Supreme Court yet again!

Supreme court has taken up the issue of reservations, thanks to a spate of litigations against central government from the intellgentia. Most citizens will be happy with this development, as they trust the courts to do a better job than the government. I am not.

Supreme CourtI see that these days, the courts have been stepping in a lot more than should be required in a democracy. And many regulations that I’d rather see coming in as legislations, have been getting implemented as court orders.

I will not list all such court orders here, please google them. But I have two problems with this ‘court order arising out of PIL’ culture.

One, rushing to the courts for any hard-hitting issue, to me, is like accepting the fact that citizens don’t trust the government to do the job. I could be stretching things a bit if I say that this implicitly implies “no-confidence”. But what if the eventual court order or decision does run against the government viewpoint? What does that imply? Like the case where Bihar governor Buta Singh suspended the elected assembly and the courts later said that was wrong. Was the central government made to pay for that proven wrongdoing? As far as I recall, no!

Two, this could encourage governments to become shy of taking non-populist, but “good over long term type” decisions. Take Delhi demolitions for instance. If the government does not want to project a non-socialist image by passing orders for these demolitions, they will be happier to wait for the courts to order them. This way, the job gets done without them getting any credit or blame for it.

Further, this trend encourages publicity seekers to file PILs. After all, there are many who dream of getting in front of TV cameras and press mikes. [Actually, from what I read, the apex court has framed certain guidelines to regulate the abuse of PILs.]

For all you know, the courts may slowly become the second battleground for political parties. Couldn’t beat that regulation in the parliament, no problem; let us argue this in the courts instead! Perhaps this is a good thing in cases where governments chose to abuse their majority. However, thankfully, majorities of the kind Rajiv Gandhi enjoyed are rare these days. Or else, our legislators would have moved the location of their debates from Parliament House to the Supreme Court!

Reservation issue: Missing the big picture?

I picked up some statistics when reading up on the reservation issue around the web and in the newspapers. Have a look:

"By the 12th standard, the drop out rate reaches an astounding 94 percent. Of those who finally graduate out of college, only around 15 percent (or, one percent of the those who enter grade one) are employable, leading to a severe shortage of qualified college graduates."

" While 73.24% Class X SC students called it quits in 2003-04, the figures for STs was even worse at 79.25%. Revealed in the latest educational statistics released by the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development, the pattern highlights failure of the government to ensure minimum quality of education to dalits after nearly a decade-and-half of quota-raaj. "

"… that many of the quotas reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes go unfilled because the schools they attend are so bad that the dropout rate before high school is more than 70 per cent."

And then, look at what is in our constitution:

Constitution of India, Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 45 (p.3)

"The State shall endeavor to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years."

Moreover, In 1997, the 83rd amendment was introduced into Parliament to establish basic education as a fundamental right guaranteed by the State. "The proposed 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill, 1997, guarantees the right to free and compulsory education for children from 6-14 years of age."

So, here is the big picture. Out of 100 that start, only 6 students make it past Class 12. Assuming that 30% of these go on to graduate, the graduation rate will be 2%. Let us assume that half of the 12th class pass outs will be interested in studying further. Then, it means that all this reservation noise is nothing but fight amongst the 3% of people who are fit and lucky enough to feel the need for higher and professional education.

Putting things in perspective, this whole issue is not much more than infighting within the creamy layer – 3% of students who have had the fortune of getting real literacy. We have all conveniently forgotten about the core issue here, which is – we have done a very bad job of providing primary education to our population.

And no political party wants to take up the 83rd amendment. No set of college students will do hunger strikes to ensure primary education for all.

It is a job we all have conveniently left to NGOs like Asha !

PS: Some References. Do read the Ashanet PROBE one .

Garden city to garbage city

Monsoon rains are almost here. Dark clouds are visible. Media is at it again, telling us how bad a job the city governments have done of keeping the drains unclogged. Poor municipality guys. Thanks to the increased coverage on clogged drains, they are pushing hard to clean things up.

While media highlighting the problem is perfectly fine, I just dont agree the way they just blame the city governments for it all. That is just a part of the problem; the bigger blame lies with us, the citizens.

Went to the Whitefield “downtown” on Saturday, and noticed this. The drains alongside the main road double up as garbage dump for all the street side vendors. A very popular bakery there serves snacks and pastries on paper plates, but does not provide trashcans to dispose them. I had some vegetable puffs (yum!), and when it was time to dispose my plate, I had two options. The sidewalk itself, or the drain (yuck!)? Guess what I opted for.

Went to JP Nagar to visit relatives yesterday, and I noticed the house opposite is adding an extra floor. Great, looks like the neighbours made some money! But, where do they decide to park all the construction material (sand, pebbles, bricks)? Bricks have taken up half the road; fine rainwater does not flow on the roads. But their sand found a natural place in the drain, or shall I say what-used-to-be-a-drain!

The point is this. Who is supposed to educate us all that the drains are to be left alone, and are not to be used as garbage dumps? Who is supposed to tell these fast food joints and other businesses that they got to provide trashcans, its part of the business? Who is supposed to keep the city clean?

Well, you and me. And not just the city governments.

Try telling our media to do educative stories like these. No, Sorry sir! These wont sell. We love bashing governments, and we love selling negativity.

City planning and governance issues are interlinked. What keeps happening is “more of the same”. We (citizen, media) push the government and whine that the problem is all theirs. The real issues get lost, local bodies are forced to think short term. And the bigger culprits, the citizens (including small businesses) stay scot-free.

The realistic solutions include

  1. Why leave these drains open and exposed? Cover them when you construct them
  2. Provide trashcans at busy intersections
  3. Don’t let individuals and small businesses misuse the drains
  4. Clean the drains every year before rains arrive.

We ask for and manage to do #4 year after year.

Economic crimes, uncovered!

CNBC TV18, a leading business channel here in India is running an “uncovered” series” where they reveal some “economic” crimes. Last week they talked about something that most real estate customers know.

In fact, real estate deals, for common man, are always full of tax evasive illegal actions here and there.

There is this law in India where if a builder constructs an apartment smaller than 1000 square feet (short: sqft), he does not have to pay any taxes on it. CNBC talked about how builders abuse this law which is meant to increase supply of affordable housing in cities by encouraging builders to make and sell smaller units. But what the builders do is this. They plan multiple sets of small apartments on each floor in such a way that they can easily “erase” a couple of walls to join them into large 3 or 4 bedroom apartments. Oh yes, these to-be-erased walls exist on the drawings that are sent to the government for approval. No points for guessing that these walls stay only on the drawings.

construction

As a result, when you buy a large – say 1800 sqft – apartment, you buy 2 apartments “on the paper”, both less than 1000 sqft (if the builder is a real cheat), or one “regular” apartment and another small one (if the builder has some shame). What hit me about the CNBC report was this. Did they really uncover something? Everyone who has bought an apartment with 3 bedrooms or more knows this. Yes they do! And yet, we hear claims that a scam has been uncovered.

Next thing you know someone will uncover this. When you buy a plot of land, the seller is required to pay income tax on the sales proceeds. And the buyer pays registration charges – usually a percentage of the cost. So what happens all the time is this. The buyer demands and gets the true market price, let’s say Rs 1 million. But he gangs up with the seller to report that the deal was done for quarter a million. And they both save some money, effectively cheating on taxes!

Who doesn’t know this? But yes, we will all feign ignorance till some TV channel uses spy-cam journalism to uncover this “scam”!

PS1: Essentially, India is a country of selfish citizens. Single biggest thing we lack is “collective wisdom”. This selfishness – ‘my short term gain comes first’ – shows up in every field. More on this soon.

PS2: Not saying anything negative about CNBC TV18 here. At least they chose to talk about a “crime” we all willingly participate in.

Automatic cars in India

First big task after moving back from US was to buy a car. After seeing the crowded and chaotic traffic at Bangalore, I knew it had to be an automatic. Vote for automatic was clinched after I decided to count the number of times I shifted gears on JP Nagar to Whitefield drive. Guess? I stopped counting after 200, and I had only hit Sarjapur Road junction by then.

I assumed I would have a few models to choose from. OK, No automatic M800, Alto or Indica, but how about the rest of the bigger cars? Surprisingly, there were only two realistic options less than Rs 10 lakhs (roughly US $ 20000). Hyundai Santro and Honda City!

When I went to the Honda dealer, I asked how many CVTs they sold. I was told 1 in 9 they sell is a CVT. CVT stands for continuous variable transmission, a new type of automatic transmission.
nhc
Agreed, its not as if the rest of the world – even developed world – has completely switched away from manual transmission. “In 2002, 10 percent of vehicles sold in the United States and Canada were equipped with manual gearboxes”. However, Europe is far behind. “In the United Kingdom, automatic transmission installations are on pace to reach 15 percent of all models, up from 13.5 percent five years ago, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.”

Automatic means driving comfort, and I assumed guys paying more than Rs 6-7 Lakhs for a car will be looking to pay and get it. Of course I made wrong assumptions there.

The most important consideration for indian car buyers is mileage. Even when one buys a car for 10 lakhs here! Next, buyers of relatively expensive cars are most likely to be sitting in the backseat. Why spend the extra money on an automatic when the driver is going to have all the fun? And third, there is this word around here that automatic transmission is prone to maintenance problems. My CVT is only an year old (I have written a review here), so I am yet to know if this is true.

Whatever. I enjoy driving a the CVT. Its simply the best city car available in India. Bit underpowered, bit tight on suspension – let me save the details for a review – but still, comfortable to be in.

PS1: Yes, Maruti makes a few automatic models, but those have bad outdated auto boxes. I suspect they may have helped these anti-automatic feelings.

PS2: A very similar discussion on team-bhp, a must-see forum if you are seeking info on cars in India.

PS3: I have since written a review of City CVT.

Move over Hinglish, Endi is here

Turned on NDTV at 11:30 am today, and I saw something scrolling on the bottom bar (the thing all news/business channels have where stock prices or headlines scroll 24 by 7) that caught my attention. It was a news item written in "Hinglish".

Actually, if you go by the Wikipedia take on Hinglish, what I saw wasn't even Hinglish. They had news items on Bollywood, in Hindi, but printed in English alphabets. Like:

Yash Chopra is saal kai filmon ke vitran adhikar le rahe hain …
Abhishek Bachchan Rakesh Mehra ke nirdeshan mein kaam karenge …

For this blog, I will give this a name – Endi!.

I was shocked! Hinglish is a few years old and a documented phenomenon. But why does NDTV have to resort to Endi? Perhaps their market research guys have found out that there are a lot of folks, especially Bollywood fans, who can read but not write Hindi – think Sonia Gandhi types :).

Though this level of acceptance of Endi was a bit much for me, we have all seen and used Endi before. The guys who most likely kick started this were Bollywood film and music marketing managers. They must have thought it was cool and sophisticated to print movie titles in English. So we all saw phrases like "Tumsa nahin dekha" ( = haven't see anyone like you) and "Woh saat din" ( = those seven days) printed on movie posters and audio labels.

But Endi got its biggest push in the internet and mobile phone age. We wanted to converse in Hindi, but there were no easy fonts or keyboards available for use. So, in our emails and SMS'es, we went, "aap kaise hain" and "kya haal hai".

Email and SMS definitely popularized it, but, Endi got its start in attempts and compulsions to write our names in the colonial language of that time – English. Early practitioners of Endi must have fought wars over the best ways to spell Hindi names – Smita or Smitha, Agrawal or Agarwaal. Too bad, they couldn't settle these debates then, Endi is still searching for standards.

Hence, we see each one devising his own set of rules. Though, the beauty is, whether it is
– mai hoo,
– main hoo, or
– main hoon,
we all manage to figure it is supposed to mean "its me".

Perhaps its just another proof that Hindi is one of the most flexible languages, and its guardians an accommodating and progressive lot.

Bakee baad mein (Endi for “more later”).

Rampur ke Bunty aur Babli

Last week I saw an extremely interesting report on NDTV. It covered the booming local film industry in Meerut and western UP!

I didn't find mention of that report in blogs around. But I did stumble upon this blog that talks about Bhojpuri films. And I read this BBC article on Bhojpuri films as well.

The NDTV report was more interesting though. They said that aspiring actors, actresses and directors no longer have to run away to Mumbai to fulfill their dreams.

Thanks to the thriving wedding video/VCD business, everyone has figured out how to shoot decent video and produce a VCD. With VCD player prices just above Rs 1000, it has become the main platform for video entertainment in villages. So, you have almost mature producer and consumers in place.

Now, the reporter mentioned, many villagers dont identify themselves with "Bunty and Babli" selling Tajmahal to a firangi. Hence, some local entrepreneurs spent 2-3 lakhs to make a simpler version "Rampur ke Bunty Babli". Bunty and Babli cheat farmers of tractors and buffalos in this one, all done in local dialect!

The NDTV reporter went over to local VCD stores and they seemed full of these local movies on VCDs. Most of them seemed "saas-bahu" family drama types or local remakes of popular Bollywood flicks!

A director was interviewed. He said that a few guys who returned disappointed from Mumbai started this thing. But they returned with a little knowledge on filmmaking, having seen some of it at Mumbai. They teamed with the local wedding video producers, and a film industry was born!

Wow! Impressive. Entrepreneurship of the kind you may not expect. And I am sure these artists will graduate to producing TV or Radio ads for local TV/Radio stations – these will pop up everywhere real soon – or some of them may hit it big with a few movies and go high-budget.

PS: I have forgotten names of movies they showed clips and titles of. But there were just too many of them, and it was obvious that this phenomenon is not limited to just 2-3 VCD movies.

Some more traffic related terms

Wobbling two wheelers are common on city roads. These two wheelers usually ride slow, around 30-40 kmph. And once in a while they pretend to lose control. When they do that, the scooter or mobike swerves left or right. This is followed by verbal exchanges between the wobbling rider and the rider or driver that just got brushed.

Before I tell you about this one, a pop quiz. Tell me the only two companies in the world that make “mobile gymnasiums“. Telco and Ashok Leyland! The mobile gyms offer affordable fitness experience to bottom-of-pyramid consumers in our cities. Tail simulation is a popular exercise. They have special bars behind these buses you can hang on to. As the bus moves around, you simulate a tail and strengthen your biceps.

Ever heard of “broken ears”? Outside rear view mirrors (ORVMs) or the “ears” of all cars here lead a borrowed life. Any ORVM you see is either about to fall off or has just been fixed. These make perfect targets for two wheelers and autos to practice “brushing”. Plus, the “ears” serve as safety zones for cars and cabs. ‘Let me see how close I can get to my neighboring vehicle without touching it’. ‘Oh no, this is too close’ – and another broken ear on the road.

Unexplained mutations about a generation ago have produced this new variant of “color blindness” in India. Called “I see green“, it is common amongst city drivers. Symptoms? Red, amber, green or black (defunct signal), all colors appear green to the patient. Strangely enough, it is a very contagious disease that spreads on sight. Once you see a patient hit into the symptom at an intersection, the symptoms hit you. Everything around you turns green. And you wonder why they have three lights on each traffic pole, when they all can only shine green.

[Summarized fat-free version: When driving a car, be aware of slow two wheelers. City buses are crowded and uncomfortable. It is impossible to not have someone brush your car's rear view mirrors. And significantly large number of people don't obey traffic lights]

Hand-of-god and more concepts of Indian city traffic

Read these blogs to learn a few important things about traffic in cities of India. I will keep your learning slow paced, and will keep it down to 3 or 4 lessons per post till I run out of them!

I hit into the “hand of god” phenomenon at least twice a day. You are doing 60 kmph and you suddenly see a pedestrian jump on the road. You have the momentum, and right of way as well, so you assume the ped will try get out of the way. But no. Out pops a hand. Stop! One hand this direction, second hand in another. This is called the hand of god way of crossing an Indian street.

inching wallAnother India pedestrian specialty is “inching walls“. It goes like this. A few folks decide to do this road crossing business together. They form a wall, you know, like the soccer free kick wall. And then, as one car passes by, they move one inch forward. Another car, another inch. And eventually, about 50 cars later, the wall is through the road! I like being part of these inching walls. Gives you a real democratic feeling – you can do anything with numbers on your side. And you really get to see the inside of passing cars. Was that Kenwood or Alpine? Saw that – an auto transmission car! However, If you dont have tidy toenails, I will not advise doing this inching wall thing. Car tires dont make good toenail clippers.

[Note: Not intending to poke fun at pedestrians here, these are mere observations and nothing more than that]

deadlock2My favorite Indian traffic thing – I named it “the classic Indian deadlock“. Can also name it “whining drivers problem” on the lines of “dining philosophers problem”. Tough to describe it without pictures, here is a simplistic one. A classic indian deadlock is a rectangle with each line made of a three or four wheeled vehicle, and is always accompanied by continuous loud honks. It is formed when each soon-to-be deadlocked vehicle decides to make a right turn at precisely the same time. Eventually, none of them can complete their rights, and the stream of vehicles flowing around ensures they stay deadlocked till a Good Samaritan offers them space to back-out. After it is formed, a deadlock then becomes a roundabout around which the traffic flows smoother than before. How to detect them? If you see traffic smooth but real slow and no traffic lights visible ahead, you have one!

Last term for the day is “three legged auto race“. This event happens at roads wide enough for two or three auto-rickshaws (short: auto) at a time. It starts when an auto driver gets fed up of the slow paced auto ahead of him. He swerves right to overtake the hare. The hare driver doesn’t like it and tries to smoke ahead full throttle. The race has begun! By-products of this race are, one, a lot of smoke, two, a lot of noise, from the honking cars stuck behind trying to pep the racers up, and from the racing auto engines that guzzle kerosene as they race! Soon, this type of race becomes the face of traffic. A sea of vehicles, buses, cars, trucks – all flowing behind this “wall” of two or three auto racers – and an all empty road ahead (aha!). How to detect this phenomenon? If you see an unexpectedly empty road in the downtown area – make way – the autos are coming!

PS: Trapped behind the autos (link to www.poorbuthappy.com. I shall soon have some original snaps)

Expressways, not flyovers

Lots of ideas have been floated around on how to decongest traffic in Bangalore. The one I liked the best is to build expressways through the heart of the city. Imagine a north-south, and an east-west expressway with no traffic lights. And then add an inner ring road, with very few lights – another expressway will be the best, but may not be possible – what do we have now? If you are driving significant distance within Bangalore, you can do most of it on this expressway system.

An even better solution – full marks for thinking long term here – is to develop satellite cities. Just make businesses and population spread around a bit. And we will have pockets of congestion instead of chaos everywhere. This plan to link satellite towns via good and wide roads is a step in this direction. Hope someone is thinking this comprehensively enough – it shouldn't just be about roads to link small nearby cities. Cities need more than just roads to attract businesses.

Anyway, ideas like these get covered in your daily newspapers everyday. I should try blog about things they don't talk about as much.

Ever been on the outer ring road. How many lanes does it have? 3 each way, right? Drive on it any time of the day, and you will notice that you never have all 6 lanes available. Left and right most lanes are used by people to park their cars and trucks. What else interrupts traffic on outer ring road. Pedestrians? This, I have no solutions for. I used to be a big believer in skywalks (elevated pedestrian crossings). But go look at the few we have in Bangalore. No one ever uses them. People prefer to cross roads banking on their "hand of god" skills.

More about this "hand of god" thing and more in the next blog.

PS: Here is the peripheral ring road plan as on the BDA (Bangalore Development Authority): website:Peripheral Ring Road - Bangalore

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