Gyaan Guru

Custom Search

Thursday, December 27, 2007

the problem lies within us

The greens group 'Hasiru Usiru' had organised a public meeting last week to convey its protest against the BBMP's road widening programme and the resulting destruction of the city's tree wealth. I made a presentation captioned "Better bussing for a green Bangalore" towards offering alternate solutions. My experience, detailed in the following posting I made in the HU y-group, will show where the problem largely lies.

That improved bus services is the most cost-effective answer to the exponentially increasing traffic, and attendant problems, in the city has been known for ages. But, neither the government nor the people want to look beyond BMTC to provide it - some because of vested interests, some because of dogma, some due to a lack of awareness, and some because of a combination of all these factors.

Yes, there are the lot, who in their fascination with the ‘growth’ of the economy, seem oblivious of the stress we are subjecting mother earth to. In that respect, Mr D’s presentation has considerable relevance, and, with his permission, I am proposing to pass it on to various groups, more particularly ones involving school children.

When I originally proposed to make my presentation at the public meeting, there was every effort to dissuade me. At the meeting, every effort was made to hurry me through, so much so, I was quite distracted and missed out on many aspects that I wanted to bring out before the gathering. The press release, as well as the display material at the venue, didn’t seem to carry any of the points that I was making. The specific mention of ‘facilitating entry of private players into bus services’ in the Urban Transport Policy was deliberately omitted. I was asked specifically to state that the views expressed were my own.

Now, the question that arises is where do the people responsible for all these fit into in the list that I have made out at the end of the first para? I must admit I am a little perplexed. In their desperation to see that the TVS’s and TATA’s don’t get into the picture, aren’t they subverting the interests of the HU? Isn’t TVS already amongst the biggest beneficiaries under the existing scenario, recording as it is perhaps the highest sales in the world for its two-wheelers in the city of Bangalore? And, aren’t TATA’s set to follow suit with their Rs1-lakh car?

Nobody can deny that the private sector players have shown us the way in the other sectors which have been liberalized, with everyone concerned including the poorest of the poor benefiting considerably. Admittedly, there are corrections required. But, that doesn’t mean we should continue to suffer and pay for the burdens imposed by the public sector monopolies.

Muralidhar Rao

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Comparatively benign IT sector

When I took to the defence of the IT sector in response to some of the self-righteous lot amongst the members of the greens group (Hasiru Usiru) going on a tirade against them, sometime back, a member (S) sent me a personal note as below. I responded as further below, but through the Yahoo group. In view of the continued tirades from newer quarters, I thought I’ll include this exchange in my blogs.

S’s response to my original posting:

My company [700 employees] recently did a waste audit, we generate about 125 kgs of waste [mostly paper cups, plastics [spoons, forks, bowls, stirrers], tissues etc., and all this gets wrapped up big plastic bags which is dumped in the out skirts of Bangalore and this is the case with about a close to 70 companies on our campus.

IT companies contribute to a huge amount of unmanaged waste [mostly dumped in dumping grounds outside Bangalore bought by the builders of these IT parks]. Apart from of course the 24-hour AC, lighting [all over the place, mostly not necessary].

My reply

The very fact that your company did a waste audit is a very positive indicator. Perhaps, as a member of HU, if you try to sensitise the management on the need for adopting more eco-friendly practices, I expect they will respond. There will still be some amount of solid waste, which needs to be disposed off. That problem however is common even to every household. For instance, in our apartment complex, we practice near total segregation, and consequently, the KCDC plant authorities, on Hosur road, are happy to accept our wet waste when taken there by the contractor, who aggregates similarly segregated wet waste from a few other complexes nearby. Another contractor who claims to sell it to re-cyclers collects the dry waste. Now, we are not exactly keeping a close track of what these contractors are exactly doing, and if they are instead dumping the waste on the outskirts of the city, as you allege your employers’ contractors are possibly doing, we can also be equally guilty. Now, this part is for the BMP or the local municipality to take care of. Of course, as concerned citizens, we need to bring on pressures to make them do their job. There have been talks of new compost plants, and landfill sites. But, these are happening too slowly, partly also due to the NIMBY factor.

On the question of air-conditioning and lighting, the argument in support is that it improves worker efficiency. While in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi (during summer), it could definitely count, whether it is an unnecessary luxury in Bangalore is something that can be endlessly debated about. Another major factor in support of air-conditioning is that it helps considerably to keep dust out.

Now, all of the above, pales into insignificance when you look at the kind of polluting activities that go on all around you, about which the KSPCB does nothing at all, or rather uses to pile up ‘mamools’ (which are no longer small, as the word should imply). Planned letting out of raw sewage into Kaggadaspura lake by the numerous builders in the locality is just a small example. Something most terrible, I personally came across, in 2001, was the unconscionable pollution of the River Kali by the West Coast Paper Mills Ltd in Dandeli. I wrote to the KSPCB, and with their remaining silent, I took it up with the Lok Ayukta. Thereafter, ESG came on the scene and fought a pitched battle, and, with all that, I am told the scenario has improved marginally, if at all. Yes, there are the marauders all around, both in the private sector as well as the public sector. Eternal vigilance, education, sensitization – we all owe it to our mother Earth.

Muralidhar Rao

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SEC's muddle

In response to a news item in the press that the updated voters’ list was on display at the nearest polling booth (a local private school in our case), a few months back, I went over personally to make a check. I was pleased to note that even my daughter’s name, the process of enrolling of which I had got started only a few months earlier when she turned eighteen, had also been included, though placed a few pages away from where the rest of the family’s was.

Being the President of the housing complex association consisting of 128 dwelling units, where I stay, I looked for other known names from the complex. I found quite a few of them, surprisingly though scattered over some ten pages, interspersed with those of other residents living in independent houses in the locality.

Further, with the inclusion of my daughter’s name, my name now figured four times on the list - in my individual capacity, as h/o my wife, and as f/o my two children. Strangely, however, against each of the entries, as simple a name as ‘Muralidhar’ had been spelt in a different way. And, not just mine! Out of some 200 odd names from the complex, in the list, it would be a surprise if even ten had been spelt correctly.

One reason appears to be the maintenance of the master list in Kannada. People like me generally fill out the form in English. The State Election Commission (SEC) staff convert it into Kannada, and make the entries. Thus, when converted back into English, I land up as ‘Muralidhara’ instead of ‘Muralidhar’. As a South Indian, this may be OK. But, when an ‘Anil Chugh’ is turned into an ‘Anila Chugha’, I suppose, he is not going to be too amused. Whatever, all that still doesn’t quite explain the entry ‘Murulidhar’ as my name in one of the entries.

When I brought all these to the notice of an NGO that has been interacting with the SEC supposedly to help improve it’s functioning, it was suggested to me to have the appropriate correction ‘form’ filed. But, with the inherent problems remaining un-addressed, I wonder if it will help at all.

Incidentally, when I checked out the voters’ list through a web-link provided by this NGO, to my utter shock, I found that my name did not figure in it at all. But, about a month back, when our jurisdictional ARO came by to hand over a list to our complex manager, to my great relief, I found all the names listed there, though, being in Kannada, the names figured as Muralidhara, Anila, Chugha, etc. When this was pointed out to the ARO, he has offered to get the photo ID card issuing team to set up camp in our complex over a week-end, and have the cards made out with the correct spellings then and there. So, I expect, that should solve the problems for us.

Apart from the Kannada translation problem, the bigger one plainly appears to be the lack of competency amongst the SEC personnel, typical of any government organisation. Where else would you find the recording of the age of a person, a varying parameter, on the ID card, when the obvious thing to do would be to record the constant ‘d/o/b’ instead? Also, when it is mainly government school teachers who are kind of forced to take up the enumeration work, outside their duty hours and for a pittance of a compensation, is it any surprise that the product is of such poor quality?

The question that arises then is isn’t it time that as important a task as preparation and maintenance of the electoral roles, on which the success of the entire governance system rests, is out-sourced to professional agencies? No one can argue that the additional costs that may be involved would not be worth the value that would result. As things stand today, anyone can get any number of Bangladeshi's onto the rolls if one wants to. And, that indeed appears to be actually happening also, with the country paying dearly for it.

Further, very recently, it had been reported in the press that the government had decided to outsource a major chunk of the passport operations. Now, when as sensitive an activity as issuing of passports can be outsourced, is there a rationale any more in allowing the SEC to continue to muddle around as they have been, and only can.

Monday, December 10, 2007

pliability of Railways officialdom

text of the letter sent to the press:

The candid admission by Sri Laloo Prasad Yadav that the private bus operator lobby had been holding up the progress of the Bangalore-Mangalore train services all these years, is most intriguing. It has raised far many more questions than have been answered as of now.

Very obviously the Railways officialdom had known this from years ago. Why is it then that they failed to act on it until now? How much has been the revenue loss to the Railways on account of the neglect of this lucrative route, over so many years? Can anyone be held accountable for it? If not, isn't it also quite clear that the Railways have not been, and are not, quite equipped to go by compelling commercial considerations?

Simultaneously, though, neither have they been going by social considerations, subjecting as they have been such large sections of the lower middle class population belonging to this region, who form the core of the railway passengers, to hardships and financial loss, while pandering to the whims of the various influential lobbies.

Further, it requires no expert study by a Harvard MBA (on which programme, the honourable minister appears to have become an honorary faculty member) to unearth similar cases of neglect of other equally or even more lucrative sectors, Bangalore-Thiruvananthapuram perhaps topping the list.

Also, when government-run operations can be so easily hijacked by influential private sector lobbies, isn't the best way to counter it, privatisation of the train services itself (Railways retaining the network and infrastructure), in order to allow for market forces to come into play on a level playing field? May be a beginning could be made with the superfast expresses.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The irrationality of dedicated lanes

text of letter sent to the New Indian Express:

I refer to the report captioned 'auto lanes may be allotted to BMTC' published in your columns on the 5th instant.

The idea of 'dedicated lanes' for BMTC buses seems to have caught the fancy of every self-appointed traffic expert. And, there seem to be plenty of them in the city today, apart from the author.

Now, going by plain logic, supposing in any given route direction, BMTC is operating at a frequency of a bus every 3 minutes, and the buses are moving at an average speed of 10 kmph, there will be a gap of 500 M between any two buses. As such, if a lane is dedicated exclusively for the buses, it will then push out 100 other vehicles from this 500 M stretch (making for 200 vehicles per km), assuming an average vehicle length of 5M, and near bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions. This is total under utilisation of high demand city road space.

There is a telling picture of a stretch of road in some city, showing an empty stretch of over 100M behind a bus on a dedicated lane, even as the adjoining lane (in the same direction) is totally cluttered with vehicles of all kinds, particularly two-wheelers. Very clearly, even with having introduced high capacity mass transport bus services on dedicated lanes, the citizens still prefer to use their two-wheelers, leading to the problems remaining unresolved.

The above is just one factor. The chaos the dedicated lanes cause at road junctions is another major factor. Further, with the dedicated lanes generally located on either side of the central median, providing access to commuters becomes complicated and expensive. Dedicated lanes on the edges are a new concept, but suffer from similar infirmities.

Thus, while dedicated lanes may be OK on stretches leading to and from bus depots, or on stretches where the frequency is higher than say a bus every 15 seconds, on regular roads, they are totally ill-advised.

Rather than dedicated lanes, total ban on private vehicles (meaning - vehicles other than buses, taxi's and auto's) on select stretches, during peak hours, would any day be preferable.

The idea of the auto lanes on arterial roads was, in the first place, to segregate slow moving traffic. The purpose will be better achieved by banning slow moving traffic altogether on these roads, and confining them to the non-arterial roads. Eventually, however, it would be best if auto's are gradually phased out of the city roads over a couple of years, and replaced by four-wheeler taxi's, by incentivising the process.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


In response to my posting the link to Swaminathan Iyer's 'Swaminomics' column in TOI dt 2nd Dec, '07 on "Gujarat's SEZ - a blessing" in a greens' Y-group, Mr L, responded as below:

Swaminathan is a master of simplenomics. In this article he arrays all the reason why the kind of SEZ policy we have adopted can only work in Gujarat.

That salt pans and mudflats aren't necessarily "waste lands" may be an ecological question and one does not expect a limited view economist such as Swaminathan is, to explore the long term consequences.

Point is, the rest of the country does not have a draconian Chief Minister (barring recently Buddhabed, perhaps a trait of the Right and the Left), and also does not 'have such expanses of "wastelands". So should not all the countries SEZ be in Gujarat then? Not only can it be a Special Economic Zone, it can surely be a Special Exploitation Zone and without doubt is soon to be India's Special Eco-disaster Zone. In short, India's China is gujarat!

To which, I responded as below:

Narendra Modi has certainly committed a lot of wrongs - there's no denying that. But, that does not mean that everything he does is wrong. Besides, like the article has stated, there was hardly any resistance from the owners to part with their land. So, there was no need for Mr Modi to resort to any 'draconian' measures, in the first place.

There have been enough reports in the past about exploitation in the salt farms, apart from the totally hazardous conditions that the workers were exposed to. With the advent of TATA's into salt farming/ industry, perhaps things have changed - may be somebody would like to do a study on that? Whatever, even as contract labour in Mundra Port (where large numbers of displaced have been absorbed), I am sure, the workers are far better off than they were when working on the erstwhile salt farms. And, if the labour laws are reformed, they will be employed directly by the likes of Mundra Port, and will hopefully begin to enjoy the same quality of life as the steel workers in Jamshedpur.

'Simplenomics' perhaps is when you can only see every industry and industrialist, including a Narayana Murthy, as an exploiter.