Hey folks!

Ever imagined trains inside a car factory?

Well, Maruti Suzuki did.

This week one of India’s favourite car makers kicked off a railway siding inside its Hansalpur plant in Gujarat. And this will help the company transport its cars to 15 different cities!

Sounds pretty cool, right?

But here’s what’s even cooler. With this in-plant railway network Maruti can help reduce logistics-related road congestion, besides saving up on 50,000 truck trips every year. And that translates into 35 million litres of fossil fuel saved and 1,650 metric tonnes of carbon emissions chopped off.

Does that mean we get to buy Maruti cars for cheaper?

Maybe not. Because who’s going to recoup the crores of initial investments poured into such dapper ideas, eh?

Here’s a soundtrack to put you in the mood 🎵

Dastakein by Aalind

Thanks for this soothing recommendation Aaryan Singh!

Ready to roll?

A couple of things caught our eye this week 👀

The secret formula of Indian elections

Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. (MPVL) bagged a ₹55 crore order from the Election Commission last month. It’s the company’s biggest order till date and it hopes to fulfil it this week.

Wait… Who is MPVL?

Well, it's the folks behind the inerasable purple liquid that gets inked on your index finger every time you vote during an election. So yeah, whether it is a parliamentary or municipal election, this is the ink that leaves a mark on your finger. That’s because MPVL is the sole maker of voters’ ink in India.

And there may be a reason why it has monopolised this business.

You see, the company was set up by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the then ruler of Mysore state way back in 1937. But it wasn’t set up as an ink manufacturer. Rather, it made varnishes out of lac, which is a sticky substance produced by lac insects. The idea was to provide employment to locals. And that’s why it was called Mysore Lac & Paint Works back then. After India’s independence though it became a public sector company under the Karnataka government.

The big flip in its fate came just a few years later. CSIR (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research) scientists working at the National Physical Laboratories developed a kind of voters’ ink that couldn’t be easily cleaned or washed away to keep fraudulent voting at bay. And in 1962, they chose Mysore Lac & Paint Works to be their sole indelible ink manufacturing licensee.

Today, the ink makes up nearly 60-70% of its operating revenues, while also exporting it to over 30 countries!

And no one has been able to compete with the business simply because no one knows how to make it. And by no one, we mean no one. Even the company’s management isn’t allowed to know the secret formula behind it.

Only two of MPVL’s chemists are entrusted with the recipe at any given time and they only pass it onto their successors when they retire. No prospective competitors can steal it either because only these folks know where the secret formula to the indelible ink is safely kept.

The only thing that’s publicly known is that the special ink has a significant percentage of silver nitrate that dries out in less than 40 seconds and leaves a dark indelible stain behind.

So private companies who might want to break the monopoly may only be able to do so by reverse engineering the ink. If they’re able to sneak out a vial of voters’ ink somehow, that is!

P. S.: During the 1980s the company had to stop making lac-based varnishes and sealing waxes because it lost its access to forests. Courtesy, the Forest Conservation Act. And it had to diversify its products and rename itself to MPVL.

***

Penicillin makes a comeback to India!

Penicillin is one of the oldest antibiotics or bacteria killers known to man. Thanks to Alexander Fleming, who discovered it in 1929. But it wasn’t manufactured in India until the 1950s.

You see, India’s pharmaceutical market was mostly controlled by western corporations. And it was the then government that batted for an Indian factory that would make this prized drug.

With some backing from the two UN agencies WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF (now United Nations Children's Fund), India kicked off Hindustan Antibiotics, which first started bulk producing drugs like penicillin. It helped poor Indians buy medicines at cheaper rates. And it eventually went on to become the country’s largest maker of antibiotic penicillin.

But that dream run sort of stalled in the 1990s when the company had to wind up because it was overburdened with debt. Not just that, the other companies making penicillin including Torrent Pharma also had to give up on penicillin production simply because they couldn’t compete with cheap Chinese drug influxes.

China had begun mass production of penicillin because it was an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) that the world needed. But competing with China in terms of the cost of production was hard because of its cheap labour. Penicillin prices dropped by nearly 40% in the international market by the early 2000s and most countries including India preferred to import it.

But now, nearly three decades later penicillin production will resume in India. Thanks to the pandemic and the government’s efforts.

Look, the pandemic pushed Indians towards excessive antibiotic usage. This overuse made people resistant to antibiotics simply because the bacteria inside the body learnt how to stay immune to antibiotics. This antimicrobial resistance makes medicines ineffective on a person’s body in the long run.

And since this phenomenon was booming even before the pandemic in other countries globally, the WHO (World Health Organization) created a classification system for antimicrobial drugs.

Basically, there were 3 categories: access, watch and reserve. Access drugs were the kind of drugs which people could rely on for common use and were less likely to contribute to antimicrobial resistance. While the watch and reserve drugs were more severe antibiotics. And penicillin is an access drug.

But guess what?

India didn’t have an in-house production system for it to take care of India’s growing antimicrobial resistance. And that may have pushed the government to think about resuming penicillin manufacturing. Well, it even nudged Hindustan Antibiotics to help it revive penicillin. But that didn’t work out simply because the company was still struggling with revival.

Finally, the government rolled out PLIs (Production Linked Incentives) in 2021 which encouraged pharma companies with incentives based on incremental sales if they made in India. The idea was to reduce India’s drug reliance on China since we still import a large part of our APIs from there.

And that may have encouraged Hyderabad-based Aurobindo Pharma to revive penicillin again. It’ll get rolling by mid 2024 with a variant of penicillin called Penicillin G.

Hopefully, there’s no looking back for India from now on.

Infographic 📊

Money tips 💰

Awareness: The first step towards budgeting

Whenever I bought groceries as a kid, I’d ask the chap at the kirana store to write me a rough bill of the items I bought. Thanks to my dad, who always quizzed me after I got back home “How much does dal cost today? What’s the price of tomatoes?”

If I didn’t know the answers, I’d get a typically long middle-class Indian parent lecture.

Now that I look back at it, I realise how important this may be.

See, as adults we sometimes just lap up routine stuff off store shelves without actually checking how much it costs. It’s just the final amount that matters. That’s probably why you’d pause for a bit if I asked you how much something as basic as dal costs in the market today.

And that’s not a great habit to cultivate especially when you’re thinking of building financial discipline. Looking at price tags may be basic. But even something as trivial as that can help you effectively save up on a lot of things.

So yeah, the next time you walk into a grocery store, don’t forget to check that price tag because budgeting makes sense only when you’re aware of how cheap or expensive things are.

Readers Recommend 🗒️

Same as Ever by Morgan Housel

Our reader Nidhi Dhanani is back with another recommendation. Here’s what she says, “This book unveils short stories about things that don’t change and reshapes perspectives on risk, opportunity and what makes a good life.

Thanks for all your amazing recommendations, Nidhi. Keep them coming!

Finshots Weekly Quiz 🧩

It’s time to announce the winner of our previous weekly quiz. And the winner is…🥁

Anurodh Mehta! Congratulations. Keep an eye on your inbox and we’ll get in touch with you soon to send over your Finshots merch. And for the rest of you, we’ve moved the weekly quiz to our weekly wrapup. So make sure you answer all the questions correctly and tune in here next week to check if you got lucky.

Until then, don’t forget to tell us what you thought of today’s newsletter. And send us your book, music, business movies, documentaries or podcast recommendations. We’ll feature them in the newsletter! Just hit reply to this email (or if you’re reading this on the web, drop us a message: morning@finshots.in).

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Correction: An earlier version of 'Penicillin makes a comeback to India!' erroneously stated that certain viruses were becoming immune to antibiotics. We have corrected this to reflect that bacteria and not viruses are becoming antobiotic resistant. We regret the error.

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