Thursday, April 28, 2016

Drought, What Can We Do

Report after report on TV and news papers describe in detail how  state after state is under influence of draught. Farmers have lost crop, there is no food to eat and no water to drink for either man or animal. Farmers are moving to cities in search of job. 

Drought has hit village after village in different districts of many states. At least 8 - 9 states are under the grip of drought. In Latur district of Marathwada region, water shortage is so acute that government is running water train. A few other less connected villages and towns are not that fortunate. Nana Patekar, noted film actor, described on a TV program tales of human misery and how it is a crime to keep quiet at this time of human distress.

Nana has shown the way be starting an NGO - NAAM foundation. This NGO is helping struggling farmers with money and with hope. Several other film personalities like Akshay Kumar, Amir Khan and Riteish Deshmukh have contributed money for distressed farmers of Marathwada region of Maharashtra. 

Beyond this response to overcome acute distress, I think effort must be made so that farmers do not face such kind of calamity in future.  Long term strategy must be designed where water harvesting, changing crop pattern, induction of drip irrigation technology must be introduced. There is a village Hiware Bazar, in the water scarce Ahmadnagar district in Marathwada region, that is water surplus. According to report, this village did not have to ask for a water tanker in last 20 years. Villagers do not have to dig more than 40 feet to access underground water. Village does not encourage water intensive sugarcane and banana plantation.  No farm animal is dying in the village due to lack of fodder and water.  I think such a village should be role model for Maharashtra and the nation. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Drought, IPL and Society

As drought hits village after village in different districts of at least 8 - 9 states of India. We see on television men, women and children walking miles to fetch drinking water. We  hear  farmers committing suicide because of crop loss, farm animals do not have fodder and drinking water. Villagers have started moving out of villages towards cities. Many villagers have lost their source of income, many do not have access to water. This migration will create urban poor out of self sufficient farmers.   

Acute water shortage in Maharashtra has prompted Mumbai high court to order shifting of cricket match organised by Indian Premier League (IPL) out of Mumbai and  Maharashtra. Regular watering of cricket pitch appears wasteful and outrageous and it appears justified that court has asked IPL to move out of Maharashtra. Recently, supreme court of India has also upheld high court's decision. Apart from Maharashtra, petition is filed in Rajasthan high court to move IPL out of Rajasthan. 

At this rate, very soon IPL will move out of India. Infant, BCCI is mooting such an idea. It is worth pointing out that, drought is not new to India. In Maharashtra drought is man made to a great extent. Corrupt politicians and builders have siphoned off money meant for building irrigation canals and dams.  Question should be asked by moving IPL out of Mumbai, Maharashtra and for that matter India, what succour are we providing to draught hit people? More so when IPL was using recycled sewage water for cricket pitch and generating employment for people in the state. Instead, why not ask cash rich cricket body of India (BCCI) to help out providing water to drought hit villages of the state? BCCI has waived  penalty to the tune of 41.7 million dollar due from West Indian cricket board. BCCI can certainly contribute to bringing new technology for desalination of water from sea. This may go a long way in solving people's misery.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Odd Even Part II

There has been a lot of criticism of the odd even program when it was introduced for the second time in the month of April, 2016. Many had questioned effectiveness of the program both to decongest Delhi roads as well as to bring down pollution. 

I am a firm believer in road rationing and Odd - Even program to that cause. Roads in Delhi, and for that matter in most Indian big cities, are heavily congested. It takes inordinate amount of time to travel from point A to point B. There is no guarantee that one can reach a meeting on time unless one starts with a lot of time in hand. Or one hires a driver that can drive like a maniac through maddening crowd mechanised vehicles. During first phase of odd - even scheme, there was visible benefits, both tangible and intangible that could be counted as follows:

1. Travel time, from home to office and back, had reduced;
2. Commuters were less stressed;
3. There was less incidence of road rage;
4. People had more time at hand to engage in physical activity, if they reached home early. This had effect on health of people.
5. Less number of cars on the road, would eventually translate into less pollution over a period of time.
6. Less number of cars mean less fuel consumption, less import bill and better health of foreign exchange reserve.
7. Law enforcement officials were less stressed;

It became apparent that the effect of Odd - Even scheme on environment pollution was minimal. Because there are several factors that contribute to air pollution. Nevertheless, road decongestion is as important and may have benefits in the long run on health and well being of citizens. 

Then question comes, why second phase of  Odd - Even scheme has come for criticism? Experts believe that Odd - Even scheme cannot be introduced without a solid public transport infrastructure in place. Delhi may have metro rail, yet metro is extremely crowded for many peoples comfort. 

Even lieutenant governor of Delhi, while praising Delhi chief minister for his courage to execute Odd - Even scheme in Delhi, had said in a TV interview that permanent Odd - Even scheme implementation in Delhi will put a huge amount of pressure on public infrastructure and safety margin of public utilities like Delhi Metro may be compromised.

Without efficient and reliable public transport system, Odd Even scheme has to rely on peoples cooperation. In this searing heat of April 2016, many people did not cooperate. Taxi companies like Ola and Uber were charging more. Many people acquired CNG sticker by paying bribe and brough odd car on road on an even day. Because CNG cars were exempted by government. Many people contemplated and bought a second car or a second hand car with either odd or even number plate.

Experts believe, Odd Even scheme must be employed only on a temporary basis. That way, citizens do not find a way to adapt to the system. Many leading cities of the world, like Beijing, used Odd Even scheme only as a temporary solution and back it up with a strong public transport system.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

India Pakistan Dialog, Like a Snake and Ladder Game

The biggest foreign policy challenge to government of India has been Pakistan. A neighbour with which India has fought three wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971. In 1971 war, Pakistani state got dismembered and Bangladesh was created as an independent country. Close to 100000 Pakistani army soldiers had to surrender. Losing part of their territory had been a big blow to Pakistani army and elite. Since, then Pakistan has acquired nuclear weapon, issued threat of first use in case attacked by India, and opened up a policy of bleeding India to death by thousand cuts. By this policy, Pakistani inter services intelligence agency has encouraged rebellion, promoted terrorist attacks and causing explosions in public places. Most notable being attack on Mumbai by a group of armed terrorists on 26th Novermber, 2008. Despite, giving proof to Pakistan, the case remains unresolved.

Many attempts to talk between two countries have not made much progress. Pakistan wants India to give up Kashmir undconitionally. India wants Pakistan to eliminate terrorists and bring them to justice before talks can begin. So hopes were raised, after fidayeen attack on Pathankot airbase, when India allowed an investigative team from Pakistan to visit Indian airbase to collect evidence. 

 Many thought the move was a bold gamble by Prime Minister of India, in the face of criticism by opposition parties that India's honour had gone down the drain. Ever since Prime Minister Modi had assumed office, he took unprecedented steps to enhance friendship with Pakistan. He had visited visited Pakistan unplanned on his way from Afghanistan and attended marriage of grand daughter of Prime Minister of Pakistan.  Indian Prime Minister also persuaded Indian establishment to allow a team of investigators from Pakistan to visit Pathankot for investigation. 

Pakistani team kept quiet in India. They went back and gave selective leak to Pakistani press about Indian noncooperation with Pakistani team and how Pathankot incident was stage managed by Indian security forces. Pakistan's ambassador to India in a press conference rejected any chance of co-operation and/or dialog between India and Pakistan on the issue of terror. 

Yes Prime Minister of India had lost face, however, major credibility issue will stick with Pakistan for future dealings. Indian leader has taken a gamble which all powerful leaders must take. Pakistani establishment, not necessarily Prime Minister of Pakistan, had tried to score cheap point by going back on the agreed path. Many believe, on issues related to India, Pakistani ambassador has to follow policy framework dictated by army establishment. So ambassador was following military establishments line. 


Pakistani Prime Minister on the other hand tried to give out message through his foreign minister that dialog process still remains open. Foreign ministry sources also said Indian investigators from National Investigative Agency, are welcome to visit Pakistan. Is this a double speak or is this fight for space between armed forces and elected government? Pakistani prime minister may be on a weak footing because of Ramon Fonseca revelation. Pakistani army is not ready to cede ground to India. It may be naive to expect Pakistani army will hand over access to Masood Azhar without a whimper. Army behaved in the way they were expected to do, like a street corner thug.

Surge Pricing : Should Government Interfere

During second phase of Odd - Even road rationing scheme, Delhi government has banned surge pricing by cab companies, namely Ola and Uber. Surge pricing is changing price based on demand of taxi cab in a given neighbourhood. Companies believe, surge pricing incentivises cab drivers to take their cab out and go to neighborhood that is not service, of course for a fee. So at the time of high demand price goes up. May be upto 5 - 8 times the normal fare. Cab aggregators like Ola and Uber claim, nearly 80% of extra charge goes to driver. Aggregators keep 20%. City of Bangalore has tried to put a restriction on surge pricing. State of California in the US, is also bringing a bill to restrict surge pricing by cab aggregators. Delhi government is also thinking of coming out with a policy so that surge pricing will remain banned even after Odd - Even scheme is over. As a consumer, I am happy. 

But as per law can government control how a business house operates? If a government steps in to stop profit making, does it not bring licence permit raj and goes against the tenets of free market? Should a consumer not have a choice to choose between cab companies that is charging less vis a vis that is charging more? Some consumer may prefer to pay more in lieu of better and safer service. At the end of the day, should market forces not decide what a service provider can charge? 

In a country like India, there may be many people who would support government intervention in bringing cab fare down in public interest. More so in this searing heat of April, 2016 when you cannot take your car out and public transport is inefficient at best. Delhi government is also saying that it is working in public interest. By same analogy, when central government intervenes and dissolves Arunachal and Uttarakhand governments, because there was allegation of corruption and horse trading, Uttarakhand High Court said government cannot by pass constitutionally elected government. People have chosen their representative. People will unseat them. If corruption in one place cannot be rectified by government, can the same rule apply in another place? Should rule of law not be supreme in all cases?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gurugram to Gurgaon : Is it Really Needed

Gurgaon the suburban city of Delhi used to be a sleepy village may a few decades before. DLF developed Gurgaon into suburb of Delhi. Many industries came in. Many companies shifted their business process office to Gurgaon from US and Europe. Gated communities came up with exotic names for rich, famous, high and mighty.

Famous Delhi suburb Gurgaon has recently undergone a name change, courtesy government of Haryana. Gurgaon is now called  Gurugram. This name change is related to Dronacharya's Gurukul for Kauravas and Pandavas. It is here, princes were trained in martial art. It is also the place where Dronacharya asked Ekalavya, son of a person with lesser station in life, to chop his index finger. This, Drona did so that Ekalavya did not surpass Arjuna in his martial skill of archery. 

The name change has raised a storm on news media. Those against name change, has called changing name of Gurgaon to commemorate Dronacharya reflected racist and casteist mind set of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. The move was against Dalits, the caste which Ekalavya probably belonged to. Pro Manohar Khattar people have dubbed opponents as beautiful people rooted in America, as is reflected by names of their gated communities. 

To be fair, this is not the first time name of a city is changed in India. This will most likely not be the last. Names of several big cities, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Bangalore have been changed to Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. May be many more cities will change their names. Caught in the debate of appropriateness of name change, is the issue is this the only thing of priority that Haryana CM has on his plate at this moment? What about developing public transport, quelling Jat agitation, managing dwindling underground water resource? I guess CM has got his priorities mixed up.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Drought Hit India

Many states, at least seven, have areas with water scarcity and are declared drought hit. These include, Bundel Khand area of Uttar Pradesh and parts of Madhy Pradesh, Latur and Beed districts of Maharashtra, Telangana Gujarat, Chattisgarh and even parts of Orissa. Water shortage affecting millions of people. Districts after districts, and talukas after talks have been declared drought hit. We see in TV, how women and children climbing down steep well to collect water. Successive years of no rain have lead to crop failure. There is no fodder and water even for farm animals. People are moving to cities, in search of job, food and water. People who were farmers yesterday, are being converted to destitutes today.

It is good to see government of Maharashtra with the the help of Indian railways is supplying water to Latur. Why did they wait so long and why other states are not taking the same measure? We had heard of Bundel Khand drought situation at least four to five months before. 

At a time when one area of India is parched, other area gets submerged in flood water. Recently, Chennai was under waist deep water when gates of a dam were opened. Flood lead to widespread damage to public infrastructure and private property. So much so government of Tamil Nadu had demanded a relief package running into thousands of crores. My naive question is could the water from overflowing dams not be transferred to reservoirs that were running dry in other states. Easily, the excess water could have filled reservoirs in other parts of India - Andhra/Telengana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and UP. May be logistics of such a venture would be complex, may be expenditure incurred would high , would the cost be higher than damage that was done to Chennai by flood water? Would the cost be more than lives of humans and animals in dry parts of India?

It is time, government creates a national water policy. It cannot happen year after year, parts of India remains dry and other parts get flooded. Massive effort must be made to create water harvesting by restoring water bodies like ponds, lakes etc, changing agriculture pattern and produce, and bringing new technology for agriculture. Effort must be made to inter-connect some rivers at least in drought prone areas. Lot of debate has gone into different aspects of river linking. Some action must be taken now. We see men, women and children becoming desperate in search of water. India must be protected from both drought and flood.

It is a shame that 60 years post independence Indians have to struggle for drinking water. Yet we hear our leaders siphoning of money meant for farmers and agriculture sector.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Juveniles are Blessed with Invincibility

In my childhood days I would read stories from Indian mythologies. People from different hues and dispensation would go for penance. Once their desired god is satisfied, devotee will seek blessings. Some would ask for wealth, some for health, youth and longevity, others would ask for invincibility from death and so on. Those granted invincibility from death would attack others. They would conquer opponents home and hearth, make a slave of men,  maid of conquered women. At that time, the stories appeared unusual. Can anyone really get a boon where nothing can touch him? The person becomes impervious to any and all evil.

In this day and age, for people living in India, it appears that juveniles have attained the blessing of immortality and invincibility from god. The god here is juvenile justice board. Juveniles and their god have made lives of common people a living hell. Juveniles commit murder, rape, engage in arson, but they are not punished. Juveniles are put in a remand home for three years and allowed to get out. Their past history will be erased from records. All this because, juveniles, no matter how close to adulthood, are incapable of taking responsibility of their action. 

Recently, a juvenile, who was just two days short of adulthood, ran over an innocent man returning home from work. The boy drove a Mercedes, without licence, at top speed onto Siddharth Sharma. Siddharth died. The boy and his fellow passengers did not help the injured man. They did not take his to hospital. They did not stood there to take responsibility of their action. They simply ran away. Some say the boy was under influence of alcohol.

When police tracked the boy, he got out on bail within a few hours. Juvenile boys father , probably a crorepati businessman, paid a fine of 1000 rupees. One thousand rupees for killing a human being! This must be a joke? Under the law of the land, this was the best police could do? Why not book father and son for aiding and abetting a murder? Some say father can be jailed for three months maximum. Even that will come after many years, if and when court pronounces father and son duo guilty. 

New juvenile justice act has been passed by parliament. Why not try this juvenile boy for much stricter charge like man slaughter? Why not put juvenile boy’s father behind bar for letting his underage son drive. We cannot call this an act where accused did not know what he was doing. He ran away from the spot means he realised something was wrong.it is time law makers revise and rewrite transport laws. How many Siddharth's are we going to lose at the prime of their lives?

I read in news paper that Delhi Police has booked the juvenile for culpable homicide. Juvenile's father has been booked for aiding and abetting a crime. If proven in court, the crimes may attract punishment unto ten years in prison. I think this is a good move. An exemplary punishment may stop people from letting their underage spoilt kids from driving on the road and killing innocent people.

It is time, traffic rules are framed in such a way that a person if caught driving without licence or under the influence of alcohol, as in the case of Jahnavi Gadkar, if a person ends up killing another human being, he / she should be punished in an exemplary fashion. They must financially compensate victims family, they must serve prison term and disbarment of professional licence, if any. 

I am sure, by the time case comes to court, juvenile will be ready to go to America for a bright future. Father will be old enough and ask for mercy. Battery of expensive lawyers will prove Siddharth was drunk. Siddharth should not have  been on the path of Mercedes. And last weapon will be car was being driven by someone else, may be a driver, or gardener or cook. Already one such effort was made when a driver came forward to take the blame for accident. Driver backedout when Siddharth died.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mahesh

I read a story when I was in class seven. It was written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhayay. Title of the story was Mahesh. As I was sitting under blistering sun last sunday, I saw stray cows roaming around under the blazing sun in search of shade, fodder and may be water, I thought of sharing the story of Mahesh. I do not have competence to either narrate or translate the story. I shall summarise it in my way. Interested people may access Sarat Chandra's work in the-criterion.com.

Mahesh was a bull owned by Gafoor mia. Gaffer was a subsistence farmer in rural Bengal. He had a daughter Ameena. Mahesh was like a son to Gafoor. In one season, when crop was afflicted by drought, there was scarcity of water, Gafoor was informed that Mahesh has been taken away by landlords men. Mahesh had entered landlords garden and eaten green vegetable. Sick Gafoor, which most subsistence farmers were then and now, pleaded with Zamindar to have Mahesh released. When his entreaties fell in deaf ears, Gafoor paid the penalty by selling whatever little possession he had and got Mahesh released. After reaching his home, Gafoor asked his daughter for some rice extract. Many poor people in rural Bengal drink watery extract that comes out after boling rice, called "phan". As Ameena was bringing "phan" for Gafoor, Mahesh pushed her and drank the "phan". Angry, hungry and sick Gafoor, lost his patience and hit Mahesh hard with his axe. Week and emaciated  Mahesh could not bear the blow. Mahesh passed away.   Repentant Gafoor looked at Mahesh and then at the heaven and cried, "oh allah! never forgive those who did not leave a drop of water for my Mahesh". 

As I remembered the story of Mahesh, relation between Gafoor and Mahesh, Gafoor's love and empathy for Mahesh, sitting outside on a summer afternoon in Delhi, my eyes went moist.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Flyover Collapse in Kolkata, When will We Learn

What a disaster. An under construction flyover came down crashing in busy business district in Burra Bazar area of North Kolkata. Twenty six people have lost their lives and close to a hundred are battling in the hospital. This is the second crash since 2013, when another under construction bridge collapsed in Ultadanga area, again in North Kolkata. 

This crash brings several questions to the forefront. Kolkata, and for that matter every large and mid size city in India, needs to remove traffic bottlenecks. Flyovers are one such solution. In the hurry to build a flyover before impending state assembly election, did government overlook safety measures? Many local residents had objected to the construction of flyover. Some said, anyone could simply jump from flyover to their home, so close was the distance between residential houses and the bridge. Yet government went ahead. In a congested North Kolkata, why did the authorities not close the area down for vehicular and/or public movement for a  time till the flyover work was completed? Why not make construction activity at night time? May be that way number of casualties could have been less. 

Post crash, government has responded by arresting few employees of the construction company, IVRCL. Government has charged them with murder. I am sure in Kolkata flyover tragedy, builders will get away. If builders open their mouth, politicians may be in trouble. So a compromise formula will be arrived at. Life will go on as usual after a few days.

It is coming out that the construction company had a poor track record. This company was an aggressive company that bids for projects without necessary expertise. Indian railways had put the company under their watch list. It was not possible that government of West Bengal did not know about poor track record and lack of expertise of the company. Experts had suggested there was a flaw in flyover design.

Despite design flaw the flyover project was allowed to continue because of political patronage. Local politicians, their relatives and friends had got subcontract in flyover project to supply men and material. I have heard in two different TV news shows, Headlines Today and Times Now, that a syndicate of corrupt contractors supported by local politicians control the construction business in Kolkata.

In many places, I have seen flyovers remaining unbuilt over a long period of time. May be construction companies run out of money paying off local politicians. If a company has no money, it will delay its project and cut corners. I have seen one such flyover being built in Kanpur suburb since eternity. Every time I visited Kanpur, I had seen the flyover remaining as it was since last visit. Fortunately, the flyover has become operational as of last few months. 

Instead of politicising the issue, both BJP and left should have stood by the government in solidarity to pay respect to the departed and help rescue mission for all those trapped. If we cannot forget political differences in this moment of tragedy, then shame on us. Once the last person is removed, there should be enquiry and politicians should have had enough time to bake their bread on the oven of public agony. 

Kolkata flyover crash was not the first such accident. Many such accidents have happened before also. Earlier, people had suspected collusion between politicians, builders and mafia.  No one had any direct proof. Such a proof is emerging after Kolkata tragedy. No one is a saint here. Every political party has its finger in the till. Difference is of quantity and not quality. I am sure, after dust settles all big players will get away scot free. Because one shark does not eat its own. Neither builder, nor politicians will be caught and brought to book. Life will continue as usual. Few poor people who have lost their only earning member of their family, will have to bear the burden of conspiracy of rich and powerful.