Bullshit at St. Martins Road

St. Martins lane in Bandra (W) is providing a clear insight into what is currently wrong with Mumbai’s planning:

1) Arrogance of the municipal corporation and other authorities, which are supposedly meant to serve the large public interest but are more conducive to serve narrow vested interests.

2) Planning and decision making being taken over by a few officials, elected officials and business interests who have little or no concern for the larger consequences of the decisions they take.

2) No voice for the average citizen on how he or she would like their city and neighbourhood to be developed

(There is a picture album below the text portion which gives you an idea of the lane)

Some newspaper articles below to give an overview of the issue

Road widening irks Bandra residents – Times of India, 8th December 2013

Tree Cut, Heritage structure to be demolished to widen Bandra Road – Hindustan Times, 8th December, 2013

BMC bows to residents’ protests, may not widen St Martin’s Road in Bandra – DNA, 11th December 2013

BMC will forcibly demolish walls to widen Bandra road – 27th December, 2013

Here is the location for the road

Some salient points to the matter

  1. St. Martins Road is a shady beautiful and quiet small road in Bandra (W) which has a few beautiful bungalows from an age before. It’s quaint peaceful nature is a rarity now and needs to be preserved and enhanced, not destroyed.
  2. These are the kind of streets and lanes, through which we love walking in Europe and America. Are we in India incapable of having any aesthetic sense? Is the municipal corporation blind to how they will destroy the beauty of the street by carrying out the road widening?
  3. The lane does not have the kind of traffic flow that is being made out. BMC is sharing no data to validate its claims. Just issuing threatening notices. Licensed goondas.
  4. Parking cannot be allowed on both sides in any condition. BMC needs to regulate that first to improve traffic flow.
  5. The ambiance and the aesthetics of the streets also matter.
  6. The manner in which the exercise is being carried out is uncivil and undemocratic and unbecoming of the municipal corporation of a city like Mumbai. There are clear indications that the intention of the exercise is not to improve traffic flow (of which there is little in the first place) and more to use the new width for angular parking of vehicles. Restaurants nearby have valet parking and a wider road will provide more capacity for angular parking. Should the beauty of the lane, its livability, its heritage look all be destroyed for the sake of parking for a few vehicles?
  7. Buildings where the walls have already been pushed behind by a meter or so, cars instead of being parked parallel are now parked angular, thus in effect allowing exactly the same amount of road as before available for traffic flow.

Proposed new solid waste management rules – comments

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has come up with draft Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2013. The rules will overrule the existing rules which were framed in 2000 here. The Ministry has given a period of 60 days (from 29.08.2013) for public to respond with their views and suggestions.

It is important that everybody concerned with the issue of a clean city to engage with this process. The issue is not just one of a clean city but the philosophy towards waste management and the processes that will be followed. A number of activists have been carrying out efforts over the years without broad based public involvement. Please do consider organising programs around this issue where some of the members involved with the issue for long would love to come and speak.

The rules seem to have been put together in a hurry with incorporating the learnings from a number of developments since the 2000 Rules.

The proposed rules have a number of flaws, which I am highlighting below.

  1. The Ministry must share what necessitated the need for a new set of rules. Whether a note on the same is prepared and should share the same.
  2. The rules lack commentary on the serious constraints involved with developing new landfill sites. Competing demands for land are now stronger than they were when the rules were last formed in 2000. Land is needed to housing, infrastructure, farming and recreation and hence needs to be low in the priority of solid waste management.
  3. The rules do not adequately stress on the need for municipal corporations to go beyond the call of duty in sensitizing the citizens about not mixing wet and dry waste at source and hence minimising the need for centralised collection and transport of waste and landfill requirements.
    1. If in MSW 2000 this need was felt and appreciated adequately the developments since then have only increased the importance of reducing as much waste at source as possible. MSW 2013 Rules need to in fact start getting stringent about not accepting any mixed waste at source and levying fines for the same.
    2. The Rules should adequately acknowledge the services provided by rag pickers, the significant self-employment generated as a result and the need for municipal corporations to formally recognize the contribution by them.
    3. The Ministry should be abundantly aware that a lot of the requirements expected in the MSW 2000 Rules have been violated with gross impunity.
  4. The Rules should comment that due to the following important considerations there will be a strong focus on the minimisation of transport of waste over long distance. The transport of waste over long distance leads to
    1.  Use of fossil fuels which leads to release of GHG emissions which leads to long term environmental damage. India has a National Acton Plan on Climate Change and is a participant in global talks on mitigating climate change. The municipal waste management rules need to clearly be compliant with these efforts in letter and spirit.
    2. Air pollution from emissions which lead to immediate health impacts to the residents of the city.
    3. Loss of foreign exchange and hence economically harms the country. This is important in years like 2013, when we are facing a crisis.
    4. Expenditure on expensive machinery and
    5. Overall puts a strain on the municipal budget of the respective city.
  5. MSW 2013 Rules need to give very explicit guidance/instructions to the municipal corporations for engaging substantially in activities towards creating awareness about segregation of garbage and all other measures to treat biodegradable waste at source through various means. This creating of awareness will be through (and not limited to) advertisements in papers, television, schools, colleges, cinema halls, funding civil society organisations for road shows and all other means.
  6. MSW Rules 2013 should stress on very high standards of financial reporting about the complete costs involved in waste management.
  7. MSW Rules 2013 should stress on detailed disclosure on all the kinds of waste being generated in the city.
  8. MSW Rules 2013 do not adequately address the issue of electronic waste. Electronic waste generation is now huge in India and significant amount like batteries etc. are being disposed in the normal stream of waste disposal. The municipal corporations have to cover the whole gamut of awareness creation, strict segregation at source and final disposal in detail and with seriousness.
  9. MSW Rules 2013 need to be explicit and stringent on the need to strictly control the distribution of plastic carry bags in various kinds of shopping, a very large proportion of which end up in the garbage stream and are posing very serious environmental challenges. In Mumbai, all waterways like nullahs, creeks and the sea are choked with such plastic bags. During monsoons the sea throws all the plastic and other refuse out and makes a complete mess of the beaches.

The Waste to Energy part has been added new and one wonders whether that is the sole purpose of the new set of rules.

Something fishy in Juhu?

The two reports read below read together put a scary picture of what irregularities may be going on in the middle of a very educated neighbourhood.

Developers close in on Juhu Airport

BMC plans tunnel under Juhu Aerodome

Look at the conflicting statements

13 December 2012

Juhu airport, which has been opposed to the idea ever since the BMC first proposed it in 1991, is likely to accept the proposal now, with the civic body promising to re-notify the airport land, which was marked as a ‘recreational area’ in 1981, as an airfield as a goodwill gesture.

26 December 2012

The Airports Authority of India has given no objection certificates to over 150 buildings, many of them high-rises, very close to the Juhu airport, Mumbai Mirror has learnt. This is in direct contravention to aviation norms that bar tall buildings in the approach path of an airport’s runway.

If buildings start mushrooming around the airport, it could eventually lead to Juhu airport shutting down as it will put residents in danger, experts said. They added that the shutting down of the airport could, in turn, release its prime 400-acre plot, which builders have always coveted, for redevelopment.

 

What’s going on here? Would this topic have even figured in the meetings between the MC and the AII officials? Does BMC not mark the land around the airport, which is restricted beyond a certain height in a particular colour? Or have checks and balances?

 

The 26 December report makes further shocking revelations.

The issuance of NOCs is based on a dubious and controversial report filed by asenior Airports Authority of India official last year. In May 2011, a senior AAI air traffic expert filed a report saying Juhu aerodrome’s runway 16/34, which caters to about 40 per cent of everyday operations, was not operational and should not be taken into consideration for issuing NOCs for buildings. When, based on this report, the AAI decided to issue NOCs for buildings in the aerodrome’s vicinity, the Western region aviation safety department registered a strong protest and said the study was concocted to benefit builders. To hush up the protests, AAI accepted both the study report and the objection.

Who is/are this persons who are giving out these NOCs? Is this some over the counter product in a mom and pop store?

Even if as a result of all the fraudulent NOCs the airport does get closed, how does it become easy for developers to take over the 400 acres?

This is public land, will there be any discussion about how it is to be used?

Will it be far fetched to imagine that the local MP and MLA would be completely unaware of this?

In an issue unrelated to the irregularities that maybe taking place over the land use, is it not shocking that a tunnel project which was suggested in 1981 and would have considerably helped reduce congestion has not seen light for 30 years? And those who suffer traffic jams in front of J W Marriot in their expensive BMWs and Range Rovers besides of course normal folk have never bothered to push for the tunnels?

Mango people, Banana Republic?

Letter to Chief Minister on MCGM elections 2012

By email and hand delivery

 

Mr. Prithviraj Chavan

Chief Minister

Maharashtra

 

Dear Mr. Chavan,

In the run up to the Mumbai Municipal Elections 2012 there were a series of newspaper coverage about your viewpoints on what needs to be done to improve Mumbai’s infrastructure and make it world class city. I was not impressed and the last one I disagreed with completely and on all accounts. ‘Why Mumbai is Delhi’s poor cousin’.

In this letter I will elaborate on why I disagree with a lot that you have been communicating in the past few days and what you can do (and you can do a lot) to make Mumbai a better city to live in. It is very clear by now that the electorate did not quite agree with what you were communicating for the betterment of Mumbai. Like in other aspects of life, little things matter and decision makers have been neglecting the small investments that are much needed to improve the liveability of Mumbai.

What is hurting Mumbai the most is a crumbing political leadership, devoid of a passion and integrity to make Mumbai better. And in such a situation most money invested will only disappear into a blackhole.

Firstly lets put this notion aside that Mumbai’s infrastructure is ‘only’  crumbling and that absolutely no improvements have been made in the past two terms of the municipal elections or the cities overall existence in the past decade. There have been a number of significant improvements in Mumbai over the past decade.  These improvements are nowhere near what needs to be done and clearly can be done.

More than infrastructure lets start talking about making Mumbai liveable. Too much of big infrastructure talk by politicians and big business people like Mr. Deepak Parekh and his ilk who are supposed to be well meaning for the city makes the public think of graft and whether all of you are on the board of some infrastructure company which is going to undertake these infrastructure projects. You have an image perception of being much cleaner and honest than some of your predecessors and when you also speak the same language then the situation (and the party) seems hopeless.

Most of the solutions needed to make Mumbai liveable do not have insurmountable or difficult barriers and require funds which can be more than easily managed without going to Delhi or donors.

The key mismatch is that decision makers like you and big business are completely out of touch with the needs and desires of what are the real needs of millions of Mumbai’s citizens who do not use the Sea Link and other such planned infrastructure on a daily basis. These people use public transport and walk the streets of Mumbai.

Let me give some improvements

1) On the roads front since that seems to be of big interest, there is an urgent need to resolve very long pending issues on some of the arterial roads of Mumbai. Even if you build the MTHL or the Virar Alibaug corridor, people are not going to over night stop living in Mumbai and go to these new promised lands. People who have lived in Mumbai for decades will continue to do so and you have to improve the top 50 arterial roads in the city. And I need to emphasise here that these road have to be north of the island city because the roads in island city are already very well serviced.

And by roads I do not mean the just the quality and construction of the roads. You will now anyways not have a chance to do that since your party is not in power. Even then as opposition you can play a good and constructive role. Where you can still make a difference is to help clear chronic bottlenecks on roads like S V Road and LBS Marg, which exist from the time these roads were almost like village roads. This can be done through progressive interventions by UDD on the land use and rehabilitation for the occupants. Projects like SCLR are taking forever – and that has been with MMRDA.

Please go and personally have a look at the conditions of the J P Road and Andheri Kurla Road along the Mumbai Metro One corridor. The most horrible conditions exist and it is  only completely indifferent and insensitive political leaders who could have seen the conditions of past three years and not done anything about it. MMRDA under your government tried its best to use the bad conditions on the road to embarrass MCGM rather than show magnanimity and take responsibility for the work conditions around the site.

2) Just building roads is a no-brainer, how we utilise them is the intelligent part, presumably to learn which a lot of ministers including you  and IAS officers are continuously on tours of some of the best managed cities in the world. You can build as many roads but if you are not going to manage them intelligently then it makes me again wonder whether all the big infrastructure talk is just to make a few businesses rich using public money.

MMRDA commissioned consultants to do a Detailed Project Report for BRTS on Western and Eastern Highway in 2008-09. That report was submitted in late 2009 with a lot of details and a positive note on its feasibility. MMRDA is still to give its final comments to the consultants, which means that the report is still not accepted and all the detailed plans gather dust. As per the timelines in the report if the project had started in 2010 it would have been completed by 2013. But MMRDA has not even accepted the report till now. What you do about this will determine the quality of life of millions of people travelling between Dahisar and Bandra and Thane and Sion. As I write this I understand you have made just one more of a standard statement on the BRTS.

I can list a lot more  in this category of using road space better but do not want to make this letter long and you can consult the MMRDA to look into the suggestions a lot of us have made to them in the past decade. Or any and all of us can meet you.

3) I will not even speak about the coast road because that is the most absurd idea in recent times and you will anyways receive a lot of communication against the same.

4) Focussing on the MTHL or the Virar Alibaug infrastructure projects is not going to bring any solace to the existing residents of Greater Mumbai. Navi Mumbai was made with the understanding that the presence of a well planned township in close proximity will relieve pressure and more people will go to stay there. What has happened in the past decade is that more people have come to Mumbai as well as Navi Mumbai. A lot of what has to be done to improve life and infrastructure in Mumbai, has to be done within and that does not find focus with you or the other big industrialists who seem to have a standard quote on Mumbai’s crumbling infrastructure.

What has to be done within?

i) Fast track the improvement of infrastructure and facilities within a 100 meter radius of the top 100 stations of Mumbai on the Suburban Railway Network. You do not need Rs. 1 Lac crores for this from Delhi. 6-7 million people are using the railways stations everyday and it is here that  quality of life in Mumbai is determined in a big way.

 

ii) Make the city friendly for walkers and cyclists. The infrastructure requirements and costs for this are negligible compared to the Rs. 1 lac crore you have indicated for big infrastructure. And all of that can be raised within Mumbai. Will the 50 councillors from Congress who have won this election improve walking and cycling in their wards? The most liveable and best cities in the world are all great for walking and cycling. And this is one of the easiest of things to do compared to relieving traffic (car) congestion and affordable housing.

 

iii)  Do something on the housing front. Again almost completely dependent on the policies of the Congress government. How much longer will you continue to neglect the running of bodies like MHADA and others?  People can see how ministers and members in your party travel in SUVs and live in luxurious houses while even well earning middle class folks cant afford houses in Mumbai.

A lot more can be added but the basic point I am making is that most improvements required to make Mumbai liveable are low cost and policy dependent and not funds dependent.

5) What people want is a government which listens to them and involves them in how their city is developed and governed. MMRDA and Urban Development Department, two important authorities under the Congress government have the worst record on this account. These multi-thousand crore projects do not interest people as much as much the desire to be heard. Is that not what democracy is all about? The multi-thousand crore projects are for the contractors and the engineering companies.

For the past decade many well meaning and committed individuals and organisations have tried to sit with the above mentioned organisations and speak with them for a better Mumbai and alternate more doable ideas for a liveable Mumbai. But they have only been stonewalled. The suggestions and projects these organisations and individuals suggest are not as costly as the projects you support and have a more immediate and better impact in improving the quality of life in the city.

You would like to consider involving civil society organisations in the functioning of these departments. Around the world and in the best cities citizens (even if few) participate actively with the city governments.

6) There is more than enough money Mumbai can generate within the city itself for its development.

i)) Stopping leakages from the most obvious forms of corruption. Be transparent of the moneys being spent. On this account the Mithi Project under your government administered MMRDA is a case in point. The July 26th floods instead of becoming a good opportunity for a genuine restoration of the river became a great opportunity to launch contractor driven civil projects. The quality of the river remains as bad. The money was built on making concrete walls where we could have developed low cost embankments.

ii) The Urban Development Department, which falls completely in your purview drafts better policies for urban management.

 

I will stop this letter here. If you are serious about Mumbai you will appreciate the import of what I have written.

If you have to win the 2017 elections the work has to start now. And if you neglect the little things I wouldn’t be surprised if you get similar results in 2017 elections. People apparently do not have as short a memory as we believe.

Sincerely,

 

Rishi Aggarwal

Lack of a convincing and binding narrative in the anti-corruption fight in India

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell

The quote could hold true in India on both sides of the corruption fence. Administrators who have a lot to offer are fiddling and so are civil society members.

If the media brouhaha is to be relied upon then 2011 has been the year when India finally decided to do something against the corruption monster. India Against Corruption does give the notion that the whole of India has risen united against corruption and it is just a few months or years of struggle and we will soon have a ‘corruption free’ India.

The ‘much informed’ and connected world that we live in these tweets and posts and newscasts and headlines magnify into a gushing electronic river which creates an impression of some great revolution going on.

But how united is India against corruption and is 2011 really that year which will see the dawn of a new era going ahead. Is the Jan Lokpal Bill the bellwether? The media is notorious for its inability to capture lesser known but equally significant aspects of any issue. And I would like to state that the JLB campaign is the most unconvincing narrative I have heard to date about how corruption can be fought. And as regards binding, there are a number of other equally strong narratives which completely debunk the JLB line of thinking.

Those in the RTI brigade have their own stories to tell and there are the hard liners there who feel it is the panacea – one magic wand to fight all corruption. While it has helped a lot in the past few years we are now well aware of the kind of mess that RTI has landed itself in. And we are also aware of how little endemic corruption has reduced.

There are people from my line of thinking – a faction within activists,  strongly believe that if you have to run a society well there is no alternative to each and every citizen involving themselves in decisions taken for them by the government and RTI and JLB can be means but certainly no substitute for active involved citizens – in the absence of which all institutions are destined to fail.

And beyond the electronic gush and divergent narratives, if you walk the streets, travel on public transport and visit government offices you realise that there is hardly any feeling of a revolution – far less any incremental change from business as usual.

The one who shouts the loudest is seen the most but that does not mean he comprises the majority and it also doesn’t mean that he makes the most sense. Within the civil society arena there is considerable consternation at the disproportionate attention that the JLB campaign has drawn and for the little it will deliver. And I for one have been the most vociferous – though not public – critic of the JLB movement.

Most JLB supporters fall in a category which clearly showcases India as a country of blind belief, of unquestioning people and of people who believe disproportionately high in miracles – in this case a Jan Lokpal who like some avatar of Vishnu will come and kill the demon of corruption. All the while the people themselves will do nothing and only engage in rituals. Rituals like feel good messages on facebook and Twitter, hair raising melodramatic messages of patriotism and glory, amass at grounds, waive flags, sing songs, do dinchaka dances, create posters and wear some stupid caps and uniforms, rush in at the sight of their Anna, build cordons around him, hold candles with poignant faces. This is the most of active citizenry we see in India.

Mumbai is in the midst of making its much jinxed but important development plan for the coming decade and the number of people participating there are a very poor proxy for an educated middle class class, which has abandoned any meaningful engagement with their immediate surroundings. A lot of these will be found washing their sins in the JLB Ganga.

It is fascinating to see the huge amount of logistics and resources that people have decided to sink into all the activities that have gone to support the campaign, from time to money to their vehicles and offices and other resources. Ask them to come forward for supporting something substantive and all you hear is doubt. Its fascinating also to see how those who have something substantive to offer do not have an equal strength of resolve and the energy to scale their thoughts. Its like the Bertrand Russell quote.

There are the organisers and then there are the supporters. While the organisers have a lot of experience dealing with governance most of the supporters are people who wouldn’t even know their elected representatives and municipal budgets properly. And without ever participating in the governance of their cities they would like a JLB to come an rid their municipal corporations clean of corruption – Mere Bhartiya Mahan.

People who have been critical of the JLB have not bothered to come together for an anti-JLB campaign, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they would number equal or more.

It is sacrilege in India to be critical of campaigns and individuals in India, and especially of those in the civil society arena but still I have to comment on the organisers of IAC.

Having known Mayank Gandhi for a decade now I am not surprised at the manner and form of the campaign. I worked with him in 2008 in the immediate last association, where I was thoroughly disappointed with his approach towards the inner city redevelopment project that we were working on.

It was the same rallies and conventions and high sounding rhetoric without any substantive thought leadership or a plan which was well crafted to the existing reality. The much needed and important initiative tanked into oblivion.

Even before JLB Mayank and some of those who are part of IAC had been part of campaigns which have promised panacea but have only seen the targeted issues going from bad to worse – the Metropolitan Planning Commission and NagaraRaj Bill to give examples. At one time these campaigns were also peddled with equal conviction and noise as the JLB of today. All along I have been equally unconvinced choosing to stay convinced that there is no substitute to active citizenry.

Public memory is short, critical evaluation is sacrilege and Bharat Mata copiously produces blind believers so we continue to have one ineffective campaign after the other.

The only good thing maybe the current anti-corruption and JLB Campaign  have done is to help do an inventory of some of the naive people in India – the census doesn’t have one such category and so its been very helpful.

And when I say people I must qualify that it is the educated middle class – the ones with a full stomach who can afford time pass. The vast majority of the population, the economically not so well off,  have been sanguine. The electoral victories of the NCP (Anna’s bete noire) in the recent municipal council elections in Maharashtra are an indicator even after discounting for electoral malpractices.

It pains…

A reporter called me in the evening to ask my views regarding a proposal with the Tree Authority to go ahead with the chopping of 70 trees at the campus of the films division campus at Pedder Road to make way for a new building they are planning (I will put a map if I can).     http://bit.ly/gadmKC

While I have been able to give generic, bland and mechanical responses to the press lately (and a part of me wants to just stop speaking all together) about the usual problems on the state of the environment and trees in Mumbai this was one of those moments that my emotions got better of me and my blood boiled as I spoke with some spontaniety.

Pedder Road has had a special place in my heart since my earliest memories and I consider it to be – with my limited travel – amongst the best roads in the world; at least to me it is. It is for this reason that I completely abhor the idea of a flyover passing through it. I have loved its undulating character with pleasant turnings every hundred meters which add to what I feel is its incredible, warm and lovely charm. And yes it has some wonderfully diverse trees.

I have not particularly peeked into the films division campus but I have always been warmly aware of its presence only because of the wonderful trees at its entrance and the shade, which adds another bit of character to the road. The whole of Cumballa Hill is a treasure trove of good urban flora with some spectacular architecture posed side by side – just the architecture alone would make the area be addressed derogatorily as a concrete jungle without this flora. A lot of this is already out.

And now to think that they are planning to chop not one, not five but a whole seventy trees makes me feel I will go and buy a chain saw tomorrow morning and just cut all the trees in Mumbai for once and all.

The same broken record of accept for development has been played even as tens of thousands of trees have been cut in the past decade.

The past decade has seen me involved with numerous successful (yes) and unsuccessful attempts at saving hundreds of trees in Mumbai. But my enthusiasm over the past decade and especially towards the end has almost disappeared I think.

We are a hypocritical city which professes by the right virtues and values and principles but behaves to the contrary. We have the right environmental rhetoric now but no understanding or intent on any environmental front – not just trees – solid waste, sustainable transport, energy efficiency, air quality or food. Where has the super educated and well positioned middle classes of the city been in the past decade after participating in all the Al Gore and climate change style and drama. It’s the same goddamned – count on the fingers of my hand and a bit from my legs – few activists who have taken any position worth the while on any matter in the city.

We will always find some competing demand or the other for every tree in this city, roads have to widened, infrastructure has to be sunk into the same ground as the trees. buildings have to be redeveloped because housing is important, people’s views have to be ensured, billboard need to get the eyeballs.

In the cities there is real estate, outside pristine forests have to be ripped apart for coal and minerals below to fuel the clearly excessive and embarrassingly dumb cookie cuttered lives of millions of people (no that is subjective and I should not be judgmental). No amount of education seems to bring appreciation for the invaluable water that emerges from these forests.

As a city Mumbai has reached a point I think where it needs to take a call whether there will be an end to it at all? Will there be a day when we will say that come what may we will not touch our remaining trees? I think such a day will not come. And so the City of Mumbai should just come out with a declaration that all trees in the city should be cut with immediate effect.

Why should some of us who have emotions and sentiments around the trees suffer? What’s the use of a Tree Authority whose only visible purpose seems to give permission to cut trees? Why not cut all the trees at once and disband the Authority and save a few foolish people the misery – we clearly do not survive on love and fresh air.

While returning home I debated the matter at a larger plane.

I increasingly believe that machines will in the next two decades completely take over existence as we know it. And a day will come when the machines will snatch everything we love and cherish, whether forests or species or ideologies and people. I sweared by Terminator 2 in the 90’s and could even then clearly see the cyborgs amongst us at the cutting edge – the cyborgs have only grown stronger since then.

Those who find poetry and superiority in the intelligence of forests will find even their dead souls getting massacred and witch hunted and those who embed the machines with intelligence will be the rewarded, pampered and procreating lot. Cannibalism is essential to the machines and only the meanest will survive.

The cyborgs are already viciously in control in every sphere of community, governance and commerce. Some stare out shamelessly from banners on our junctions and others more stylishly from lifestyle magazines and glitzy movies. Most trawl silently. They are omnipresent and strong. They decide on everything from trees to food prices to defense budgets and eyeball allocation.

Clearly those who love to manipulate or fake emotions or can roughshod ride over them or best not have them at all rule. Nothing happens to them. Just like the cyborgs in T2 you can burn them, ride over them, melt them, blow them to bits and they can reassemble themselves and come back more viciously. Our scams are – just one of- an even more spectacular visual display of this phenomenon than all the special effects that James Cameron and team can muster.

I think I will be dead or closer to dying when this becomes virulent and the next generation of those who are foolish and emotional enough will find themselves joining the Resistance and amidst John Connor.

Those who get affected, want to have an opinion, cannot accept indifference and question injustice are distressed and diminishing. Good luck John Connor.

Good governance be Dabang-ed

I saw Dabang – a Bollywood movie last Sunday (4th Dec) on television. The name means brazen individual to the best of my knowledge. I am not the one to watch much of Bollywood movies partly because of the content which cannot be very appealing and more because of a strong ideological position where an interest in good governance makes me of the firm opinion that Bollywood presents some of the worse culprits of bad governance in an unhealthy coalition. And any dollar votes and eye balls to them automatically makes one a partner in crime.

Within Bollywood I am particularly not for Salman Khan who to me represents a particularly brazen (Dabang) symbol of getting away with all kinds of wrong. I cannot watch most such Bollywood movies without continuously reading into the underlying  nuances of social and political commentary that the movie represents and Dabang presents a lot of those, in spite of people telling me that I should chill and just be entertained.

Dabang is a celebration of this brazen wild west type of lawlessness which is increasingly becoming prevalent in India.  The Dabang trigger happy Robin Hood cop who goes about robbing robbers and filling his cupboard and benevolently shooting his lower staff to enable his promotion is in many ways a glorification of the profuse crop of such ‘Dabang’ bureaucrats, cops, politicians, industrialists and even unlikely candidates like news anchors and other media personalities that this country has by now produced and keeps producing. Even as I was watching the movie I could imagine how a number of these film stars spend cozy evenings with a lot of real life Dabangs and the kind of entertaining parties that they must be having dancing to the theme song of the movie, laughing at how easily they get away in such a badly governed country as India.

These Dabangs and their families and friends themselves present a good market for the film, in terms of people enjoying a celebration and validation of their own selves on the big screen. The other big market of course is the millions of naïve, very good, sincere, hard working, god fearing and worshipping public who have to necessarily keep themselves entertained and happy. To a lot of this public the intricacies and nuances of sushasan (good governance in Hindi which I heard a village woman in Bihar commenting in the context of Nitish victory), is really not connected to an evening spent at the multiplex.

The movie’s message as far restoring equilibrium in a misgoverned state is clear – that only equally brazen people can possibly hope to bring to task the Cheedi Singhs – the ‘key villain’ – of the world. And they can do it with panache and ease. And again mind you it has nothing to do with upholding the law and booking the culprits. Having a decade’s experience with intervention in issues and knowing a number of fellow activists I know that the real difficulty in cleaning up matters is not in dealing with the other side as much as the complete absence of a society which understands, demands or even involves itself in absolutely harmless small interventions towards good governance.

During the week  I couldn’t get worried a bit when in bizarre coincidence I happened to speak with a dear friend after long. This friend’s father operates a manufacturing unit in Jharkhand supplying a crucial material for the processes to the various iron and steel mills in India’s hinterland. He was holed up in Ranchi and informed me of his fire fighting operations there which sounded very familiar. My friend’s father had purchased the land (away from Ranchi) where their unit operates in 1974 from a private party. A decade or more hence a local Public Sector Unit (PSU) wished to acquire their land and initiated proceedings for the same. The matters reached the courts and the courts ruled in favour of my friend two times. In one instance the PSU did not file their rejoinder for nine years and the court automatically ruled in favour of my friend.

Now suddenly a ‘Dabang’ Deputy General Manager decided that he will acquire the land one way or the other. And so it came as a shock to me to hear that this DGM had for the past two months surrounded their manufacturing unit with two hundred security guards – some of them armed – and had completely stopped the inflow or outflow of any goods. Even a week of such a scenario can prove too costly; two months can make it life threatening -and two hundred men is far too intimidating.

The DGM has complete support of a ‘Dabang’ head local cop. The anguish in my friend’s voice was palpable. He got caustic in his remarks of my interest in good governance. He and I were in the University Masters course in economics together and he would make me cynicaly present to the reality of a lot of issues around then, even as he appreciated my own brazen ‘Dabang’ interludes with various environmental and governance issues in the city. He would take a dig at a lot of these seminars we like to attend and the reports and papers we love to gloss over.

This was the reality of the country he said. The area where the unit is situated has its share of Maoists, Naxilites and the mafia but none of them have ever troubled this much – being satisfied with their regular cut – but to stop production completely for two months was unheard of.

Not only the perimeter closure, the DGM in collusion with the cop has also issued a non-bailable arrest warrant in what is essentially a civil suit. The result being that my friend’s father is currently underground. So we have an interesting situation – the state which is meant to be the forerunner for good governance and ensure justice has become the worst culprit, worse than the ‘officially recognized’ culprits whose behavior seems more principled in comparison.

And these are not isolated instances. In a country aiming for 8 percent growth and aiming to become the next trillion dollar economy there are instances replete of dabang tax officials and license inspectors harassing businesses.

India has now become a land of Dabangs. An A Raja with clear implications of wrong doing in the 2 G scam can go back to his constituency in Chennai and be given a rousing welcome, a Suresh Kalmadi can be admonished but nothing more in CWG, Adarsh here, Adarsh there.

But it is not the Dabangs who are interesting. What is really interesting is the comprehensive and all pervasive inability of the average well educated and economically well of Indian to engage in small and medium governance matters.

Not to leave without some suggestions I would say that if people were to just get to know their neighbourhood administration as well as their movies then a lot of good would come about. Who is the local municipal councilor, the local cop, the local member of the legislature, what are public services which I use and how well are they maintained. Just this week BMC is going to be budgeting Rs. 1000 crores towards some new roads and minor roads repair and how many would be scrutinising that?

http://www.hindustantimes.com/BMC-doubles-road-budget/Article1-625070.aspx

I regularly speak at schools and colleges on environmental issues and the flavour of the season clearly is climate change and I have to exhort people to not be so knowledgeable about the big issues without having any clue on their own city and neighbourhoods. People don’t know their municipal councilors or how big their city is and what are the administrative units, the budgets, taxes and spends but will be following Copenhagen!

Another friend recently sent me a nice quote by Gandhi:

“ Today it is certain that the millions cannot have high living and we the few who profess to do the thinking for the masses run the risk, in a vain search after high living, of missing high thinking.”

( just to add thoughts to the quote I would like to say that today it seems certain that the millions cannot have high thinking)

And this really is the key challenge I think for good governance. The few of us (who also runs into hundreds of thousands) who have enjoyed the high living and would also like to think that we are better off than the poor in giving direction to the country will necessarily have to demonstrate effectiveness more than anything else. A very large number of people have the right information and read the right reports and attend meetings and conferences but are still not able to demonstrate effective intervention – discussing good governance has in a some ways also become a great career for a good number of people.

Unless that doesn’t happen it’s the Dabangs who will be in control and good governance be Dabang-ed.

On GM Brinjal and the need to stop intefering with Nature’s plans

Its been the usual flurry of email discussions around the process of getting genetically modified brinjal into the Indian market. In the argument below I am not giving up on the efforts but just highlighting the very obvious inconsistencies, without addressing which we are just shadow boxing.

The same format repeats itself on every issue. A few concerned people who read a lot, bother to investigate, make opinions and the take positions on issues which concern millions.

The vast millions for whom the supposed effort is being carried out would rather be spending their time on dumb reality shows (Big Bosss?, Friends?? – I dont know how much time humanity will spend on the stupid inane laughter of some aimless in life junior artists!) rather than having any fascination for how their food is grown, how it travels, who are the people behind the scenes.

I say whats the point of going through the same motions every time? And for whom? Those stupid dumb idiots whose reality show soaked lives are anyways not worth saving? They would be having genetically modified brinjal pakoras while going through their motions and tell you to buzz of if you showed anywhere on the scene with your ‘mentally excruciating’ arguments.

Even if those people had an iota of an interest in whats happening it was worth the effort. Who do these people give their dollar votes to?

I get concerned about all those hundreds of innocent species who are being wiped out of the planet, even as their own life patterns are completely sustainable. They are the victims of the actions of a ‘much wiser’ species. From ‘ugly’ insects to magnificent mammals to beautiful plants, its a gridlock rush to the path of extinction.

Should the ‘wise’ species not face the consequence of its own ‘intelligence’? Is it possible that these efforts towards harmful chemicals and biological interference are in effect nature’s terminator gene for human species in action? Is nature programming human intelligence towards its own destruction? Is nature working through Monsanto on the human species?

And so are some of us needless obstructions to natures plan?

The environmentalists and the ecologists and those into the ethics of it all need to make up their mind – is it the earths good health they want or of the human race? And both may be at logger heads with each other. Again it may be argued that GM foods will give abundant food which will cause more millions to come up on the earth and hence they need to be stopped 🙂

It is the uneven interest in the issue, few doing in depth study and millions having their brinjal pakoras while watching reality shows, that also makes the governance construct go against those opposed to GM foods.

In a democracy as we all know by now numbers count. And silence is consent. So if there is no noise from millions it is assumed they have no objection to genetically modified food. The bureaucrats and the politicians work for those silent millions not the rattlers.

Some interesting links on GMOs

http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4687000/12525766

http://www.thehindu.com/2009/01/11/stories/2009011160490900.htm

http://www.twilightearth.com/2009/05/the-world-according-to-monsanto-full-documentary/

Good governance vs. Good cricket

[ Just to refresh memory or for the sake of those who may not be aware at all I have been into activism for a very long time now and have clearly realised that the need of the hour is to be active in politics to make a larger difference. Having held the view since long and in the post 26/11 scenario I contested LS 2009 and secured 3301 votes]

I have been getting a lot of queries about am I contesting the coming elections? What is Jago doing? Is it fielding any candidates? If not then how does it expect to be seen as a serious contender? etc.

My thinking on this is borne from my experiences from the previous election. Clearly my conviction that I am good leadership material for the country remains.  But along with that is a realization that it takes two hands to clap.

If I think that I can provide good political leadership for the country then there has to be the flip side to it in terms of a demand for good leaders and not just demand but a decent level of support for them as well. And yes speaking specifically an appreciation and support for the excellent work I have already done till now (no humility lost in patting yourself on the back once in a while). A comprehensive listing of my comments in media on some issues is here –

http://mumbaivotes.com/articles/?&lstSource=0&lstDesignation=OTH&lstPolitician=991&lstIssues=0&all=1&page=1

Since it is cricket season I keep coming to my bete noire. Are good cricket players and good cricket more important for the country or good politicians and governance? And it is not an either or question. We can very well be enjoying our cricket and be taking good interest in the governance and politics of the country.

But the average man on the street would spend 100’s of his man hours on cricket, some money as well and nothing commensurable on good governance and good leaders. Not just the average man, even within the 3301 people who voted for me or the 188 odd who are on my Facebook support group, how many came back to check on the way ahead? How many keep a tab on the scores and player selection and Dhoni’s health on a daily basis.? Cricket versus good governance?

[cricket and excessive cricket watching anyways I feel is one of the bigger of many reasons for the state of this country]

And because millions are willing to give their eye balls and man hours to cricketers, one finds companies paying them sky rocketing sums to endorse projects, if what they get paid to play per match was not good enough. So much money that they do not know what to do with it.

Now if I were to devote my self to give good governance and understand legislation and improve on it and ensure better utilization of public tax payers money – what do I get?

Can I please get funds for a working secretariat. Can I please get even one twentieth of the time you give to cricket? Can you please help reach out to people? Publicity?

(And I have along with a very small group been doing yeoman service to the city by questioning the award of the outrageous Rs. 3,500 crores for remedying the Deonar garbage dump when significantly cheaper options are available. All this while even the average governance activist is completely clueless.)

http://mumbaiswm.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/deonar-project-fact-sheet/

The last election left me with three months of lost income and a fair share of expenses from my pocket as well, all of which completely delayed my plans to be into green business and left me financially in dire straits.

Thus if you play cricket well you get rewarded so well that beyond a point you have too much. And if you think about how your city’s taxes are used and how the average man at the railways station feels, or how are the footpaths and the urinals and do our municipal school children deserve a better deal and how our energy efficiency, renewable energy and green buildings policy can be a lot better you dont get as much as a 100 rupee note accidentally.

I think good people get good leaders and deserve good leaders. Opium addicts who would care a damn about the state of things around them – only their daily fix – don’t. That I feel is the state of 99 percent of our citizens today – consumed by cricket and many other worthless wasteful addictions.

And it makes more sense to either spend time on rehabilitating the opium addicts or waiting for their rehab to happen before starting to seek their votes.

[I have been thinking of alternatively naming this post “Politiking in the midst of opium addicts” ]

Release/hang Ajmal Kasab immediately and go after the real terrorists within. Cut the bullshit NOW!

Dear Mr. Ashok Chavan and Mr. Johnny Joesph and the law enforcers and all those behind the scene editors in the media –

The more I hear about the Ajmal Kasab drama doing the rounds the more I am convinced that Ajmal has no role in it and the same is being deftly coordinated by the real terrorists within in direct or indirect connivance with the media.

Is Ajmal asking for biryani or a rakhi such a big demand? In the first place do we really know that he has in fact made the demand? If he has also made the demand is it such a strange or shocking thing that the electronic media should devote so much time to such utterances – EVERYDAY? Are these guys being fooled, directed or paid to do this?

Ten days back I was closely following the massive scams happening within the NREGA scheme and the siphoning of THOUSANDS OF CRORES of money meant for poor people and did not hear the name of a single District Collector or local politician knowing very well that these scams did not require an LET operative but a very active hand of the local home bred terrorists.  Ten days later there is absolutely no follow up but I hear Kasab everyday.

First of all I think the poor guy would be in too depressed a state of mind to be bothered about a rakhi or a biryani. Even if he asking one of the reasons could be loneliness and depression induced hallucination. I don’t think such utterances are shocking. Anyways an open and shut case is being prolonged for reasons which I have best guessed here.

On whose behalf are the electronic media making these utterances sound SOOO shocking? I am SHOCKED with the NREGA scams – please give me a daily expose of what each and every District Collector of the affected districts has to say about the irregularities. I want to know what they do in their evenings, the biryanis they have, the SUVs they purhase, the expensive booze they drink.

I DONT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT AJMAL – I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE TERRORISTS WITHIN.

There are easily a 100 very criminal IAS officers and and equal amount of politicians and businessmen and contractors who are proud nationals of this country who are every hour siphoning of money from some scheme meant to remove hunger and misery from the lives of millions of people and I hear ABSOLUTELY NO shocking mention of their escapades. These people conveniently give shape and conclusion to their nefarious evil plans and have the best of biryani and drinks in the evening and the media would dare not go after these incidences.

There are people stripping our wonderful forests, poisoning our rivers, delaying good policies which will make life in cities better and more environmentally friendly and all of them are INDIAN.

India’s super stupid position on climate change

Their activities either kill thousands of people every year or subjugate millions of people’s to a life which they had not bargained for. These miseries are silent but when added up make Ajmal and his colleagues activities pale into oblivion.

It is easy to bully a 20 something kid who has been brainwashed a good five years of his little life and then offered a little bit of monetary incentive into doing something which he was told is noble.

It seems to be difficult to go after people who have taken an oath to serve the country, people who utilise the bungalows and cars and other facilities, logistics and the funds provided by the people of India and then use it against the people of India themselves.

Atleast a terrorist can be justified in his objectives against your country. What justification can be there when those who claim to be the proudest Sons of the Soil go about ripping about the very fabric of the soil?

I remain convinced of what I said in the immediate wake of the 26th November attacks –

Thoughts on 26th November attacks

Terrorist attacks as diversionary tactics

and The train blasts

Who did 7/7

and almost eight months down the line I am even more convinced that these terrorist attacks are completely stage managed by a people within the country itself – a set of Indians with absolutely no ethical compulsions, ruthless people with no mercy who are so completely possessed with their greed and objectives that they will stop at absolutely nothing to diverting attention from their operations.

Is it too much of a conspiracy theory to believe that a small percentage of the blood money within is devoted to creating diversionary tactics? People who wouldn’t bat an eyelid when they can revel in luxuries from appropriating money meant for a starving child or an old mother would care much less to spend on some terrorists at frequent intervals to create a tequila shot diversion on the naive junta intoxicated on Bollywood and cricket.

It is time that every right thinking Indian (if something of this sort exists) start questioning the discretion’s of the media and law enforcers and started demanding an expose and followup on the real terrorists.