Monday, October 25, 2010

My pet topic: Traffic and the pedestrian - A glimmer of hope.

While looking for more good news I was impressed by this story in BangaloreMirror.

'34 year old software engineer was so appalled by people's cavalier attitude that he shelled out 2.5 lakh from his own pocket and spent a year in making a documentary to educate the youth'.

Amit Mitra says, 'Every day, I would read about people getting hurt or losing their lives in road accidents. But what was worse was people brushing them aside as routine happenings. Loosing lives can never be a routine thing'.
....'I decided to focus on the incident itself and what goes into saving a life, on the people, besides doctors, who work behind the scenes. These include paramedics, traffic cops and even by-standers' he says.
The result is a 22 minute documentary film named 'Lives- Lost and Saved'. Amit wants to show this film in schools and colleges to make youngsters understand of the importance of road safety.

I hope someone in authority will coax the TV channels and the movie houses to show this documentary! It can be done! I saw some short clips during the CWG coverage to educate people on many issues! If required Amit could make a shorter version for them.

Influential people like Sri Sri Ravishanker, Sri Baba Ramadev and others could dwell on this wake up message. All large and small places of worship could take up the issue. Most people seem to visit religious places and there are plenty. I have seen bad driving by devotees as they swing in to park near a temple and rush to offer their prayers.

More importantly the police could influence, especially bars and pubs, to include this documentary and many such while they cover cricket and soccer games! In fact, additional commissioner of police (traffic) is reported to have encouraged the making of this documentary.

In fact, residents can shoot short clips about bad driving from their respective areas and the TV channels could show them. TV channels can smudge the faces of the drivers to avoid controversies. We don't want them to tangle with netas and their kin. Obviously makers of these clips should be discreet!

Surely there are numerous ways to educate our people to try and correct this 'Genetic flaw' as some have named it! When I ask people: 'Is there any hope that our people will drive better?'. The reply sounds either despondent or sarcastic. They say "The day this happens will be the day of 'Pralaya' (Apocalypse!)".

But let us give ourselves a chance. Please send your Suggestions and Ideas to the author Manasi Paresh Kumar at . Hopefully she will do a follow-up article.

This news should gladden the hearts of those who have seen pedestrian operated traffic lights work in the west. The down side seems to be: 'Such light has been in place at the Cantonment railway station for about five years but it is a flop because vehicles don't bother to stop when pedestrians hit the switch'.

"While there is a demand for signal-free corridors, we need signals too. We have to balance the interests of motorists and pedestrians. Pelican lights are one way out", Sood, Additional commissioner of police, pointed out.

Let us hope people will cooperate and the commissioner can enforce!

Prashanth G N. in TOI of oct 26, 2010.
This report shows the seriousness of the problem. It speaks of the many injured and the dead. I shudder to think of the day I had a narrow escape. The auto sped just inches away from me, trying to beat the light. I had done everything right, I had stepped on the zebra crossing after it had turned green and even the police constable was there. Either the driver did not see or did not care. I could see the constable was helpless. I tried to remonstrate with him, but he gave me a blank stare. His way of telling me thank your stars that you were not hit. I am sure most of us who walk will have a similar stories to tell. Obviously the cameras have not thwarted the impatient drivers.

Once I asked my friend Raghu in despair: 'Will our bad driving habits ever change?' He said: 'Yes eventually when people learn that being safe and considerate drivers will work for them. But in the meanwhile there will be many who will be maimed or dead'. Sad but true!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

While browsing for 'good news' in TOI/ Bangalore Mirror

Why would this be good news for us in India? I am sure the same idea will hit most of us.
We can export our netas who are experts in swinging from one party to another!

This will please all secular minded people. Debarring students may be a bit extreme.
Then I wonder about the quality of our examiners who seem to be so easily influenced.

This was really good news. Amazing work by a single social worker. Then more good news the next day. Hundreds who read about her work, called her and offered to help.

This is really inspiring!
Then again do we need the supreme court to tell us this?

What we were hoping to discover for a long time.
But should not make us more careless and stop saving the environment.

This should make us proud and we could walk taller!

I forgot why this is good news! Oh yes, I thought we could save on Saris.
Tara corrected me in no time! These dresses are quite pricey, saris would be cheaper and also too much work to keep this fit! Oh well!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good things do happen!

Met my Mumbai cousin Rangaraj recently and he made my day! He said he liked my blogs and also made a comment, 'While I enjoy them, your blogs appear to complain often!'

So I said let me look at the good things happening and blog about them. The same day I received the same forward from Hari Gopalan and Prasan, who both reside in the US.

It is an impressive achievement. Have a look.

Since 2001 all Indian primary schools have provided pupils with a free midday meal. Seven years on truancy rates have been slashed, and child health is soaring. Western governments are taking note.…
Added on 02-07-2010

TOI 16, Oct 2010, said that Nutrition was not adequate while appreciating the good work!

It always is a mixed bag!

Then this news from TOI about Pune waste pickers impressed me!:

The demand of waste pickers from across the world for recognition of their efforts in providing "a solution to climate change problem" has a Pune voice too.

Baidabai Gaikwad, who collects waste in Fursungi area, attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held in Tianjin, China, recently.

"We told them how our recycling work is nature friendly and why all governments should take steps to increase recycling instead of burning the waste," said Gaikwad.

Read all about it from this link.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

(Un)Common Weath Game begins.

As friends of the Kalmadi family, as many Kannadiga's in Pune are, it has been very confusing times for us. We have known the family for a long time and had great affection and regard for Suresh Kalmadi's father Dr. Shama Rao. A very charismatic person.

It has been a cacophony of sounds, typical of India. There were complaints of delays, shoddy work, about ticket sales, overrun of budgets and corruption! There would be many more. It seems from the media reports and the way he is treated now, that he is the main cause for all this mess. And now the way the PM and the president of the Congress Party have snubbed him, it seems he is the only cause for all the ills and we are required to think that if CWG was a grand success it was in spite of Kalmadi and his OC.

It is indeed a sad time for us and what is more saddening is that a judgment is passed even before a thorough audit is done and he is crucified by the press and people all over.

The idea of holding CWG games did not really excite me, a new twist to the British Raj. My feelings were, if Brits want to be reminded of their Empire, let them spend for it. My reaction to the news, 'It is for the first time that a Head of a State attended the traditional ceremony and received the baton from the Queen',:... 'what a waste of money'.

Even the numbers are confusing. I had read that the cost of CWG was Rs. 70,000 crores but the report in TOI says: NEW DELHI: Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has said the "real corruption" in the Games seemed to be with regard to the Rs 1600 crore given as central loans to the Organizing Committee headed by Suresh Kalmadi.

Then I read the rebuttal: Kalmadi said that the OC has already welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to set up a probe panel and hoped that the Terms of Reference of the Shunglu Committee will include not just the scope of work undertaken by the OC at a budget of Rs 1620 crore but also the Rs 16,000 spent by the Delhi government.

My immediate reaction was, what about the rest of the money? Some Rs.52,380 crores.

One of the positives of all this squabbling is that the athletes are getting the attention they deserve and hopefully a better deal in the future. We all know how shabbily they are normally treated by the men in power.

There may be another positive outcome of all this mess. While it would personally sadden us if the corruption charges were proved in the dealings of Suresh Kalmadi and his OC, I am certain that more and more sordid details would also surface and there would be a cleansing of our system. I hope so, but I am not so sure, our people could well be satisfied with one or two examples and the rest may go free. After all Kalmadi has no real political base.

Here are a few nice things I read about the CWG.

It was the first time in Commonwealth Games history athletes march into the stadium and were seated in time to enjoy the celebrations. Traditionally they have marched last.

By Kelly Exelby

I really do believe that Delhi has exceeded most expectations. Of course there have been problems. I said in a TV report that maybe the slogan for these Games should have been 'Better Late than Never'.

The end result, though, was well worth waiting for. Just to look at the excited faces in the crowds, to see the sense of pride in Indian success, made everything seem so worthwhile.

There's no doubt that Delhi has many lessons to learn from the Commonwealth Games experience, but isn't that part of the point of giving the Games to a city like Delhi?

Personally, I've really enjoyed my time in Delhi. It's my first visit here and it's been far better than I had expected. Maybe I, like some of the athletes who decided to stay away, had been too quick to believe some of the scare stories.

More importantly the article below probably has the right assessment of the CWG.

The true cost of the Commonwealth Games
Commentary by Clare Raybould, special to
September 30, 2010

. ...resulted in an irreversible alteration in the social, spatial, economic, and environmental dimensions of the city of New Delhi. The environmental and social challenges being faced right now are vast and the true implications of the CWG seem to be lost.

It seems the Western model of development has been embraced and followed in India, as millions of migrants have poured into the city searching for work to escape the poverty of rural life in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Our mistakes – mainly poorly planned industrialization – also seem to have been repeated. Serious environmental impacts are the consequence and the condition of the slums into which families have had to move has worsened as the population has grown; like the Western world did once upon a time, India hasn’t focused on the rural countryside to lessen the mass migrations to cities and isn’t promoting the conservation of resources enough.

Now, with the construction of the site for the CWG, the impact on the river and its surrounding area has worsened. A thousand trees have been felled and the inhabitants of the slums and houses have been forced to leave their homes to make way for the Games’ required stadiums and amenities.

Social Impacts
“Construction related to the CWG is bringing in migrants from outside Delhi and adding good amount of slums to the city,” A.K. Sengupta, the national professional officer, sustainable development and healthy environment, WHO, warned in back in April this year.

Nearly 30 percent of Delhites live in slums. While the slums have never been of good condition, they have provided a roof over the heads of many families. Slums have become an integral part of New Delhi as it has developed and when the CWG offered construction jobs, more families gave up farming to head there. With every shopping mall, house, highway and skyscraper that has been built with the migrants’ help to represent the new, more prosperous India, a slum has arisen to accommodate the new inhabitants. Efforts to demolish those slums to create the right image of New Delhi to CWG visitors has only pushed thousands of migrant workers and their families into the very structures they are building to squat and survive.

Indeed in the five years from 2003 to 2008 the CWG project has demolished close to 350 slum clusters that housed nearly 300,000 people. Only about one third of these families have been resettled. Those who have not been resettled are now facing an uncertain future. Some are being hidden by Indian officials behind curtains and other apparatus, so that the expectant world viewers do not see them on programs covering the Games. Most evictions were generally carried out under the guise of city "beautification" and urban renewal measures, but it is not hard to link the CWG development to degradation of the river and worsening misery in poor communities and see that the project has far from inspired any kind of rehabilitation. The Yamuna Riverbank School was included in the demolition while the children stood by and watched the bulldozers move in. The school was founded for 180 slum children living on the banks of the Yamuna River on the outskirts of New Delhi.

India’s growth on all fronts is happening very rapidly; the nation is modernizing and developing while the population continues to rise. In the midst of the global financial crisis, India’s economy is growing positively and the country is becoming more and more attractive as a hub for international business. However, hidden behind this rapid progression are clear costs – to India’s environments and already marginalized communities. Both seem to be lost in the development, forgotten, and to an outsider they appear to be a burden to India, which is hiding or removing them in the rush to seem prepared for the approaching Games this Sunday.

There has been ongoing debate regarding the legality of the development needed for the CWG: it is widely known that the Indian Government has tried for some time to build in the area around Yamuna and the Games will open doors to further development. Critics claim that environmental impact assessment norms have been violated: environmental cases are pending over the thousand trees that were felled, while many people have been injured and killed during construction.

With the CWG approaching in just a few days, rather than addressing these issues, the pressure is on India to ensure the accommodation for us foreigners is ready, clean and safe to make good of their £1.6 billion investment into the stadiums and amenities.

Iwan Thomas, a British Olympic Athlete is quoted in the UK’s Sun newspaper as saying “Many athletes have worked hard for months (for the CWG) and now they have all these concerns for their safety… As an athlete you have to concentrate on yourself and be very focused.”

Does this give them and us an excuse for arrogance?

As much as the Indian Government has a legal and moral commitment to its people and its environment, we have a responsibility to regard India's preparedness (or lack of) for the CWG with fair and rational eyes and offer our support.

£1.6 billion does not take away the fact that India is a developing country in a global economic slowdown. In April 2010 the Delhi finance minister confirmed: "We are broke." In fact, in a bid to afford the final phases of the project Indian officials have put up bus fares and the water tariff, withdrawn subsidy on LPG cylinders and increased VAT on a number of items. The city budget for 2010-11 has increased several direct and indirect taxes. Land prices have escalated in the Trans-Yamuna area of the city, so New Delhi has become a more expensive city because of the Games. It is not unusual in New Delhi to see children working and businesses straying away from their health and safety responsibilities because this is just how it is - most of the people living directly on the Yamuna are struggling for their basic survival.

A UK website states that "Of the estimated 300,000 workers engaged in construction projects, 100,000 will be unskilled; 10,000 of whom will be women and their 20,000 children. There is rampant exploitation of these workers. This includes low pay, unsafe working conditions, lack of housing, use of child labor, non-registration of workers and denial of social security benefits.”

However, in India, those same 300,000 workers would be grateful of the accommodation that is there waiting for the CWG athletes they built it for, as now, even those involved in the construction for the Games have gone - disappeared behind the smiling tiger.

To them any accommodation would be appreciated and this is why they accept what we regard as poor working conditions, low pay and exploitation – to survive. Equally, this is the accepted culture in India: children do work and it is seen as a way of educating and learning respect; a way of life as much as a way to bring money into the family. While the majority of British children were in school or playing, India’s children have worked hard for as little as £1.30 a day on the construction site for the Commonwealth Games Stadium and workers have been paid way below the minimum wage while being forced to live and work in what we regard substandard conditions, even under the tarpaulin on the construction sites.

This is what the British media should be addressing, to raise much needed awareness. While, instead of passing judgment, those involved in the Games – sponsors, organizers, etc – and the International Businesses moving into India, should be using their wealth and power to aid the implementation of improvements needed to serve the long-term gain of Indian society. Those that are able, in partnership with India, need to put their own profits back into better planning for the future, so that urban health is positively impacted, conditions are improved and the environment is conserved. While the Games and its competitors will be “there today and gone tomorrow” it is the environment and the people that will suffer from the poor planning that has occurred for many years to come.

We need to do this quickly, as The Formula One Grand Prix is also scheduled in Bangalore for 2011 – the first time a Grand Prix has ever taken place in India, to ensure it doesn’t end in equal disaster.

I also liked this article in the Hindu. The narcissism of the neurotic P. SAINATH

The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they presented anything, it was this — Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous.

I saw this as well. Obviously our watchdogs are either missing or not that watchful.

Olympics 2012: National Audit Office warns of cost over-run

The £9.3 billion budget for the London Olympics could significantly overrun due to a series of "formidable" challenges facing the organisers, the public spending watchdog warns today.

By Tom Peterkin

Published: 9:31PM BST 19 Jun 2008

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is good manners a western thing?

My education about driving in Bengaluru continues. Last Sunday morning I was cruising in the left lane of a flyover and a speeding bus flashing headlights came parallel to me. Not surprising, but the bus lane is to the left as we get off the flyover! I decided to go defensive and tried to get into the right lane behind the bus and thus avoid one more brush with an aggressive bus driver as he turned left later.

This annoyed the car driver behind me, but I chose to ignore his imperious honking to warn me. It was not a caution that I was straying into his space, but a command to get off from his intended spot behind the bus. I know by now that going ahead even by a few yards is paramount for a Bengaluru driver.

A few seconds later as we got off the flyover the bus driver chose to continue in the right lane! No surprise again! Then the road widened and the furious car driver drove past me and cut in to show me his anger. Luckily he was driving a Lexus and I guess he just wanted to teach me a lesson and not bash my car. He also turned his head to stare at me and if his eyes could kill I would be dead!

I wish I had taken the car's number to write to the owner of the car. I presume it was the driver not the owner of the car. Anyway I have learnt my lessons not to tangle with a 'poor' bus driver who could become callous or the 'luxury car' driver arrogant with the power the car or its owner gives him!

I recall that my driver in Bangkok would be ever courteous to drivers of Benz cars. His explanation: 'They are Officials or Mafia!'.

As I was mulling over my experiences and wishing that there is a solution to this lack of courtesy in our drivers I saw an article 'Manners make the middle class' by Dipankar Gupta, former professor of JNU, in yesterday's TOI.

Here are some quotes:
'Before a middle class society came into existence, there was patronage and privilege. While the lesser orders bowed and scraped as good courtesans, the nobility could be filthy and abusive'
'The emphasis was not on acquisitions or wealth, but on how one related to other people'
'Catching up with the West begins with good manners'
'Manners are all about how we treat others whom we don't know personally, and probably never will'
'Copy cat materialism is not working'

His solution:
'It is not in yellow pages, but there is a one-stop shop for good manners. It is run by the Welfare State and open only to middle class'

I liked the article, but he managed to depress me. I have no hopes of our people developing such manners!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A walk down the memory lane.

Friends who have been reading my blog suggest that I should send my blogs to the newspapers. They think it is worthy of a wider readership. I feel very encouraged. I did try once without success.

Things I blog about and more are already covered by the papers, the media. There are pictures galore of roads with potholes, garbage. The poor condition of footpaths are featured. There are also scams and shenanigans of the politicians and the underworld. Road accidents and murder. Some accidents which seem to be truly murder. A lot of tragedy and some black comedy.

Mostly frustrating news, but there is also evidence of good times. Cars are sold in record numbers and now there is hope that construction industry may soon come out of its slump. Share market is booming again. Some are getting rich and an Ambani is one of the richest in the world!

In comparison my blogs are mostly personal, often going back in time. Predictably, of no interest to the editors, who have more exciting things to write about.

Here is one more story as I see it:
I took a walk to Srirampuram from Sheshadripuram via the pipe line road. In my youth the pipeline area was actually a slum or was full of low cost, unplanned and probably illegal hovels. This is how it is today.

It could be mistaken for a building on a canal in Venice! But it is on an open sewage drain which has not changed all these 62 years of Independence.

This is on the other side of the drain hoping for better times!
As I near Srirampuram I see this contrast.

The area on which the high rise buildings stand was a textile factory which was closed years ago. A newly built Mall is behind this cluster of highrise buildings and the half kilometre stretch alongside the mall is a traffic nightmare, reminiscent of Bangkok traffic on Sukumivit. Worse as there is continuous honking!

A close up of one of the dwellings facing the highrise apartments.

It was a difficult walk as there was no footpath. Women were washing vessels and clothes right on the pavement. Children were using the footpath as a toilet. I just did not have the heart or the courage to take pictures.

I almost gave up crossing the bridge to enter Srirampuram. You can see the foot bridge on the left!

Feels terrible as these are recent developments. Then I read in papers that the new Mayor of Bengaluru has ambitions to make it an International city! I do not understand what he means by it. I hope he knows what he is talking about.

I keep thinking about our posture, we are like this! Is there any hope that we can change from what we are? Is there someone out there who can begin a process by which we can be a better India in another decade or so? An India we can really be proud!