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Friday, March 16, 2007

Kannada mis-use menace

text of the letter sent to the press:

I have repeatedly been writing about the mis-use of the venerated Kannada language. The following instance highlights the menace graphically.

One evening, last week, I was just behind a SANTRO ZING at the Egipura junction on the Intermediate ring road (linking Koramangala and Indiranagar). Noticing that the car's number plates were totally (and only) in Kannada, I took a picture, got a print, and sent it (by regd post) to the Police Commissioner, under the RTI act, requesting to know a) why no action has been taken so far to check such open and flagrant violation of the MV act? b) What action is proposed now?

Last evening, a Traffic Inspector came over personally to hand over a letter stating that, as per the records, the number KA 02 Z 6934 is registered in the name of the owner of a TATA Indica, whereas my picture showed a SANTRO ZING. Very clearly the user of the SANTRO ZING was upto some mischief, to put it just mildly, highlighting the point that I have been making all along, since not even half the police force is able to read the Kannada numerals readily. Given the callous way in which the police is treating this whole issue, all that a terrorist needs to do today is to steal a car, select a number arbitrarily, make out the plates in Kannada, fix a yellow & red flag for added effect, load it with explosives, and drive it straight into the Vidhan Soudha. He may even be accorded a VVIP status.

Plainly the Kannada number plate and the red & yellow flags have become passports to any kind of nefarious activity that you may want to pursue.

Incidentally, my questions to the Commissioner still remain unanswered.

Unpardonable chaos creation

text of the letter sent to The New Indian Express:

I refer to the report in your City Express columns on the 12th instant under the caption 'Why the perpetual chaos on Hosur road?'.

Now, the fact of the matter is that there already exists the near world-class BMIC expressway covering the entire segment between Hosur road and Tumkur road, with only a few small stretches remaining to be connected. And, if this is done, the chaos not only on Hosur road, but along the entire segment, will get sorted out automatically. But, the government will not allow it inspite of the Supreme Court ordering it to do so repeatedly. Each time the court passes an order, the government comes up with some new obstacle or the other, because the connected ruling politicians feel that they have not got their entire pound of flesh. And, then they come up with the extremely costly and totally disastrous solutions like the elevated highway, which, for all the added disruptions caused, may one day end up like the Richmond road fly-over.

A government that exists only to perpetuate the vested interests of its inner few, and is oblivious to the miseries it adds to the lives of the common man, in this process, is best got ridden of fast.

The only cure for hospitals on deathbed

Text of the letter sent to Times of India:

I refer to your Times City report of March 11th, about 'hospitals on deathbed'. Similar reports have appeared in your paper as well as the others, on a regular basis, from times immemorial. The only difference you notice now is the glass and steel facade (in Bowring hospital), provided at a cost (to the public) of close to Rs 10 crores, a good portion of which would have gone into various new pockets, apart from the old ones which have been collecting their portions from the everyday operations as well for ages. Without this new facade, these buildings atleast had their heritage value. Now, even that is lost.

There is no redemption for these institutions as long as their management remains with the government, and the loot in various forms will only continue to grow in the years to come. The only way out is for their operations to be made over totally to any of the many reputed institutions existing in the field, like St John's, St Martha's, St Philomena's, Chinmaya Mission, Mata Amrutanandamayi trust, etc, etc, possibly monitored by a Healthcare services and Education Regulatory Authority, set up replacing the state Health Ministry.

Brand baaja or swan song?

Text of the letter sent to Times of India:

I refer to the report captioned 'Brand Baaja for trains' in your columns on the 14th instant.

Now, while it reflects a release from the old mind-sets amongst the Railway officialdom, one fails to understand how an AIRTEL or a Brittannia can bother to associate itself with the stinking toilets and bug-ridden berths that are the order of the day in our trains, particularly the so-called summer specials, which besides are always accorded the lowest priority for movement ending up literally as torture chambers.

There is a long way for the Railways to go, and unless they can gear themselves up to think like Capt Gopinath, the MD of Air Deccan, he, and the likes of him, will cream away all their business, and the 'brand baaja' turns into a 'swan song'.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

the name game

text of the letter sent to the press:

The proposed merger of "AIR-INDIA" and "INDIAN" is a good augury keeping in mind the kind of competition that is emerging in the sector.

Now, while there has been a move to ban the inclusion of the names of national figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, etc, apart from words like Indian, Bharat, etc, in the names for institutions/ organisations, there is no reason why this logic should not extend to public sector undertakings also, particularly since there is no longer any guarantee that they are going to retain their public sector character forever. Converting Indian Airlines to just 'INDIAN' was bad enough. Let not such practices continue any longer.

honking menace

text of the letter sent to the press:

A honk should be to convey "caution, you may be in my way", or "please allow me to pass" as compared to "get out of my way" that the call centre vehicle drivers seem to want to convey. And, they should be in short bursts, where required, rather than the continuous blasts that these drivers tend to resort to. As such, while we are beginning to see the effects of the genuine training efforts on the part of atleast some of the fleet managers, this particular aspect about honking does not appear to have drawn enough attention.

The inevitable ill effects of economic growth could get a lot mitigated if a bit more attention is given to such details.


text of the letter sent to the press:

The more theatrically Amitabh Bachan tries to put across his messge of 'U P mein jurm kam hain', the more hollow he sounds, keeping in mind the overall picture one gets of this BIMARU state, apart from the Nithari happenings and their sloppy handling. For someone who is almost venerated by the general public in the country, it is a sad commentary when he has to stoop to such low level politicking. From the big B, he is shaping himself to become the 'pigmy b'.

Friday, March 02, 2007

a dissenting voice

I had forwarded the text of my earlier posting titled 'towards people friendly politics', essentially demanding competition in bus transport services, to a few opinion leaders in the city, to which a certain Mr MT responded as below:

Dear Murali,

I respect your views and regard for the private sector. I have been an employee in both sectors, govt and private. I have seen the best and worst of both. Whether it is our country or any other, people in both sectors are indigenous to the country concerned. The private sector is generally driven by the "profit motive" of the owners. Both sectors have as much corruption as possible depending on the country. In some countries, like USA or UK, they get caught and punished. ENRON, Arthur Anderson, World Tel etc were all highly reputed private companies till they were caught and exposed. Nearer home, we have the Harshad Mehtas and Parekhs of the stock market, the Ritu Singhs and Rais [Usha Rectifier] of the private companies and a host of others.

Specifically, with regard to buses, if you take a trip from, say, Bangalore to Hyderabad, once by a private bus and once by a Govt [APRTC or KSRTC] bus, you would see the difference. The private buses have the same crew for the entire journey, against all norms of caution and accident prevention. The Govt buses change the crew every two hours!

Recently there was a news item that people are turning to Govt buses for longer journeys.

I always quote the example of Govt run education institutions, our very own IITs, IIMs and Central Schools. How and why are they considered good. Name one engineering or management college that have earned a similar reputation.

Why then this perception that private is efficient and public is not. There are good and bad in both sectors. Some public service is needed to cater to certain vulnerable sections of society with subsidized costs.

I hope we could agree to disagree, if you are still unconvinced. One way of convincing yourself would be to check out as to how much public money is locked in failed private companies and how they have got away with it, here and in all other countries. [Hyundai's Chairman is in jail today for fraud.]

Regards, MT

My reply

Dear Mr MT

The problem all along has been the government's 'license-permit raaj/ regime'. My first exposure to TVS was as the bus service provider in the city of Madurai. During the emergency, the government nationalised bus services, and TVS was forced to withdraw from the scene altogether. Later, when the government realised that they couldn't manage things themselves, they slowly started 'permit'ting private operations, but with all kinds of conditions imposed on them. This was the beginning of the notorious 'license-permit raaj', with the babu's making all the decisions on what is good for the country and what is not, and twisting and turning the rules to suit their narrow ends. The position has changed very little even till date, particularly in the bus transport services sector. Under such a regime, the TVS's have chosen to keep away, and the Sharma (travels) types, who know how to play ball with the babu's, are together making hay, but at the cost of the 'aam aadmi'. Also, these are the types who are not too bothered about things like brand value, image, etc, and readily resort to all kinds of shortcuts, and short-changings, earning the private sector a bad name in the process. If the unnecessary controls are withdrawn, TVS (and similar reputed business houses) will be happy to come on to scene with huge investments and provide the much needed real and healthy competition to the KSRTC/ BMTC to the benefit of all concerned. In fact, it is in these basic and vital infrastructure areas that their presence is very badly needed in the country today. Instead, they are left to just manufacturing motorbikes and auto components (because there are not that many hindrances from the government there), and in a way contributing to the clutter on our roads. I would hold those opposing the entry of these Corporates into these areas even more guilty of the charge.

Like somebody has very correctly said, every business has to take into account the three E's - Economy, Equity, & Environment, while carrying on their operations. So, first and foremost, they have to be profitable. Yes, the private sector is in it very much for the profits! And, profit-making, I thought, was no longer considered a dirty word, not even in Kolkata; profiteering - may be. And, that's where you need effective competition. I am surprised I am having to repeat these fundamentals!

To the list of excellent companies/ institutions in the government sector that you have listed, I could add the names of BEL, NTPC, etc. But, these are far and few between, and unless they also gear themselves to the changed global scenario, they will also face problems. More than working for any them, I have had the privilege of being a major supplier to the likes of BHEL, NGEF, ABB, Crompton Greaves, ALSTOM, etc, in both the public as well as the private sector, which is when you get the proper business perspective. The Rai's, Ambani's etc have indeed played around and amassed wealth. But, that's what happens when you have the 'control-permit raaj'. Also, those are insignificant compared to the money locked up in failed/ loss-making government undertakings. Whereas in the private sector, these cannot go on for too long, in the case of the government set-ups, it is indefinite, bleeding the exchequer for decades together. Further, it is largely the government financial institutions/ banks that the Rai’s of this world have duped, because of their incompetence, and not say an ICICI bank, proving the point once again. With the license-permit raaj more or less dismantled now in many of the sectors, the players are beginning to play the game according to the rules, and things are looking up. But, like I have stated earlier, in key infrastructure areas like public bus transport, power distribution, etc, unfortunately, it is either the Sharma's, or the equally bad KSRTC/ BMTC, BESCOM, etc that rule the roost.

As reputed as the IIT’s, IIM’s, Central schools, etc have been the numerous Christian Missionary schools and institutions like St John’s Medical College, CMC, Vellore, etc; the Manipal group of institutions; and lately, the NPS, DPS, etc. And, it was a product of the very first batch of the International Business School, in Hyderabad, promoted by a consortium of business houses, that got placed at the highest salary level compared to any other business school, including the IIM’s, last year.

For over 50 years since independence, the country’s Socialistic policies turned the entire population into babu’s, almost wiping out entrepreneurship altogether. If it still survived, it tells a lot about the tenacity of some of our business communities, like the Marwaris, the Parsis, the Punjabi’s, the Sindhi’s, the Konkana’s (Pais of Manipal), the Chettiars, the Mopla’s (of Malabar), to name just a few. They battled on despite the many obstacle placed before them by the government, quite often by crook than by hook, when it became a question of survival. Now, with liberalization, the latent energy is just exploding, and our enterprises are becoming world leaders in each and every field - of course, where liberalization has happened. Unfortunately, that has still to happen in the most vital areas of infrastructure.

If we are to provide the basic necessities to the millions of our under-privileged brethren, and thereafter, attempt to take on the world, it has to come through more and more entrepreneurship, and the government's role should be that of the facilitator and regulator (also to factor in the other two E's, referred to earlier), for which an essential requirement is that it pulls out of being a player also.

Regards, Muralidhar Rao