Freedom from dysfuctional Indian system

No field of public significance is free from corruption, chaos and dysfunction. Indian system is so systemically rotten beyond any repair. Who is responsible? How to be eradicated this menace? These searching questions may not produce any substantial change from the present mess. But one cannot allow the current rotten situation to continue. From entrepreneurship to education, from governance to gambling, every aspect of the Indian system is bought and sold for a price. Ironicialy those who were responsible to change the system for the past six decades are chest thumping this problem for the past six decades. When we are going to find some credible action?


Jayant writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 16 February 2011


The following story from a particular edition of the Ramayana sets the tone of this article. In the aftermath of the destruction of Ravan, Ram returned to Ayodhya to set up his rule. Ram Rajya, as his rule was called, became synonymous with good and just rule. Anyone demanding justice had full access to the king. So one day a dog with a ferocious appearance entered Ram’s court asking for justice. Ram asked him to state the details of his complaint. “Sire,” said the dog, “I was following a sanyasi as he went around begging for alms and with no provocation on my part, he kicked me. He is standing outside and I demand that he be suitably punished.” Ram called the sanyasi who readily admitted to the act. But he gave a reason. He said: “Sire, I was begging for food to eat and wherever I went, the housewife who opened the door immediately shut it on seeing this ferocious dog. As a result I went hungry. Since it was all because of this dog, I took my anger out on him by kicking him. I agree that it was an unjust act on my part and the dog cannot be held responsible for how he looks. So I am willing to accept any just punishment.” Then Ram turned to the dog and asked him what he thought would be a just punishment. The dog thought for a while and then said: “Sire, I suggest that you create a vidyapeeth, and make him its kulapati”. “But that is an honour, not a punishment!” said Ram. “I beg to differ, Sire!” said the dog. “The responsibility of running a vidyapeeth will cause him enough mental anguish which would be a good punishment for what he did to me.”

The situation prevailing today in the Indian universities is no different. The atmosphere in which a vice-chancellor (VC) has to function is volatile with pressures coming from students, faculty, the non-teaching staff, outside threats to him and to the security of the university et cetera. Although the university is autonomous, there is enough political interference from outside and the last word often rests not with the VC but with the babus in the secretariat. The days when VCs, like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan or Acharya Narendra Dev, were towering personalities commanding respect are long past. The post itself has been seriously devalued by the procedure of selection. Would you have expected the personalities just named applying for the post, being short-listed and interviewed?

It could be argued that this procedure followed in Maharashtra, a supposedly progressive state, is a necessity today because no other action involving selection for such an important post is credible enough. The procedure whereby the chancellor (or the appointing authority), after receiving expert advice, invites a distinguished academician to accept the post, would be viewed with suspicion. The fact that the system worked well in the old days of pre-Independence (and even for a few years post-Independence), speaks for the steep decline in moral values in our public life. For example, I was shocked to read about a VC of a very old university publicly thanking the state education minister for keeping his word by making him the VC.

The situation at the other end of the spectrum — in school education — is equally dismal. Government-aided schools are asked to admit more than 80 children per class because there is a shortage of schools. What can a teacher do with such a large number of pupils? Naturally, because of bad or no teaching in the school, students seek the help of coaching classes outside. In addition, there are government missives: fail no student until Class 8. If student is really weak in a particular subject, it is the responsibility of the teacher to stay after school hours and teach the student to the required level. Which teacher — who is already overworked and underpaid — is going to accept this extra responsibility? So all students are declared passed. The parents are blissful and satisfied that their wards are doing well, until they reach Class 8 when they discover with a shock that the kids cannot even add, subtract or read and write.

In 1980, when I was on a sabbatical visit to the University College, Cardiff, the headmaster of the primary school in our neighbourhood sent circulars to all the houses in the neighbourhood urging parents to send their children to his school stating that in order to increase the number of students the entry age had been reduced by six months to five years. He had done so because reduced birth rate had decreased the school student population and the government was threatening to close down schools with a low number of students. This example illustrates the economics of supply and demand for available schools versus students seeking admission.

Logic dictates that in India, where there is a grave shortage of schools, we reduce the number of students per class to half, and double the number of schools. The number of teachers needs to be increased even more since the present numbers are already inadequate and teachers are being hired on a contract basis at shamefully low “daily wages”, barely above the legal lower limits. This will require huge increases in the budgetary provisions of the ministry of human resource and development. But whichever political party is in power, this department is always kept on the backburner. There may be innumerable discussions and reports on education but when it comes to the implementation of any recommendation the result can be summarised by the four letter word, “zero”.

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, himself a distinguished academic, and our Nobel laureate, Mr Amartya Sen, have stressed the need to empower our youth through education. If India aspires to be a developed nation by 2020, it needs to develop huge human resources and education is the most crucial qualification that adds value to the human being. Despite many declarations from the pulpit, politicians of all parties do not seem to appreciate the truth behind this dictum. Or, perhaps, they do, and see in the educated electorate a threat to their continuation in power!


Drop ego; order JPA

The UPA government’s efforts to whitewash 1.76 lakh crore scam got egged. With the vigilant media, judiciary and a hand full of proactive citizens, spectrum scam is on the top of the national surface today. If the dumb government missed the scam of the civilisation atleast it should have paid attention to others information. For the past many months the UPA has been finding all tricks to avoid the accusation. It refused to accept the mass charges of corruption. Instead of sending the gang of culprits to jail immediately it waited, watched and annoyed the entire nation and the whole world. Shame is the mild word to use the situational mess which the UPA has got in. The immediate task is to book all the real masterminds of all scams including spectrum, CWG, Adrash and other unearthed scandals and give them life imprisonment. Otherwise Indira Congress is going to oblivion forever.

The Deccan Chronicle writes on 10 February 2011

With the Leader of the Lok Sabha, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, holding a discussion with the Opposition parties on Tuesday on the conduct of Parliament’s forthcoming Budget Session, there appears to be a sense — communicated to the media by the Opposition parties — that the fog might be clearing on the issue of a joint parliamentary committee probing the 2G spectrum scam, and that the government might be coming round to accepting the Opposition demand. However, this optimism might be premature. With the Budget Session less than a fortnight away, it is natural that political parties would return to the question of forming a JPC to probe the 2G scam, a demand initially made by the BJP and the Left and one which comprehensively derailed the Winter Session two months ago. The Congress had resisted a JPC probe. Instead, it professed its faith in Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, now chaired by senior BJP leader, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, doing the job. The government went out of its way to give the PAC an investigative adjunct to facilitate the inquiry, and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, broke from precedent to offer to appear before the PAC. The BJP was not persuaded and continued to insist on a JPC probe. It is, however, evident that in recent weeks the political situation has registered some change. Other than the BJP and its NDA allies, the rest of the Opposition has subtly signalled leaving behind its insistence on the JPC issue by privileging the running of Parliament over the path the inquiry into 2G should follow, although at the formal level they have not abandoned the JPC demand. In the last session of Parliament the JPC demand had gathered considerable force because the entire Opposition appeared united on it, and some parties that technically support the UPA government but oppose it on key issues also favoured the JPC route. That appears not to be the case now. The Left, and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, seem not to want to be on the same page as the BJP as elections are looming in Kerala, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. They realise that parties that stalled Parliament over the JPC issue have not earned public sympathy. Many who oppose the government are unhappy about Parliament not being allowed to function, particularly when the government has no difficulty about the 2G case being probed by the PAC. In short, the government is not avoiding a parliamentary probe. In the event, the non-BJP Opposition is these days busy canvassing the importance of letting Parliament transact its business. After the Tuesday meeting some Opposition leaders had quoted Mr Mukherjee as saying that no price was too high to pay for the sake of letting Parliament function. It is this which raised hopes among a few about a JPC probe materialising. It is noteworthy that neither Mr Mukherje

Blind Building laws; dumb law enforcers

The Indian government for the past 63 years have been blind and numb towards the construction of buildings. Without following its own rules the government has been blankly allowing any and every citizen to construct what he or she wants. All is done through few currency notes. This blindness of the government is going to infect the entire population and will paralyze the coming generations.


Gautam Bhatia writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 6 February 2010


Some years ago, a Delhi firm invested in a “smart” building for its new Gurgaon office. A 12-storey structure of beveled glass was designed by a Japanese architect, using American and French technologies and built under South Korean supervision. Surrounded by the dumb buildings of old India, this was supposedly user-friendly intelligent architecture at its best, technology’s answer to India’s future.

When I saw it on a sweltering June afternoon, a few days before its official opening, it stood shimmering silver grey in a black tar parking lot. Near the entrance, a remote sensor detected my approach and — through electronic identification — alerted the control centre inside, of my presence. Within seconds, the door opened. A complicated e-device worth `22 lakh had eliminated a Haryanvi guard at `6,000 per month. Further in, were more smart surprises. My weight on the lift lobby floor triggered six lifts into action; they all came racing down to pick me up. Activated by complicated circuitry that cost `28 lakh, the intelligent building had effectively done away with the need for a push button. Upstairs, the glass-shell of the building was surrounded by Japanese micro louvers and heat sensors at the ridiculously low summer discount rate of `2.8 crore. An elegant, electronically-activated “intelligent” device had happily eliminated the ordinary screen of reed chicks at `12 per square foot. Moreover, the smart structure, built at seven times the rate of a conventional building, had effectively done away with Indian skills and labour — still the cheapest in the world — and joined the ranks of world class architecture. Expensive, over-designed and completely oblivious to local conditions. But smart, nonetheless.

Like the intelligent building, can a smart city in the West be a stupid one in India? The Indian government’s sudden and erratic wish list for smart cities along the Delhi-Mumbai corridor is not only seriously misplaced, but is a harebrained view that cities can be produced on an assembly line, like cars and coke bottles. Certainly, taking Indian urban ideas to the next level should prompt the government to serious measures. But the proposal to build 24 cities when so far not a single new idea on urban living has been implemented is a despairing shot in the dark, a hope that extreme measures will yield results where smaller local initiatives have not even been tried.

Many perplexing questions need to be asked before the government embarks on a reckless real estate adventure. Does the physical structure of the city have any measurable impact on our lives? Can a city’s livability be measured like a gross national product? Can it be rated from one to 100 like an exam score? To say that Shanghai is better than Mumbai is as good as saying that an elm tree is better than neem. It is an entirely facile and inaccurate comparison. Certainly there are measurable barometers that can point to the health of towns; the quality and quantity of municipal services, provision of water, health care and sanitation, the availability of sidewalks, parks and roads, the proliferation of schools, institutes, places of recreation and commerce, all fall within the common understanding of daily human requirement. The nourishment needed to stay alive, like a daily vitamin pill. But at its core, the life breath of a town is a deeply guarded secret. Heard sometimes in sighs of its long time residents, but always hidden from those who seek only its cosmopolitan gratifications — the new French restaurant, the Formula One race track, the mall. Connection to places, links to family, past and present, and to some degree, future opportunity, the city’s physical environment has a direct correlation with personal lives.

In a country which offers a continually degrading form of life to its urban citizens, the importance of new and inventive solutions can hardly be underscored. Choked cities, grey murky rivers, brown skies, depleting energy, erratic services, the haves and the hope-to-haves are ready-to-wage battles over water, electricity, land and air rights. Before the present rage turns to all-out war, city living requires desperate resolution. Unfortunately, the thirst for a new idea in India almost always acts on hyperbolic dimensions: the highest building, the richest Indian, the second-largest dam — reducing public action to meaningless numbers and trivial hyped publicity rather than serious welfare. Somewhere on a foreign trip, a minister or a bureaucrat, sensed the possibility of an idea, and promoted the smart city as a quantum leap of faith.

In a country like China such leaps may be possible. The Chinese willingness to step outside of conventional urban thinking is prompted as much by its own rapid urbanisation, as its need to enlarge the scope of urban technology and experiment with new forms of city living. The new town of Dongtan, near Shanghai, is an altogether unprecedented mix of these lofty ideals. An eco-city of one million residents that promotes a lifestyle without cars, without streets, without conventional houses, is an optimistic sign that China is looking beyond the environmental and technical thresholds set by the West, to set a benchmark for itself. Though Dongtan is a quantum technological leap, its most generous attribute is its affinity to Chinese culture. And the insistence amongst its makers that future lies in promoting a Chinese way of life.

However, an incompetent government with barely a new urban idea to its name is hardly in a position to built 24 new cities from scratch. No one today has even defined in simple common terms a house that suits an Indian lifestyle. No builder has ever attempted — despite massive profits — to create self-sustaining neighborhoods, or clusters of housing that take on fresh ideas. No state or national housing programme has ventured outside the safety of building as anything but a form of fulfilling statistical requirements. A whole city needs to be carefully weighed in cultural terms for the value its residents attach to their lifestyle, and the potential for its growth as a living organism. A thoughtless, culturally unimaginative approach to the design of 24 new towns may yield another 24 Chandigarhs. The sheers numbers of such a disaster would be hard to dismiss as a bureaucratic folly, just another missing file in the ministry. But in 21st century India, so desperate to be counted as a world power, the smart city may just be another thrust to an expensive publicity venture.