premises and go atop the lighthouse. You can also photograph/videograph for an additional fee. No prohibitions here. Everything official.

The compound looked deserted. Obviously no one seems to be interested in what I would call a fantastic opportunity to go atop a lighthouse. Maybe no one knew. Maybe the tourist guides/operators saw no worthwhile business opportunity in taking their guests to this structure.

As I entered, a lone security guard with a stick approached me. I informed him of my purpose and was immediately taken to the office. The guard called out to someone through an open window. An adjoining door opened and man in a white Tee and khaki trousers walked out. He was the lighthouse keeper or "Light Keeper" in official parlance. Forty Rupees it was for two adults and one camera. Children between the ages 3 to 10 are charged Rs. 3/- by the way. Everything official, tickets issued, no extras. Absolutely polite and helpful gentleman.

Visit Charges at the Entrance

The guard led us to the entrance of the lighthouse. As I said earlier, there were no other souls in this compound. You have to remove your footwear before entering as a signboard announced and then climb approximately 5 stories to reach the top. Now here is a warning. As you reach the last landing level via the stairwell, the final climb is via an iron ladder about 10 feet in height which opens to the top through roughly a 60 cm X 60 cm opening. I had to drop my backpack in order to squeeze through. And mind you there is not enough space to stand there with the light equipment and other gadgetry. You have to then move through a small opening in the wall below the glass windows and stand out in the open area surrounding the beacon. And that’s when you realize the strategic importance of building a fort at that spot.

Light House Specs

Entrance to the Light House
Light House Office Block

The Light of the Light House.

This was my first visit to a lighthouse and it was absolutely worthwhile. Do go there when visiting Goa. There are about 185 lighthouses along the coast of India, and if any of them do allow you entry, don't miss it.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Jazba the movie - what I saw

Jazba the movie - what I saw
Aishwarya run-bend-contort-exercise-go to court- argue-steal evidence-win case-run-scream-break in to houses-get beaten up-go to court-present evidence-win case-tell police officer he cannot arrest without warrant.

Jazba - I do not what it means though I am inclined to believe that it's an Urdu word, I still don't know what it means.

The movie is about the bandra-worli sea link, bandra reclamation, the eastern free way, marsh lands of wadala, salt pans, reay road, hay bunder, masjid bunder, GPO all shot in sepia tone, black and white, from the top, from the bottom, from the sides, and an incident in between.

This movie is a fitness video meets court room drama meets action thriller meets revenge meets crimes against women meets you.

There is an incident in this movie which is a big clue to what the director had in mind when he made it. So we have suspended police officer, suspended for being corrupt, (Irrfan khan as inspector Yohann) bashing up a suspect

Suspect: Tum mujhe maar nahi sakte. I have rights.

Yohann: Tum aaj kal hollywood ki picture bahot dekhta hai.

This dialogue is the dead giveaway. The director was so busy with the technicalities of photography that he completely missed the dialogue writer surreptitiously insert a warning to the viewers.

So we have Mrs. AR-B running, and exercising and sending a message to all and sundry that at forty she is absolutely fit. She is a criminal lawyer by day defending all the baddies, and a hot shot one too. So what if she steals a little bit of evidence from the police.

Let me mention here that the director has absolutely no knowledge of the legal system, and has taken no efforts to do any kind of research. He is probably not even aware of tareek pe tareek or agli sunwai. After it is all it is about Mrs. AR-B, her fitness and her acting and the worli bandra sea link.

So Mrs. AR-B's daughter gets kidnapped in the middle of a relay race which incidentally is won by Mrs. AR-B. The kidnapper wants Mrs. AR-B to defend a murder convict in an upcoming appeal as he is "innocent" and thus secure the release of her daughter. The police are of course told to vamoose as the daughter is "safe" with her grandmother. No one including the school questions her absence.

But why kidnap is the first question that hits you. Wouldn't it have been simpler in getting her to work by just holding a gun to her head?

Mrs. AR-B goes about her job as if nothing has happened after all the kidnapper might harm her daughter. By a strange co-incidence it is Inspector Yohann who has caught the murder now being defended by Mr. AR-B and by a further co-incidence Inspector Yohann is also Mrs. AR-B's school friend/class mate whom she used to outrun even then.

But instead of just fighting in a court room, Mrs. AR-B goes beyond her call of duty. She cons the victim's mother into thinking that she is a researcher, breaks in to the victim's house for evidence, goes visiting disco's and rehab centers to check on other suspects and all with the helping hand of Inspector Yohann. This is a Hindi movie after all.

The murder convict says he has raped and murdered the victim. You say there is no logic to whatever that is happening. At this point enters Jackie Shroff as a crorepati MP whose son was the victim's boyfriend and now in rehab for drug abuse and therefore not questioned at the time of the murder. We seem to have another suspect now.

There is also the victim's mother (Shabana Azmi) who questions why Mrs. AR-B is defending the accused who has raped and murdered her daughter when she is a woman herself.

There are way too many glitches and loose ends in this movie. When the kidnapper sends Mrs. AR-B daughter's shoes to her, the soles of the shoes are clean. I mean if the girl was kidnapped from the school grounds on a sports day in the midst of a running race, wouldn't the soles be dirty.

In a scene towards the end, you have Jackie Shroff sitting in the audience in the court room. If he is an MP and insists that his son had nothing to do with the murder, what was he doing there when his son was not even in the court room or had not even been summoned.

Somewhere in the middle you get a fair clue as to who might be the person behind what is going on.

Anyway Mrs. AR-B wins the case. The kidnapper releases her daughter. The accused is set free. 

But this is not how it ends.  It ends with Mrs. AR-B telling the police that they cannot arrest the Kidnapper without a warrant. So far in all hindi movies the police have arrived on the "crime scene" towards the end and utter "You are under arrest". Nobody has ever questioned them on the necessity of a warrant. But our lady does.
Obviously this top-shot criminal lawyer is now representing her daughter's kidnapper and has never heard of the powers of the police to arrest without a warrant.
Now please see the movie to fill in the gaps.
PS: Please note that I have already mentioned earlier there is an element of revenge too.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A Pricey Milky Problem

Enough families travelling on vacation with a child would have faced the problem of arranging for the child's daily morning and evening fix of milk. While it may be difficult to procure on the road, it is not per se a problem of availability but the cost at which it is made available.
Many a parent would have balked at the price quoted for a glass of milk in a hotel. Taxes extra. Depending on the location and the class of hotel, you would end up paying anywhere between Rs. 90 to Rs. 400 for about 200 ml to 300 ml. Some places the milk will be served with a couple of cookies. Thus if one were to order twice a day for one days, on the higher side you would be paying Rs. 800 excluding taxes. On a room rent of Rs. 10, 000 per day you would end up paying 8 % of that just on milk!!!.. And if you were to compare with the in-room mini bar rates, you may find beer to be cheaper than milk.
That’s like almost a one month supply for an entire family.
Thanks to modern packaging technology and also having grown wiser over the years, I choose to pick up tetra packs of milk whenever I am travelling with family on a holiday. They usually cost between Rs. 40 to Rs. 60 per liter depending on whether you are buying toned, standardized, cow or pro-biotic milk. Since most hotel rooms have a mini refrigerator, you can store the unutilized milk for later use or use it for your tea/coffee and avoid powdered milk sachets. For reduced wastage, buy 1/2 liter packs. Some brands have even come out with 200 ml packs. The overall cost may be more than a 1 liter pack, but still beats paying an exorbitant amount. Cheers..

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Modern Day Entrepreneur Story

Many of you may have heard the story about a man who comes to the city in search of livelihood. He approaches a potato trader who offers him a spot under his stall and a sack of potatoes to sell every day. Every morning this man would take a sack of potatoes, sell all the potatoes during the day and pay the trader at the end of the day. What the trader noticed was that this man would sell the potatoes at the same price that he bought from the trader. This went on for almost a month and finally the trader asked him as to how he made money if he was selling potatoes at the same price that he bought them. The man smiles and tells the trader that he makes no money by selling potatoes but he makes money by selling the sack that the potatoes come in.

Come to the present day of e-tailing. Here we have Mr. X buying goods online for his friends and neighbours. He doesn't charge them anything extra for the purchases. So where does he make money. Very simple, it's on the packaging. Most e-tailers are sending their goods in new corrugated paper packaging with bubble wraps and air filled polythene buffers so that the goods don't get damaged. Recycle and reuse and that is where you make money.
And here is an interesting fact. If you return any of the goods or exchange them, only the goods get picked up and not the packaging. Thusly you still make money. Enjoy..

Sunday, 12 July 2015

No Winter Guard for your Itch

It's July. Another 6 months and as a season it will be winter. Not that it matters to people in Mumbai. But it also means that I will have to keep track of stocks of prickly heat powders and make sure I have enough to last till the next summer. Now you would wonder as to why somebody would stock up on something like prickly heat powder.

Over the last 3 -4 years I have observed the disappearance of prickly heat powders from store shelves usually in the period November to February. Enquiries would often throw up allegations of non-supply by distributor or margin issues between the distributors and the manufacturer. This I found to be a quite baffling as to how distributor related issues arose only in these months. The alternates would only be talcum powders which do not serve the purpose. You end up smelling like lavender, lily, or mogra and still scratch yourself like a dog with lice especially in the unmentionable regions. Not the one to give up, My search would reach out to the smallest of the chemists/general stores who would have some really old unsold stock. This search has now extended to online stores and buying out enough to last the full year.

Last year too I faced a similar predicament but got a fresh insight from the store manager of a popular grocery chain. Apparently, as the store manager informs, this is a seasonal phenomenon and has nothing to do with seller margins or the distributor. Prickly heat powders, and other over the counter anti itch lotions/medications are primarily summer products and are not manufactured once winter is about to set in due to their low off take.

But who defines when it's winter in Mumbai. It's probably those days when severe cold means you switch off the fans. I have not even seen anybody selling heaters or electric blankets in this city. Very few people own woolens.

Any resident of Mumbai will tell you their battles with sweaty conditions through the year. Enough fights occur in attempting to secure a spot under a fan in a local train. At railway stations you will find people in a reverse huddle of sorts with backs to each other at various spots to get some breeze out of the fan like contraption hanging from an overhead girder.

The only way to protect yourself, if you are the sweaty kind, is to douse yourself with liberal amounts of prickly heat powders and hope that you don’t get some heat rashes and other bacterial skin infections.
To put forth a demand that prickly heat powders should be declared as an essential commodity may not be entirely wrong. What say friends?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

How to visit Rashtrapati Bhavan

Yes, you can visit Rashtrapati Bhavan. No, you cannot meet the President of India. You are only allowed access to some areas.

1.      Where is Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is New Delhi and is the official residence of the President of India.
2.      How do I go about it. Visit for details. You can make an online booking.

3.      When can I visit Rashtrapati Bhavan. Only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays excluding public holidays and on days when there are functions and ceremonies. Entry is subject to approval.

4.      What do you need to provide. You need to provide proof of identity and residence. Carry originals at the time of visit.

5.      Can I take my car in. Yes, you can drive in through Gate No. 37 and park it in front of Gate No. 4. Pedestrians can walk in through Gate no. 2. At the time of entry please show your booking receipt and id. Please check map. .

6.      What do I do once I reach. There is a reception area where you will be welcomed. Your identities will be verified and you will be photographed. If visiting in a group, the leader will be photographed individually and then the entire group.

7.      Will there be a guide. Yes, an authorized guide will take you around. You don't have to pay him.

8.      Can I move around on my own. No, you can't. You will be taken in groups and you have to stick to your own group. Sufficient time will be given to view the exhibits and the various halls, and rooms.

9.      Is the experience friendly. Yes, very friendly. All your queries will be answered.

10.  What about security. It is a high security place. The guards are strict and stern. Do not fall out of line or attempt to stray. You may run the risk of being ejected. Security will always be trailing you and you will be watched at all times.

11.  Are there restrooms. Yes, access is allowed to restrooms. However please inform the nearest security guard of your intended visit to a restroom. If you do not then please refer to point 10 above.

12.  Can I take photographs. Yes, you can but only on the outside with permission.

13.  Are personal articles and bags allowed. No, they will have to be deposited in a designated area prior to start of the tour. Cameras, mobile phones, electronic keys, food, drink, tobacco products, bags etc have to be deposited and are not allowed within the premises.

14.  What if I am hungry and thirsty. There is shop selling limited beverages and pre-packed snacks outside and within the reception area.

15.  Can I buy souvenirs. Yes, souvenirs are available at the gift shop within the premises. You can buy T- Shirts, Caps, pens, key rings etc.

16.  How long does it take. About 1 1/2 hours from entry to exit.

17.  Do I get to see the Mughal Gardens. Yes, you are taken to see the Mughal Gardens before the tour ends. Please note that Mughal Gardens are usually open from 15 Feb to 15 March for public viewing independent of this tour.

18.  Anything else that can be done. You can visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum independent of this visit. It's located in the President's Estate and entry is from Gate No. 30. Vehicles are not allowed inside the premises. The museum is housed in converted stables and coach garages and is worth a visit. You get to see some of the gifts the President has received from foreign heads of state and visiting dignitaries. Lutyen's desk and glasses are also kept here. Lutyen designed the place. Time take is approximately one hour from entry to exit. Again please note security is strict and personal belongings are not allowed inside. Visit for details

19.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Falling Trees in Mumbai and a Strange Theory

Over the last few years there have been spate of tree falling incidents in Mumbai during the monsoons resulting in human loss or serious injury. Not that trees have never fallen before, it's just that the cases of people getting hit have increased.

A tree, as I have recently learnt from the TV series "Science of Stupid" is most likely to fall on the side that is the heaviest. Obviously, this would be the side it is leaning the most or where it has the maximum outward branches. It is difficult to say for a straight tree or one which is evenly balanced.

For those living in Mumbai, most trees are planted and grow on the outer edge of the pavement. Trees are sheltered by buildings on one side and are open to the road on the other. After watching this particular episode of Science of Stupid, I may have a theory, at least to explain partially, as to why trees are falling in this city during the monsoon.

Old timers may remember the days that Mumbai used to have double-decker buses plying on almost all roads. Since double-decker buses were prone to roof and upper deck damage by brushing against outward growing branches, the bus company would deploy a tree cutting bus that would cut off all those branches which were most likely to make contact with a double-decker bus. Now residents living in the buildings adjoining these trees would also complain to the municipal corporation of tree branches entering their houses causing rodents, pests and other creatures to enter their homes. After much follow up you would have a gang of wood cutters axing out some branches. The result would be an evenly growing tree.

The double-decker buses are now restricted to a few routes. The tree cutting buses are also missing. It is just the residents complaining and those branches entering people's houses are getting trimmed. Therefore you have a tree with branches extending only over the road, thereby increasing the chances of falling during the monsoon. Of course there are weak roots to blame due to dumping of cement concrete at the base by business owners wanting an increased frontage for their shops and windows.

Here are photos of a recent branch cutting activity which will support my theory. May not be applicable everywhere, but still worth considering.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

2015 - The way ahead

At the start of the last year I made a list of things I would do thenceforth . I preferred to not call them resolutions but to act on them as a way of life. At the end of the year I felt the need for a self appraisal. I went through the whole list and am quite pleased that I have touched upon all the items therein, some more and some less but overall brought some change.

What have I thought for this year 2015. Well, not much. I will continue with or rather live with what I planned last year. I still don't have a SUV but am working towards it. I ignore my neighbour and a whole lot of others. I am meeting my friends more often even if it means travelling great distances and spending money to do so. I have done more charity than ever before. Minding my own business brings far more peace and accompanying prosperity than spending time figuring out somebody's else's troubles.

What do I plan to do for this year? Nothing. Let things be. I may well just continue to do what I did in the previous year. though I may add one more item to that list:

Conclude all pending things. Yes that is what I may embark on. I have to bring to a conclusion all things that I have started with and left them in a state of suspension. Whatever the conclusion, they cannot be left in a state of incomplete. Either abandon them as not workable or take them to their logical end. If there is an idea, I will not start with it if I do not know how to end it. If I cannot work on the idea, I will give it away to somebody who can work on it. There cannot be any wires with open ends.
Having said this I wish you all a made to order year ahead.