Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's have Military Rule sans sudden coup...

A periodic dose of military rule will help us appreciate the value of 'Freedom' and the associated responsibility that ought to accompany it.

We often hear it said that we get the government, (and the municipal corporation, and the police) we deserve. 
But methinks we are asking for, indeed we need a good dose of ... military rule. No don't look West to locate and quote a history of coups. Instead calm down and read on -
For a period of about 6 months before every election, let us have the military personnel administer India, ie, the function of governance will be carried out by the three defence forces, supported by the paramilitary, the Territorial Army, and the Home Guards. A civilian will still head government, don't worry - the President, as S.C.A.F.
A periodic dose of military rule will help us appreciate the value of 'Freedom' and the associated responsibility.
"Responsibility is the price of freedom", ... whether it is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, or any of the other 'guaranteed' freedoms.
Why do I say so? Read on - 
On the return of a brand of noodles, my fellow citizens say:
"Welcome back, 
We missed you.
So what if you're not healthy? At least you're safe.
We are living (surviving) on far worse food, air and water.
Go ahead, you make your profits.
We and our children will overcome. If we don't, there's always the 'karma' scapegoat to blame..."
On car-free days, my fellow citizens say:
"I'll not observe car-free voluntarily. I'll oblige the day the exercise is made compulsory".
On plastic-bag usage, my fellow-citizens say:
"Let the Govt ban. Till then don't deny us our convenience, laziness and indifference.
....oh, the environment? The business environment is very good, very eco(nomy)-friendly. See the amount of FDI we are raking in".
On civic sense, my fellow citizen says:
"Yes, yes, my neighbour has none.
The municipality has not provided dust-bins....
The contractor and corporator are hand-in-glove..."
On traffic sense, my fellow citizen says:
"The police is not around.
Zebra crossing? What's that?
These pedestrians... can't they see where they are going?"

Got it now?
Let me list the immense benefits of a 6-month military rule.
1. The military will ensure strict adherence to pre-election model code of conduct.
2. Indifferent citizens will get a chance to 'obey', follow rules, stick to nation-wide legitimate diktats.
3. For 6 months, it's possible to get even the media to behave.
4. The entire country will get a sample of what governance ought to be.
  My fellow soldiers will do a great job; I know for sure.

Monday, November 02, 2015

EFCC - is it Economy, Finance and Crony Capitalism?

MoEFCC is the acronym for the Ministry of Environment-Forests-ClimateChange, but it is headed by a Minister for 'Economy, Finance and Crony Capitalism' ....
"Please see how systematically the so called MoEF&CC (because it is now doubtful if this Ministry is any longer the custodian of the nation's ecological security) is hell bent on diluting environmental norms left, right and centre:
The first part of this series, by biologist TR Shankar Raman, showed how the ministry stopped considering the hydrological value of forests -- the rivers and streams they give birth to. 

India is diluting forest protection by ignoring this one vital thing

The concluding part, by environmental lawyer Shibani Ghosh, focuses on the ministry's attempts to stop considering public health while granting clearances in critically polluted areas.

Is India’s pollution control agency weakening pollution regulation?

It is also a matter of grave concern when such issues do not figure in mainstream media stories or TV debates????"

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dilli's ills - 3 - "Who governs our cities?"

"How to tackle the institutional problems of a metropolis is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. I wonder how these mega problems can be broken up into bite sized, chewable ones".

The list of agencies 'taking care' of NCR is truly endless.

NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council)
NDMC, SDMC, EDMC (trifurcated Municipal Corporation of Delhi)
DCB Delhi Cantonment Board
DUDA Delhi Urban Development Agency (newest kid on the block)
*(The ever-expanding NCR has other agencies too)
MCF Municipal Corporation Faridabad
MCG Municipal Corporation Gurgaon
Noida Development Authority / Noida Municipal Corporation

"The fact is that Indian cities, unlike many cities abroad, lack leadership. The mayor, supposed to be the first citizen of the city, has neither the time nor the power to steer the city's affairs. The tenure is a glorious one year in cities like Delhi and Bangalore or a slightly extended 20 months in some other cities. Contrast this with cities such as London, Paris or New York where the mayor is looked upon as a person to lead and guide the destiny of the city in good times and bad. Following 9/11, it was mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani, and not the governor or president, who played a key role in restoring the city and the spirit of its citizens."
"It is time for radical reforms in city governance. The 74th constitutional amendment of 1993 aimed at making the municipalities units of self-governance. Seventeen years down the line, this vision has remained mostly on paper. A multiplicity of authorities are engaged in administering a metropolitan city - the municipal corporation, water board, electricity board, urban development authority, road transport corporation, slum clearance board and over and above all these, the state government wielding powers of control and direction. The decentralisation envisaged under the constitution remains a mirage. State governments are reluctant to let go of their powers over cities which not only generate wealth but wealthy politicians and bureaucrats, exemplified by the recent scams: Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Adarsh in Mumbai and land deals elsewhere. The urban growth in India is accompanied by the growth of political economy in its ugly form.

As the Indian population turns more and more urban and with increasing number of urban electoral constituencies, cities are becoming battlegrounds of political power. In the last elections to one of the largest municipal corporations in India, candidates are said to have spent up to Rs 2 crore to win a small ward of not more than 30-40,000 people - an indicator of the enormous scope for corruption in our fast-growing metros. No wonder civic services suffer and urban infrastructure is far below the expected standards.

Any urban reform agenda should aim at creating city-level leadership along with accountability. This can be achieved by introducing a system of a directly elected mayor with executive powers and a five-year tenure. The mayor with his team would become responsible for all civic services and major city activities. Ward and neighbourhood committees would be constituted with powers to deal with local issues. The central and state governments would have to devolve adequate authority and resources to the local governments to function effectively. Systems and procedures would need to be streamlined to ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency.

Not that these reforms will transform our cities overnight but they are likely to throw up city-level leaders who will behave more responsibly. A system of checks and balances will have to be put in place. Local democracy also demands a vigilant citizenry that is more law-compliant. Ultimately, good governance is a combination of enlightened leadership and responsible citizenship."

(from a 2010 article by A Ravindra, former chief secretary of Karnataka)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dilli's ills - 2. Water is a precious 'fossil fuel' too!

Ha! The Delhi Government has approved the proposal to provide 20,000 litres of water free of cost to every household per month. Sewer charges were also withdrawn, to mark the 100 day milestone.
Delhi needs nearly over 5000 million litres per day. 

While i agree that water - that good, natural, sweet fuel everyone needs - should remain in the commons, i'd like to know 
1. what steps are being taken to reduce / eliminate wastage / misuse / overuse?
2. why is RWH not being implemented on war footing?
3. why are RO system vendors allowed to indiscriminately / aggressively market their product as the first and last solution to obtain potable water?

Delhi should not be pampered any more. The earlier netas and citizens realize this, the better or the entire nation.
"Delhi’s water demand, according to the DJB, is 4,903 million litres daily (MLD) but the total supply is 3,995 MLD. Of this, according to the Centre for Science and Environment, 52% is lost to leakage.
This projected total demand in 2017 is expected to rise to 5,130 MLD.
Delhi needs additional 80 million gallons water per day (MGD) from Haryana. The Renuka dam in Himachal promises to bring in another 275 MGD in the next decade. Recent reports say Haryana has been not releasing enough water into the Yamuna to maintain production in Delhi, causing officials to panic.
So why such scarcity of water in a city that has flourished for hundreds of years? For centuries, Delhi’s primary source of water used to be its water bodies — wells and ponds. As the population increased, the demand rose, putting pressure on the earlier “ample” water supply. The city had to look for other sources — the Yamuna basin and groundwater.
Now the main source remains surface water from the Yamuna basin from where it gets 735 MGD. With only a slim chance of getting additional river water, groundwater is the only hope. But that too is under threat. Surface water accounts for 88% of the city’s water supply.
The groundwater level has been going down. This means one would have to dig deeper to find water. An analysis of the last 10 years shows the overall groundwater level is going down by .02 to 1.44 metres per year because of increased extraction and reduced natural recharge." (source)

Friday, May 15, 2015

How many toxic time bombs?

Too many time-bombs ... it's time to update or upgrade journalists' vocabulary.

1. E-waste 
"Illegal trade is driven by the relatively low costs of shipment and the high costs of treatment in the developed countries. Quoting an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, the UNEP report says that exporting e-waste to Asia worked out 10 times cheaper than processing it in within these countries.
The Indian subcontinent has turned into an important destination for European waste. This goes beyond e-waste to include household waste, metals, textiles and tires — which are exported to India and Pakistan, says the report “Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenges in the Waste Sector.”
“There is a significant trade in compressors to Pakistan. These should be depolluted prior to export, but waste operators seeking to avoid expense often omit this step,” the report notes.
The vast majority of illegal e-waste ends up in landfills, incinerators, and in ill-equipped recycling facilities. “The waste is dumped in areas where local residents and workers disassemble the units and collect whatever is of value... What is not reusable is simply dumped as waste, creating immense problems and leading to what has been described as a ‘toxic time bomb’.”"

2. Garbage 

"Over 6,000 tonne of plastic waste generated every day in the country remains uncollected and littered and only 60% of the more than 15,000 tonne of plastic waste is recycled daily, says a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) survey report.
The survey was on Wednesday submitted by additional solicitor general Mohan Jain before the Supreme Court that expressed shock at the pile-up of plastic waste.
“It’s frightening. We are sitting on a time bomb. All the rivers will die in the next 10 years,” noted a bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi.
The bench’s observation came during the hearing of gutka manufacturers’ plea challenging the ban on sale of pan masala containing tobacco.
Delhi tops the list in plastic waste generation. Of the 6,800 tonnes of municipal solid waste generated daily, plastic accounts for 689.52 tonnes." (source)

3. Air
"Air pollution in India has assumed endemic proportions and brooks no complacency. With a World Health Organisation study ranking Delhi as the world’s most polluted city and identifying 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities as being in India, we ought to sit up and act on a war footing.
Last year, the Environmental Preference Index ranked India 174 out of 178 countries for air quality, reflecting the dismal performance in this sector. Evidently, this has been the case for so long without our batting an eyelid.
There is a sense of apathy that is amazing, considering that our lives and our future are involved. Hardly any one takes the central and state governments to task.
It is a sad commentary on the callous attitude of our political dispensation and our persistent neglect of our environmental concerns that the data we are now planning to put out in 10 major cities has been available to us for years and we made virtually no use of it. There can be little doubt that at this rate, a time bomb is ticking away for us" (source)

4. Water
a) "...woes of Delhi Water supply ... it applies to most Indian cities. For instance, Bangalore is sitting on a water time bomb with all kinds of issues.
They point how Delhi which had good quality of water in 1950s has such poor quality now:
In the early 1950s, the quality of urban water services in Delhiwas similar to the best of other major urban centres of Asia. In fact, in 1950, shortly after the second World War, water provisioning in Delhi was better than Tokyo or Osaka. At that time, Tokyo was losing nearly 85 per cent of its water through leakages and poor maintenance. Even at the beginning of the 1960s, Delhi’s water supply was similar to that of Singapore and better than Bangkok, Manila or Phnom Penh.
Many Asian cities such as Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Colombo, Manila, Phnom Penh and Singapore have improved their water services significantly in the post-1970 period. Sadly, Delhi’s services have been on a downward spiral. Currently, all the above cities are providing their inhabitants with 24 hours of clean water that can be drunk straight from the taps. In contrast, less than two-thirds of the Delhi households are lucky to receive even one to three hours of water that is not even drinkable without additional treatment at home.
Slightly more than a decade ago, Delhi residents used simple carbon filters to purify city water before drinking. Currently, the quality has so worsened that an average Delhi household uses membranes and reverse osmosis before they can dare to drink city water.
And these RO purifiers are worsening the problem in whichever cities they are used. Nearly 50% of water is wasted in the process. 

Let us compare Singapore and Delhi, which had similar levels of water and drainage services for monsoon rains around 1960. When Singapore became independent in 1965, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew realised that water was a strategic resource for national development. Singapore formulated long-term urban water management plans, and Prime Minister Lee insisted on getting a monthly report on the progress of the water situation until he retired in 1990. In a private discussion, he told us that he had three experts in his office who regularly assessed all major development decisions through the lens of water before they could be approved.
Not surprisingly, with such high-level continuous political support, within 20 years Singapore become one of the best examples of urban water and wastewater management in the world." (source)

b) "A UN report has described India’s water pollution situation as a “time-bomb” while praising social activist Anna Hazare’s village Ralegan Siddhi for using the scarce commodity in a rationale manner.
In a stinging remark on water administration in India, the report says India is able to treat just 10 % of its city sewage and industrial waste discharge, the most polluting source for rivers and water bodies.
“Presently, only about 10% of the waste water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as is into our water bodies. Due to this, pollutants enter rivers, lakes and the groundwater,” the Unicef’s water situation in India – situation and prospects report said.
The report also said the drinking water, which ultimately ends up in our households, is often highly contaminated and carries disease-causing microbes. And, its victims are mostly children. Government studies have shown that a major cause of under-five child mortality was water-borne diseases.
The report highlighted that water source for over half of the Indians living in two major river basis — Ganga and Brahmaputra — was highly contaminated. An evidence of that was rising number of arsenic-affected areas in Bihar and West Bengal despite the government spending crore of rupees. Situation in rich agriculture areas of India’s wheat bowl — Haryana and Punjab — is no better with high pesticide contamination.
The report said there was no model in India that shows best ways to tackle the waste water generated through the industrial and domestic sectors.
“The agencies responsible for checking industrial pollution have failed. Pollution contributes to water scarcity by contaminating freshwater resources,” the report said.
The only saving grace presented in the report was example of Hazare’s village. The report said there was evidence to suggest that employing certain management principles as in Ralegan Siddhi and Hiwre Bazar can improve water situation and check contamination." (source)

5. Construction
"India's construction time bomb threatens thousands.
It's not just Delhi; decrepit constructions that don't conform to safety codes are a big problem in cities and towns across India, says Chandan Ghosh, from the Indian home ministry's National Institute of Disaster Management. He has surveyed Delhi's structures for decades, and says most break basic building regulations. He says the problem is so pervasive that enforcement has become impossible.
"Our systems are not equipped to enforce engineering standards required to build safe houses. There's a gross shortage of manpower, expertise -- and maybe will."
The Delhi residential block that caved in on June 28 was built on a plot barely 19 square yards. With no pillars or beams to support its floors, it collapsed after neighbors starting removing earth to re-build their own house.
Safety codes prescribe at least 150 square yards of land is required to construct a standard apartment, explains Ghosh.
Buildings in Indian cities are often unplanned and strung together in cramped rows, without space between them. Experts say this can be disastrous if one is more structurally vulnerable than the others. Owners of buildings often sell off parts of these buildings to individuals, who then construct extensions.
"This type of housing is not unauthorized but remains extremely dangerous," says Ghosh. "Unfortunately, it's mushrooming all over without checks and balances."
With rapid urbanization occurring since India liberalized its economy in the 1990s, New Delhi's population has grown exponentially to almost 17 million -- more than 21% in the past decade, census figures show.
To make matters worse, Indian authorities believe the Indian capital is vulnerable to seismic activity. In 1999, an 6.5 magnitude earthquake some 173 miles (280 kilometers) from Delhi caused some damage to buildings in the city, but raised fears about the potential harm from another temblor of similar intensity happening nearer. It's a "disaster waiting to happen," according to Ghosh.
According to Delhi's disaster-management department website, "Pockets with high-rise buildings or ill-designed high-risk areas exist without specific consideration of earthquake resistance. Similarly, unplanned settlements with sub-standard structures are also prone to heavy damage even in moderate shaking."
Yet people have to continue to put themselves at risk because they've nowhere else to go.
"A lethal cocktail of unethical constructions, substandard material (and) a lack of enforcement ... are endangering countless lives," says Ghosh.
"These fatal incidents happening every now and then are a warning. It's time all stakeholders, including citizens, took it seriously." " (source)

Dilli's ills - 1. Unbreathable Air: Why this pathetic apathy?

In May 2014 a new Government assumed charge at the Centre, in India's national capital Delhi, with a brute majority. A few decades of (dysfunctional) coalition politics had the experts saying that India can no longer see single-party rule, but the voters knew better.

In Feb 2015, a new Government assumed charge in India's national capital Delhi, with a clean 'sweep' of 67 of 70 seats.

In the years prior to 2014, both the local and central governments were (mis)managed - for long - by a different crowd led by India's GOP, and the bureaucracy can still be seen to be well-tuned in that style of functioning.

In all this while, the national capital was galloping towards the position of No 1. Not in Governance. Not in Sustainability. Not in Women's Safety.

In pollution, India's national capital, far outperformed every other place in this wide wide world and beyond. Far worse than the visible pollution (vehicle exhaust, factory fumes) is the invisible killer - toxic levels of PM2.5 and PM10. ("Delhi’s grim distinction is that it has even higher levels of PM10, as well as of the smaller particulates, PM2.5, that are more likely to kill because they go deeper into the lungs. Levels of PM2.5 in Delhi are routinely 15 times above levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation. New data suggest that, on this score, Delhi’s air has been 45% more polluted than that of the Chinese capital for the past couple of years".)

With a brute majority, even possibly populated with several 'brutes', the central and local governments, between them, have the power
- to curb the irrational, far-beyond-the-city's-capacity proliferation of vehicles,
- to regulate polluting industries, including under-performing, but toxic power plants
- to enforce staggering o working hours
- to aggressively improve and impose means of public transportation
- to take the people into confidence, work with citizen groups, RWA's and NGO's to make the process of implementation of tough measures appear less brutal.

And the people of Delhi? Other than history buffs and those who respect land, water, nature, clean air - wherever they live - Delhi is populated by people who haven't lost any love on their monster city ("MONSTROCITY"). They spit, they love their polythene and polystyrene, they consume like gluttons (Amrica does too, you see), their pets suffer from obesity, they own their roads.. (Oh the sense of ownership of the roads - Delhiites, both citizens and law-keepers fiercely defend their rights on road usage).

Delhi after all has a history of 'takers', hardly any 'givers', whether it is Lutyen's Delhi, or any of the 2000+ illegal colonies, or any of the bizarre sub-cities and satellite townships that mushroomed during the past couple of decades, in the name of Holy Progress and Pious Development.

With no one to heed the voice of the environment, a minuscule number of concerned citizens, individually or through support groups, notably the NGT, have been trying to raise the common issue of air  pollution - which of course affects the 'cursed' have-nots in far worse ways then the 'blessed' haves. 

What do the power-wielders say? It is easy to gauge attitudes from the responses.

  • Sheila Dikshit, who was the chief minister of Delhi from 1998-2013, said, “You have to understand that there are various lobbies. If auto manufacturers have buyers, for them it looks unfair that we are stopping their growth. On the other hand, the air quality has become worse. Unless there’s a collective decision and the lobbies come together for the good of the people, nothing can be done. I find it a little disappointing. We have been through it, innumerable meetings with the lobbies. Because we, the people of Delhi, were the most disturbed by it.” (source)
  • Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar: It is good that the media is highlighting the issue. This would force local authorities to take urgent action to curb pollution. (source)(emphasis added)
  •  AAP is committed to work for the well being of the people and our country. Every issue is important to us. Although pollution does not feature in Delhi dialogues, we are committed to look into this serious issue.  Sure, we will take inputs from all concerned departments and take appropriate steps to bring down pollution levels. Team AAP

What the media says:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Nature, Culture, Agriculture

In the course of a couple of decades of 'nomadic' travel all over India, we have lived in a fair number states / cities / rural areas.

Places as diverse as rural Nashik, NCR Delhi, beautiful Srinagar, busy Bangalore, suburban Coimbatore, unheard-of Misamari have been our homes at different points of time between the early '90s and now.

So there has been a fair mix of metro-life, small city-life and living in rural locations. And if anyone were interested in asking us to choose between the three, rural living would win hands down.

The common thread that links India's rural areas is a heady combination of Nature-Culture-Agriculture.
Nature is still visible at all times of day and night, not obscured by poisonous air, concrete, steel and glass.
Rich culture is evident too; traditional practices thrive in homes and fields.
And the fields - they speak to you of the bounty that regularly fill and refill India's granaries.

To a safely ensconced but empathetic, concerned armchair activist-individual like me, this scene is idyllic enough. And so for the life of me, i can't imagine why people in government don a blindfold when it comes to the question of preserving and nurturing rural livelihoods.

Our rural areas could do with better local self-management / governance, better recognition of the role of rural livelihoods in the national fabric, and a certain amount of necessary infrastructure (not luxury amenities). With these systems in place, there is no reason why city-dwellers (whose noses are not stuck too far above among the ozone molecules) shouldn't rethink and relocate.
                                     Sane, simple, sustainable solutions stare us in the face,
                                         But the blindfold seems to be firmly held in place!

No amount of pompous proclamations from bullet-proofed ramparts or well-organized political platforms will be able to obscure such realities as these:
- Whether NH 37 or NH 47, the smaller towns and villages are literally bypassed. Take the design of the cross roads at busy junctions under flyovers. Above, vehicles zip past at speeds of over 100, but down below are several blind spots, inaccessible footpaths, gravel strewn unfinished roads, and unregulated growth in number of vehicles.
- The plastic habit, junk foods and wily exploiters have easily reached rural India far faster than potable water, electricity or conscientious administrators.
- Yes, Bharat matches India in haphazard traffic. The more prosperous rural folk care less than two hoots for civic responsibilities, and would easily merge with their thoughtless city brethren.
- Rural India too reels from SWmM - Solid Waste Mis-Management. Directives have reached circle officers from district headquarters to 'identify suitable spots for landfills', not for say 'strict implementation of waste segregation at source and facilitation of recycling centres'.

Rural hai magar shaant hai. In the company of birds and birdsong all day long (we don't mind the owls either), dark enough / deep enough / dense enough 'woods', green fields just yonder, with whole families out working along with the soil, taking care o the land that cares for them... yes, i could stay put, pitch in however i can, and ultimately blend in too.

You can't call Delhi a metro/city any more. It's a monstrosity. And that's where we are headed. :( Again. :( :(

Sunday, March 22, 2015

From 1:1 to 18:78

Mom and i began a (mostly online) journey in Jan 2011.
Thanks to MTNL New Delhi, BSNL Kerala and BSNL Assam for enabling this journey.
Thanks also to family.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Just a Thin Line Separates the Holy from the Unholy...

A visit to Guwahati is said to be incomplete without logging your attendance at the kAmakhyA temple. Another popular shrine is the umAnanda temple on the Brahmaputra.  

After avoiding a visit for so long (B has been generous with his graphic descriptions of the temples, their ambience, the surroundings, the hoary history), i finally 'logged' the two places in February. (I say logged also because we gave the sanctum sanctorums at both the temples a miss). 

It truly is blissful to enter a temple without a bag, a phone and the ego. This time the bliss ended there.

What is the footprint we left there? Some CO2, and several teardrops.

What did we takeaway? No prasAd, no holy forehead markings, only too many unfortunate impressions - 
1. Bleating kids and goats awaiting their turn to be sacrificed to appease the deity / please the purohit / satisfy an ego / satiate several tummies as 'prasAd'. Heart-wrenching. Blood could be seen flowing freely, so did my tears.
2. Rough and tough saffron-clad Pandas (purohits), no different from predatory touts, waiting for brand new visitors, to whom they can sell their services by conducting them through the entire complex - for a price. (And yes, there is a VIP entry possible too). 
3. The multitude of pigeons clinging to the lovey rock faces and sculptures, pigeons and doves of all hues probably awaiting nightfall and a few hours of freedom from teeming humans. (The white ones are mostly smeared with some vermilion-coloured chemical)
4. Despite sign boards that caution you against taking pictures, everyone is busy recording their holiness against vanity-bolstering backdrops. 
5. Our son caught between my silent, near-grieving, observance of this facet of 'Hinduism' and his agnostic-father's quite vociferous, realistic descriptions of publicised displays of devotion.

The approach to umAnanda temple is very scenic. Ferries ply between MG Road and the temple located on an island yonder. Here too, touts ensure that your passage to the temple is anything but peaceful.
1.     A mainland agent transfers you to a ferry agent, who in turns ties up with the ferry operator. (Though the Govt-operated ferries charge a very nominal Rs 10 one way, they are simply not available).
2.     Well-shod tourists munching snacks (no marks for guessing where the trash went) reach the ferry for a brief session of selfies and groupfies ahead of reaching the temple.
3.     A couple of men are busy filling near-white sands in sacks, presumably for legitimate purposes.
4.     No, there were no life jackets made available, despite rules that exist as a consequence of several tragedies that routinely happened all over the country.
5.     It’s a precarious transfer from the ghat to the ferry in the mainland and the island.
6.     Just adjacent to the sanctum, happy but indifferent families enjoy a ‘picnic’

A learned friend had recently described his impressions after a visit to the holy Mansa Devi temple
"Yesterday I went to the famous Mansa Devi temple in the outskirts of Chandigarh. It's a very prosperous shrine, and of course is visited by several lakhs of devotees every year. After paying respect, I went to the 'langar' which devout pilgrims treat it as a 'prashad'. I was appalled to see the unhygienic conditions in which food is prepared and served. The quality of rice was much worse than what is available under PDS. Cooked vegetables served were not worth it. Looking at the shabby condition of the water purifier and the wash basins, I avoided drinking water. And when I went to the washroom, there is nothing worse that I have seen. Not only terribly stinking, the toilet seats were overflowing with solid waste. The urine pots were leaking and the floor had layers of urine all around. This makes me wonder why the religious outfits never launch a drive to clean these shrines and to keep it always clean and 'swachch". Didn't Mahatma Gandhi say: "Cleanliness is next to God"."

i am convinced that the trusts and trustees of our temples, (whether famous / infamous / nondescript) must devote time and resources at creating and reinforcing awareness of cleanliness first and cleanliness last. Everything else can wait. Most temples are rich enough, surely. Varying degrees, and maybe slightly different takeaways, but i think i've exited the temples at Guruvayoor, Tirupati, Mathura, Brindavan, Kheer Bhawani, besides innumerable ones in Tamizh nAdu with more misgivings than quiet contentment. 

When will we begin to think of overcoming Hinduism’s external trappings? It is possible: sanAtana dharma provides individualised, customised private paths to hasten slowly.

The only temples that offer a clean and peaceful ambience imo are those in rural KeraLa that make do with dedicated local care-takers and limited income. (Polythene has invaded though). 

On the one hand we have ancient temples languishing in utter neglect all over our country, with half-hearted information and cautionary 'Protected Monument' signboards. 

Then we have these popular holy destinations that have somehow embedded themselves as boon-fulfilling pilgrim centres, but in reality are monstrous, commercial, exploiting, businesses, replete with graded darshan queues, plastic merchandise, suspicious-looking prasAd, and dubious pujAris.

And then we also have magnificent 5-star temple complexes replete with prasAd / food courts built more to glorify a sect than as places for divinity to reside. 

Swachh Bharat Mission could include Swachh Mandir Mission, can't it, Mr PM-and-your-Holier-than-Everybody-Else-Saffron-Brotherhood?

And yes, i am all for abolishing the VIP culture at temples also. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

"The Indian Citizen's Burden: Let us Vote for Change"

Please do read what this Delhi resident has to say. The message is simple and direct, and ought to set you thinking, at the least!

The Indian Citizen's Burden: Let us Vote for Change:     I write this as a supporter of Aam Aadmi Party. I write this in support of a people

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When "clouds burst" at the "abode of clouds"...

Ahead of the Durga Puja, the Goddess was 'helping' sell everything from luxury lats to trendy accessories, even shampoo. (Do businesses employ symbols of other faiths too, during festival seasons as marketing agents and salespeople... Do they dare?) 

Ahead of Durga Puja, also, the Goddess bestowed one form of bounty - copious torrents of the life-giving liquid - water. This time through a cloudburst in India NE. City floods are quite common now, we know, thanks to rampant urbanization and poor solid waste management. Clueless administration demands Central aid, money changes hands from and to clueless Govts, grandiose plans and disaster relief measures get announced (with the media coverage directly proportional to the product of the estimated losses and the promised relief bounty).

Floods in rural areas are as devastating too. When vast open fields end up inundated, there are short and long term losses too. 

Here is a good account of one of the series of 'blessings' - "Palanquin belief & grisly reality - Almanac says Durga’s arrival on a palki spells doom; professor lists reasons for calamity" (Pictures taken at a place called Sonapur under "Dimoria development block of Guwahati sub-division, an area of Kamrup (Metro) district with hill and plain. It is extended between latitude 26°10' N and longitude 91° 45'E and its approximate altitude is 55m above MSL The temperature ranges from 6°-38°C, average rainfall is 1,600 mm per yr and the relative humidity is 76.6%. A tributary Digaru is flowing through the heart of town. The geographical area of Dimoria development block is 261.64 km2 of which, an area of 16.58 km2 is under forest. As per 2001 census, total population is 1,19,584".
"बाढ़ में जा !" is a common "Get lost!" expression.  Viewing and hearing reports of J&K floods, and seeing and experiencing Assam floods will prevent people from using this expression even against enemies, let alone fellow living,  loving beings.
So the India NE floods didn’t make much of a news item for mainstream media. Trending these days were foolishness at Delhi zoo, bitter and petty seat-sharing brawls in Maharashtra , and of course the brainless antics of a publicity-mad newspaper and one of its page 3, equally brainless bestsellers... 
Happy that Mangalyaan carried on, relentless in its onward journey.... the only true representation of undaunted optimism. 
So the least you can do is wish people "बाढ़ में  भी जियो !"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Rethink on the Indian Pledge...

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

More to the Beach than Meets the Eye...

Don't these queries make you curious at least, even if they have not created any consternation in you?

If you visit the Thengapattinam Beach between Trivandrum and Kanyakumari, you can see solid concrete octopods (core locs) - thousands of them being stacked to build seawalls and breakwaters to protect the fishing harbour. It turns out that ports and coastal structures are being built along India 5400 km long coastline without getting to know enough about the coastal dynamics.

Cdr Puthur has suggested a theory of how coasts get formed and get eroded, in clear language and with convincing logic. Travel along the coastline "long necklace ornamented with beautiful wave-lashed beaches, with sands white, brown, golden and glittering black" with Cdr Puthur and Google Earth. If you love the beach and the vast open sea, you must undertake this journey to realise that beaches are eroding, and may completely disappear in the not too distant future.

A story so well told, but certainly not fiction.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The State & The Sea. And The State of the Sea

Crows are intelligent birds. All you need is a few minutes of your time and plenty of patience to observe the creature foraging for tidbits. I could do just that for a whole hour when I visited a popular beach in the Kovalam stretch on a mildly sunny Sunday morning in February. Several tourists reached the beach and set about such a routine - spread a beach towel or mat, leave belongings, use another towel to lightly 'hide' them, before heading seaward.
My subject crow waited in the wings, hopped down from a perch, stepped and jumped on the sand to reach one set of spread-out stuff, and  tilted the head to delicately peck at the covering towel to try and look for the right kind of stuff - if any - left by the careful tourists. Did I say I watched patiently? The crow beat me at that - he exhibited due diligence, patience and perseverance while looking for what he wanted.



But this post is not about this crow or any other. This is about a different kind of patience that both fascinated and shamed me. A family of three stepped into the water, each parent automatically taking turns at watching out for their young child, who would alternate between adding 'brick and mortar' to her sand castle, and playing in the shallow waves. 
This post is not about this child either. This post is about one of her parents.

Even as I watched the crow, the child, the tourists' (by-now familiar) routine (prepare spot on beach, wade into the water, wade out in a while, lie down to sunbathe), I could not help but notice that particular tourist - the parent - make several trips in and out of the water. 

Each trip back from the water saw the parent hold a short stick, with something hanging at one end, reach the adjacent rocky ledge (the ledge serves as the access to the Kovalam tourism police post) deposit the item, walk back into the waves, and repeat this sequence. 
In between trips, the parent forgot neither to help out with the child, nor to have the pleasure of wading and swimming in the waves. After all, that is the purpose for which many tourists make a beeline to tropical shores - to escape extreme winter elsewhere in our country and in the world. 

Back to the parent. I counted 21 trips. Then I gave up. Convinced that this parent cared for the child, and cared equally well if not more for the kind of world in which that child was growing. 
If one tourist can try to fish out rubbish from the sea trip after patient trip - all in the course of a brief morning sojourn to the beach - in the hope of trying to 'clean up' a portion of the beach to be used by the child, imagine the enormity of our individual and collective responsibility. 
We - each of us - have to stop dumping waste as we please
We also have to start cleaning the mess to which we have collectively contributed.

“Many of the fishermen here have been telling that recently, more than fish, it’s plastic that gets caught in their nets,” he said, pointing out that with more efforts on from various quarters to pump the city’s waste into the sea, shoreline fishing was being made a sitting duck for the ill-effects of all kinds of pollution, and not just plastic." [Quoting from  "A turtle’s tryst with waste" (local newspaper report dated 8 Feb 2014)]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stop the Cloning of Cities!

Indian cities have been trying hard at developing into clones of big cities across the world, and succeeding. (Aside: In the matter of solid waste management they are just clones of each other). Bangalore was a laid back garden city till about a couple of decades ago, even though it was the aerospace-cum-electronics hub of India. If we put together all the pros and cons of living comfort, standards of living, and quality of life, we will find that the present Bengaluru has unfortunately lost its overall charm.

We have let globalisation and technological revolutions invade our urban spaces and our mind spaces so much, and at too fast a pace, that entire sections of urban residents have forgotten to pause, look around, smell the earth, and think of whole lots of other people to whom globalisation has meant deprivation, more financial burden and regress.

An area of the city, 8 Jan 2003 imagery

Same area 27 Jan 2013 imagery
Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) is a uniquely endowed, endearing, overgrown village. But it is increasingly obvious that this city is also hurtling down the ‘progress and development’ path blindly, with foolhardy zeal and no imagination whatsoever. Think of the city 20 to 30 years from now: only more glass facades, more high-rise match boxes marring the green skyline, and humongous concrete masses looking down on snarling traffic, tempers adding heat to treeless avenues...

Mahatma Gandhi is said to have termed the city of Trivandrum as “Evergreen city of India”, blessed as it is with plenty of tree cover, and nestled on small hills between the Western Ghats and the coast.

It is evident that with globalisation, newer technologies and industries invade and take over / overtake the very thought processes of a city and end up thrusting a narrow concept of development. Prosperity and well-being of a city starts to be measured against such yardsticks as ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the upward mobility of city residents. The public have also been manipulated and steadily moulded to believe in advertised images and perceptions of what is desirable. The unnatural creation and projection of images of perfection and desirability by the media, advertising, marketing firms, and authorities who tout ‘global standards’ delude the masses into believing that their locality and the city will attain that kind of picture-perfection - if they have wider roads, bigger buildings, more indoor comfort and malls in which to ‘chill out’. (Parks and gardens aren’t ‘cool’ enough, you see).

If you stand on a stretch of MG Road, you can easily forget that it is MG Road, Thiruvananthapuram; it could be MG Road, any other city. Do we need that kind of development that swallows a city’s original character? Nearly all of India’s metropolitan areas and urban spaces have gone that way. Cities have expanded to encompass suburban areas and have become nightmares to residents and the already (mostly) clueless administrators. Delhi’s tentacles extend to several sub-cities, Mumbai grows into the sea leaving its heart far behind, Chennai pincodes have grown to 600117 and Bangalore’s now joyless veins clutch outer villages. Why is Ananthapuri being compelled to follow those models?

  • Heritage structures and rich, green spaces on Government-owned land should be left intact, preserved for posterity while possibly serving some public purpose.
  • All the remaining green and open spaces within city limits – precious few of them – should serve as well-maintained oxygen pockets.
  • We need to reclaim, revamp and take care of public places that had had grandiose plans bestowed on them by successive Governments.
  • Why can’t we - concerned city residents – play a role in defining our vision for the city, guided by the principles of aesthetics, abundant local wisdom, heritage preservation and Nature conservation?
In this context, it is good to note the introduction of programmes like the new Urban Design Master’s course offered at the CET, Trivandrum. Let us hope that such courses inculcate a holistic, long-term vision for cities. The budding future town planners should realize that there is much more at stake than the fortunes of the brick and mortar industry.

A city’s growth lies not in numbers of Big Retail, multiple ‘brandnamas’, outsize cars, cooler and swankier malls, but in the numbers of residents who feel proud and happy about the right things – health, clean air, welcoming public places, mind-invigorating outlook of fellow-citizens. We must preserve what is left of the city’s character. Even if it means calling a stop to mindless real-estate expansion and ridiculous numbers of car dealerships.

Shade - and shades!

Shade - and shades!

Lest we forget

Lest we forget

Think about it -