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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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?

 

Mumbai Metro – Citiflo integration

The image below appeared in Times of India on 23rd March, 2016

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There will be difficulties in the success of the partnership between Mumbai Metro and bus aggregator Citiflo. The same obsacles which plague BEST buses and rickshaws will also affect the Citiflo operations leading to financial stress. No doubt Citiflo must have done its calculations but the moot point to observe in the information provided in image above is that a distance of 5kms is proposed to be covered in 30-40 mins i.e a speed of 10kmph or less. This is the same problem affecting BEST buses, they cannot turn around fast enough are spending most of their time idling in traffic, which is what the Citiflo buses will also do. Of course the passengers will be sitting in air-conditioned comfort, while still wasting as much of their time.

The objective has to be to make sure that a distance of 5 kms is covered in less than 15mins and the solution is to create new road(s) to access the hinterland consisting of Chandivali and Powai and to reduce load on the ridiculously overloaded Saki Vihar Road.

The low rise slum pockets which carpet between Saki Naka station and Subhash Nagar/Asalpha Station need to be the focus of attention and have indeed been so. Last year in September some of us were invited to view this presentation which had Asalpha as a case study.

The image below will help highlight the situation. Three placemarks to focus on – Asalpha Metro Station, Nahar Amrut Shakti Colony and the commercial complex called Boomerang. The straight red line between Asalpha and Nahar measures 800 meters. That is all that the distance is, which normally would get covered in 5 mins. But currently Nahar Complex has to be approaced via Saki Vihar Road and Saki Naka Station, doubling the distance and the time taken during peak hour congestion can easily be 20-30 mins.

All that is needed is a straight road to be developed from Asalpha Metro Station to Nahar Amrut Shakti. Beyond this there are existing roads connecting to Chandivali and Powai. The road should have a minimum of 15 feet wide footpaths on both sides, thus enabling those staying in Nahar Complex to just walk to Asalpha Station.

Even streamlining the existing Kherani Road can offer immediate relief. Kherani Road during peak hours is a sad sight to see and speaks volumes of the neglect of urban planning and the complete lack of compasion and vision within the city to offer the most simplest of solutions to its citizens.

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A close up image

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None of this is unsurmountble, even as the dense cluster of slums may look intimidating. With the right planners and adminstrators 2-3  years maximum. In a better governed city this would have been made mandatory on Nahar Developers to create such a road before undertaking any construction on their site.

But such kind of thinking and work draws no interest from anybody but the planners and those who are into advocacy. Companies like Mumbai Metro and Citiflo have their immediate balance sheets to look into and the commuters whose problems they (and activists) are trying to solve are plugged into FM Radio or playing video games on the phones. Most of them do not even read such news reports.

Why the Bombay HC order banning construction is stupid

The Bombay High Court has again passed some kind of an order prohibiting the municipal corporation from giving permissions for construction of any new building because of its inability to handle the waste crisis being faced by Mumbai. The media will be reluctant to capture my thoughts in quotes but I do have the freedom (hopefully and the tolerance of the Judges) to say it on my own blog post that the court order is totally stupid. It might have been passed with some other purpose in mind but not for solving the waste issue.

There is no relationship between additional construction and the current waste management crisis. Managed well, even if the garbage generated doubles there would still be no need for the current type of dumping grounds and only a fraction of land required for a single scientific land fill. To re iterate, if today Mumbai is generating 10,000 tonnes of waste and we have a crisis, then handled my way ( yes I will say my way) Mumbai can generate 20,000 tonnes of waste per day and I will assure closure of Deonar by 2020 and lush green parks and playgrounds on the same site by 2030. Let the buildings keep coming up and generating more waste. Open challenge to the Bombay HC and MCGM.

If I can show you ten buildings which are not sending any waste to Deonar today then I can very easily (with resources which are all being charred by MCGM currently) make 100,000 buildings also not send any waste to Deonar or any other dump. That is the key aspect, which makes the current order look so stupid.

If there is a ONE BIG co-relation it is between the failure of the Bombay HC in carrying out contempt proceedings for non-compliance of grand orders passed on waste management issues in the past 15 years by its own self. Something tells me that it would be expecting too much for the Judges or the Court to be doing that. If only the Judges who have passed this order, studied orders passed by their predecessors over the past 10-15 years – and more notably those by Justice Chandrachud and decided to initiate contempt proceedings against all the IAS officers who have handled or currently handle the relevant departments then it would have made more impact.

Just when did we last see the Court prosecute any senior official or politicians for any of its PIL orders in the past? PILs have become a joke. Only blind worshiping bhakts of the judicial system have faith in PILs because their blind belief enables them to not stray their looks and look at the reality.

Fine non-complying buildings Rs. 3000 for every instance of non-segregation back to back and the most stubborn and wealthy of buildings will end up complying. If MCGM is incapable, incompetent or insincere in implementing MSW 2000 then let them say so, let the Court take cognizance of it and lets talk ahead. But lets not waste time with these kind of stupid orders. Have a look at this public advertisement by MCGM in 2001 here

Materials below for those who might have missed them before or those whose eyes only keep glazing over all the evidence.

What a zero waste building looks like at this link

Suggestions to the MCGM for SWM in DP 2014 at this video

Our bad air quality and Indo-Pak relations and what it says about us?

I got out of office earlier. In the day ending light conditions I could manage to see the horrible haze in Andheri at around 6pm on the New Link Road housing Infinity mall. I guess it must be the same around the city. Had I been travelling an hour later a dark skyline would have hidden the haze.

It was a repulsive sight raising concerns about the impact on collective health and our priorities. I was in a taxi on a call I could not keep aside and hence did not stop to take the photos.

Shamelessly opportunistic thoughts came to my mind riding on a recent big talking point in our country. I began linking the recent Shiv Sena misbehaviour with Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni and the high security having to be provided to Mr. Kasuri and the event around his book release.

I wish Mr. Fadnavis and others would take a “principled stand” on air pollution and public health. I which this could become as big a talking point as Indo-Pakistan ties, disturbance in which hardly takes any lives as compared to bad air.

Its great to have good relations between India and Pakistan but far more important is to ponder why citizens in both countries are not concerned about the most basic of issues affecting them and demanding better services from their governments? What does it say? And in the indifferent situation when people do speak and take interest what issue(s) is it?

Earlier in the year I highlighted the horrible way in which the resurfacing of Marine Drive was taking place raising criminal amounts of dust and it covered very prominently in the Times of India. I used the occasion to highlight the need for an overall work area management policy in all road infrastructure projects and buildings demolitions and constructions. It is a subject I have been raising concern over forever having written on other occasions on my blog.

I have stopped expecting any body – individual or institution – to read those kind of news reports and get in touch to support in any way or at the bare minimum such reports or videos or images to become a great talking point in the city like the recent fracas. I took a number of shocking videos of the resurfacing and the number of views it got are there to see.

Not to forget half a dozen other interventions to improve air quality beginning with improved public transport.

Far more people are dying from bad air than with any violence with Pakistan. Cardiovascular diseases have a strong linkage with air quality and lung conditions. Which means that a lot of deaths being registered as cardio vascular failure have been exasperated due to air pollution leading to mortality. But that can never become a talking point. Sena speared oil paint on Mr. Kulkarni and air pollution smears far more tar and other toxics on the lungs of millions. I wonder whether Mr. Udhav Thackeray is ever concerned about the state of the lungs of Mumbai’s citizens and the condition of which can be linked to the kind of decisions his party takes in the municipal corporation.

Where should be the focus of intellectuals and activists and concerned citizens?

In the end it does say something about how to garner public attention towards attaining political power. It is because people give a damn to real issues or have become too numb that there is a need to have such fracas and stunts. Talking sense on important public issues in straight forward ways never got any any body any where.

Points made during deposition on Coast Road Project in Mumbai

Independent Peoples Tribunal for Environment organised a Public Hearing on Mumbai Coast Road. The public notice for the same is at the end of my deposition.

Below are the points I submitted in my written deposition. I made a separate set of points in my spoken deposition, which is found in this presentation.

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Deposition before Commissioners by Rishi Aggarwal
Friday, 9th October, 2015
Mumbai
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I would like to place the following points on record for the consideration of the Commissioners with regards to my objection to the coastal road project proposed by the MCGM and supported by the state and national governments. The project in my opinion is symptomatic of bad governance and my points below argue against the project on governance grounds.

I am an environmental and civic issues activist for the past 15 years and have been closely involved with impacting numerous issues which would lead to a better quality of life in Mumbai. I take keen interest and involve myself on a continuous basis with aspects related to the good governance of Mumbai. I have been opposing the coast road since early 2011 when it was first proposed and have been expressed my views at numerous governmental and public forums till now.

I am attaching two different letters sent by me regarding the same and also a petition which I started in 2013 against the project. Some key points are below

Points for deposition

1. It pains me that a few politicians have chosen in their wisdom to call the coast road project as one of national importance. The lifeline of Mumbai, the suburban railway network carries 8 million people daily, it is a global marvel. Almost ten people lose their lives daily on this network. I would imagine that a project of national importance would be to find a solution to put a complete stop to these deaths. This would confirm with the tenets of good governance. The coastal road project will make absolutely no difference to the conditions on the suburban system or to saving the lives of those who die on it every day.

As per estimates the coastal road would have a capacity of transporting a maximum of 300,000 people every day (with a lot of doubt) as compared to the 8 million on the suburban system. The coastal road project has been projected to cost Rs. 13,000 crore in 2015 costs. A reasonable level of improvements in various aspects of the suburban system would cost less than Rs. 1000 crores from what I gather through various readings in the papers and official reports.

So it is a situation where there is enormous enthusiasm in the government to spend Rs. 13000 crores on transporting 300,000 people daily but almost zero enthusiasm in spending Rs. 1000 crores on improving a system which is transporting 8 million people daily. How can this be justified on a good governance parameter? Would not a government interested in delivering good governance have a balanced approach?

2. The National Urban Transport Policy 2006 by the Government of India explicitly states that the focus and priority of transport policies and investments in Indian cities should be to move people not cars. For a decade and more we have only seen a violation of that policy in Mumbai. Having received no resistance MCGM became brazen and has leapfrogged but not in the way the NUTP would expect.

3. The land use and mobility patter in Mumbai has undergone a drastic change in the past three decades. A large number of people who work in Greater Mumbai need not be staying within. These are people staying with other municipal corporations within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). Mobility, residence and work patterns increasingly have an inter-regional pattern and our transport planning has not kept pace with the requirements. Multi-modal integration is still not convenient in the region. For these purposes development of functional Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) has been suggested for Mumbai for very long. Robust institutions as we know are the fundamental tenet of good governance.

Again the government has shown abysmal commitment to establish an UMTA for MMR. Enthusiasm for the coast road by releasing full page advertisements, carpeting the city skyline with self-congratulatory messages on hoardings has been there for all to see. The same politicians and administration shows a zero concern for addressing the day to day mobility challenges faced by millions in the region.

4. The coastal road proponent – the MCGM – is offering the coastal road project as a solution to the traffic congestion being faced in Mumbai. A city the size of Mumbai and with intentions of becoming world class does not see a functional and well equipped transport and traffic planning cell within itself. It is unimaginable a megapolis of this size in the developed world to not have a well functioning traffic and transport planning cell in its local self government.

The coastal road report alludes to the presence of similar roads in developed countries and uses them to build a case for the coastal road. But what about a traffic cell, which is a fundamental requirement if you want to handle traffic congestion? Why no interest in having a traffic cell? All of these world class cities have world class traffic monitoring departments staffed with the best trained staff and with budgets and facilities to match. There is an unmistaken sincerity in the way some of these global cities are governed, which is woefully missing from the governance of Mumbai.

Is the coast road a case of having cake when we do not even have bread?

End of deposition

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Public Notice about the Public Hearing

INDEPENDENT PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL ON ENVIRONMENT
Public Hearing on Mumbai Coast Road

Organiser: Human Rights Law Network, Mumbai

Date: Friday, 9 October 2015.

Registration: 9.30 am; Tribunal hearings commence: 10am

Venue: St Paul’s Institute of Communication Education (SPICE)

The Independent People’s Tribunal on Environment aims to conduct fair and credible investigations focusing on issues concerning human rights and environmental justice and give voice to the struggles of grassroots organizations and affected communities.

We are setting up a Public Hearing to deliberate the feasibility of the proposed highway on the Rs 12,000 crore, 35-km long Coast Road on the western sea front of Mumbai that will connect Kandivali to Nariman Point on Friday October 9, from 10 AM to 6 PM.

At the Public hearing persons from various backgrounds ranging from the fishing communities, architects, town planners, governance, environmentalists and experts will be deposing on the effects of the coast road on the environment, fishing communities and on the financial viability of the project.

Justice (Retd.) Hosbet Suresh, former Bombay High Court Judge; D.M. Sukthankar and Jamsheed Kanga (former Municipal Commissioners); D.T. Joseph (former Urban Development Secretary); B.C. Khatua, Director of the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU, a parastatal body); Gerson da Cunha, Action for Governance & Networking in India (AGNI); Shirish Patel, civil engineer and one of the three proponents of Navi Mumbai; Shabana Azmi, actor and activist; Prof V. Subramanyan, former IIT-Mumbai geologist; Sunil Shanbag, theatre director; Rambhau Patil, President, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti; Dr Rakesh Kumar, Chief Scientist, in charge of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in Mumbai; Ajit Ranade, economist, Nikhil Wagle, journalist, Major General S. C. N. Jattar, President, Nagrik Chetna Manch and Meenakshi Menon, media and communications expert and founder of Vanashakti NGO, are Commissioners.

Address: Third Floor, St Paul’s Institute of Communication Education (SPICE), TPS III, Near Tawa Restaurant, Opp. Duruelo Convent High School, Road Number 24, Bandra (West), Mumbai – 400050
Phone:022 2643 5709

The event is open to the public, who can also send written submissions to the Commissioners during the day’s proceedings.

We look forward to full coverage by the print and electronic media.
A PRESS CONFERENCE WILL BE HELD AT 1.30PM ACROSS THE HALL ON THE 3RD FLOOR
Anne Thomas Panicker,
Human Rights Law Network (HRLN),
First Floor, Jalaram Krupa, Janmabhoomi Marg, Fort, Mumbai – 400001
Tel: +91-22-2282 0109/2282 0192; 98924 61119 Email: mumbai@hrln.org