In Relationship – With Doha Corniche!

The blood test results were not so encouraging. Doctor told me that he will have to categorize me as pre-diabetic. The dreaded ‘D’ word was looming large on me! Doctor suggested that I do some exercises and the best one was to do brisk walking for 20 to 30 minutes, at least 5 times a week.

This was the proximate cause for me to get into a ‘relationship’ with Doha’s Corniche. For a walk, there no better place in Doha, possibly in this whole universe, than  Doha Corniche. It is serene and at the same time lively. The great thing about Corniche is that it is incredibly clean! I have seen it being cleaned by automated equipments daily  and also washed with water at regular intervals. This cleanliness adds a lot to the appeal of Corniche.

Corniche

Doha Corniche

It is more than seven kilometers long along the water body known as Doha Bay.  I am told that the Corniche, as it exists now,  was formed after the extensive dredging work carried out during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Corniche welcomes you at any time of the day. In the day, you can admire the incredible colour of the Doha’s bay, in the evening you can appreciate superb sunsets, and at night you can watch the lights of West Bay towers  in an array of colours!

In the morning you will come across lots of Doha residents taking a walk or jogging along Corniche. They have strategically placed distance measuring marks to watch their progress! You are also treated to a magnificent sight of orange sun rising over Doha Bay. The Palm Tree Island in Doha Bay appears to be eager to soak in the glory of morning sun!  This is that magical moment when clear sky comes alive with orange hue and gentle waves lapping on the waterfront provide the background music. Added to this heavenly experience is the cool breeze during this time of the year (February- March) and florescent flowers  which appear to vie for your attention! This is the moment which makes our lives worth living!!!

Corniche 2

Sun rise at Corniche

These days, Corniche also attracts a different set of people. These people are more interested in using the open air gym facilities than walking or jogging along the Corniche. They are lucky because they have been provided with large number of open air gym equipments at different places along the Corniche. No need to wait for using any of these as there are plenty of them around! Children too have many things to play which also exercises their brawn as well as brain! State of the art public toilet in Corniche is an attraction by itself!

There is yet another set of people who love Corniche. These are the Anglers patiently waiting for fish to bite their bait! Though there are boards saying that Angling is not permitted in Corniche, this has not really deterred many. You can see many types of Anglers. I generally classify them as (a) Lonely Angler – One who sits alone in a remote part and appears to be praying for fish to catch his bait! (b) Optimist Angler – This guy comes with  lots of equipment such a telescopic spinning rods etc. and yes, he has a large bag to hold his catch! (c) Family Angler – The whole family is there along with the Angler and many a times the noise made by all these family members scare away the potential catch! And (d) Dedicated Angler- This guy is a regular on Corniche and usually comes in at the same time and occupies the same spot!

In the evenings, Corniche is home to families, kids, youngsters, and also some health conscious guys! It is colorful, the horizons are plastered with towering towers of West Bay with their attractive lighting patterns. There are dhows inviting you for a ride into Doha Bay and there are coffee shops. This is the place where the young and old and all in between come to when they have some time to relax or when it is time to recharge their souls!

Corniche

Dhow at Corniche

In a way, Corniche tells you about the character of  Doha and Qatar – It is clean, It is well organized, It is modern, It is a place where people from many nationalities mingle harmoniously and above all it has good sports facilities and beautiful manicured surroundings.  Corniche is the very soul of Doha!

(First and third photographs were sourced from internet)

Union Budget 2013 – What is there in it for me?

End February every year is an exciting time for Indians, whether they are residents or non-residents. It is the time when we have budget presentations which spell out the tariff and concessions which is bound to have an impact on our finances.

As a Non Resident Indian from the Middle East, I did not have too much of an interest in Railway budget (I have not travelled by train since a long time). But it did have an impact on my portfolio! Stock markets tanked on the day Railway Budget was presented and Sensex came down by more than 300 points! So the lesson learnt is even when you do not travel by train, Railway Budget can definitely have an impact on your finances!

Then came the Union Budget on 28th February 2013. This was an event which had generated lots of expectations. This was being presented by perhaps the most credible face in the Government and he was doing it for the 8th time in his career. Further, his earlier budgets did have the X factor! Added excitement was due to the fact that this would be last full Budget before the next general elections due in May 2014.

But as the highlights of the Budget started flashing across my Bloomberg screen, I felt a bit let down! There were no big bang announcements and there was nothing which could be termed as innovative. The markets too felt that they should repeat the welcome given to the Railway Budget and Sensex  again tanked by almost 300 points. Two Budgets conspired against my portfolio and it is now less than what is was at the beginning of this year!

Finance Minister, at the beginning of the Budget speech mentioned two facts which were a bit disturbing. The first one referred to GDP growth and he said “In the current year, the CSO has estimated growth at 5 percent while the RBI has estimated growth at 5.5 percent. Whatever may be the final estimate, it will be below India’s potential growth rate of 8 percent. Getting back to that growth rate is the challenge that faces the country” This is some sort of admission that we cannot even reach our potential in GDP growth!

The second statement which was equally disturbing was about Current Account Deficit (CAD). This is what FM had to say on CAD “My greater worry is the current account deficit (CAD). The CAD continues to be high mainly because of our excessive dependence on oil imports, the high volume of coal imports, our passion for gold, and the slow down in exports. This year, and perhaps next year too, we have to find over USD 75 billion to finance the CAD. There are only three ways before us: FDI, FII or External Commercial Borrowing (ECB). That is why I have been at pains to state over and over again that India, at the present juncture, does not have the choice between welcoming and spurning foreign investment. If I may be frank, foreign investment is an imperative. What we can do is to encourage foreign investment that is consistent with our economic objectives.”

Now let me present my two paisa worth thoughts:

  • CAD is a definite worry. As per Economic Survey presented a day before the Budget, CAD widened to 4.6 percent of GDP in the first half of 2012-13. This is a big number. But FM sited only three ways to deal with CAD i.e., FDI, FII and ECB. Glaring is the omission of remittances and deposits from NRIs. Let us take a look at the numbers. As per Economic Survey, in 2011-12 (where the latest projections of the whole year is available), Net FDI amounted to USD 22.06 billion, Net Portfolio Flows (FII) amounted to USD 17.17 billion and Net ECBs amounted to USD 10.34 billion. Compared to these,  Net NRI Deposits amounted to USD 11.92 billion (Which is higher than Net ECBs) and Net Transfers under Invisibles which include remittances from NRIs (significant portion is remittances from workers in Gulf Countries) amounted to USD 63.49 billion. Yet, FM did not recognize this substantial forex inflow from NRIs! While encouraging foreign investment is welcome, why not encourage NRI inflows too?
  • On the same day of Budget presentation, we got GDP numbers which were a bit startling – GDP growth had fallen to 4.5% in Q3 of 2012-13! This news and widening CAD appears to have pushed Indian Rupee lower against US Dollar. Given the trend in CAD as well as in GDP growth, one can reasonably expect Indian Rupee to remain under pressure. Delaying remittances into India may get rewarded with better exchange rates! (Any ways FM is not really worried too much about NRI remittances and NRI Deposits!)
  • I am happy that FM has liberalised the baggage rules for bringing in jewellery. This is what he had to say on this subject “The baggage rules permitting eligible passengers to bring jewellery was last amended in 1991. Gold prices have risen since, and passengers have complained of harassment. Hence, I propose to raise the duty-free limit to Rs 50,000 in the case of a male passenger and Rs 100,000 in the case of a female passenger, subject to the usual conditions”.
  • The excise duty on SUVs has gone up. I regret that I did not buy Mahindra Xuv 5OO when I visited India last time.
  • There will be more banks competing for deposits! Apart from new licensing announcement from RBI, we will have Post Office Bank and also one All Women Bank. I am looking forward to visit a branch of all Women Bank just to see how different will it be from those manned by men!
  • There is going to be TDS of 1% when you buy or sell property worth Rs 50 lakhs or more! However, Securities Transaction Tax is reduced! FM is perhaps hinting to us that it is preferable to invest in equities than in real estate.

On the whole, there will not be too much of an impact for guys like me largely because Income Tax rates have been left unchanged (and we are miles away from becoming Super Rich – earning more than Rs 1 crore in India! Super Rich guys will have to pay a surcharge of 10%).