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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Agenda for city governance

1) Adopt the Kasturirangan Committee report, and therewith the Metropolitan Planning Committee concept for city governance. In addition, adopt the 'upper house' concept suggested by Mr Manivannan, with as the medium for citizen engagement - check

2) Convert all parastatals such as BWSSB, BESCOM, BMTC, etc into expert 'cells' (or, call it by some other more appropriate name) under BBMP, with the operational functions outsourced to reputed private contractors, like JUSCO for water supply, TATA's/ Reliance for power supply, TVS for bus services.

3) Incentivise usage of public transport services, and disincentivise usage of individualised forms of transport. Phase out auto's with NANO's from within the city limits over a 2-year period.

4) Pedestrianise business districts like M G road/ Brigade road/ Commercial St areas; Jayanagar 4th block; Koramangala 7th/8th blocks, etc, with provision for passage of only public transport vehicles (including taxies) between 8 AM and 8 PM.

5) Design a total water management system, including rain-water and ground water, whereby dependence on external sources like Arkavathy, Cauvery etc reduces to the bare minimum.

6) Build de-centralised Sewage Treatment Plants, perhaps one for every Ward, across the city.

7) Build more Nirmala type of tiolets across the city, and tie up with local eateries for their operation (24 hr) and maintenance, by offering them suitable property tax concessions.

8) Re-establish Bangalore as a green city, particularly by nurturing the right species of avenue trees.

9) Establish a net-based complaint redressal mechanism - PRAJA can help here.

These are what I can readily think of, though it certainly is not quite comprehensive.

Agenda for state governance (May,'08)

This was drafted in May '08, when the BSY government took charge.

Urban Governance - Implementation of the Kasturi Rangan Committee recommendations in order to empower the citizens in line with the spirit of the 74th amendment.

Police Reforms - Implementation of the Soli Sorabjee Committee report.

Judicial Reforms - Provision of the necessary support to the Judiciary to speed up their work, particularly in lower courts, by modernization.

Adequate Representation for Civil Society members on Regulatory bodies like KSPCB, LDA, BMLTA, KERC, etc.

Government size - With a sizable chunk of the revenues going to meet just the salary burden, the Government size is unsustainable even as of now. With the latest Pay Commission recommendations, it is going to become even more so. And, the fact of the matter is that, with increased computerization and out-sourcing, the size can in fact be reduced to less than a third of what it is at present. This needs to happen immediately.

Water Supply - Urban water bodies have failed miserably in supplying adequate water to citizens, even with the governments having spent over Rs1105 billion on drinking water up to the 10th plan. On account of this, it's largely the poor who land up spending around Rs 6,700 cr annually on treatment of water-borne diseases, in addition to the colossal cost they pay for its availability. It is therefore high time new and credible PPP models for take over of the function by reputed private sector players are set up, after constituting a Regulatory Authority to oversee the job, as well as to control the resources.

Power - Facilitation of take over of power distribution in cities by reputed private sector players (atleast two per city) as already envisaged in the reforms agenda, and in the rural areas by co-operatives.

Bus services - Capt Gopinath has given the common man 'wings'. But, unfortunately, he doesn't have the more basic wheels. Physical connectivity, both in cities as well as in the rural areas, is a very serious problem today, which can be solved almost overnight by facilitating the entry of organized, private sector players onto the scene, after addressing artificialities like the Contract Carriages Act, etc. Urgent reforms of Public Bus Transport Services sector, along the above lines, is called for.

Healthcare - It will be more apt to call the present scenario 'health-care-less'. Here again, the government has failed totally. The conditions in the government hospitals keep deteriorating from deplorable to pathetic, to even worse, day after day. 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, all monitored by a Healthcare services and Education Regulatory Authority, set up replacing the state Health Ministry.

Education Reforms - Whereas India could easily become the knowledge capital of the world if the initiatives by the private sector in this field, particularly Higher Education, are harnessed properly, we are today faced with an unfortunate situation where we are not even in a position to meet our own demands for skilled man-power. The bigger irony is the growing levels of unemployment amongst the so-called 'graduates'. The cause of this tragic mis-match has clearly been identified by the 'Knowledge Commission' as resulting from the stranglehold of the sector by organizations like UGC, AICTE, Medical Council, etc, which has recommended their replacement by a more liberal regime under the overall purview of a Regulatory Authority. This needs to move on a war footing.

PDS - With even the likes of Medha Patkar critical of the system, it's a crying shame that the country continues to allow as massive a loot as an annual Rs 10,000 crores through this grand-mother of all scams. The "food stamps" model advocated by many eminent economists needs to be implemented immediately.

This is what I could readily think about, but it is not necessarily comprehensive.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

a further case for privatisation/ outsourcing

When the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Committee eventually takes charge, in furtherance of the 74th amendment bill, it will have to take on city water supply, power supply, public bus transport services ( presently being handled by the para-statals), and possibly even functions like traffic policing, in addition to the 31 obligatory and 21 discretionary functions the BBMP is currently handling (check

It's plainly inconceivable (besides being inadvisable) that the government will be able to mobilise the capacity to handle all these functions directly. As such, outsourcing of most of the functions is plainly inevitable as we go forward. And, while doing so, if you go by the traditional 'lowest tender' route, you will land up with the kind of problems we have been facing all these years - poor quality, delays, etc, eventually leading to the costs to the city going up in very many ways - both tangible and intangible. Therefore, there has necessarily to be processes of proper assessment and approval of vendors in order to qualify them for bidding to take up the jobs. Apparently, this is where the problems have been all these years. And, the solution lies plainly in instituting proper regulatory mechanisms - check

While helping to apply for a UK family visitor visa for my m-i-l, I notice that a large part of the preliminary work has been outsourced to a commercial company - VFS Global (check, who go about the job in a most professional way. A friend whose daughter took up a job in the UK recently tells me that as a part of the process of checking her credentials, the agency sent its people to physically verify all particulars with some three neighbors. That's the thoroughness with which they undertake the job. Compared to that, I suppose I don't need to elaborate on how the police goes about the job here.

There needn't be a debate any more - outsourcing is very clearly the way forward - check also.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

An overwhelming case for Privatisation

The following are a compilation of my posts on the subject on - check

* The per capita energy consumption of a country is generally considered a good indicator of its state of development, leaving aside for the moment arguments questioning this idea of development itself. For India, the figure stands currently @ 682 (in Kwhr per annum), while for Brazil it is @ 1422; UK @ 5218; USA @ 10,381.

Now, if India has to improve this by even a 100 units, it has to add generation capacity to the extent of 12,016 MW (assuming 95% efficiency & capacity utilisation), meaning an investment of Rs 54,072 cr at Rs 4.5 cr per MW (for thermal; for hydel and nuclear, it's much higher).

This is the kind of capital required by just one sector, for a marginal capacity addition, taking the macro view into consideration. Imagine then the kind of capital required collectively by all the infrastructure sectors put together that you want the government to handle - water supply, roads, sewage systems, drainage systems, bus services, AIR-INDIA, railways, sea-ports, air-ports, banking, insurance, hotels, etc, etc, and of course, defence.

Well, that was exactly what the Soviet Union was doing, and look where they have landed.

* Everything that is in the domain of private India is getting cheaper - from mobile phones to cars to anything that is manufactured. Everything with a government interface is costlier by the day. This apathetic state of affairs is best symbolised by the raging prices of essential commodities.

* A section of the public has an opinion that public bus services can never be profitable, or rather, it should not be profit-making, which in essence means the government retaining its monopoly over such functions. Like-wise, this section, comprising largely of people with a Socialistic bent of mind, also believes that the same should apply to roti, kapda, makaan, bijli, sadak, paani, healthcare, education, etc, etc, besides of course railways, defence. If they could have their way, they would also like the the government to push out the private sector from hospitality, telecom, banking, insurance, civil aviation, etc, even though the freeing of these has largely been responsible for the faster growth of the economy of recent leading to most of them becoming gainfully employed.

The important question is how much can the government do? And, how much more public is the public sector, where the decisions are taken by a coterie comprising largely the minister-in-charge, a few bureaucrats, the employees (largely controlled by politician-led unions), compared to say a Reliance, which is answerable to a million share-holders (who rate their performance on a daily basis through stock valuations), apart from having to compete against the equally powerful TATAs, all under the oversight of a duly constitued regulator? And, answerability of the public sector to the Parliament is the most celebrated joke, as we all know.

And, then there's the case of the USSR, where everything our Socialist friends wanted was tried out. Only, it doesn't exist any more.

* It's nobody's case that privatisation is the panacea to all of the country's problems. There will continue to be problems. But, like the late Sri C Subramaniam had once stated, atleast these will be new problems, and not the same old ones for which we have not been able to find solutions for over half a century.

There never was and there never can be bigger Socialists (in its true spirit) than Dr Ambedkar, Nehru, etc, the founding fathers of the Indian constitution. However, they themselves opted out of listing the word 'Socialism' under the 'directive principles' of the Constitution. It was not an oversight, it was deliberate; since they had very clearly foreseen how it could be misused.

And, the irony of it all is that Nehru's own daughter, using emergency powers, brought about the amendment to the Constitution to include the S-word in the directive principles, in order to pursue her own nefarious agenda, justifying it with her infamous quote 'corruption is a global phenomenon'. This is the legacy we are now having difficulty living down.

* The most important question today is how urgent is the need for efficient public transport services. In my opinion, we can't wait even a day longer. If you accept that, can we then afford to wait in eternity for the BMTC to get its act together, with or without the help of a Prof Ashwin Mahesh? No - we have to bring in the TVS's and TATA's today. And, when approached that way, the route becomes very clear.

Because of the prevailing 'license-permit raaj', so far, it's been only the Blue-line (of Delhi) kind of operators that have generally been in the picture, in turn earning the private sector a bad name. For that to change, the raaj has to be dismantled and the entry of reputed players like TVS facilitated, all under the oversight of a duly constituted and empowered regulatory body.

And, the TATA's and TVS's are also equally desperately looking for avenues for growth, particularly with the conventional ones based largely on exports, becoming less and less attractive or even closed.

So, it's a win-win for everyone involved, particularly the aam aadmi.

This is also the case with our other infrastructure service sectors (power distribution, water supply, railway operations).

* If there's been a lowering of the quality of life, it's largely because of the state's and its agencies' failures, more specifically in its key role as the regulator, instead of concentrating on which, it has been messing around with the services and manufacturing sectors.

When Socialism rules, you have to content with the mafia's; when Capitalism rules, you have to content with lobbies. Mafia's don't play by rules. Lobbies generally play by rules, but after using their clout to re-write them to suit their designs. I would like to believe that the Indian democracy is sufficiently deep-rooted to manage lobbies better than mafia's.

And, what I am rooting for is not hard-core Capitalism of the US Conservative party kind, but a version more in line with the Democrats and British Labour party (I am actually not too sure of my grounds here), where the government's role as the facilitator and regulator is paramount. But, when it becomes a player, in addition, its key role as the regulator gets compromised, as we have been seeing time and again.

And, for this still rooting for Socialism, would perhaps also like to subscribe to what I have put at

Saturday, July 12, 2008

let's move on

Note posted by me on the CAF googlegroup:

Governments and their various departments may be obliged to do many things. But, they have all failed uniformly, and there's no hope ever of getting them to organise themselves to deliver. Governments themselves have realised this (including the ones in West Bengal & Kerala), and are seeking to withdraw themselves from where they don't need to be. There is also a move towards removing the word 'socialism'(not included by the original form, but introduced later by Mm Indira Gandhi as an amendment) from the Constitution itself.

Further, as far as public bus transport services is concerned, the BMLTA has now been in existence from over 6 months. Admittedly, it has not been structured properly, stuffed as it is with government babu's and some select experts, quite as pointed out by the IIM professor at the ABIDE. These are early days, and I expect things will evolve as we go along for which we need to engage ourselves closely with them. Towards this, I have been saying from long that we need to get our representatives on these bodies, which has only received lip sympathy so far. Now, if you are saying that they should first have a perfect structure, and then only we will participate, it like saying 'after you learn to swim, you may enter the water'. In the process of introducing competition, the need for which I trust there's not going to be a debate any more, admittedly, a few things will go wrong. But, that doesn't mean we go on researching indefinitely to find the best route. Take the plunge with the inputs available, and correct the wrongs, if any, as we go along.

In the case of power distribution, things are even more straight-forward. The government itself has decided that it needs to get out of distribution, which has been spelt out in no uncertain terms in the reforms agenda, and nobody has offically opposed it even. But, it is repeatedly getting sidelined by various vested interest groups, including possibly from the genset manufacturers. Also, the regulatory body, the KERC, has existed from over a decade to have gained sufficient maturity. If the government has to gain a control over its finances, this is one area that it has to tackle immediately, the subsidy component here being the highest.

So, let's get a move on, Sir. Ours is supposed to be an ACTION forum.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Privatisation phobia

The common man generally has the picture of a businessman as a fly-by-night operator, unworthy of his trust. Admittedly, there have been enough reasons for that. And, that's why he wants the government to do everything for him.

But, what has happened over the years is that not only is the government not in a position to build its capacity to cater to these varied needs, but also it is progressively beginning to get hijacked by various lobbies to serve their vested interests, most often in collusion with the babu-neta combo.

Simultaneously, the businessman has evolved into a corporate entity with a certain brand identity, which he will do everything to safeguard lest his standing in the market drop below comfortable levels. This market mechanism is certainly not quite perfect, but has atleast helped throw up enough business houses who can today be relied upon to take on the erstwhile government roles. I would even go to the extent of saying that services such as public bus transport, power supply are too vital infrastructure services not to have the benefit of their management skills and technical expertise.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Corporate bashing - a past-time for a few

The following are my responses to various attempts at Corporate bashing by some ignorant, and some typically pseudo-socialist fellow members of some Yahoogroups:

1) Why are you coyly exempting the HU-member employees of software companies (could be about half the strength, I guess) from blame? By taking up employment with these alleged environment degraders, aren't they party to the companies' deeds, too?

The fact of the matter is that, had it not been the Infosys, TATA's, etc, most of these would instead have become members of some Naxal groups. It is easy to pontificate from a self-righteous platform. The important thing is to make the right contribution.

As I have stated before, a certain amount of damage to environment is inevitable with development. And, if we are to provide a decent standard of living to the multitudes in our country, who are currently below the poverty line and impatient to move ahead, we need a fairly fast-paced development. The important thing is to channelise the development along the right lines so that the damage to the environment is minimal. Most Indian corporates, including Infosys and TATA's, are quite conscious of this and are doing their best in this regard. If their deeds have had adverse multiplier effects, it is the poor planning of the government and its agencies that is largely to blame. Perhaps, that's where our focus needs to be.

2) Hi M

It is indeed heartening to note the more measured and balanced approach you are adopting these days as compared to the earlier times (I hope you will not mind this tone coming as it is from somebody much older to you). The hazard involved, however, is that you could land up getting clubbed together with me to be issued fatwa's against by the neo-Ayatollah's of this world.

These Ayatollah's while enjoying a modern life-style themselves, complete with computers, cell phones, 'Pulsar', digicam, indeed the works, would however condemn the urban poor to making a living out of fishing in polluted lakes, to suffer through mosquito-ridden nights without power supply, then to get up early in the morning to line up in queue's to collect a few pots of drinking water, later to wait inordinately for the BMTC buses that never come, and finally to land up in some government hospital to die a horrific death.

The Ayatollah's will then write some insipid poetry about it all and expect the HU members to appreciate it!

3) Indeed D!

Any development will be accompanied by a certain amount of dislocations unless it is planned and managed properly. It is not a phenomenon peculiar to the IT sector alone.

In Kerala, for instance, the Gulf boom, and later the tourism boom, brought about 'development', and with the government unable to handle its effects properly, the lives of the local population got dislocated.

The Bangalore IT boom pace was much faster, and with the government approaching it in the same way as it did the growth of village panchayats ages back, things naturally went wrong. How can you hold the IT industry responsible for that?

When the IT industry provides decent employment for the youth of the country, you applaud it. When, because of the ineptness of the government machinery, it causes some dislocations to your lives, you curse it. Is that fair?

The IT (and ITES) industry is the only industry that has helped generate employment opportunities for the educated youth in the country in such a big way. If not for them, the youth would all have possibly strayed into some Naxal groups or the other. Their current prosperity has in turn fuelled the growth of the other industries leading to creation of employment opportunities, both for the educated as well those less fortunate, in the other sectors also.

India has phenomenal strengths in these fields. There is a vast potential for growth, and the entire country could benefit immensely from it. Instead of celebrating this, it is a pity that the likes of Mr C N R Rao choose to remain stuck in a time warp.

If we are to provide a decent standard of living to the multitudes in our country, who are currently below the poverty line and impatient to move ahead, we need a fairly fast-paced development. Yes, it has to be channelised properly. That's what the whole debate is about. But, anyone who thinks that growth and development are not needed at all, should then also be prepared to hold their parents responsible for adding to the burden on this earth.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

road to prosperity

text of letter sent to the press:

The UP government ad (in all leading dailies today) caption 'road to prosperity' says it all. They have decided to allow private sector to operate passenger buses (stage carriages) on all routes, including notified/ nationalised routes.

This is exactly what is required in as key an infrastructure area as public bus transport services. The resulting prosperity in the rural areas, and the de-congestion in the urban areas, are going to be the new drivers of the state economy.

What ever is Karnataka waiting for???

PS: For more, read my blog on traffic/ transport solutions.

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