Airport road flyover nearing completion

Yes, I can see that the flyover is fairly close to an inauguration. The main bridge is definitely complete. But there is no way all of it is going to be ready by July 15 as Times of India told us today (See scanned picture from the same article).

airport road flyover

I can predict we will witness the rush to inaugurate yet again. There will be a quarter page ad in all Bangalore newspapers with photos of smiling politicians with folded hands and no mention of actual engineers or workers at all. Someone will then cut the ribbon for this headline – airport road flyover inaugurated, one lane opened to traffic.

And then, they will spend 3 more months trying to finish the looping on and off ramps. Further three months to clean up some of the debris construction work has generated over last 3 years. Rest of junk will stay piled up by the side and degenerate over a few years.

Somehow, in our country, it is very rare to see a quality and speedy public job, clean start to clean finish. The reason my friends is the rush amongst our politicians to inaugurate and take credit.

Extending what I suggested recently, they should neither pay the contractors nor declare a project complete till the real recipients of the service sign off and say yes, its all done. In this case, it will be the commuters who drive up and down airport road each day.

PS: July 15 it will be, says Deccan Herald as well.


The Koramangala demolitions

There is this strange story behind Koramangala demolitions. It all started with a PIL from a few residents who complained that rampant construction and zoning norm violations had killed Koramangala. And when the court agreed with them and ordered punitive action, the other set of residents put pressure on these guys who had filed the PIL. The PIL was withdrawn. But BMP has decided to take punitive actions forward in any case. And hence these demolitions (picture from today’s Deccan Herald).

Koramangala demolitionsThere is a dilemma about whats the best way to deal with the situation here.

I will like to say that hard punishments are needed. We have this problem of being too soft when it comes to punishments for crimes that don’t seem that apparent. There are so many building norm violations around that people think it wont be possible for anyone to punish all the violators. This thought – that eventually all illegal construction will get regularized – in turn leads to more violations getting carried out. So the right thing to do is – demolish as many as you can.

And make a public show of the demolitions. You could argue for the unsuspecting tenants who really get to suffer here. But hey, its their fault, did they even think of checking if the construction was all legal before they rented the place? That may not be the norm, but these demolitions will send the message that illegal construction activity wont be tolerated.

On the other hand, there are so many violations and illegal buildings around that punishing each and every owner may not be feasible. A middle path could be to punish only the big violators (> 50% violations). And “regularize” the rest if they agree to pay a heavy fine. I bet this “regularization” fine can fund a lot of infrastructure projects.

Beyond Bangalore, Delhi is going through similar dilemma right now. Should half of Delhi be demolished? It almost happened (Delhi demolitions), before government bailed people out with one year moratorium on Delhi demolitions.

Sooner or later, every other city in India will hit similar decision points. Hard punishments or not? If not, then how to send a strong message while avoiding impractically strong punitive actions?

Improving city infrastructure – an idea

A key reason for poor infrastructure around us in the cities is – citizens just don’t participate or take interest in local governance.

There are ways to participate. Most think there are only two ways here. One, to vote in local elections. Two, contest local elections. Many people vote. The problem is lack of participation and interest beyond that. There are more ways though. Complaining for things or services you don’t like is one good way of showing interest. That is, complaining to the right authorities. Seeking regular information on activities of local government is another way. Participating in public forums that are organized once in a while is yet another way – go to those meetings and make your points.

But how many of us do any of above? For various reasons, we don’t have time to complain, seek development related information and question them, or attend opinion gathering meetings. And hence, we get what we deserve, all sorts of problems around us – poor infrastructure and living conditions in cities – choking and stinking drains, pothole filled roads, broken and encroached pavements and no parking space at all. After all, its only because we don’t care that the politicians and contractors eat up most of the money meant to be spent on us.

Seems like a dead end, isn’t it? How do we improve on this situation? Here is an idea.

Whenever any business carries out a public work, don’t pay them till all the identified beneficiaries or stakeholders sign off and say that quality of work is up-to their satisfaction.

Imagine this scenario. My local government hands out a contract to repair my street to a builder X. A part of the contracting process is making a list of all citizens who will benefit from this work. Call them stakeholders. X gets some, say 50% of the money upfront. X then completes the job – meaning they repair or rebuild the road. Now, X has to go around with a yes/no ballot and seek signatures from all citizen stakeholders. A quorum – say 51% – of stakeholders have to sign off saying yes, they are happy with the quality. X must produce required number of “yes” ballots to get the rest of the money for the work they carried out.

Now, to make sure we force citizens to participate, make it a punishable offence if a citizen fails to provide signature on the yes/no ballot even after a fixed number of contact attempts made by builder X.

How does this look? A simple enough way to make sure quality of public work is good, and whenever local governments spend money, some work does get carried out on the ground. And you force citizens to participate and take interest as well.

Authorised hoardings?

Why does the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) even talk on the subject? We have heard time and again how much money BMP can make from these hoardings. But BMP neither has teeth nor will power or both to clamp down on unauthorised hoardings.

Want to see unauthorised hoardings, pick any road in slightly peripheral areas of the city. And you will find hundreds of politicians and so called local leaders smiling at you. Hands folded, head bent slightly to the right, and smile – Sonia Gandhi jindabad, that’s one hoarding. Gandhi cap on the head, a mobile phone held to an ear – this politician is trying a business like look – and long-live-Deve-Gowda slogan at the bottom, there goes another hoarding. Three-four of these all-dressed-in-white politicians, all hands joined and raised together, and slogan saying “BJP-JD(S) brothers-in-arms” – these could be the next set of hoardings.

If BMP started charging for these political posters and hoardings on a per face basis, Bangalore could raise enough money for 50 more flyovers. But they don’t do that. And they don’t bring these things down either. Now tell me how you liked their talk on “Authorised hoardings“?

Traffic terms – enjoy some more

Let me tell you a few more things about Bangalore (Indian City) traffic before Dr Manmohan Singh vents again. I hope you have been following the “traffic terms” series thus far: one, two and three.

Drive in our cities in the night and you are sure to hit into one eyed jacks. These folks – must be physics graduates – are extreme energy conservationists. Why use both the headlamps when one is bright enough for the job!? So they cut off power supply to one of the front headlamps (usually the right one, don’t know why, may be some theory in physics that says light bends more to the right than left). When these energy freaks emerge from oncoming traffic, they look like those pirates, the one eyed jacks!

If you are into soccer, you may know about linesmen. These special referees do nothing but run up and down on a line for the duration of a soccer match. Our traffic too has its linesmen. These are very disciplined folks who believe in driving on the line, not this side or the other. Some linesmen choose to run on the lane dividers, and make sure no vehicles can go “off side” by cleverly blocking both the lanes, two wheels in this lane and two wheels in the other. I am watching my line brother, you watch yours! The more aggressive linesmen race on the line that is meant to divide the traffic going in opposite directions. Sort of like refereeing two soccer matches at once! Needless to say, you better run for cover on spotting aggressive linesmen.

Spring is the Indian version of Queue. The Spring phenomenon is seen wherever you expected to see a Q, a ticket counter, or a crowded lane on the road for example. Springs seem short, but when you unwind them, it can get really lengthy. All Qs in India are like springs. And the traffic springs have this phenomenal capacity to keep getting compressed and compressed, giving you the illusion that hey, the jam isn’t much! But when this spring starts unwinding, you appreciate the packing capacity of our roads and sidewalks. Incidentally, traffic spring is the only place where drivers exhibit this rare trait called “cooperation”. “Honk honk, hey, could you cut a bit to left so that I can squeeze in that gap”. And the fellow driver will cooperate! Oh yes, once the spring unwinds, its all back to self-before-else rule.

Bangalore Metro – jostling begins

Traders on CMH road don’t like the present route of Metro. They have been talked to and have protested for some time, but we are yet to see the end of it. They staged another protest this week.

While they may say the worry is about “unnecessary demolition of infrastructure”, I am inclined to think their concern is loss of business once Metro is here. They are thinking there will be fewer vehicles on CMH road and hence reduced business. Just look at the language of what “CMH Road Shops and Establishment Association” has to say:

“By changing the alignments, the government will save on the compensation amount. The metrorail is for the poor, and there are many poor people near the Old Madras Road. CMH Road on the other hand has well-to-do people who have their own mode of transport, and will not benefit from the Metrorail,”

Give me a break!! Who said the Metro is for poor. Hello!? That is the kind of thought that must be crushed while Metro is still in its infancy.

And the so called shopping infrastructure they have on CMH road has no provision – not one business has cared to provide – for parking space. One has to struggle to park cars in nearby residential areas. As a car owner, I just avoid CMH road on weekends. If I could get there using convenient public transport (read Metro), I could put CMH road back on my weekend plans.

The traders seem dumb and short sighted to realize and foresee all this. Or is it that they are not game to ‘sacrifice’ a bit of private property here and there for the sake of Metro?

They will all go to hell anyway once new malls open around the Indiranagar- Marathahalli – Whitefield area.

Beer sales slide in Bangalore

There was this piece I spotted in Monday’s Bangalore edition of Economic Times:

THE country’s beer capital, Bangalore, isn’t exactly frothy this summer, as sales in Karnataka nose-dived 6% in the peak consumption months of April-May. Interestingly, the national beer belly swelled over 20% in the same period. A price hike of Rs 4-Rs 7 on 330 ml and 650 ml packs, which is attributed to increased taxation in the last budget, seems to have halted the recovery in the state’s beer consumption witnessed over the last one year, said informed sources.

Well, with 15-20% generous pay hikes that IT/BPO sectors have been doling out all these years, would you think a 12% increase in beer prices will deter them?

May be that Bangalore isn’t the beer capital of India due to IT/BPO employees alone. Or is it that IT/BPO employees have started logging out of the city !? Prohibitively expensive real estate, booming traffic, we can take that. Surge in beer prices, sorry sir, that’s a bit much ;)

Democracy – its about thrashing!

On DH editorial page today, I found this interesting quote credited to Uma Bharati

“It’s a democracy and if they (Rajasthan BJP) beat any of our people, we will thrash two of theirs.” – UMA BHARTI, Bharatiya Janshakti Party

Its as if Uma madam is redefining democracy – “thrashing of people, by the people and for the people”. RSS roots come handy you see. And if she needs well rounded lessons in thrashing (or getting beaten), Mamta Banerjee could be a good consultant ;)

RTI – the big hope !

We have been through numerous coffee table debates on whether India is a "real" democracy or not. Aware voters are the foundations of any democracy. And awareness comes by way of acquiring information. But acquiring information about public bodies and services provided by them hasn't been easy in our country.

So while we crib and fuss about the local road that lost its tar barely three months after it was repaired, finding who tarred that road and for how much hasn't been easy. Even though my city gets flooded every time it rains, I cant find out "the" guy who failed to clean the drains. While the political class plays the blame game for each and every failure (project delays for example), we are not able to pinpoint decision makers who were actually responsible. We simply dont know who did and who did not fulfill promises! Forget creating aware voters, a lot of information staying concealed within the government walls is the biggest source of corruption as well.

That is why, passage of "Right to Information Act" could be the biggest and most meaningful change applied to our democracy since the independence.

These guys have a big movement underway to spread awareness about RTI and its uses. Their anti bribery campaing is based around RTI. Wish them luck. And plan to donate your time, money or both if you too are a believer.

Also read:

Road manners – walk the talk

Sorry Mr Manmohan Singh, but mere lectures and appeals wont work. I thought issuing appeals is the job of powerless President of India, not a resourceful person like you. There is only one way road manners can improve in Bangalore and elsewhere in India. Hard punishments.

Indiscipline and bad manners exist on our roads solely because offenders know they will never get caught. Who will chase and punish them? Traffic police. However, I hear that when compared to other metros, number of traffic personnel per vehicle is lowest in Bangalore. A Hindu article compares with Kolkata:

Compared to the bigger metros, the traffic police strength is lower in Bangalore, despite the large number of vehicles on the roads. For instance, Kolkata with 9.41 lakh vehicles has 4,000 traffic police personnel and even Chennai has more than the 1,871 police personnel in Bangalore, though it has just over 22 lakh vehicles.

All the talk about enhancing city traffic infrastructure covers roads, expressways and flyovers. Why don't we hear about investments in traffic policing as well? We need more personnel, better equipment, computerized driving records and perhaps a lot more I wouldn't know.

I sincerely hope Mr Singh that you would do more than issuing helpless appeals like these.