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Thursday, December 28, 2006

the veiled threat

text of the letter sent to Times of India:

"Crime has no religion. Non-Muslims are using the burqa for criminal purposes, and we are being paited with the same brush". This quote attributed to a student of Sophia college, Mumbai, reported in your columns today (28th Dec) under the caption 'Pune jewellers bar entry to veiled women', sums up the issue in its entirety. And, precisely because of that, perhaps it is time the burqa, is banned in public places altogether.

Lalu - the hoax

text of letter sent to Times of India:

"Bihar is too difficult. It has no potential. Per capita income is low. There are constant floods. But, the Railways is like an empire. It has huge potential". This quote of Lalu's, supposedly made to Haevard and Wharton students (vide your columns of the 28th Dec), if true, shows him for what he actually is. It is he who pushed Bihar to this sad state in the 15 years of his rule, and now he is almost abandoning it. He is no management guru. If the Railways has turned around, it is all inspite of him.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

incredible KPCL!

text of letter sent to Times of India:

I quote verbatim from a report in your columns today “A Bench directed the Karnataka Power Corporation to finalise the tender process for coal supply within six weeks so as to prevent the Raichur Thermal Power Plant from shutting down operations for want of coal”. So, somebody has had to move the Karnataka High Court to push the KPCL to carry out a routine function!

Simultaneously, a report on another page talked of the GM, Corporate Communications, collecting some, obviously dubious, awards at the World Kannada Cultural Convention in Bahrain, on top of the many similar ones he already has accumulated.

No further elaborations required here, I guess, as to what these say about the KPCL, which supposedly is entrusted with the handling of almost the entire power generation infrastructure in the state!

Incredible KPCL, indeed!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

out-sourcing - the answer

In mid-July this year, I occasioned to visit the City Civil Courts Complex, near Cauvery Bhavan, and I sent out a letter to the press as below. I had to make another visit yesterday. Things there are only worse. Last week, I read in the papers that all contracts and procurements in various government departments in Karnataka are set to go digital in two years on a unified on-line e-procurement platform, provided by HP. Nothing can be better than that. So, what is holding up out-sourcing the maintenance of such complexes to professional agencies, I wonder.

Recently, I occasioned to visit the City Civil Courts Complex, near the Cauvery Bhavan, in the heart of the city. The complex is just about a couple of years old, with a lot of the construction work still in progress.With the rapid strides in building technology, one would have expected at least the basics in the buildings in place, in such an important public building complex. Sadly, however, there is very little that is right about them. And, as far as the architecture is concerned, it is clearly the epitome of the PWD culture-a total and tragic eye-sore. Comparatively, even the over two-decade old Cauvery Bhavan complex looks fairly modern.

If the architecture and construction quality is bad, the maintenance is even worse. Even as early as 11 in the morning, the toilets are stinking to high heavens, leading to the litigants preferring the use of the compound walls in the less crowded spots in the locality to ease themselves against. The walls along the stair-ways are streaked all along with ‘paan’ stains. The lifts - just two of them for such a large complex – are supposedly meant for the exclusive use of the judges and lawyers. So much so, I noticed an invalid litigant going all the way up the steps using his crutches. And, if his case was posted in a court on the 4th floor, like mine was, God alone can help him.

The questions that arise are
a) How can we take pride in the institutions that form the basic pillars of our democracy when they are housed in such horrendous complexes?
b) Shouldn’t organizations like the Urban Arts Commission, etc, protect the citizens from the effects of the visual pollution that these complexes constitute?
c) In effect, shouldn’t the whole body that is the PWD be totally wound up, and such jobs completely out-sourced?

Friday, December 08, 2006

health-careless - 2

Yesterday, again, I was with the children (read 'building awareness' below). One of them came up with how, when his aunt was taken for delivery to the Vani Vilas hospital, the staff there played around till they were paid some Rs 1,000/- collectively, by way of bribes, before they got down to attending to her. For all that, it was a nightmarish experience. So much so, they have sworn never to step into a government hospital ever again.

In fact, on a subsequent occasion, when another family member needed to be hospitalized, they chose to go to St Martha’s hospital, and in spite of the fact that it cost them dear, nobody was complaining.

I asked the rest if they corroborated the view. They were unanimous in agreement. And, mind you, these are all from really poor sections of the society.


I had sent a letter as below to the Indian Express on 24th June, ’05.

Sub: user charges and government hospitals

"User charge is nothing compared to the huge sums we have to spend to bribe the hospital staff to ensure proper care for our loved ones. If it is a case of a surgery or even a delivery, the amount to be spent here on the staff is almost the same that would be spent in a private hospital". This quote by the government hospital patient's relative, who was asked by your reporter for his opinion on Mr Siddaramaiah (Dy Chief Minister)'s order of withdrawal of user charges, clearly sums up the actual position obtaining. Is it any surprise then that a visit to any of the Corporate hospitals in the city today will show you throngs of even lower middle class people patronising them. At least, they can be fairly sure that they will return home cured. As compared to that, in the case of the government hospitals, one needs to have a lot of luck to manage that given the callous attitudes, insanitary conditions, and the all pervading corruption.

In response to a survey conducted by a leading daily, a few months back, with a view to finding solutions to the wide-scale corruption plaguing government hospitals, a significant percentage of the respondents had suggested privatisation as a possible way out. Particularly in an area like healthcare, however, a check against unhealthy practices could perhaps be provided by strengthening the NGO/missionary institutions in the field, like St Johns, St Martha’s, St Philomena’s, Chinmaya, Ghousia, Rotary Trusts, etc, who all seem to be doing excellent work. The government would do well to hand-over the Victoria, Vanivilas, Bowring as well as all the ESI hospitals and dispensaries, to these institutions. May be a supervisory / regulatory authority could be simultaneously instituted to oversee all the related functions, while also scrapping the ministry.

Mr Siddaramaiah should realise that times have changed, and that his chances of re-election would be better served by more meaningful approaches.

On the 28th Nov,'06, there was another article in the Indian Express (on the front page) on dowry deaths in Bangalore. Quoting volunteers from ‘Vimochana’, a city based NGO, the article went on to describe the deplorable conditions in the burns ward of the Victoria hospital. The question that arises here is how come the Vimochana’s of this world continue to tolerate these kinds of conditions in the government hospitals. Alternatively, if they also think that there is no redemption for them whatsoever, like I do, why are they not suggesting alternatives instead of choosing to remain silent? Vimochana is doing good work. But, perhaps it needs to do a lot more.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hrithik Roshan

One of the boys, Nagaraja, had a problem (read the previous blog). He could not digest the idea of Hrithik Roshan being paid a whopping Rs 15 crores for just a single movie, even as there was stark poverty all around. Like the many, with the typical Indian Socialist mind-set, he suggested that the government should intervene and impose a limit.

I explained to him that by engaging Hrithik Roshan, a movie producer was taking a gamble on an investment of some Rs 50 crores that he spends on a movie in the expectation that it will be a hit, going by Hrithik’s ability to attract viewership, and that he would realize upto 3 to 4 times the amount in a short span of time. And, that’s why he is ready to pay Rs 15 crores to Hrithik, whereas he will not take on Nagaraja, however handsome he is, even if Nagaraja is prepared to pay the movie producer.

I added that, likewise, the Kannada hero, Upendra, was in no better a position than Nagaraja is today in, and sheer perseverance and hard work took him where he is right now, though not quite at the same level as Hrithik.

And, as for the government, it should be happy collecting the huge quantum of taxes that comes its way with every successful movie. It should only bother with how to put it to good use.

Nagaraja seemed to nod his head.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

building awareness

At the instance of a friend, I have recently been taking lectures, as part of an awareness building programme, for 10th standard students of a school, on the outskirts of the city, comprising mostly children from the poorer sections of society.

After making a general assessment of their current awareness levels, I asked them to look at what their immediate problems, of a general nature, were, as also to think up what the possible solutions could be. Amongst the prominent ones listed out was BMTC’s poor services. As to the solutions, all they could come up with was that BMTC should improve.

I then asked them if they knew of the private service providers in the airlines services sector. They readily came up with names like ‘Kingfisher’, ‘Air Deccan’, etc. I then went on to tell them that until some ten years back, the government-owned IA (now Indian) had a monopoly over this sector, and that, as a result of the competition, IA is now beginning to lose its dominant position. But, overall, the services had improved considerably, and the fares had become a lot more affordable, even to the common man, resulting in a tremendous boost to the economy. So, I asked them if they would consider this a positive development. Many of them expressed reservations on account of the government player losing out to competition. I then went on to ask them if they would recommend reversal of the policy so that the government player could once again have the monopoly. It was then that the message went home to them, and one of them took bold to ask why the private sector was not there in the bus services sector also. I told them to raise the question with their elected representative.

Moral of the story: We have got so much used to the ‘mai-baap culture’ of government providing everything that we are not even prepared to look beyond to see what else can be. And, particularly in key infrastructure services sectors like airlines, public bus transport, power supply, etc, it is not the interest of a government player that is important. What is paramount, on the other hand, is what can take the sector to its fullest potential.