Alternative Public Transport in India – an Introspection

As a child, I hardly played with dolls or soft-toys; they don’t impress me even now. Rather I was always fascinated with motors, particularly cars. Later it became my hobby to collect such images (including jeeps, fighter-crafts, yachts and ships) and often I used to list the cars and jeeps that I would own some day…… 🙂

But with the ever increasing numbers (of both human-beings and vehicles) and pollution, at the core of my heart, I now hesitate to own a car or use it UNLESS the distance to be travelled is
– long or
– wearisome or
– amidst a rough weather or
– during an emergency or
– through deserted areas or
– made at nightfall or
– taken by parents-with-kids, the ill and the elderly.

Otherwise on an average course, like many I too believe that Bicycles, Trams and Tongas (also solar-powered vehicles) can be a great reliever of our city traffic woes ! These also drastically reduce instances of accidents !!! Moreover, while Bicycling is a good exercise, Trams and Tongas cast a very aesthetic and classic look. Further, both children and adults learn to appreciate the service of horses pulling a Tonga (or of camels pulling certain type of Carts), thus ultimately becoming compassionate towards these creatures.

Consider India’s IT-hub, Bangalore. The new Metro Rail services here are still like a joy-ride; even after so many years of planning and construction activities, it is limited to few spots only. The rate of completion is extremely slow compared to the growth of the city in terms of extension of areas, increase in commercial centres and population. Moreover, the city is blemished with half-laid flyovers, subways, dug soil, pot-holes, etc., which only add to further inconveniences of the citizens, particularly in the rainy season.

Moreover, presently only a few spots are merely planned (i.e. yet to be implemented) for dedicated Bicycle lanes and zones. These lanes must be at a standard height and evenly laid. Then remains the much arduous task of designing, building and maintaining efficient parking areas and abating public nuisance !! The city authorities have also reserved a good future proposal of charging vacant seats in private vehicles plying on the road to check increase in number of cars.

If Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi can progress well in enhancing public transport, then why cannot Bangalore or other cities ? Where are the loop-holes ?

A recent international study shows Kolkata to be the most progressive city in India, when it comes to public transport. Apart from the usual Trains, it has a wonderful Metro Rail service. The intermediate public transport system comprises of variety of Buses, age-old Trams, Taxis, Auto-rickshaws and Rickshaws.

I think collaborations with Japan, Singapore and some European countries can help us a lot in this regard; they already have excellent public transport systems in place along with proper usage of smart-cards.

Mushkeel Hai Par Namoomkeen Nahi‘ (difficult but not impossible) – especially when one seriously thinks about decreasing or preventing current levels of pollution, and conserving the atmosphere, land as well as other natural resources for our future folks, and implementing stricter law and order to literally pave a smooth way ! Whether directly or indirectly, does not all these take care of several big and significant social parameters ?

Hence, it is famously said that a progressive or developed nation is one where citizens are able to mostly use a good public transport system. From my personal observation during a three-month stay in an European country, I found its citizens to travel to work on all the days of the week by availing the public transport system. Even the super-rich drove their Lamborghinis only on weekends or holidays, or on special occasions. Inspiring, indeed !

Back at home, we have a long way to go. The obstacles are all not because of the huge population or inadequate infrastructure or financial deficiencies but primarily, we have to collectively change our attitude in this regard. Elucidating this point, it simply means that if my neighbour buys a car today then I should not fall into a rat-race of owning one similar or of higher price; rather I must explore ways or continue to use the public transport system best available to me and also encourage others in the society to do so by citing the above mentioned reasons. Likewise, I must actively participate in promoting or developing such a transport system that is supported by the administration of the city or town I reside. In short, my gratefulness towards Mother Earth and concern for the future generations must be carefully set on a much higher level than my vanity to flaunt my riches; I must remember ‘the dust from where I sprang’.

Wonder if we can get to see this picture in most Indian cities in our lifetime…!

Aamjunta – what do you say?

What literally pulls your legs while making an Indian meal ?

Many a times, I have wondered what nowadays literally pulls one’s legs, usually that of the women, while or after cooking a typical Indian meal ?!?

No, I am not hinting at any Vitamin-D or/and Calcium deficiency due to our indoor lifestyle in this phase of post-modernity. 🙂 Rather, I want to draw my readers’ attention towards the cooking of an Indian meal in a modular-kitchen deprived of any sitting arrangement so as to keep it maximally spacious or lend some aesthetic sense to it.

Notwithstanding other discoverers (if any) of the answer, I think I have found mine and here it goes…

According to western lifestyle, pre-processed or canned food-items are generally used to make a single dish. The cooking is usually done in microwave ovens or, marinated and barbecued. In most cases, Olive oil is mixed in or sprinkled or brushed atop the culinary content. Considering a staple diet, westerners eat such dishes with various types of Bread, Tortillas and Salads. Sometimes, it is as simple as warming a refrigerated or left-over Burger or a Sandwich. And they prefer to finish the meal with some Yoghurt or Fruits or hot-Chocolate or Juice or a Drink.

In this process, we can observe certain things in an ordinary routine western kitchen-

1. Food items are limited
2. Most of the constituents of a full meal are readily available
3. The cooking is usually taken care of by a programmed machine !

So, they hardly stand and do continuous mehnat (toilsome efforts) in the kitchen.

See what it takes to cook an average Indian meal, e.g. lunch for a family of (4+2) members-

1. Roti (Indian bread) – kneading the dough, then manually rolling-out 14-15 pieces and making it one-by-one i.e. manually and no parallel processing

2. Daal /Sambar /Chamthong (pulses /stew) – boiling and tempering (chaunk) it, sometimes with small coconut pieces i.e. manually including making the coconut pieces

4. One “side-item” like Bhajji (fries) – peeling the vegetable(s) and pan-frying it with mild spices over low-heat i.e. also manually. One should have patience…

5. An additional “side-item” may also be sought – Saag (e.g. spinach), Pakoras (deep-fried gram-flour dumplings), Momo (steamed refined-flour dumplings stuffed with fillings), Posto (light-fried poppyseed paste), etc., i.e. again a manual process- cleaning, rinsing the leaves, chopping it finely, then stir-frying it over low-heat; making the dumplings or paste i.e., again manually. One should have more patience…

6. One main curry – it could be anything including Ghanta (a vegetable medley which may need more than an hour of frequent stirring), Masala (gravy), Chadchaddee (sautéed mixed vegetables), Kofta curry, etc., i.e. first cut all the vegetables, ready the spices, fry the Kofta dumplings and then cook the curry. This means one has to slog in the kitchen; don’t even blink or rush to the dining area to quickly get refreshed under the fan or air-conditioner 🙂

7. Salad /Rasam /Chutney /Tathu /Papadd /Raita, i.e., to have some more patience as it may require a bit of manual pre-processing of a vegetable(s) and adjusting the varied seasoning

8. A rice item like Pulaav, Fried-rice, Biryani, Bisi Bele Bhaat, Khichddee, Sawchair, etc. or Noodles type of dish is expected during weekends /holidays to not just push load the gastric-pouch but also blow the family to a truly sumptuous meal i.e. it requires one to remain tied-up with finely detailed preparations which may include roasting and the famous layered-cooking method of the Mughal era 🙂

9. For lovers of Non-vegetarian foods (particularly Fish), its again tiresome multiple tasks right up to cleaning !!!

10. Last but not the least, on our list we have some of the wonderful smoked dishes of North-East India. Even if we manage to do it in a modular-kitchen, it is very inconvenient and difficult to clean !

Please note that all these tasks are after considering the available spices in malls but excluding automated vegetable peelers, juice-mixers or other such kitchen-tools. An Indian kitchen normally does not prize many automatic machines except the grinder. This is because the care-taker (host/hostess) wants to eliminate the tagged duty of cleaning the machine after use. 🙂 And many Indian daily dishes cannot be suitably cooked in a microwave oven because the basic flavour is lost !

The other factor to be weighed is that nowadays, the city-dwellers live in a nuclear-family set-up. Hence, the spontaneous assistance of a joint-family system is completely eliminated. One has to manage everything single-handedly if no domestic help or/and cook is employed !

Going back to exploring the answer…

Our grand-mothers and mothers sat on a footstool or tuffet, prepared every detail and cooked. That’s why I believe that even after doing or managing all the chores of the house for years, they never grumbled the way most of us do at a young age now just after cooking a full meal in the kitchen. We Indians, have no doubt borrowed the western idea of modular-kitchen over night… but broadly, without changing our food habits to suit it !

Yes… even I would agree that it is difficult to change one’s food habits. And in that case, the footstool should move in back to the traditionally styled Indian kitchen ! 🙂

Secondly, Indians observe many festivals when certain spices are barred in the kitchen. Many households en masse observe this. But there are a few where some family members with a relatively relaxed nod, may wish to have the usual course of a meal. That implies, double-duty for the person preparing the meals – one course for the festival and the other usual one !! 🙂

Thirdly, some people (men and women), demand or request that special items (often tedious) be cooked for them – this is merely an attempt to show some form of dominance or seek attention in a large joint-family or due to health issues !

So, aamjunta, we gotto choose- ya toh khadde raho, pakaate raho aur khuud ke payaer pakadd ke Hajmola-ke-saath khana pachane ki koshish karte raho…ya phir purani bawarchi-khana pe wapas jao (either keep standing, cooking and attempting to digest the meal with the help of Hajmola digestive tablet and a self-massage to your legs…or return to the old style of Indian kitchen) ! 🙂

Cheers…

Little things, Big values

When you visit a friend having a kid, its usual to carry a chocolate for the little one… But its disappointing to hear some parents remark rudely at that very instance of gifting (sometimes as early as when you have just hinted that there’s a chocolate for the kid in your bag or pocket or hand) – “hum chocolate NAHI khaate (we don’t eat chocolates)… /we DON’T like chocolates… /arreyyy, aapne KYUU laya ye sab, already itna problems chal raha hai uske dnaath ko leke (WHY have you bought all these, we are already troubled with the kid’s tooth)” !

Well, we (guests) are aware that the child may not ultimately have it owing to tooth or some digestion issues. But the host (parents of the child) needs to know and also teach the child why and how to refrain from the gift temporarily or whatsoever, and never to disregard the guest’s affection.

Some may suggest getting dry-fruits, cookies, fruits, etc. Well, if chocos can dent the teeth, so will cookies & dry-fruits ! Moreover, plain chocos will melt away and not sit in the tooth-cavities; dry-fruits will doubly harm by way of grinding and sitting in the cavities. 🙂  A kid may not realize to clean it or clean it at the earliest ! As for fruits – kids will simply throw it away for obvious reasons, and parents would not have a role to play here- good or bad. Because the kid itself is in denial mode. We are talking of a situation in which the kid is in acceptance mode and the parents are in a denial mode on the same stuff. Afterwards, some people may also comment “bachche ke liye kuch bhi nahi laye, wo kya fruits khaate hain (the guests didn’t get anything for our kids; do kids like fruits) ?” 🙂  Moreover, many people can’t afford fruits nowadays- this, as I am considering all classes in our society. The option of fruits is a healthy suggestion though. But without chocolates, there can be no melting mazaa (fun) ! 🙂

A similar situation happens when you present sweets and discover someone is diabetic or extremely calorie-conscious !! Guests usually arrive with something namkeen (salty snacks) in addition, if they know beforehand about the diabetic condition. Irrespective of the namkeen, the sweets can always be refrigerated to be eaten moderately or tasted and offered to other visitors. How does it matter as long as the generosity of guests serves the purpose of the host for whom they have after all cared this way !!

However, such giving away of “presented” gifts, whether or not to refrain from it, should not be immediate or outright. I remember that I had once been to a friend’s kid’s birthday party. Since I had a busy day and could not go to any mall to buy anything special, I opted for a big multi-variety chocolate product of a leading brand that I luckily found in a bakery on my way. I was already late for the party and on reaching, I found that there were several games going on. For one of these, three prizes were enthusiastically declared by the gorgeous hostess. When it was over, I was surprised to observe, unintended though, that the first prize given was nonchalantly drawn from the heap of gifts by her. And unfortunately it was ‘my chocolate gift’, which now appeared as if it was a mere trash among the other items that were rather big and colourfully wrapped in sparkling papers. I thought to myself, what a meaningless Namaste welcomed us !! Such parties always have games and a good hostess must not overlook the arrangement of prizes or return-gifts. Some time back, I and another friend happened to discuss a similar topic. He was of the opinion that some hosts do it that way not because they are indifferent to the guests or gifts but because that’s an economical way of hosting the party to the fullest extent ! 😦

The other callous ways of some hosts are when the item becomes sort of a flying-disc or football or lies simply unattended even after you have left the place. If you have been very sincere and keen about the gift while purchasing or if its an expensive one, then while leaving the doorstep of the host, even a faint glimpse of it will literally bleed your heart… “hai Ram, bekaar mein uthaake layee main (Oh God, got this for no reason)… /kyuu laya main isko idhar (why did I get it here at all)… ?!?”  Too late, boss… 🙂

Whether it is chocolates, cookies, dry-fruits, fruits, sweets, namkeen, a dress or colour pencils- the point is on knowing and also teaching the child how to say a polite ‘no’ and never to hurt the guest’s sentiments; it is immaterial what the guest presents as long as it suits the occasion ! As parents, we should not be over-protective or egoistic; rather we should educate children to respect the society as a whole. Such aspects, in the long run, will definitely help the budding generation to understand the older ones and to care for them, no matter what their rank or status is.

So folks, isn’t it better and decent on part of all parents to teach the child with a smile rather something like “say- thank you Aunty /Uncle b-u-t… we will relish it later… /I will have it when I grow up a bit… /I would be able to enjoy it after I am through my tooth or digestion issues…” ? And then actually show the kid to store it in a refrigerator to be either eaten later or offered to someone else. If the gift is a non-edible type, then also a similar step can be taught. For example, a dress whose colour you don’t like or which is under-size for the kid, can be either exchanged at the shop with approval of the guest or in case that is not possible, donated to someone needy. Till then, it should be properly kept in the wardrobe. That way, the kid also learns how not to waste things or how to bring under-utilized stuff to better usage.

It may seem trivial to us, the so-called grown-ups. But these things can have a big implication on the EQ of children as they gradually learn life’s ways and then mature into adults one fine day ! Why expect their sense and sensibilities to bloom over-night ?!!? Let’s nurture it right from now on, whether it is a small or a big thing…..

What do you suggest, aamjunta… ?

RTIs net – Political Parties IN, Sports Bodies still OUT

When the entire country is struggling with corruptions, scams, bettings, and maoists, the Central Information Commission (CIC) passed a land-mark judgement today which brings all Political Parties under the ambit of Right To Information (RTI) Act.  Since this is a land mark judgement and has many implications in future, let us analyse the facts and figures of the entire episode.

Complainants:

The case was filed by  Shri Subhash Chandra Agrawal (Shri S.C.Agrawal) and Shri Anil Bairwal separately a couple of years back. Since both the complaints are common with issues relating to the disclosure of the accounts and funding of Political Parties, CIC decided to  dispose both the complaints through a common order.

Respondents:

Six National political parties namely, Indian National Congress (INC)/ All India Congress Committee (AICC), Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), Communist Party of India(CPI), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Major Arguments by Political Parties:

Most of  the Political Parties maintained the fact that they do not come under the purview of RTI Act. Further, they (AICC and BJP in particular) also maintained the fact they are not Public Authorities, and, therefore are not obliged to provide any information under RTI. NCP in particular argued that it is an NGO (Non-Govt. Organization) and does not have fund and staff to reveal the information under RTI Act. Contrary to the above, CPI provided certain information to RTI applications (agreed to the fact that CPI is a Public Authority under 2(h)(d)(ii) “non-government organizations”, whereas no other political parties chose to respond to the RTI applications /queries. However, during the course of the argument, BSP also maintained the fact that Political Parties are not Public Authorities.

Most of the Political Parties argued that, the limited finance in terms of free air-time in Radio and TV, lands/plots allocated either free-of-cost or on rent, free electoral rolls provided to political parties during election, tax-exemption under Section 13 of Income Tax Act, are usual democratic practices in many democracies and do not constitute them as Public Authorities.

Major Arguments by Complainants:

  1. The Political Parties have been given statutory status under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Under Section 29A (5) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, the Political Parties are required to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established.

  2. The Political Parties are substantially financed by the ‘appropriate Government’ in multiple ways and are exempt from Income Tax.

  3. All the Political Parties have been claiming tax exemption under section 13A of the Income Tax Act, which amounts to indirect financing of the Political Parties in terms of Section 2(h)(d)(i) of the RTI Act. Further, since under section 80 GGB of the Income Tax Act, the contributions made by an individual or Company to a Political Party is deductible from the total income of the assesee. This provision is exclusively applicable to the Political Parties and is suggestive of indirect financing of the Political Parties by the State.

  4. State has been indirectly financing various Political Parties by way of free air  time on All India Radio. State is also spending huge amounts on the Political Parties in the matter of free air time on Doordarshan.

  5. Under Rules 11 and 12 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, two copies of the Electoral Rolls are supplied to the recognized Political Parties, free of cost. This is another instance of indirect financing of the Political Parties by the State.

  6. The Central Government and the State Governments have allotted huge plots of land/buildings/other accommodation in prime locations to all Political Parties all over the country either, free of cost, or on hugely concessional rates. This also amounts to indirect financing of the Political Parties.

  7. It was further argued that the Political Parties must be accountable in the light of Reforms of Electoral Laws (1999) – “[…] A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be expected to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside […]”. In addition “[…] Given that Political Parties influence the exercise of political power, transparency in their organization, functions and, more particularly, their means of funding is a democratic imperative, and, therefore, is in public interest […]”.

Bench:

Since the matter was complex a full bench comprising of Shri Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner, Smt. Annapurna Dixit, Information Commissioner and Shri M.L. Sharma, Information Commissioner was constituted on 31st July, 2012.

Observations:

While pronouncing the judgement, the bench observed that-

  1. The Political Parties constitute one of the most important institutions in a constitutional democracy.

  2. The Political Parties have been given in our country such enormous powers and benefits, through both constitutional and statutory arrangements so that they can fulfill their just roles in representing their constituents.

  3. The Land & Development Office of the Ministry of Urban Development has allotted large tracts of land in Delhi to various Political Parties either free of cost or at concessional rates;  that the Directorate of Estates, Ministry of Urban Development, has allotted accommodation in Delhi to various Political Parties on rental basis at concessional rates; that Political Parties have been claiming and granted total tax exemption under section 13A of the Income Tax Act for all their income; that the State has been indirectly financing Political Parties by way of free air time on All India Radio and Doordarshan of India during the elections; that recognized Political Parties are issued copies of electoral rolls by the Election Commission, free of cost, at the time of elections.

  4. Section 2(h) of the RTI Act defines ‘public authority’ – “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-Government established or constituted, (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; (d) by notification issued or made by the appropriate Government, and includes any – (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) non-Government Organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;”

  5. W.r.t. the above observations, it is to be noted that (a), (b), (c) and (d) are not directly applicable to Political Parties. […] However, it is pertinent to remember that the Political Parties have been brought into existence first as Political Parties and then as national level Political Parties by the Election Commission of India thereby entitling them to a host of benefits, the principal among them being the right to accept contribution from both individual citizens and private companies and also to get complete income tax exemption on all their incomes. The other important benefit that accrues to these Political Parties on account of their recognition by the Election Commission of India as national level Political Parties is the common symbol on which their candidates can contest elections. Thus, if not strictly within the letter of this particular provision (d), but at least, in spirit, these Political Parties can be said to have been constituted by their registration by the Election Commission of India, a fact akin to the establishment or constitution of a body or institution by an appropriate government.

  6. The bench further observed that the Political Parties are substantially financed by the Central Government and State Government in multiple ways; land is being provided at hugely concessional rates. The bench in its further considered opinion stated that, “amounts to indirect financing and when added to the income tax exemption enjoyed by these Political Parties, it would amount to substantial financing”.

  7. Since these Political Parties have not paid any income tax, the exact quantum of money that the Central Government has forgone in the process has not been worked out specifically. However, since the level of income of all these Political Parties would place them in the highest slab of income tax, at least 30% of their total income would have been collected as income tax but for the total exemption given to them by law. Thirty per cent of their income which these Political parties would have otherwise paid by way of income tax has been given up in their favour by the Central Government. No one can dispute that this is substantial financing, though indirectly.

  8. The bench has the opinion that “the Political Parties enjoy an almost unfettered exemption from payment of income tax, a benefit not enjoyed by any other charitable or non-profit non-governmental organisations”.

  9. The bench further noted that free air time given to Political Parties during election is actually money spent by the government for the political parties. Though the amounts may be small but they contribute to the kitty of Political Parties at the Government cost.

  10. Based on the above observations, the bench further emphasized that “[…] We have, therefore, no hesitation in concluding that INC/AICC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government and, therefore, they are held to be public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act […]”.

  11. The bench further maintained that “In view of the nature of public functions performed by Political Parties and the dicta of the High Court, we conclude that Political Parties in question are Public Authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act”.

Final Judgement:

After due deliberations and hearing to arguments and counter-arguments, the bench held that:

  1. “In view of the above discussion, we hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPIO, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these Political Parties in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities […] and it is held that AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP are Public Authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act”.

  2. “The Presidents, General/Secretaries of these Political Parties are hereby directed to designate CPIOs and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in 06 weeks time. The CPIOs so appointed will respond to the RTI applications extracted in this order in 04 weeks time. Besides, the Presidents/General Secretaries of the above mentioned Political Parties are also directed to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause”.

After Effect

Now that the Political Parties are in, the question now arises whether or not the Sports Bodies such as Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI), Hockey Federation of India should also come under RTI. These bodies also enjoys benefit from the central and state governments directly and indirectly (income tax-exemption, free/lease (at a concessional rate) land, entertainment tax-exemption during major matches, use of stadiums at a nominal rate, etc.), and should also be accountable to the citizens of this country. Owing to the arguments, counter- arguments and observations, don’t you think our popular Sports Bodies should also come under RTI ?

Aamjunta – what do you think?

Better Late than Never

It was 4.25 pm, 19th December 2008. I alighted from a Kalyan bound local train at the Kanjurmarg station and went to the newspaper shop at the platform and bought a magazine. In the meanwhile the next train towards Kalyan came and stopped at the platform. As usual, I was contemplating of jumping on the track to cross the railway line (am just one among many aamjunta who think of taking a short-cut) after the train leaves in stead of taking the flyover. Was just waiting for this train to leave after which would have taken the short-cut. I was also a bit absent minded and was doing multiple things at a time as usual– calling someone over phone, fidgeting with my magazine and gazing at the waiting train at the platform.

A moment later I heard a huge shriek and a loud commotion. Before could realize anything or take note of the circumstance, saw a person’s lower half of the body including his legs getting pulled into the track by the huge, monstrous iron wheels of the running train! This extraordinary scene was going on just around twenty feet away from where I was standing. Without a seconds delay I ran with whatever force could gather and pulled out that person with all my might. Many people had gathered around to watch the scene by that time. Fortunately, he was saved but a bit injured. However, he was frightened beyond comprehension and so was I.

People came running to us and tried to console him. Some patted him on his back and some thanked his stars to have protected him. He was so shaken that was shivering from head to toe. I supported him physically to the nearest platform bench and took a bottle of water out of my bag. I never usually carry a water bottle; it was rare that day to have one with me. Interestingly, I had not even opened that bottle yet. The gentleman took the bottle gratefully, drank some water from it and washed his face.

He was probably in his early fifties, short in height and slight of build. He said that he lives in Thane and is a teacher in a school in Powai. He travels back home usually by the train which just left and which he was trying to board. Even though he was not in a hurry and the train was not that crowded, he tried to catch the running train, and that had already started and picked up speed. His calculation was wrong, lost control and balance and fell down to be almost pulled into the tracks. It was only a matter of few seconds between life and death….

That was an accident and unwittingly suicidal. He could have avoided that incident with a little more restraint. Anyway, sometimes this happens with many of us. Without realizing the consequences we take some wrong steps either to board running trains, buses or cross roads or drive fast and every time look for some short-cut. Everyone wants to go fast, reach fast and achieve fast – fast, fast, fast. But, fast should not mean that we are so fast that it becomes fatal. I was drawing my own lessons from the incident that I will never try to cross the tracks just to save a few minutes.

The gentleman after being a little stable thanked me profusely and said in Hindi koi jivan lene mein tulla hua hai aur koi bachane mein. Na mein usko pehchanta hoon na mein isko jaanta hoon” (“someone is bent upon taking lives and someone is dedicated to save lives. I do not know either of them”). His statement reminded me of the terror-attacks – some had come to kill us and some died in the wake to save us.

Anyway, that is called life and death, beyond our calculation and beyond any short-cuts.

Aamjunta take care of yourselves…Better late than never!

Those Two Rupees…

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Garrison Keillor

“Babu, will you please give me two rupees more than your usual rickshaw-bhadda (fare)?”

The poor rickshaw-puller innocently asked me on my way to Sheltar Chak from Barabati Bali Yatra (one of the traditional carnivals of Odisha) Maidan.

Before I could say anything, he added, “I’m just requesting, don’t give if you don’t approve it”

I retorted back with irritation. “But, you had agreed for six rupees as the bhadda, why two rupees more?”

He was mum for some time and then said, “I’m falling short of  two rupees”.

From what?”, I questioned him again threateningly…

I’m falling short of two rupees to buy a Milk Dabba (can) for my 6-month old baby. I’ve collected thirty-eight rupees only from my entire day’s rickshaw- pulling, and the Milk Dabba costs forty rupees”.

I tried to open my mouth to say something. Before I could say anything, he stopped the rickshaw, looked back, saw my face and said, “no problem, I just requested you, if you don’t want.. don’t give, will wait for some more time and by God’s grace, I hope I will be able to earn two rupees more”.

Then he started paddling towards my home. After a couple of minutes, he murmured to himself (addressed to his kid), “By the time I collect two rupees more, shops will be closed, and you (his kid) will have to sleep again in hunger tonight”.

It was 11 P.M. at night in the month of November, quite late for the eastern part of India. He was pulling me in his cycle-rickshaw to my brother’s place in Cuttack. I was in my 12th standard at that time, studying at Ravenshaw College. That evening, I got late watching music and dance numbers in the famous Habib Melody. No one agreed to go for a fare of six rupees; all the rickshaw-walas (pullers) were charging ten to twelve rupees. I was bit surprised when this rickshaw-wala had agreed for six rupees after a moment’s thought. May be he was a bit calculative at that time and thought of losing the chance to earn four to six rupees more, just to get that Milk Dabba home in time. Even though he fell short of two rupees, he did not lose faith on his profession.

It is a 10-15 minute journey by rickshaw from Barabati Stadium to Sheltar Chak. In the entire conversation, I was silent for most of the time, thinking about him, his 6-month old baby, me, my friends and the society in general. I was not that matured at that time to understand everything. During Bali Yatra, I found some people throwing money on anything and buying trinkets indiscriminately. But the same people would have gone to any extent to bargain with a poor rickshaw-wala. I too had spent a lot from my pocket-money on eating and watching melodies and operas. Whereas the rickshaw-wala was struggling to save forty rupees by a whole day’s toil, in order to feed his small kid (forget about himself and his other family members).

The value of two rupees for him was the value of his kid’s life, whereas it had no meaning at all for some other people. Such is the denomination of money- something which has no value for someone might be a whole life for somebody else.

Those two rupees ….. aamjunta think about it.

“Mumbai Blues”- Aamjunta’s Aankhon-dekhi

With Food Security Bill pending in Parliament and debates over the implementation of it in real-life, I remembered an old story… This was there and now, it has perhaps become worse in most parts of India…

Life of an "Aamjunta"

It was almost quarter to eleven on a regular working day…

I had a tough day at lab and hostel trying to juggle with balancing my time and thesis writing. Additionally, summer seems to take toll on one’s energy level. That evening I got so irritable, stressed and exhausted that was unable to utter a single word. The demand and supply chain of the thesis writing was not matching. Demand was very high resulting in high pressure on the quality, quantity and the pace of my output. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner, had some biscuits instead in lab itself. Suddenly, my exasperation with the process made me think seriously of taking a break and I decided to go to either lake side or some where else and to sit there for some time by myself. I decided that I will not seek company and so did not ask…

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Indian Engineering Education – a Critical Look

After 10+2, Engineering stream is considered to be a lucrative choice for most of the Indians. This is mainly due to the prospect of software jobs in India. However, getting admission in the top institutions is a dream for many with a tough competition between coaching classes, students and parents. More than the students, sometimes the parents get more concerned and tensed. It will not be inappropriate to mention here that there are only a few institutes in India which can provide competitive and qualitative engineering studies. With the increase in population, the demand for such colleges has also increased in an alarming way.  One will not disagree to the fact that we need more number of colleges which have basic infrastructure and a strong faculty. This big concern for many became an opportunity for some to open private colleges. Though new colleges are supposed to cater to the demand of Engineering education in India, it became a distant reality in practice.

Private colleges are mushrooming in every part of India. This makes the admission process better and easy but sometimes complicated.  Though there are caps to the capitation fee (which is paid for the admission through management ) in the private colleges, there are open deals under and above the table. Some say, the capitation fees decided by the government is just the minimum fee; pay more and get an admission to a department of your choice, irrespective of your 10+2 percentages or score in the JEE tests. Taking admission through management quota is as usual a big loop-hole in the entire game. Many a times, colleges allow admissions hoping that a few will leave after a month or so, leading to another admission through management quota to fill the vacant seats. There are few cases in which the students are also involved in this kind of scam; they too get a pie from the capitation fee while leaving the college.

So far we have been discussing the admission process. Let us now move towards the advertisements/claims each and every college makes during admission process, campus interviews and JEE tests. Though their list contains many such points, let us look at some of the usual ones.

(i) Excellent facilities available

In a majority cases, the colleges do not have minimally-equipped laboratories and a central computer network. There are even colleges offering Electrical Engineering degree without permanent electricity supply and Computer Science department without a single computer therein. Yes, they do have laptops :), but only to see movies and play games.

(ii) Excellent faculty (from IITs/IISc and abroad) strength

More than 90% colleges do not have a PhD in the faculty and one would not be surprised to find only fresh BTechs as faculties taking higher semester classes. It does not stop here, most join as faculties when they do not find a job of their choice; a very few join with a passion for teaching. There are ample instances where one will find a list of visiting faculties only (no regular faculty !!). Another interesting point worth mentioning here is the list of faculties submitted to AICTE/UGC during academic audits. Many of the names submitted are fictitious, they do not even exist in this world. In some cases, names are shared between more than one department and even more than one college. Do not think that the officials (AICTE/UGC) do not have an idea about this. Yes, they do have this information and mostly it is bargained for some good amount of money or kind; some get very good posts in these colleges/universities as Chancellors, Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, Registrars, Pro-Vice Chancellors etc. after their retirement, and some even get honorary posts such as advisors, board members, directors etc. including honorary PhDs from these institutes.

(iii) Excellent R&D activities

Except a very few private colleges, others hardly do research work. However, many private colleges mention that they provide world class R&D facilities/activities on their campus. And about publications…  forget about students, even most of the faculties do not know how to write a paper. That is not their fault though; most of them have not gone through the rigorous process of paper writing and even have not attended a single conference of repute. In addition, their academic background also matters a lot. A majority of  them do not even do a post-graduation. What do we expect then? The faculties need to be taught first and then the students. Another interesting point is that of the quality of undergraduate/post-graduate thesis work. In many organizations these do not even qualify for submission/acceptance. However, most of them get excellent grades and the rest get good grades in their colleges. At least 60% students simply copy from Internet (some time entire report and some time in parts) and submit as their own thesis. There are instances even, students buy projects at a cost anything between Rs 8,000/- to Rs 20,000/- depending upon the complexity of project. It turns out to be a very good business for some people.

And surprisingly those thesis are accepted without being cross-checked. If someone does evaluation, then students argue unnecessarily (as they have paid capitation fees and hence are customers of the college/organization) and others criticize. Copy (ctrl + c) and Paste (ctrl + v) goes well with the faculties as well as the students in paper writing, thesis and in internal reports. On a positive note, yes… there are a very few good thesis and research work in some of these colleges. But that percentage is very low, most of the time it is even less that 10%.

(iv) 100% campus placement

This is a very tricky area, one has to go into the deeper root of the system to know the facts; many companies that come for placement  select and dump the selected employees after a 3/6 months training session. Reason – very low performance. But the truth in some (guess what is the percentage of this “some” !!!) cases is that these companies get a sizable amount of money from the parent college per student during selection. And they pay this salary from that money only. In fact, these students pay a considerable amount (sometimes even Rs 200k/-) for sitting in the campus interviews and colleges make a descent profit out of these. Both the colleges and the companies make win-win pacts with the students’ money and future at stake. Again, on a positive note, yes… there are some good and genuine placements happening in some private colleges; but mostly confined to software industry.

Having said all the above, let us now analyze the situation and attitude of students into such colleges. It will be incomplete and in-appropriate otherwise.

One would not be surprised to know that hardly any student comes to class/laboratories in their final semesters; be in 7th or 8th Semester. There are instances where students are allowed to pass (with good grades) even without attending a single lecture in any of the subjects in the semester. The reason is “Mass Bunk” – they have strong unity for it ; no one is allowed to attend the lecture. Those who get job (through campus placement or  other channel) sometimes do not attend; their reason – ‘how is this course going to help in our job ?’. Those who do not get job also do not attend lectures; their reason – ‘we are very busy in finding a job’. But if one verifies (either by going to their hostels/mess or by checkingir their day-to-day activities) irrespective of whether or not one gets a job, the attitude is not to attend lectures/labs; it is usually rather ‘enjoy — movies, treats, parties and datings’. Neither their parents  nor the authority in the college bother to know about these. Sometimes a few students come to class – out of courtesy, or by getting bored in hostels and home i.e. to time pass… not to study. These are just some of the general observations irrespective of the college type. It will not be 100% correct to blame only the students for this. Faculties, college management as well as the society at large are more or less responsible for this sorry state. Some faculties enjoy – no work and pay; some get frustrated… and find alternatives. A very few raise this issue with the management. Management usually keep their eyes closed… because in most of the cases, they do not have quality faculty or do not intend to hire better ones. For others, the organization is only a profit-making account.

With all the above developments in the education sector, especially in the Engineering stream where mostly we have below-standard academic ethics and rigor, how do we expect the country to grow in technology, research, infrastructure development and academics ? How can we compete at the global level ? Remember, software is not the only area where development is required for a country like India. It needs all round growth and development. Moreover, the craze of software jobs and mushrooming private engineering colleges have quite discouraged or stopped students from taking admissions into B.Sc., B.A. or B.Com. degrees. In many old colleges/Universities, seats are lying vacant for these courses. This is definitely an alarming issue to be dealt with. But how and who will initiate – you/ me/ Govt/or the Supreme Court ? We need educated, skilled and committed people in every field – be it in engineering or literature or medicine or  business or production.

Aamjunta – please think over it seriously and do share your thoughts/solutions (methods), if you have any. Do not hesitate to take some action if appropriate at your level. As a faculty or as a student or as a management trustee or as a government official or as a journalist – every one has to support for this cause and then only we can hope for the best, qualitatively and quantitatively. Keep it in mind that our job does not get over by sending our wards to these colleges or by opening new colleges or by taking a lecture or by recruiting young engineers for our companies. It is just the beginning; a beginning for a future – no one knows what exactly lies there but at least we can attempt for a better and firmer one. There is bubbling potentiality in our men and youth. But to build a strong and self-reliant India, we all need to seek genuine ways out and work with integrity.

Jai Hind!

Note: For the benefit/reference of interested readers, this article is a sequel to the following other articles published by aamjunta on the theme “Indian Education System“.

1. Qualitative Expansion of Indian Education System – Need for a Strong and Better India

2. From Single-Seater to Multi-Seater: Vision of Higher Education

3.A Roadmap for the Future of Research in IIT Bombay

Humanity at the Cost of Safety and Life?

In the hot summer if some one comes to your door step and asks for some drinking water, then what will you do?

You will give water and serve! Right!, “Atithi Devo Bhaba“, That is the usual manab dharm or to say humanity.

Hold on…

Let me narrate some of the incidents first, then you can answer for yourself.

Recently, a young couple, very well-dressed, were selling papad and some house-hold things in various parts of Bhubaneswar. They visited door to door, went to some one’s house at about 12.30 pm on a working day of an early summer. They went to some one’s house and pressed the calling bell. On hearing the bell, the lady of the house came to her door to check who is there and inquired from the couple what is the matter. Like many people, she also did not show any interest in buying those products. She was a newly married lady, well dressed with a nice saree and gold ornaments. She was about to close her door, the saleswoman requested her to give some drinking water. And as a matter of humanity or manab dharm, the house-owner lady called the sales-lady to her verandah and went home for water. She did not know what eventuality was following her. The sales couple followed her, bolted the front gate without anyone’s knowledge. They simply went to the kitchen and put the lady of the house on gun-point. It was too late for the lady of the house to understand what was happening. She could not do any thing; just gave them all her ornaments, cash and other valuables. In no time her house was looted by a couple who posed as marketing agents or sells person and that too exploit the hot summer. Bringing drinking water for them on a hot summer become a nightmare for her.

This is not one isolated incident, rather one of many such frauds, loots and cheating happening in various parts of our country. There are reports, that couples book train tickets (AC/Non-AC) and travel all along from Mumbai to Bhubaneswar or from Delhi to Puri or from Delhi to Patna or from Delhi to Howrah…; on long distance trains. They just gel with their co-passengers and make sure that no one doubts their behaviour at any point of time. They talk, eat, discuss and even share many things of their life, family and various other issues. They not only exchange their residence addresses (false address) they even share their bogus telephone numbers. They pose as responsible individuals and become friendly with their co-passengers in no time.  But friendship with them becomes a costly affair for many people in that carriage. They use some chemicals or medicines and make sure that their co-passengers get deep sleep on the 2nd night (long distance trains such as Konark Express, Purusottam Express, Howrah Mail etc., usually takes 36+ hours). This helps them to loot their new-friends. They simply vanish from the train after taking some valuables, bags and belongings of their co-passengers in  the night.  No one will have even any doubt, even if one sees them alighting from the train with bags and baggage. They ensure that they get down one or two station before their last stop and choose their prey with maximum care.

Sometime it is also observed that these couples aim very high, do not loot their prey on the train. Rather, they get down decently in their chosen stop. But afterwards, they start communicating with their new friends/co-passengers. These criminals invite them for vacation parties, and visit them frequently at their homes. In a month or two through them, they create a new bond with many other families. And on one fine day, they fool everyone by winning their trust, loot them as the 1st couple did on the hot summer or in  different innovative methods.

So…

Aamjunta, now tell me…  what is your answer,  give water or not?

After going through some recent reports on News Papers and TV, one will seriously think whether to give water or not. One should seriously think his/her safety first and then manab dharm or humanity…”Atithi Devo Bhava” . Many such incidents are happening in an alarming rate in the city. Unless, we the aamjunta keep an eye on such kind of couples and activities, we ourselves will be in problem. Who knows, who is their next pray. Be very careful aamjunta. Though it is right that “all our friends were strangers“, we need to be very careful wile dealing with strangers, be it in train or market. But, that does not mean that we will misbehave them or show our arrogance. Treat them with care, but at the same time keep an eye on their activities.

Note: I personally still believe that we should follow manab dharm, but with care. Belief should be with reason and facts, not blind. And I still want to practice “Atithi Devo Bhaba“, but with due care.

Satyameva Jayate

 

Beer bar, Liquor Shop and Aamjunta

Are yaar, chalo… yahan so jate hain,
Haan, achhi jagah hai… kyon hostel jayenge? yahan hi so jaate hain..

This was the post job treat conversation between two students. They fell from their cycle on their way to hostel from the main gate, after taking a heavy dinner and nice cock-tail in a reputed beer bar. Interestingly, we were also in the same job treat and were on our way walking to hostel too. When we saw them lying flat on the road, we could not believe our eyes. But, what to do? We put them into an auto-rickshaw and brought them to hostel. Before bringing them back, we picked and kept their cycle (badly damaged) near a tree.

This is just one among many incidents, which can be observed in our every-day life. Some times, the drunk-policeman on the road, or some time the drunk workers or rickshaw-wallah on the road, or some time the drunk officer in the office. It is observed everywhere, irrespective of place and culture.

A friend of mine went for a high profile international research workshop. He is a non-drinker and a vegetarian. Some of his course-mates who were members of faculty in different universities, teased him that he is not an “intellectual” because he doesn’t share a drink. The friend replied them in return that he doesn’t mind people drinking in front of him, even though he doesn’t drink himself. He added what had “intellectualism” to do with drinking or not drinking. The other group replied that an intellectual breaks stereotypes and societal norms by drinking. In fact, we get cool ideas and inspiration after a drink. Moreover, you may not gain entry into high profile circles if you do not share a drink — you would not be called an intellectual.

My friend was listening carefully and smiled a bit, listening to their statement. After a pause, he replied, “so an intellectual is a radical who deviates from societal norms and establishes himself as a revolutionary?” Everyone nodded. He then continued, “by drinking an intellectual gets entry into certain exclusive circles? also breaks norms“? People looked at him intently.

He continued, “precisely that is the reason why I don’t drink. Not for religious or political causes. I don’t drink because I want to break this new norm that has been established by intellectual community. By breaking tradition through drinking you are also creating new tradition of drinking. I refuse to be a part of any. My intellectualism (if that is what it means) is not to follow any tradition, and I refuse to follow ‘the intellectual tradition’. If getting drunk defines intellectualism, then I refuse to be called an intellectual.”

In an another incident, I could not believe my eyes, when I saw people making fun of a drunk bank officer in a reputed nationalized bank. Some of the customers were getting irritated and some were enjoying the free entertainment, where his colleagues were standing helpless. Finally, the branch manager had to intervene, and the officer was cordoned-off to some room in the bank. What an embarrassing scene!

If you follow newspapers or TV channels regularly, you can definitely mark/find regular news on drunken-driving, drunken-beating (wife/parents or both), feeding month’s salary (currency notes) in drunk state to Bulls/Cow or rapes/killing under the influence of heavy drinking. These kind of incidents are of course not new to us. It happens in our society, mostly in cities (villages are not far-off though). Drinking or serving drinks in parties/treats (irrespective of high/low profile parties) is not new. In fact, it is considered to be a status symbol in our society.

Beer-bars/dance bars (including ladies bars) are mushrooming, both in metros and in other cities. If the bars are just serving liquor or dance, then the harm to the society is not much. However, that does not happen in real life. Beer-bars/dance bars are becoming the hubs of all anti-social activities, starting from terrorist activities to eve-teasing, hooliganism to drug peddling, under-world activities to supari killing activities and also to violent moral policing. Does that serve the society in a healthy manner? I doubt!

Writing incidents about cities is nether sufficient nor complete to discuss these issues. Now a days, one can find many liquor shops in small cities and even in Panchayat Headquarters. You can find all brands (including deshi and videshi) of liquors there. Not only liquors, one can find other brands of Ganja/Charas there. Some of these shops are licensed while some are not. As long as they are paying haftas to the local leaders/gundas and Police, no one can stop them from doing their business. They prosper, even if they spend a lot on bribing various organizations/individuals.

On a different note. Last week, I was in Puri Swargadvara (literally Heaven’s Gate) to attend a funeral there. There is a liquor shop adjacent to the cremation ground “Swarga Dwar“. The proximity of the liquor shop to the funeral grounds was so close that one could smell the fumes of human cremation while one drank. Every one coming to the cremation ground asked one question, what is the “Foreign Liquor Shop” doing here? I too could not understand how come the shop keeper got the license there? Mostly I was thinking, “who is buying here”? at this locality? near the cremation ground!” Suddenly, two college girls (hardly in their early 20s) got down from a cycle rickshaw, went to the shop and bought 4 bottles of different brand. In no time they just vanished. After some time, couple of people came there, bought some bottles of wines and started making lewd comments on the ladies attending the funeral. I am still wondering, whether allowing to open the shop at that place is appropriate or not. It is definitely a subject for larger debate

If we (many of us, including the Govt.) understand the bad-effects of these kind of shops/bars or activities, then why do we allow these shops/bars to mushroom? This is a major problem in the south Indian cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Trivendrum, etc., where one can find liquor shops in every 20/30 meters… and that too most of the times open 24/7. Why? Is it because, the Govt. gets huge tax or revenue? or is it because these shop keepers or bar owners are influential or do we really need them? Many of us drink, some are occasional and some are regular. Some can afford, whereas many cannot; resulting in regular disturbances, fights, suicides, killings, rapes, eve teasing and stealing, etc. For some of us it is a status symbol, for some of us it is a fight between life and death, for some of us it might be a medicine…

And for the aamjunta …. let aamjunta decides what is good and what is bad; we all are independent in thinking, life style and expressing our views 🙂

Note: The incidents described are inspired from real-life stories. Neither I support drinking, nor I object. But, I am strongly against the ill-effects of drinking.

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