Friday, 18 November 2011

Review of Sachin Garg’s “I’m not twenty four . . . I’ve been nineteen for five years”

I have been voicing thoughts of mine as an Indian citizen, this time I thought I’d share those on a book I have just read – of a purely Indian story by an Indian author.

Sachin Garg is a young engineer with an MBA who has taken to writing stories and has started his own publishing house. His “I’m not twenty four . . . I’ve been nineteen for five years” is a small book written in simple language and definitely an easy read. It is the story of Saumya Kapoor, a 24 year old fresh MBA from Delhi joining her first job. Her posting to a small town in Karnataka is totally unexpected but taken by her in her stride out of sheer determination not to fail. The first half of the book is related to her getting the job, her astonishment of the place of posting, her preparations and her settling there. It is this part of the book that is unimpressive, there is no insight into her college or college friends, her actual lifestyle or even in her reactions to what she finds on reaching the village – in fact the recounting does not appear to actually relate to a village but rather to any typical large factory township. Further, the story has been written as the narration of a woman, and here I think Sachin Garg has failed. Merely by saying that he has written the story in Saumya’s own voice does not mean that it reads as Saumya’s narration. In my opinion, the author has not been able to capture the essence of femininity. Women tend to emote more, to jump from one thought to another, to react more strongly – the author has written the story in the dispassionate manner that he thinks women think. This is manifest by the logical pattern of the development of the story, the emotions supposedly underlying, do change the direction of events and happenings, but not the story telling. Also I did not like the style in that it appears more a chronological narration of happenings as in an autobiography without giving any insight into the mind and thinking of the protagonist. As far as the development of the male characters in the book is concerned, the very absence of any details about Amit, her classmate and present colleague, clearly bring out his non-importance in her life. But her reactions to Malappa and subsequently to Shubradeep left me wondering.

The book picks up when she starts her actual job in a steel plant – in the Safety Department rather than the more usual HR department. Here, unlike my expectations, she is not required to handle issues related to improvement of safety but rather the aftermath of failed security – a surprising role. The developments are unexpected and dreadful but here again the author glosses over the depth of her reaction by merely stating that she fainted. Subsequent events are again earth-shattering and left me, as a reader, more shaken than the protagonist appeared herself. And it is for this reason that I would recommend reading the book - the second half is bound to evoke emotions in you.

The story itself is excellent, unusual and exceedingly well conceived. Some situations are so powerful as to leave you gasping – the powerpoint presentation she is shown as part of her induction give the first clue of the totally unexpected – the shock value is huge. The end is great and worth the meandering of the book.

So despite the inadequacies I felt in the writing style and in the proof-reading, the story is unique and strong, and is one which you will remember and wonder – can this really happen. And Sachin Garg is well worth watching for his next story.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Why are parents of girls' silent spectators

Yesterday's Times of India carried the shocking story of how a doctor reportedly murdered his well educated wife. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Doctor-murders-wife-in-Delhi-drives-1000km-to-dump-body-in-Ganga/articleshow/10150504.cms).  

The story further states a few important points - both families were from Jharkhand and from the same profession, the fathers did have some common links and there was already a doubt about the reputation of the boy and his family even before the marriage. But once the marriage took place, apparently the pointers that something was drastically wrong were strong enough – not only were there difficulties in the marriage, the girl was not even being enough to eat, she had been admitted to a mental hospital, the husband was violent enough to have been reported to the police several times – apparently therefore everyone knew that matters were extreme. Now the actual facts are known only to the people involved and will perhaps be better understood as police enquiries get underway, but here I am presuming that the above is correct.

The whole appalling episode raises the fundamental issue of the role of the girls’ parents in such cases. While prima facie the very raison d’etre for the wedding to take place is not clear, it can be assumed that the initial reservations and misgivings were not strong, and benefit of doubt can be given. But what about thereafter? The parents of the girl had also not cast her away / disinherited her. Like all good parents they encouraged their daughter to try and make a success of the marriage – not to give in just because the going was not as good as it should have been. But is this their sole role and does their duty and obligation end here? The clues were not just pointers giving an inkling of something wrong – there was clear evidence that the matter was serious. The girl was well educated and professionally too at that – this was surely adequate for the parents to feel that she could, with their support, create a life for herself. And when she had also received a good job offer, the parents knew that she could become financially self supporting. She was an only child – her returning back to the family fold would not have adversely impacted the life and opportunities of younger sisters. So what held them back from extending their full support to their daughter?

In general, and in Indian society in particular, the position of the girl and her parents still continues to be subordinate. But to what extent and for how long should they keep quiet. Do they not have any responsibility towards their daughter once she is married? And why did the daughter put up with this situation - she knew she could become independent.  As a woman and the mother of a professional daughter, I wish she had had the confidence to step out and make a life for herself. But coming back to the parents – I feel very strongly that they abdicated their responsibilities. And when a girl and her parents have been given strong legal rights vis-a-vis the boy’s side in dowry cases, why not enforce their responsibilities legally.
We need a wakeup call for the parents of girls. As a woman and the mother of a girl, I ask – along with the boy, why not charge the girl’s parents with abetment to murder? Maybe then the fear of action, of jail, of real social dishonour, will overcome their fear of social stigma on the mere failure of the marriage of their daughter. And maybe in future, the parents of girls will hesitate in being only spectators.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ending Corruption - Who really is the weakest (or strongest?) link

Ensuring that corruption is brought down very quickly and very significantly is the need of the hour. I am however unable to understand why the bureaucracy / senior officials and day to day lower level staff are being treated as disjointed entities even though they represent one office or department.

In a public sector bank any corrupt act on the part of the junior-most employee requires explanations not only from the branch head but even those above working in the administrative office on why the senior officials were not vigilant enough and what mandatory or random checks they had conducted – in any case it is invariably a black mark, if not worse on them.

In a government organization the indifference and blind eye of the seniors to what is happening in the office is absolutely unbelievable. In a corrupt office, they can be active participants to the situation by being part of the ladder from top to bottom or, at best, passive participants by allowing corruption below to exist or even flourish.  In any case they gain significantly by continuing to get postings of their choice, by the status they enjoy compounded by their absolute disdain for their juniors, and for the common man. This explains why the general view is that departments which are pure administrative in nature are perceived to be more corrupt than say departments which offer more specialized services e.g. Railways, Delhi Metro, Government Hospitals etc..

It is not adequate to determine whether a “Group A” officer is personally corrupt or not. It is essential that he /she is also held accountable for lack of vigilance on what is happening below.  This aspect does not appear to have been considered in the Lokpal Bill.

Recently the newspapers reported that FIR has been filed against some DDA officials in the Siri Fort CWG Project. But why is no action being taken against the top man or woman in DDA.  Is it not his/her responsibility to ensure that non-corrupt practices are being followed in the organisation and that he / she has exercised due diligence, been vigilant, conducted random / mandatory checks? That the Head has not turned a blind eye to the happenings, has not shown total indifference and apathy to what is happening in the office?

Perhaps the first step in bringing down corruption would be to hold the Head accountable whether for malafides or for gross and repeated negligence towards what is happening below.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Terrorism - Some are More Equal

One more terrorist attack, some more lives gone and all our politicians, those self called leaders who are actually our servers (not “rulers” as Mr. Chidambaram loves to call himself) have to say is – it will take time, we are used to it. And look at some pathetic statements that have come. Our Prime Minister says “... obviously there are unresolved problems and weaknesses in our system.. “  Did he not feel ashamed of saying so? The BJP Leader L.K.Advani slams the Congress but has nothing to show about what their party has done. Mrs. Sushma Swaraj talks of non-installation of the CCTVs as though this was the single factor which would have eliminated the attack or led to the terrorists. And the less said about some of the others, the better. Let them at least have the courtesy of shutting up when the common man grieves.

Let’s not only have talk of zero-tolerance, let’s have some real action.
Let us have some exemplary punishments – each time there is a successful terror attack let at least the following be dismissed ON THE SPOT without any benefits, and with no right to take any future assignment that draws on public funds.

-          The top man or woman heading the Police in the State, the district, the specific Police Station.

-          The top man or woman in the country in RAW, IB and all other intelligence agencies, and their counterparts at corresponding lower levels.

-          The Member of Parliament, the Member of the Legislative Agency in that area.

-          The Home Minister of the Union and of the concerned State.
Of course there will be several who will say that this is not fair, that before any punishment the concerned should be allowed to exercise their right to defence – but then the victims of the terror attack who are usually ordinary citizens are not given any right to defence, any say in the matter? Why then should rights be given to those who have taken on certain responsibilities but failed to discharge them or to ensure safety? If there is a strong feeling of injustice, the family members of those dismissed can be given Rs. 0.10 lacs to Rs 1 lacs or whatever compensation is immediately announced by the State authorities to those who are injured (NOT those who lost their lives) in the attack. In India today, where the politicians and bureaucracy enjoy the benefits of lax or no accountability, let’s see if terrorism continues unabated even when the concerned functionaries have to put their jobs and their reputation on the line.

 We also had politicians making their standard visits to the hospital which resulted in aggravating the difficulties of the victims and their families. It would perhaps have been more helpful if they had stayed away, had deputed a few capable staff to help on the ground, announced helpline phone numbers and monitored the calls and responses at these numbers, ensuring that the affected persons were not facing any difficulties and getting maximum support at this traumatic time.
We have cases of mercy petitions in respect of those who have been found guilty of acts of terrorism. While not going into the merits of the individual cases, I strongly speak out against those of our politicians who have asked for clemency. If they feel that convicted terrorists need leniency let them first put their money where their mouth is – are they willing to give up their Z – security (or other security) cover? Are they willing to take the same risk to their life and limb that they expect the common man to take. And if not, if they want special rights of protection let them at least not be brass-faced enough to speak out at the cost of the lives of ordinary citizens, while living in fortresses themselves.

I agree that the issue of a timely decision on mercy petitions is well taken, no steps appear to be taken to plug the loopholes in the system and till then those on the death row continue to enjoy high security cover.  As a taxpayer I see no reason why my hard-earned money should be so grossly misused.

Enough of people living in ivory towers and adopting a high-falutin’ attitude.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Air India on ventilator - lack of Succession Management

Air india is on the ventilator. In the recent past Air India has had so many emergency treatments that one wonders if these are an easy way to get priority treatments guaranteeing quick attention by doctors. Why does our national carrier need such treatments so frequently? It has been suffering with multiple diseases for quite some time now; some of which may be due to wrong decisions by the government or the airlines itself. Airlines industry by its very nature is an oligopolistic industry making entry and exit difficult. Further, scale of economies works only up to a level, and beyond that the advantage of scale may not be there. This was amply established by a study conducted by the British Government in mid-seventies. Was any scientific study made by the airlines or the government before the merger to determine if the merger was going to be useful or was it just the conjecture and enthusiasm of some individuals which led to the merger? Whether the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India has actually paid off in terms of economies of scale is not known. There is perhaps no post-merger study undertaken to establish this aspect. Can the mounting losses of Air India now be attributed to a wrong decision of the government or the airlines? The answer is visibly yes as there have been severe losses! 
About thirty years back both Air India and Indian Airlines were renowned airlines of the world with a competitive fleet, competent flight crew and quite robust maintenance systems. At that time both the airlines were managed by aviators or persons with excellent background and experience in aviation. The DGCA, the regulatory body, was also headed by experienced aviation persons until early nineties but since then it has been headed intermittently by administrators not having any regulatory experience in the area of aviation.  The beginning of this trend could be traced back to the appointment of India’s representative in the International Civil Aviation Organization in the mid-eighties when for the first time a non-DGCA official was appointed the representative, since then the position has been occupied by people not having any professional exposure to aviation.  This practice was slowly extended to our national airlines and we have not heard since then that these airlines are doing well. Many of us will recall that when the merger was being discussed Indian Airlines went through a name change and all its fleet was repainted with a new logo etc. It has been repainted again with Air India colours. Repainting an aeroplane like B737 may cost about Rs 60-70 lakhs (www.airliners.net & www.blog.airbaltic.com) considering the paint has to withstand extreme temperatures, humidity, wind speeds, encounter with abrasive objects and remain flexible. In addition, repainting will add to the operating empty weight of an aeroplane eating into the payload and hence loss in revenue. One is talking of about Rs 60-70 crores expenditure on a fleet of 100 aeroplanes, which adds up to Rs 120 crores if the fleet was repainted twice. Did anyone take this into account while deciding on the name change or has anyone now questioned these expenses?
Let us look at the difference in the safety standards followed in civil aircraft industry as compared to other industries. A civil aeroplane is designed to maintain safety levels such that only one incident should take place in one million flights and this level is ensured through tight control over many design and operational parameters. No industry of any sort follows such high safety standards. An aeroplane is a precision machine with a factor of safety of only 1.5. Even then the machine is one of the safest machines. No overdesigning is recommended as that will spoil the economics of operations. In other transport industries the safety margins have been much higher. In civil engineering industry the margin of safety could be many times higher going from 10 to 30. The point being made is that you cannot appreciate the sensitivities of the industry if such finer points are not known to and understood by you. Achieving such severe standards (one incident in one million flights) demands very close working between maintenance, operational and management teams. No team can be superior to others and each operational change needs to be carefully thought out. Such a safety level cannot be achieved on a continuous basis by writing orders on files because such orders are not understood by aeroplanes. There is a large element of practical and conceptual skills and professionalism required to attain such goals.
The situation today is that all the essential organizations Air India, the Civil Aviation Ministry and DGCA are headed by people of the same service with very little experience in aviation and there is no difficulty in drawing some obvious conclusions - continuous costly emergency treatments at the cost of tax payers. Are there any other airlines in the country which are managed operationally by non-aviation persons? The answer would be no. One wonders if tomorrow Indian Air Force will be headed by some generalist and slowly all related wings will have the same fate. One would not be surprised as this is how the decision makers have started thinking in the recent past. And would we accept this at the cost of national security? Why should we then sacrifice professionalism for the benefits and fancies of some select people? The irony is that the government does not find any senior person within the airline to take the responsibility (and who is at fault for not building a succession line?) but again finds that a person inexperienced in aviation can head the airlines! How and why should the board of directors be happy to work under the chairmanship of a joint secretary level officer? We are very good at knee jerk reactions because there is hardly any accountability of officers of the airlines, ministry and other related departments and it has become so easy for each successor to put the blame on predecessors. The tax payer keeps paying the price. Imagine how many mid-day healthy meals can be provided to needy children with the subsidy being awarded to Air India which is comparable to the many scam figures. We are not accustomed to think in terms of opportunity costs because the governmental system does not believe in reaching out to its clients, the people, but always wants clients to come to them with their problems so that the officers can dole out help and keep the people either obliged or subjugated. Anyway that is a much larger issue.
We cannot afford our national carrier to be on a ventilator or allow it to die. When our people are stranded in foreign countries due to local disturbances, it is the Air India which lifts them back to India. Private airlines are not matured enough to play that role. Political bosses, civil servants and aviation experts have to put their minds together and find a long term solution. What we need is professional management trained in aviation business helped by a competent technology team. Outsiders from the industry should not be encouraged yet again to head these organizations. Instead a robust succession plan should be put in place. As an Indian I would like Air India to be a competitor for undertaking space tourism whenever it becomes a reality and for the present and the future we need to institute good knowledge management systems. 
(Contributed by Raghav) 

Friday, 26 August 2011

Anna Hazare's movement and International perception

An issue that needs consideration is how the international community will view this whole movement and its aftermath? The huge scams being investigated presently would have given a clear indication that big corruption is taking place in the country and this does have the direct or indirect involvement of government officials and ministers at the National or the State level. Then Anna Hazare’s movement and its significant support across several cities would have clearly brought out that the common man in India is also agitated about the extent of corruption in India and that the issue is not restricted either in activities it covers or its geographical coverage.

The Prime Minister proudly announced that nobody can question his integrity – it is a sorry state of affairs where he could only say the same for himself and not for his party MPs or even his Ministers. And of course this begs the question – what is honesty? Is it only the taking of money to perform certain acts? This is a very simplistic approach. What about non-performance of acts or more specifically being a mute spectator to obvious wrong-doings? And is mere money the only form of gratification? What about accepting continuance of position as being the quid pro quo? Is it not well said that if power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this context would Mr. Manmohan Singh still be able to reconcile his stated honesty with his conscience or would he like to rethink on his statement?

The world will be watching to see what happens. Perhaps the contents of the Lokpal Bill finally promulgated may itself not be so important. The issue really is – do our elected representatives give a firm message that they are interested in reducing corruption in the country and so take some quick and effective measures to plug loopholes, to bring in transparency and to reduce corruption? Or do they have endless discussions and debates, continue posturing, procrastinate on strict measures for another few decades and continue to allow elected representatives with criminal, corrupt or other questionable background, to flourish?

And if the latter does happen then the prestige of the country will only sink perhaps rock bottom and the world will be convinced that the governance of the country consciously allows and supports corruption. Then where will be our political prestige, our pride in being the largest democracy? And what about the huge economic repercussions on FDI, exports etc. Our politicians need to consider this in all seriousness and perhaps the media too.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Sycophancy at taxpayers' cost

Today’s newspapers are full of huge advertisements on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Shri Rajiv Gandhi. In the two newspapers itself that I read I see huge advertisements from the Government of India’s various ministries - Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Then there is the Delhi Govt through its Directorate of Information and Publicity, Govt of Rajasthan through Dept of Information and Public Relations, besides various autonomous bodies such as Navodaya Vidyala Samiti and Coir Board. And while 20th August is already called Sadbhavana Divas, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy went a further step ahead and also called it the Rajiv Gandhi Aksay Urja Divas. 

Similar advertisements would have appeared across the across other newspapers both national and local and also in vernacular languages, each ad costing in crores.

Why have these ads been brought out? Was there a diktat issued? Or did the concerned just feel the urge to celebrate this day? Do they do so on the birth anniversary of all the erstwhile Prime Ministers of our country? How far will this sycophancy last and when if ever will it end?

For some time now we have also been seeing that photographs of other leaders – the Chairperson of the UPA, the Prime Minister, Central Ministers and Ministers of State, Chief Ministers, State Ministers , Chairmen, Secretaries  etc. have started featuring in Govt. Advertisements – whether in newspapers or public hoardings.

While political parties doing this out of party funds is unexceptionable, is this legitimate publicity expenditure for government departments and agencies? The National Commission for Women was intelligent enough to use the occasion to advertise the rights of women, most are just blatant shows for a vested interest. Is anybody questioning these huge expenses from the taxpayers’ money which could better have been used by each ministry and office to improve their own activities for the welfare of the public which they profess to look after? 

Is this also not a matter for CAG or CVC to look at suo moto? The Mission Statement of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India which is the Supreme Audit Institution of India states its Mission to be

MISSION: Our mission enunciates our current role and describes what we are doing today: Mandated by the Constitution of India, we promote accountability, transparency and good governance through high quality auditing and accounting and provide independent assurance to our stakeholders, the Legislature, the Executive and the Public, that public funds are being used efficiently and for the intended purposes.

Looking at this, does CAG find such expenditure to be within the scope of public funds being used efficiently and for the intended purposes? And what about the Internal Finance Divisions (IFD) of various departments – what are they doing when such bills come to them for approval?

The ads shown above do not talk of any activity of the concerned government authority nor do they draw attention to any scheme prepared for the welfare of the public. Are the amounts spent for purposes for which they are authorised? Are such huge advertisements, which actually aim at the publicity of some individuals or groups, not a misuse and a form of corruption?  Which offices issued such ads and which did not? Which officials who authorised these gain from such wasteful expenditure of the exchequers’ funds and which officials went out of favour because they did not?  Surely this is a matter for the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to look at?

Friday, 22 July 2011

Corruption - political compulsion in India

It will not be very wrong to say that to a large extent corruption takes place with the connivance of our political masters. Politicians have this compulsion of gathering money to achieve and maintain political power. Unless we tackle corruption perpetrated by politicians, no commission, committee or Jan Lokpal Bill can reduce corruption.

Basic question - why are our politicians corrupt (or like Manmohan Singh turn a blind eye towards corruption)? The roots of corruption lie in our political system. Any party needs 51% of elected representatives to form government, be it in state or centre. Since parties are not able to win 51% of the seats, they have to either buy MLAs/MPs (to make-up 51%) or form coalition Government. For buying MPs/MLAs parties need to generate black money and for forming coalition government parties have to offer posts of Ministers to their coalition partners, who wield immense power and cannot be checked by the Prime Minister or Chief Minister and make money while they can. Besides this, the Ruling party is unable to stick to its promised agenda because of arm twisting by its coalition partners.

To sum up, there is no way corruption can be reduced (forget about eradication) from India unless our political system is rectified. There are other systems followed in different countries which tackle this problem of 51% representation.

I am surprised, why no-body talks about correcting our political system, and we are wasting energy in devising inconsequential schemes for tackling corruption.

(Contributed by Tishya Kumar Bhatia, Ann Arbor, USA)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ending Corruption - Is anybody serious?

There is so much talk these days on ending corruption, so much posturing. Every one, be it the government, political parties or individuals, appear to have their own agenda – which is definitely NOT trying to curb or even to arrest the huge corruption presently seen. For one thing, what we citizens come across is only petty corruption which is arguably only a miniscule of the amounts one is reading about these days. The level of corruption that is talked about is not seen by us common persons and we are really dependent on the media for their reporting and so our opinions are formed entirely on their reports. This therefore casts huge responsibility on the media.
The government has come up with two ideas to rein in corruption, which to my mind are ludicrous. The first is that the Government is amending the existing Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) with different countries and entering into Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) with tax havens. But there is no talk at all about assessing the success of the existing agreements, the quantum of black money that came back or was reduced vis-a-vis these countries, which aspect of the agreements succeeded and which did not, and why not?  And without this analysis, merely signing further agreements does not indicate any sincerity in attacking the problem.
The second farce is the government’s announcement that it has commissioned an in-depth study to quantify unaccounted income and wealth stashed within and outside the country. The study to be completed in 16 months has been undertaken by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) and National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM).  Media reports also say that the first study on unaccounted money was conducted by NIPFP way back in 1985 and that the ministry said that the estimates, which are not reliable, vary from USD 462 billion to USD 1.4 trillion. This appears a real charade - why add NIPFP to the present study if you do not trust their estimated data? Assessing the quantum of black money is essential – yes, but where do we see any announcement on concrete steps taken to stem the flow. What is planned in the interim 16 months? Especially since, as has been past experience, the timeline will only get stretched and the report ultimately buried. And since when did black money and corruption become synonyms?
Several political parties have also jumped vociferously into the fray but none of them have pointed out what they have done in the States where they are in the majority and have the responsibility for clean governance. Why can’t we have details of some tangible action taken by them and the successes achieved to curtail corruption? And as far as the yogis and swamis et al are concerned, the huge amounts of wealth and assets that have been accumulated by them, their organisations and their trusts are fast approaching the mind boggling figures reported by the media in the latest scams.
For how long will we ordinary citizens continue to be taken for a ride?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Gender Equality - Equality in decision making or only Equality in pay?


Tho' I always say that women should have economic independence, for me gender equality does not necessarily mean equal pay for equal work. Perhaps because I have not been a career woman. Perhaps, this is taking equality to another dimension. But equality, for me, means the feeling of equal status, equal importance in life, equality in making decisions. Equality need'nt be overt and apparent. If it is conveyed by actions, it’s fine. Like for a housewife, if she has a share in decision making for the family; the husband, or family elders consider and value her opinions, it is equality for me. In our society, some inequality is inevitable. In family life, a father always rules over the household, his wife and kids are under his thumb. His brothers and sisters, all generally follow his wishes. Even when the son marries, and is living with his wife in the same house, they obey him. BUT, if the father is not there, in most cases it is the mother who rules. This is OUR way of life. There automatically becomes a hierarchy of importance in a family, either because of earning capacity, seniority, or being more learned, or more loving. Whatever.

For a career woman, equal work, equal pay must be a very important factor. Also equal opportunities. It is demanded as a right. But equally, we are very happy in places where we get some extra benefits. As at ticket windows, a special line for women; in public transport, reserved seats for women etc. Instead of this, why not separate queues for senior citizens, or for those people with babies? It is done in foreign airlines. While boarding the aircraft, they call out first for people on wheel chairs, then senior citizens, and those with babies, then according to rows.

In truth, in practical life, women are the more dominant sex. The husband just earns a living. It’s the wife who decides what is eaten at home, where the kids will study, what they are taught, which girl her son will marry, the father has very little interest in these things. And if ever the wishes of the father and mother clash, the wife generally manages to do as she wants. This is in the affluent, as well as the poor classes. It’s only the middle class, where the women are a bit under the thumb of their husbands. But the situation here too is improving, as girls have started working. And standing up for their rights.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Great decisions by the Supreme Court on illegal religious structures and honour killings

Today’s Times of India carries a report of a heartening decision by the Supreme Court – that while taking action against illegal and unauthorised religious structures on public land, there will be no discrimination between a temple or a mosque. (Demolish illegal temple, mosque alike, says SC). All demolitions will be carried out irrespective of whether it is of a mosque or a temple, a gurudwara or a church. All religions preach goodness, and love and consideration for our fellow men. Unfortunately, many have begun exploitation in the name of religion – and grabbing public land can only be considered this. And then going to court and pleading that this be allowed is only an attempt to try and prove that Wrong is Right since it is in the garb of religion.  

And I recall my very first post on this blog when I had commented upon the need for illegal structures being treated as illegal structures with no discrimination in the name of religion. (Media and Demolition of illegal structures). One strong reaction of an ordinary citizen has been upheld by our highest court. This appears to be a strong sign of true secularism.

Another good and right decision is on honour killings – the Hindustan Times in its editorial has aptly said – the very term honour killings is an oxymoron.(Any murder is a murder)

Looking at some recent judgements of our Supreme Court – our country is surely emerging from its chrysalis.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Petty corruption? Or Big corruption - which is the real problem?

Today’s Hindustan Times in its Intersections column titled “Want to end petty corruption? Free the bribe giver” has proposed that to end corruption the bribe giver has to be freed. While I am all for taking stern measures to end this menace of corruption, the writer has assumed that bribes are given to get that work done that should legitimately be done. This is a very naive view, and represents only the small bribes, which though extremely annoying and frustrating, are not what most of us feel are the bane of this country. And it is this class of bribe givers who would have responded to sites such as ipaidabribe.com. This represents a one sided picture only – and even here those who have, say, jumped a red-light and preferred paying off the constable rather than accept the challan would not have volunteered information at such sites and hence would not be covered in the statistics on petty bribes discussed in the colomn.

Most of us deliberately pay bribes because we find it more convenient - why not pay some money to the TT and get a berth at the last minute in the train? Or why not tip the colony maali to drop of some manure at our door step? Or pay extra to jump the others ahead of us in the queue? Convenience money is the true term for "petty bribes" and it is a holier than thou attitude which attempts to justify the bribe giver.

The larger and more significant bribes are given to allow a wrong act, which is extremely beneficial to the bribe giver who ensures that the quantum of bribe given, which might not even have been asked, is adequate temptation, if not almost impossible to resist.  

Of my own experience while working, I can vouch for the fact that bribe givers very very frequently attempt to tempt the officials sometimes with that which they know will be difficult to resist. I remember on first reporting at an assignment, a customer called on me with a huge (over one ft cube) box of chocolates. Having already built up a reputation, obviously considered a negative reputaion by those on the other side of the table (since I used to flatly refuse in the past), I was cautious. I explained very politely (and I thought, very tactfully) that I was living alone and there was no need for this, to assuage his feelings of possible rejection, I thanked him politely, served him tea etc. and took a single bar of chocolate. Well done I thought. Only to have him declaim to one and all that I was too proud!

Occasions of Diwali are impossible – all and sundry land up carrying parcels as token of their gifts – leaving me to explain to my children why on Diwali so many people turned up and why I sent them back with their gifts – after spending, what for us was a near fortune on extending them hospitality since they had come home on Diwali. Year after year it persisted till we were left with no option but to lock up the house and ensure that we did not spend the days preceding Diwali at home. Awkward situations and persistent pressures were similarly faced by many of my colleagues. Relax your vigil even momentarily, and you are doomed for all times, since the bribe givers pressure tactics only get strengthened.

If bribes are really to be tackled, it must be accepted that the gain to the giver is more than his loss – which is why he has paid his supposedly hard-earned money.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The silent National Anthem

We had gone to see a movie yesterday at Big Cinemas, Noida. As was expected, they asked the audience to stand up for the National Anthem which of course we all did. What followed cannot be described in words, and has to be experienced.
It was a silent rendering of the National Anthem by young children who are hearing handicapped. Their emotions, their expressions, their exuberance and joy – I run short of adjectives, have to be seen. On coming back, I got onto the computer and was able to trace the same, the link to view this is
Also do see the comments – one of which is - It's utterly totally completely brilliant
But briefly, it is the National Anthem, shot entirely in Sign language and children with hearing and speech disabilities have acted in it 

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Fair, by Kyra


A drawing done by Kyra, a nearly 7 year old girl, who is very very fond of drawing and painting. Such attention has been paid to details, don't miss the merry-go-round, or the various stalls. i loved the fact that some things are being given free, and that the kids say 'please' at the stall when they ask for what they want. i'm sure that she will become a great artist when she grows up.

Good work Kyra.

World Cup


this has been a truly wonderful world cup. and i think that we had the toughest games, with most strong teams. it's not that we did well throughout, we played badly in a couple of games, lost one, tied one, [that one was as good as losing it, because it was a tie because of the english team's lack of courage in going all out for an outright win]. but all our games were nail biting, didnt know till the last what the end would be. but the fact is that we learnt from our mistakes, and tried to improve. one fact stands out in the final match. all odds were against us. we lost the toss, our bowlers gave away a lot of runs, and we had a very big total to beat. then when we came in to bat, we lost both sehwag and sachin for a mere 30 odd runs. BUT there was no panic shown. every player who came in played a very solid game. no tension, no rash shots, no defensive attitude, just tried to keep the score board moving. ones and twos, we wld get the boundaries later, they wld come. gambhir started this way and others followed. he reminded me of rahul dravid, mr dependable. only he was better, as he didnt get bogged down. it was a pleasure to watch. and also a real thrill. win or lose is another matter, but it was the team's attitude that really impressed me. if they go on like this, mentally cool and calm, they will beat australia's record of winning the world cup any number of times. truly at this time we are the no: 1 team in cricket. and it was the youngsters who did it. so a very bright future ahead for india in the world of cricket.


well done india.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Building Roads .....and destroying Mountains?

We are shocked to see how the Himalayan Range is being impacted by the road improvement going on.

Early this month, we had gone to Gangtok. While the trip was otherwise excellent, we also had the opportunity of driving to Tsomgo (Changu) Lake and observed that the road was being repaired / widened. Appeared to be a good thing but on our return we were stunned to see the destruction this was causing. While widening the roads, the resultant boulders and large stones had to be removed – the easy way adopted was merely to drop them along the side of the mountains causing rivulets of forest destruction along their paths. Several such areas could be seen, a photograph of the largest one we saw is enclosed. The wide scale destruction caused can be easily seen in this photograph; there were several other “streams of destruction. I wonder who is overseeing this.


Impact of road widening - Enroute to Tsomgo (Changu) Lake
 
The movement of debris appeared to have led to severe environmental degradation with huge risks for landslides. Greater efforts towards environment protection appear essential.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Today is India Ruled? .....or Led?

I thought that when we became a democracy, the British rulers had left our country and we were now independent. Is this not so?

Why is it then, that we find that the media very frequently refers to the ruling party to depict the party in governance in the country or the state? This always raises the question in my mind as to why the term ‘ruling’ is used. Rulers set their own standards where the good of the masses has low priority vis-à-vis their own self interest. The ruler has a superior and subordinate relationship with the common man.

Wikipedia states that a democracy is a form of political organization in which all people, through elected representatives, exercise equal control over the matters which affect their interests. Other definitions of democracy abound – it is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. Or it is a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges. The common people are considered as the primary source of political power, and governance is by the common people of the country as distinguished from any privileged class.

Yet one and all would agree that today the politicians are definitely a privileged class of persons in our country – and more importantly, that they have begun to consider this their right. The party in power are our elected representatives, not our rulers. If they represent us, how is it that they have taken upon themselves rights greater than ours? Is the party in power not the party with the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of those who have elected them, those whom they represent? Or do they join politics only to increase their own self-importance?

I would, in place of rulers use two other terms – ‘leaders’ or ‘persons with responsibility’. Leaders show the way forward, have vision, and look to the future. It is incumbent upon the leaders to set practices that can be emulated or followed by the others. They have duties and obligations which are ahead of their self interest; their rights are at par with other citizens. A leader must possess moral courage, pride, self esteem; he or she shows high concern for the task and the people, grit and determination, has credibility and conviction, is respected by all and looked upon with awe.

Today, are our elected representatives a set of people that we look up to? Or a set from whom our expectations go down each succeeding term, whom we suffer with diminishing hope? Ones we look up to with respect for their sterling qualities or with disgust for what they have managed to get away with? With the passage of so many years, the so-called ‘rulers’ have only perpetuated their rights. And, by using this term again and again, we reiterate the concept of a dynasty, of the further representatives coming from their genes and the family they belong to, with merit and ability being given a go-bye. Professional knowledge and competence to handle the job have none, or only an insignificant role to play in today’s politics.

In parliamentary democracies, ‘ruling party’ cannot be the normal term for the party that is in power or government. Let us from now onwards remove the word ‘rulers’ from our lexicon and use the term ‘persons with responsibility’.  Maybe the re-naming will slowly and gradually start developing into action, and the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community again become meaningful concepts.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The silent heroes of our Horticulture Departments

Today’s newspaper talks of the increase in green cover in Noida. Mayawati has indeed done a commendable job.
Delhi, or rather Central Delhi has always been green – courtesy the Britishers. But the entire credit of maintaining this would, I presume go to NDMC. New Delhi now is beautiful most times of the year with great greenery and wonderfully flowering plants in lovely colours. And then of course one must not forget the continuous line of magnificent trees alongside the avenues. It is a delight driving along these roads.
 Old Delhi however remained congested with narrow lanes and few trees. South Delhi had patches of green, mainly in the government colonies but the “posh”  or the then newer colonies of say Greater Kailash, Green Park, Defence Colony have never kept pace. This is despite the fact that there are parks, jogging areas, playgrounds for children, forest covers etc.; maintenance of these is not comparable to that of New Delhi.
 Amongst the adjoining area of Delhi –Gurgaon, the old city followed the pattern of any other town. The newer part of Gurgaon developed with wider roads and somewhat better in terms of open spaces, but these have not been maintained at all and can hardly be considered beautifully green. On the other hand, Noida has had more open spaces and the drive from the Nizamuddin bridge along Noida link road has always been a cynosure, an opportunity to observe, to appreciate, to enjoy.
Over the years we have been seeing the increasing greenery around us, usually as a consequence of the efforts of the various departments. An occasion where the funds allocated have been utilized fruitfully and very skillfully. This has led, not only a visual treat, but also to increased jobs for the malis (gardeners), fresher air, a better water table, and a greater awareness within us – the common man.
Hats off to the concerned Horticulture Departments.  And thanks, Noida.

Does Probity of the PM and others allow consciously overlooking and doing a wrong act?

Today 4th March 2011, The Times of India mentions the Prime Minister’s reputation for probity (I quote this newspaper because it is one I read, but I am sure many papers and magazines say the same). But this comment brought to my mind the question of what is honesty or rather, what is dishonesty?  Is the mere taking of bribes by way of cash, dishonesty? Or even gifts i.e. something in kind? The key criteria of course would be that one’s behavior pattern or actions are affected because of the receipt of cash or kind.
Going a step further – Is the child’s admission say in a school or college not a bribe? Or the child getting a job even though he or she may not be qualified or suitable for it. Here again there are not that many shades of grey involved, and all would agree that the act is dishonest – though many of us might have actually been in such a situation of either giving or taking these advantages.
But what about one’s own appointment in a position of importance or of power?  What if the appointment or selection, or its continuance thereat is a pre-requisite or a quid-pro-quo to overlooking wrongdoings? Would this be honest, dishonest or fall under shades of grey?
Let us look into matters that today are current. Today’s headline news is on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the appointment of Mr. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Without going into the merits of this judgment and what will happen next, several issues came to my mind.
-      The Chief Vigilance Officers Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Personnel,
 Public Grievances and Pensions require that only the names of suitable candidates with proven integrity be offered by various organized services and PSUs for the posts of CVOs. The “proven integrity“clause would have been logical for the position of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner too.

-     CVC has issued instructions from time to time to improve the vigilance administration in the organizations under its purview and to ensure that the posts in the organizations are occupied by persons with exemplary service and clean vigilance track records. The intent of the CVC is clear, at least for other organisations. But apparently these rules do not apply to CVC themselves.
-     DoPT is reported as stating that the responsibility for updating the ER sheets  lay with the State Govt. But the Govt. has a system of calling for the Vigilance report of the candidates, and, in the instant case, both DoPT and the CVC were aware that there was already a court case against Mr. Thomas.
The questions that come to my mind are:
-     Why is the chargesheet /departmental action pending against Mr. Thomas? Why has the sanction for his prosecution not been granted?  Or if there was no real case, why was the file not closed?
-     What was the responsibility of DoPT while putting up the file of Mr. Thomas? Once one member of the selection committee raised the issue of the pending charge-sheet, did it not behove the officials concerned to get the clearance and / or obtain the status of the pending court case? Even if the Committee had cleared the appointment, was the matter not to be re-clarified BEFORE issuing the order of appointment? While it has passed on the buck to the State Govt in the matter of the contents of the file, what did it do after the case was brought to notice in Sept. 2010?
-     The three member committee was a High Powered Committee. The fact of the possible taint of Mr. Thomas came to its knowledge before approving the order, yet both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister preferred to overlook the matter. Why did they at least not ask for a clarification? They have stated that only the bio-data of Mr. Thomas was before them – but why did they not ask for a re-confirmation of the position before rushing through with the appointment? Here it must be remembered that both of them were not mute spectators to this, but active participants who took the decision, so why did they  deliberately ignore certain information.
-     Is probity only the not taking of cash or kind? Is it also not taking or continuing in a position of power? I am sure that both of them are happy in their positions, but can they be considered honest?
-    And what about the “honesty” of the officials of of DoPT, CVC and the State Govt.?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Why do parents, we Indian parents, expect so much from our kids?

And by kids, I mean their sons specially.

For their daughters, I think, this applies only till she marries. If the girl agrees to marry the boy of their choice, its fine with them, they don’t want anything else from her. Their thinking is that now she belongs to the other family, and we don’t have any more rights over her. Or over the damaad (son-in-law).

But a son, right from his education, to marriage, to preference/importance of parents above wife and kids, to seva (service) in their old age, everything is expected from him. Which line to follow in career studies, what job to take, where to get posted, which girl to marry, how to conduct life after marriage, how much priority and attention should be given to parents, everything should be as the parents desire. If the beta (son) and his wife want to do something else, life becomes miserable for them. Especially if they are a joint family. Want to go out for a movie, or dinner? Take their permission. Are you two going without us? Daughter-in-law wants to work? Who will do the house work? Who gets the pay of both, all depends on the saas (mother-in-law) and sasur (father-in-law).

Why can’t parents, specially the mothers, let go of the son. If at 18, he is old enough to vote, and decide who is to be a part of the government ruling his country, then he is old enough to make other decisions too. What job to take, what sort of girl to marry, who to marry, and how to conduct life afterwards.

It is this interference and dominance in the life of the son and his family by the parents, that creates problems for him. Because he is pulled both ways. He can overlook and accept his parents’ behaviour, having done it his whole life, but when his wife rebels, whose side to take? His wife is not wrong, wanting to lead an independent life, a life where she makes her own decisions, why are her in-laws interfering?

In the western countries, generally, kids shift out of their homes after the age of 16. They start to earn in part-time jobs, save money for their own further studies. Living alone, they make their own decisions in all spheres of their lives. Of course they keep in touch with their parents and siblings. But they are independent as far as their living goes. Their live-in girl friend, their morals, etc are not the parents’ domain. We Indians can learn from the West. We need’nt go the whole hog, as both aspects have the good and the bad. But we can pick up good points from them. No harm in it.

Today’s modern generation, both the youth and the parents are slowly learning. In the Metros, where both son and daughter-in-law are working, and living is expensive, housing more so, it becomes feasible to live together, to share and halve the expenses. More so, when the babies come. It can well be the best of both worlds. Babies are cared for, as the grandparents are there to oversee the servants/maids taking care of the kids. And the grandparents ENJOY their grandchildren, as they could’nt their own children, spending their time and energy bringing them up.

The only need is first, from the elders, to understand the young of today, give them their freedom, don’t expect them to do the same you did at their age, let them do their thing, you do yours, and see how they will love and respect you. Forget your ego, enjoy your old age, and the respect and affection you generate. Don’t make them your whole life. Let them live their life. This way you have them when you really need them. And they too have you, to guide and care for them.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Employment in the organised sector - How representative is it?

An article in the Times of India of 20/2/11 talked of women in government projects getting a raw deal. Reading some of the statistics there,  as also in the report of the National Sample Survey Office, came as a real surprise to me; the ballpark figure from my husband was also totally out. So before going any further, make a guestimate of the percentage of persons in India working in the unorganised sector, and of these, the percentage of women workers.
In India, a major chunk of labour force is employed in the unorganized sector. The unorganized / informal employment consists of causal and contributing family workers; self employed persons in un-organized sector and private households; and other employed in organized and unorganized enterprises that are not eligible either for paid, sick or annual leave or for any social security benefits given by the employer.
Well, assuming you have made a wild guess, let’s see what they actually are - the unorganised sector accounts for almost 90% of the total work force in India (of these approx 1/3rd are women). Quite unbelievable I felt. And of course the percentage of women here in this sector, which is considered more unproductive and poorly paid, is very high. Surprisingly however the percentage of women in the workforce in the urban areas is nearly half that in the rural areas.
An argument I frequently heard earlier while at office was that women were taking up the jobs of the men, such comments however declined with the passage of time as working women came to be more acceptable – or so I thought.  Hence even more surprising I find is that, over the period 2004-05 to 2007-08, the worker population percentage has remained the same for males but has declined significantly for females. I find this so unbelievable that I wonder if I have understood this correctly.
And going back to the figures of employment ratio in the informal sector, if less than 10% of the workable population is in the organised sector, the present lack of importance given to strikes by doctors, pilots, trade unions, bank employees etc. is really understandable.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Are Television producers showing adequate Social Responsibility?

TV these days is getting from bad to worse.

So much of violence. Violence to the extreme, and in such graphic detail, that it appears the main aim of the producers / directors of the serials is to teach, in 3 easy steps how to steal, commit murder, kidnap, rape, and how to get away from the consequences. In an episode of half an hour, if they show these atrocities for 23 minutes, and just for the last  2-3 minutes, catch the criminal and tell him that now the death noose awaits you,  what lasting impression do they  leave on the viewers. Very recently in the serial CID, they showed the murder of a young girl, commited by her stepfather. They described in detail, during the conversations, how the girl was killed by a blunt knife, then how the body was cut with another knife into so many many pieces and then hidden in so many different places. All this puts ideas in the heads of servants and others. Is this what the serial producers, want to do? And why are the channels not protesting against this? Is there no censor board for TV?

Such bad language. If we had used even a few of them when in school, we would have had to wash our mouths with soap and water. Kids are talking this bad language these days, as a matter of course, and is accepted by all. 

Going back to old  backward traditions and glorifying them. Killing of the girl child at birth, child marriages, unbelievable treatment of young widows.The argument being that by highlighting the bad, they are showing how wrong these things are. Why not go the other way, and highlight the good, and show how things can be, or should be?

Giving sanctity to unacceptable events, like a man having two wives. And after overcoming a few hurdles, enjoying life with both.

I remember, once, while watching a movie on TV,  my father walked out of the room, when an awkward scene was being shown. On being asked, he said he could not sit and watch that scene with his children. I wonder, if he was alive today, what would he watch with us?

Why can't this branch of the media practice some moral responsibility towards its viewers? TV viewership is such a vast base in India. One of the first things a family, even the poorest, buy as soon as they can afford is a TV. The easiest way to educate our illiterate masses. That is how  they started educating the rural public, about farming etc. propaganda against smoking, rooting for family planning. Way back in those days, my three year old son had started asking his dad to stop smoking, as it would harm him.

In the name of entertainment, only the dance, and singing competitions are worth watching. Or the comedy circus. These show real talent. Tho’ the standard of the comedy is sometimes below par.

The news channels too have only 50% of the time devoted to news. The rest is spent on showing film and tv skits. The worst is the mushrooming of these reality shows. One worse than the other.

Anything good on TV these days?

(Contributed by Vibha)

Friday, 18 February 2011

Pedestrians too have a responsibilty towards Road Safety

My previous blog was on the pedestrians rights to pavements. But that also raises the issue of the pedestrians’ responsibilities while walking along the roads. While going around Europe I have observed that drivers invariably stop and always give pedestrians the right of way - and very courteously and patiently. Here too, at zebra / pedestrian crossings too, we find that motorists do wait, albeit only till the light turns green. Nevertheless I am certain that as we turn from a developing to a developed nation further changes on this front will be visible.

But what do we see on the other side? While driving around the city it is common to see people just walk across the road when convenient, ignoring the pedestrian crossing nearby. While driving across cities and passing through small towns and villages it is usual to find youngsters just charging across the road looking neither right nor left. While this is not acceptable, it was understandable in the early days of our freedom, as these youngsters were not well educated and did not understand the proper drill to cross the road. But we can no longer consider ourselves a fledging independent country, if we can learn to use the mobile, surely we can learn to cross the road? Here, on highways it is seen that the fence or girder is broken and folks squeeze in through a grilled road divider or jump across the median onto the main road. An unexpected or sudden crossing would result in the need for either a swerve or sudden brake application by the motorist, both of which have their attendant risks. Even in such cases however, it is the motorist who is considered at fault.

The Road Safety week, which is observed every year from 1st to 7th January, had its 22nd year in 2011. This year the theme suggested by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways was Road Safety is a mission, not intermission. We are still in the first quarter of the year but the intermission seems to have been long past. The link on their website, to this week is also a blank, apparently the Ministry has not found anything to write home about on the performance (http://morth.nic.in/index2.asp?sublinkid=432&langid=2). Does it remain mere posturing?

A basic rule followed across the world (especially if there is no footpath), is to walk facing the traffic, thereby ensuring that the risk is visible. In India however, all of us walk with our backs to the traffic leaving the pedestrian to the mercy of the motorist and to our faith in God.

Several good steps have been taken in the past - highlighting the speed breakers is one such in Delhi and most of NCR but not, my sister tells me, in Bangalaru. Can this not be made mandatory across the country?

Can we not have prominent signboards across all accident prone areas stressing the responsibilities of the pedestrians?
And most importantly, can we actually have a measure across various parameters, of the success or failure of each observance of the Road Safety week?