I enter 2017 broke

I enter 2017 almost financially broke and I feel no embarrassment or awkwardness in discussing the issue. Financially broke and with a stubborn and debilitating health condition. While I figure my options I thought I should record the situation.Everybody who passes this path should leave their thoughts. And as I finish writing this note I can see Shahrukh Khan speak ONLY to me – here

I feel it should be as much a topic of interest among those who either take interest in my work and follow my work and comments on public issues or claim to care for the environment. And it is not a personal topic limited to me. What I narrate here gives an insight into something more important that society should be paying attention to but is as blind as a bat to, to use a popular metaphor. If anything bats should be a metaphor for being adept at navigation.

And it is not a surprise when we see quality of life only deteriorate in our cities and environmental challenges seeming unsurmountable. When the vision or ability to navigate of the society is so poor then constantly hitting obstacles is a given.

A family emergency left me eroding any saving I had and then I stepped out of formal employment sometime during the year. I have had patchy income from either lectures or being a resource person for projects. Helped me pay the regular utility bills.

In between I have had meetings with the usual sprinkling of youngsters who are pursuing environmental or developmental courses and hoping and eager to develop a satisfying lifelong career in impacting environmental issues. The very first question they have of me is that is there any income in the same. I do not have a rosy picture to paint for them, not just from my own state but knowing well the situation many others find themselves from serving community issues. The curse of the commons.

My situation of course is such not just because of my being in this domain but primarily because of the spectacular collusion by the universe in ensuring enormous legacy issues from my family situation, which has persisted as such since we folded up a business. Happens when you challenge status quo.

This post also follows from a recent article of mine in Mumbai Mirror, where I essentially question the state of the environmental movement in the city, which according to me really is in tatters. And it is in tatters because as a society we have no clue about supporting this ‘industry’. Yes engagement in civic and environmental issues of your city is an industry like any other which provides value to the city, like the finance industry, like the fast moving consumer goods industry, like the entertainment industry, like the education industry, like the media and communications industry, like sports, like politics! The nature of value is different from these industries.

Like in any industry we should be discussing the size of the market, the growth in the industry, its prospects and its employability, ability to attract and nurture talent. These are aspects completely missing in discussions about environmental issues. It is as if these are alien and taboo topics.

It is because some human needs have an industry status that the goods and services keep flowing, from entertainment to fashion goods, gadgets and cars. The flow of environmental goods and services is so poor because it is not seen as an industry, it is a mental affliction which affects some unfortunate souls.

If one were to draw up a list of people working full time on the urban and environmental issues of Mumbai in advocacy or as a green business and draw up their incomes and arrive at a turnover of the industry it would be a figure too small and embarrassing to even discuss. A lot of people would come in as subsidizing through a mainstream source of income or a working spouse. Whoever wastes their time in challenging the city administrators on solid waste management policy and transport investments, the way the budget is handled, having more open spaces and walkable streets.

Environment and sustainability could be an industry which see annual recruitment drives and youngsters eagerly looking forward to join a slew of organizations working on exciting public policy and governance challenges, working with technology, green businesses and law and much more. Sanitation, air quality, waste management, green buildings, transport policy, biodiversity conservation street design, land use planning, the list of topics is fascinating and endless. Incredibly soul satisfying careers can be created around any of these subjects, which should pay well and would rapidly draw the world out of a cliff fall it seems headed towards most times. But no such is not the case here. Why? Because there is no money to be made here. No resources here. At least in the Mumbai, which I have known since the mid-90s till now. That this should happen (and why) in the wealthiest city in the country is another long commentary.

Instead you have some foolhardy youngsters taking a risky plunge every year. Invariably it is a tough launch received with shock from family and friends. Invariably there is deep despair after a few months and a course correction.

In any other industry the followers lustfully lap up the financial prospects of the industry and the juicy bits about how much the star performers ‘take away’. From salaries of CEOs to how much Salman and Sachin gross, the financial prospects of the industry are as much of a gratifying part as the core business. Their houses, cars, where they take vacations, favorite restaurants, their health regimen. Health and well being of the participants is of key interest to everybody not least the handlers.

In the environment domain it seems a given that all that you have to discuss is depressing news and go from firefighting one crisis to another. How people participate in this industry is no concern to anybody. Whoever discusses that. The crises happen in the first place because there is not discussions on the state of this industry.

It is a silent acceptance in society (the mothers that is) that this is anyways not a domain to come to as a career. They have their valid concerns. Its all fine to (occasionally) lament in the usual cliches during coffee table discussions but who ever comes to these fields as a life long involvement. You have to be stupid and you need to suffer the consequences of your stupidity. Careers are made in the mainstream.

In 2007-09, Jairaj Phatak, the then Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai drew the ire of civic activists when he refused to give any importance to the subject of open spaces in the city citing that in a survey conducted by him citizens placed concern for open spaces 13th or so in their list of importance. Understandably so. When you push fifty percent people to stay in slums begging and desperate for basics then where is the room for them to demand anything more. Always a good strategy by the ruling elite to stay in power and continue unchallenged with their nonsense.

When you think dispassionately then what the Commissioner said does hold true. He is clearly far better in touch with the ‘market’ than fuzzy idealistic me and others. Forget those who stay in slums, in the urban middle class or elite would the same sentiments be generated when shown a full page advertisement of an iconic smart phone (or any other) as compared to when they read about the efforts of an NGO working on saving and enhancing open spaces in the city?

On seeing the advertisement the majority check their credit card statements and make calculations on whether it can take the direct brunt of a single swipe or EMI option will be needed or some portion of savings and some portion of card will do. For the more endowed there are no such plebeian concerns. At a max three year replacement these people will over a lifetime reward the iconic smart phone with a few lakh rupees. The NGO will go multiple existential shocks during its existence and maybe fold up while the smart phone makers piles of cash become the envy of the world. The NGO has a poor base of people who take interest in its work and it is a non-paying base.

The more interesting are those who will read about civic issues and express concern but will never show the same commitment as the person showing towards the smart phone.

Careers in the environmental or developmental arena have refused to evolve over the time I have spent my time with them since the late 90s till now. At the most in the past decade or so we have corporate NGOs and Think Thanks but those have poor ability to challenge the establishment and cannot be a proxy for advocacy groups built by grassroots community campaigners looking at seriously impacting issues. If raising a family is your prime concern then the Corporate Think Tanks are a great place to go to. Serve some industrialists never satisfied gloated ego all your life and work with compliant CEOs with little or no skin in the game.

When you look around invariably all organizations and individuals arising from grass root campaigning and fiercely independent are in complete doldrums, going from one financial crisis to another. They rely on a type of community support, which has not seen the light in so long and appears nowhere close.

I now have a feeling of abhorrence at working with the kind of organizations I have worked with till now, which was anyways more to have a source of income. I never relied on them to provide me with relevant and satisfying environmental issues to work on. I was frequently found saying then that of all of my work, that which added the most value to the city has happened outside my formal paying jobs in the past 15 years. Had there been independent and crowd funded financial support for doing mainstream what I was doing on the sidelines I would have contributed a 100 times more to environmental issues in Mumbai. And before the tumble of family affairs the plan was to proudly self-finance.

And as a result of this abhorrence I now find myself stuck without income prospects. I would much rather sell that iconic cell phone than peddle my talent cheaply.

When the youngsters ask me about income prospects it is a most valid question I feel. I cannot give them an enthusing answer. Somebody who is a corporate lawyer or a marketing or finance professional in mainstream businesses does not have to go through such a situation. There such conversations are more about the enormous scope for personal enrichment, there is no question of anxiety on income.

Why is the state what it is? That could be a very lengthy discussion. There is no prospect of capturing the value created, capturing it in a manner that it is available for sole consumption and then being able to provide a point of sale for its dispensation. More importantly there is no instant gratification. What a luxury sedan or a premium smart phone can provide those in the environmental domain can never. Unfortunately Mumbai seems to completely lack in having a market size of another kind.

More mature societies and economies know these challenges well and hence you have generous philanthropy from the state or individuals and institutions supporting advocacy as a public good. That supplemented with social security and an overall high per capita income.

One would have hoped such an evolution in India but no. On a number of fronts evolution happens at lightening speeds in India but not on these fronts. The Indians who enjoy their canal rides and cycling in Amsterdam and clean air and open spaces in London, New York and California are quick to evolve in their consumption of material comforts but show a granite resistance to any transformation in thoughts. And so India trudges along. I need to figure out where I go from here and listen to King Khan.

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How do we end this corruption?

#IndiaAgainstCorruption           #demonitization-will-end-corruption!

Below pictures capture the open loot and waste of public money that is being carried out across Mumbai in brazen public view. Footpath after footpath is seeing this.

The current type of paver blocks in perfectly usable condition are being removed and the new square kind are being put. A footpath which could have easily lasted for five more years is pulled apart.

More than the functioning of the BMC it is an insight into the poor capability of citizens even after so many years at being able to intervene in the simplest of public issues.

Not just waste of public money this is a waste of precious natural resources. If not those in the India Against Corruption side then those who fight for the environment and sand mining and forests etc. should have been moved by the sight of what is going on and done something. People move across the city with a smooth glazed vision.

It is easier to talk about big scams because then you have to only speak and do nothing. Or talk about big issues like the Shivaji statue because then you are flowing with the flow and part of the latest fad and talking point.

I used to scoff at those who participated in IAC in Mumbai, the idea of Jan Lokpal Bill, the naive enthusiasm around Anna Hazare. I would then challenge people to look into just MCGM and apply their energies there than the national level. The movement was another instance of flowing with the latest fad. Few of the people who participated have any self ability to address any issue (hyperlocal) or provide their energy and resource for anything which is not a national talking point.

Now the fad is demonetization will knock the wind out of corruption. Sure. Whats happening on the footpaths is plain blatant corruption in front of naked eyes, not hidden away. Whether the paver blocks or the grills, a whole racket within BMC is siphoning of public money through these expenditures, from politicians to officials and of course the contractor is only the medium who gets his commission for doing all the dirty work.

How will demonetization knock the wind of this corruption?

Let BJP leaders beginning from the PM and CM (since there is much agreement there that demonetization is the solution to corruption) swear on the Gita (Mein Gita ki saugandh kha kar…) or on an idol of Ram or on the shivling that none in the ranks of BJP has benefitted from these fake and shabby contracts?

25 years

Its a 25 year formal milestone event for me in the journey I took in living my life towards furthering environmental preservation and sustainability. It seems to have gone too fast but I am glad I pursued what I believed in, much difficulty and some regrets. Not the same fire in belly at 41.

It was in 1991, as a then 16 year old that I pulled my father along to take me to the office of WWF – Maharashtra to become a student member. The fascinating entry to the then D N Road Office of WWF had a roundabout entrance and could be reached through going through the intestines of the old heritage building from a back door entrance opposite New Empire theatre. Usha Srivastava must have been the first person I met there and in quick succession I guess Mrinal Ghosh who is still with WWF. Ranjan Biswas used to head the Chapter.

It was a high ceiling old building layout with large windows, which overlooked Wallace Street and D N Road. S P Godrej was a legend then. There was much which was fascinating for me as a teenager in that office. All the teenage fascination with paraphernalia associated with your icons – the t-shirts and stickers and mugs etc., the old 16mm projector, opportunity to engage in passionate discussions, ogle on great photographs.

In 1989-90 I had come to know about WWF-Maharashtra when still in school ( I did three years in Mumbai from 1988-91 at Holy Family School, Andheri (E)) I came to know of an exhibition by various nature clubs at Jamnabai Narsee School and decided to visit the same. It was among the first things on my to-do list for post school and I decided to strike it off soon enough.

In the five years preceding the 1991 visit I had gorged on every single bit of reading and watching that I could about the subject. I had witnessed and followed through the papers the Brundtland Commission Report, the Montreal Protocol, the documentaries on Project Tiger, David Attenborough, Sanctuary magazine and much more. On moving to Mumbai in 1988 we had subscribed to the Indian Express as our daily paper and they carried a fabulous Science and Environment supplement, to whose credit would go the copious amount of information which I consumed.

I had a fetish for collecting newspaper articles and for many years still I had entire issues and articles preserved with me, all of which got lost somewhere in the chaotic decade which ensued for my family.

It has been one tumultuous journey on the path wading through two decades of difficulties and grief on the personal path and not sure whether some of the choices I made along were right. Environment and sustainability were not the only driving impulses for me. I had a deep hatred and disregard for the formal education process, had strong ideas on nation building and the participation process and was quite opposed to following the route of going to the USA, which was almost a given then. Even as most of my inspiration to live the life I do and also the interests are derived from America.

We still had a beautiful and quite successful business in the late 80s and early 90s and the strong self confidence and aggression was built on the financial safety and my own ideas for the business. All of it would come crashing down in the 90s as the business crumpled and folded up leaving me without a floor to stand on. I had many social entrepreneurship ideas by the late 90s which would combine well with funding my interests but with financial bankruptcy and complete chaos there was no ground to build anything. Only a fire in the belly and a devotional commitment to an ideology.

Madhu Sawant – octogenarian then, ex armed forces and founder of I Clean Mumbai – who I would meet in 2001 after my first successful round of activism in saving large swathes of mangroves in Lokhandwala Complex would remind me of Vithoba and Potoba – that the stomach comes even before the good Lord. I was going forward only on the energy which propels the first gusts of hot air from a raging fire.

In the early 90s it was different. I had an obsession, and the obsession fueled on teenage energy and dexterity. I was to soon enough start following the 1992 Rio Conference closely and was all prepared to be part of the process to usher India into Agenda 21.

The Ram Mandir agitation and the Babri Masjid demolition left me bitter and angry because for me there was no issue which was more important for India than coming on to a sustainable development pathway and here the country and more importantly Mumbai, where I was based was engulfed in discussing and living something, which I found regressive and meaningless. Over 25 years it’s been a successful life for Advani and Thackeray and I cannot say the same for myself at 41.

In 1993 I became student member of BNHS, which opened the doors to their wonderful library, which in those days preceding the internet was a great source of reading and updating on current affairs and latest developments. The events at Hornbill House and also those organised by the then far more vibrant WWF were a great source of learning and helping develop the ideas already in my mind and see new ones.

I took a strong ideological decision to stay at R D National College, Bandra from where I had done my junior college and in 1994 opened (or what must be restarted) the Nature Club. I was not much for going through the motions of college but they had to be done. I could have chosen to be at St. Xaviers College and revel in the opportunities and networks but continued with my ego which refused to get a leg up from any additional brands other than my initial schools in Mussoorie. Its been a wildly successful social experiment with much learnings for society and the education system but not that anybody other than me and ego care about it.

I remember many a memorable encounter, activity and conversations. That student with whom I had all of 30 seconds insightful encounter in 1996 in the first floor corridor in front of the Psychology department. We had organised a film and discussion on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and while rushing back into the Department I was selling it to everybody I met in the corridor. This particular student very matter of fact informed me that his student visa process was successful and he would soon be in the US, letting me know that there was no problem in the world once that goes through. My disgust with the Great Indian Middle Class and its belief systems  only strengthened through that decade.

In 1994 is when I came to follow closely all the work happening on solid waste management and the crisis we were facing. 1994 was also the year of the Surat plague and there was much work on that. I came to know of Shantanu Shenai and Green Cross Society and met him in that year itself. The first materials shared by him became my pillars and he was my first guru on the path of a sustainable paradigm towards managing human waste. It is more than two decades now, neither has he been successful nor myself in impacting the issue, with so much effort put in. Success in India is for those with the establishment.

I met many a person during the 90s, attended innumerable programs, read many an article, though not books because I was too impatient with implementing the complete clarity which I experienced in my mind about various wildlife, nature and urban sustainability paradigms.

Lets plan sustainable mobility for Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar

I was a delegate at the Urban Mobility India 2016 Conference organised by the Institute of Urban Transport at Mahatma Mandir Convention and Exhibition Centre at Gandhi Nagar. The theme this year was Planning Mobility for City’s Sustainability.

Several participants could not help but realise how the way the Mahatma Mandir convention centre is planned is itself not consistent with the theme of the conference. The Mahatma had said “be the change you wish to see in the world”. It will be good if the organisers of the conference will heed to those words and immediately undertake steps to plan for sustainable mobility for the complex and thus practice what they preach.

It will help safeguard the sanctity of giving themes to any conference and also help show genuine appreciation for Mahatma Gandhi beyond the usual accolades. Let Mahatma Mandir demonstrate highest standards of sustainability.

gandhinagar

The convention centre is massive spread over 35 acres and can hold programs attracting a few hundred to a few thousands. A number of programs attract delegates from outside Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad who require accommodation in hotels.  The immediate vicinity of the convention centre has no good quality accommodation forcing delegates to stay 3-20 kms away. This calls for long trip lengths, substantial time in transport, use of motorised means of transport and additional costs as well.

Sustainable Transport is the key theme for urban mobility. The principles of sustainable transport have been very well captured in a framework of steps to be taken – Avoid Shift Improve.

It is important to appreciate the need to avoid trips in the first place. If a trip does not take place or a much shorter length trip takes place then the following happens.

  • Number of people in a system whether on the road, in metro or in bus reduces, thus reducing crowding and congestion
  • If trip length is reduced then a number of people can shift to modes like walking and cycling. A 1-3km length is very favourable for walking and cycling compared with a 10km or more length.

How we use a given land area determines whether people are left with no choice but to take long trips or can conveniently do work with short trips.

The carbon footprint of holding an event at Mahatma Mandir is captured in terms of the sum total of fossil fuel based energy used by the various processes and participants. This consists of the electricity used for lighting and air conditioning the various halls and meeting areas, which uses electricity which is generated from burning coal. The other big component of use is the transport used by people who have to travel to the venue.

There are trips which are avoidable and those which are unavoidable. For those staying in Ahmedabad itself if they have to travel 20 kms one way to reach Mahatma Mandir then there is no way they can avoid the trip. But if there is a delegation of 20 people coming from 10 different cities of the country then it does not matter to them if they are staying 20 kms away, 7 kms away or 1 km away. Anybody would like to stay close to avoid long journey times and costs.

Now in the case of Mahatma Mandir there is no accommodation close to the venue itself. There is a five start hotel 3.5 kms away. Some of us stayed at a budget hotel 7.5 kms away. Every morning we would book three cabs and four people to one cab. A round trip would be about 15 kms – a litre or maybe half of fuel per cab per round trip. There is a corresponding amount of emissions per litre of fuel burnt.

isher-to-m-mandir

 

Providing good quality accommodation in a 500 meter – 3 kilometer vicinity of Mahatma Mandir with corresponding vibrant street life, entertainment and leisure facilities will ensure that:

  1. The carbon footprint of the events organised at Mahatma Mandir goes down.
  2. There is reduced congestion on the roads leading to Mahatma Mandir
  3. The delegates save time and money
  4. Delegates get to walk and cycle to Mahatma Mandir thus enabling zero emissions in their trips besides providing exercise and leisure. The neighbourhood streets of Mahatma Mandir which are otherwise desolate will also see life. They are not cycle friendly currently due to high speeding cars.
  5. The proximity of delegates staying close by would enable more opportunity for meeting already known industry colleagues from different parts of the country and make new contacts and friends within the industry.
  6. Possibility of organising informal side events, meetings, presentations would increase. Delegates could potentially hold these meetings in their hotels or specific facilities which could be provided as part of the plan.

Mahatma Mandir and Gandhinagar in general has the scope still to provide for high quality accommodation in various budget categories close to the venue of Mahatma Mandir since there are a number of empty plots.  With additional steps being taken a vibrant neighbourhood could be created around the complex making it great for off work hours as well. Great street food, art and culture. The complex and the buildings can become architecture and sustainability delights.

An analysis of the land use around Mahatma Mandir reveals that there are some plots which are completely empty as of now. One such is Sector 13D (shown in image below), which is about ten acres in size. It can be developed along the lines of a Khan Market, New Delhi with a lot of place for eating out and staying besides space for cultural activities as well. It will be good to have some scope for alcohol as well, which is a sore point in Gujarat for out of state visitors.

mm-sector-13-d

Khan Market is less than 5 acres and can pack in so much. At 10 acres Sector 13 D could do a lot more. Some elements from the Khan Market typology can be used. A grid of walkable streets would be a great feature.

khan-market

From Sector 13 D the various entrances of the Mahatma Mandir range from 100-1000 meters at the maximum. The median would be 500 meters. This is completely walkable or there can be small electric buses and cycles for people to choose from. There seems to be some land around Gandhinagar Railway Station and Sector 11 as well.

The following individuals and organisations should be immediately tasked with creating a time bound plan to ensure enough hotel capacity and a vibrant neighbourhood in the immediate 1-2km vicinity of Mahatma Mandir:

  1. Institute of Urban Transport (the organisers of Urban Mobility India). There are numerous urban planners employed with the institute itself. The MOUD is the patron body and should directly look into this. I will become a member of IUT soon and would like to drive this as a member as well.
  2. CEPT – there are numerous departments within CEPT which should have already looked into this already but should do so now. Prof. Sivanand Swamy now is Director of Excellence in Urban Transport and the proposal outlined above confirms to excellence.
  3. There is a group called Sustainable Urban Mobility India Network, of which I became a recent member and on whose organisation (and support from Shakti Foundation) I attended the Conference. It will be good for the Network to engage in this as well.
  4. There are so many urban designers and urban planners friends and would be good to see them take this up as well.

India – A dying civilisation

Everything that is born must die, that is a fundamental law of life and nature. Lifespans will vary, humans may live for a century, some whales live 200 years, likewise for tortoises. Some trees live hundreds and thousands of years. But there is an end to every lifespan. During their childhood and youth no body thinks too much about death. It is something far away, towards middle age and old age the realisation is ever present.

If civilisations are to be considered living entities, it is logical that they must have taken birth at some time, have a youth then old age and following the rules will die at some time. Civilisations, considering the nature of the entity would have a lifespan spanning entire generations of human beings. Some people might live during the childhood of a civilisation, others during the youth, yet others during the old age and then some in the final moments before death. The spans may spread over centuries.

Taking this point forward the Indian civilisation or the Gangetic Valley civilisation is a dying civilisation or I believe an already dead civilisation. It has been around for more than 5000 years(more). Another old civilisation is the Mesopotamian Civilisation, which is also facing death, they are dying a violent death, annihilating themselves in Syria and Baghdad. My reading is that this is the last century of the Indian civilisation.

What can be the signs of old age and close to death? A certain nostalgia for the years of the youth. A lack of agility, disinterest in new ideas and projects knowing well that there is not much time left around anyways, growth of harmful cells and anti-bodies, reduced immunity, muscle loss, reduced functionality of kidney, liver, lungs and other essential organs.  An enhanced and stubborn sense of self.

India’s complete disinterest or inability in responding to any matter concerning threat to life is a pointer in the direction. Whether roads are dangerous and kill people or the air is polluted and kills people or labour standards are poor or tuberculosis we keep going from year to year without showing any distinct steps undertaken to improve the situation. The Ganga or many other rivers on which the civilisation grew (and which it worships) are all now dead. The people show no resolve or capability to save them. They are dead people who have lost their way into the “dreary desert of dead habit”. They can only support with zeal the demand for a Ram Mandir. They show zero interest in supporting people who will change the situation.

There are nations, which within a decade are able to show definite improvements in a number of issues but here it all remains the same. The people who wish to do something are all frustrated and its only highly corrupt and perverse coalitions of politicians, IAS and business interests who are rapaciously in control of the situation and worst of all a public which seems to not share the same sense of urgency or purpose.

In the natural world scavengers immediately attack a dead body and for a good reason. A dead rat on the road is ripped apart by crows. If it was not the rat would putrefy and become a health hazard. Similarly hyena’s and vultures will get to work in the jungle on a dead animal. Scavengers may look ugly and repulsive but are a very important part of the ecosystem.

In the Indian society context, these scavengers are the very class we have come to despise – the politicians, IAS, goons, contractors, fixers and business. They have taken it upon them to scavenge upon the dead mass of Indian people, which gets moved with no public issue, which can take any amount of bad air quality, deaths on road accidents and bad governance. Keeping this analogy they are doing a good job. Why waste tax money on doing any good for a dead public?

Those who migrate to the US? That is akin to organ harvesting. it makes sense to pluck out the eyes, kidneys and other harvestable organisations and use them for younger civilisations like the US.

The Hindu right and radical organisations are the pall bearers of this dead civilisation – the procession which carries the dead body for cremation, shouting Ram Naam Satya He. I will cremate the dead body.

Swacch Bharat – Can we have Work Area Management?

See the two pictures below

First picture from March 2012 in Hong Kong. The truck below is coming out of a major construction site in Kowloon.

HKDust13

When the trucks leave the construction site they are squeaky clean leaving no trail of dust back on the road.

Now look at the truck below. June 23rd 2016 just before the monsoon started.

Site: Under construction Gundecha School by Gundecha Builders. Next to Mega Mall, Andheri/Jogeshwari (West), Mumbai

The truck comes out of this gate

And leaves a trail of mud on an otherwise clean road

The effect lasts for almost 500 metres. See the three towers come closer.

    

And then there is this man who is then employed to clean up. This is how we do it in India. There was always somebody to pick up our shit. The corporate offices of developers are plush.

How do they do it in Hong Kong? All trucks coming out of a construction sites have their tyres and under parts thoroughly cleaned with powerful hose jet spraying. The trucks only leave the premises when there is no loose mud left anywhere on the tyres. Go back to the very first picture and see the condition of the tyres. They are cleaner than the road.

HKDust8

All construction trucks leaving the site are thoroughly hosed to remove all mud and dust.

HKDust7

And that is how the roads a dust free and a pleasure to walk

img_6143

Not like this

I have highlighted the issue in past entries as well and for about a decade now. Dust management, mud management, material management, noise management, labour safety management.

I have stopped criticising the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan or the Smart Cities program because both have their fundamentals wrong and are not worth discussing. Addressing issues like work area management is what makes our surroundings clean and our cities smart.

This is an issue to be taken up by MCHI and CREDAI. This is the least Corporate Social Responsibility that large developers can show. And the municipal corporation needs to have some sense of forming and enforcing appropriate rules rather than doing stupid photo ops with celebrities and brooms.

Airport Pre-paid cabs and the Taxi aggregators

Last weeks two pre-paid taxi rides from two big airports brought out starkly some concerns and questions about regulating the taxi sector, which seems to have become so important with the emergence of taxi aggregators.

In the first ride, I got off New Delhi airport Terminal 1 D at 1:15 am in the night and with my phone battery discharged was forced to stop by the pre-paid taxi window. For  Rs. 250 I was handed a green and pink slip for a trip to a hotel close by. I was asked to show the slip to an attendant close by who after some confusion about which vehicle I should get into pointed me in the direction of a ram shackle Maruti Omni, which turned out to be non AC and then I also noticed another passenger get into the same car as well from the other door.

That particular night was a crazy one with inclement weather at Delhi having completely thrown off gear flight schedules. The other passenger seemed equally tired and without much application of mind we both adjusted, more so because it was a 10  min ride. The driver was a cocky one, who seemed to know both the hotels and was confident that you could name any hotel in Delhi and he could reach us there. It was one racy high speed drive in a ramshackle vehicle.

So two people paid Rs.250 to receive the drop service of an individual taxi but were accommodated into one ramshackle one. This is as per regulation?

The second incidence was at Mumbai Domestic Airport. I came out late night. Saw a large line at the Meru counter. There was another newly opened counter of some Sai Travels, which offered a rate of Rs. 750 for the cab, which obviously was atrociously high on any benchmark. Any fare regulation here?

I could see an Uber cab far away on the app and no Ola cab. I decided to go for the pre-paid cab. For Rs. 350 I was again handed a receipt with a vehicle number I was to board. On coming to the location where the cool cabs are parked I was told that the taxi allotted to me had left and was asked by one of the drivers to inform the security person there who in turn went back to the counter and got another booking. There was some issue with that booking as well but then another of the drivers who had been noticing this back and forth asked me to come along and ushered me into his vehicle. It was a cool cab, Santro, with greasy upholstery and some of the fixtures on the door panel broken.

What began was a very risky high speed ride which left me with a feeling of having leapt of a cliff. The driver was leaning over the steering wheel as if that would contribute additional acceleration to the vehicle beyond what he was getting by putting his foot on the pedal. In the beginning of the drive after joining the highway he opened the door at high speed to empty his paan and tobacco full mouth. Immediately after that he edged out another vehicle in high speed, who abused him while passing by. I remained quiet at this point.

On another instance on the high way he dangerously manoeuvred a scooter driver who showered him with another set of abuses. At this point I had to indicate to him that I was in absolutely no hurry and so what exactly was the point in driving so unsafe. He replied that I might not be in a hurry but he clearly was. In an aggregator cab I would have given such a driver a single star and in the comments section reported him affecting future rides that he would get. But here there was no redress.

At a time when we discuss road safety in this country the rash driving of both the pre-paid drivers I engaged would have qualified for serious action. But it is instances like these which place poor faith in India’s ability to make any difference to the situation.

The pre-paid cabs at the airports and the cool cabs in Mumbai are run by a nexus of various government officials, not limited to just officials from the Transport Department, political lackeys and the usual mix. The drivers have no fear from the police or the laws about being involved in an accident or breaking traffic rules because who will police the police? They know they will be rescued by the framework under which they operate.

Which brings us to the essential question about what really is the regulation we want in the taxi sector and to what end? Bangalore has just banned Uber.

At all airports aggregator cabs are treated as pariahs even when it is the first choice increasingly for most users of the airports. Why is it that pre-paid taxis which are not the first choice is provided premium positioning at the airports? Are they in any ways safeguarding consumer/commuter interest better than aggregator cabs? Are the transport departments safeguarding commuter interests here?

Yes the basic argument will keep cropping up – that the aggregators are out to kill the competition with their deep discounting and once there is no competition left they will hike the rates. So how does that justify a closed nexus of who knows whom operating pre-paid taxi’s at all Indian airports? How are their rates determined and what are the service level standards? Is observing some archaic clause of Motor Vehicles Act all that is to regulating taxi services? Are the same authorities which are breathing down aggregators as interested in regulating pre-paid taxis and many other facets of the taxi trade or transport governance for that matter? Is regulating the aggregators at the airports all about protecting the business model of pre-paid taxis?