About the Blog

This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

February 16, 2014

Tolling times

This time too Mumbai seems besieged when I landed there on the morning of 12 February this week. While entering the city one could feel hoards of palpably glittery policemen around toll booths even as early as 7 am in the morning. They were seen checking all incoming vehicles and questioning random commuters. Later that day news broke out that Raj Thackeray had been detained after the orchestrated attacks on toll booths had reached alarming levels

While Raj Thackeray may have political compulsions on mind to queer the pitch for the forthcoming Loksabha elections, the Toll Booth issue raised some questions in my mind at-least

1. It is a common perception, one that is gaining strong currency to me is that Toll booths are a organized form of hafta vasooli (Extortion Agencies) that has gained a cloak of credibility and acceptance because of Govt’s ineptitude and mishandling . Sample this - in the last 5 years there is no visible improvement in the driving condition between Bangalore & Belgaum. In fact it has worsened due to numerous diversions due to incomplete road works. Yet the Toll collected between the two cities has risen from around Rs.250 to almost Rs.500 for cars today. How is that possible? Why is nobody questioning this?

2. I can understand the compulsions of PPP (public private partnerships) engagements to involve private sector in running toll booths and the economics of charging user fees to recover the cost of providing such services. But is the state giving a free hand to private enterprise which by its very nature is a vested enterprise as opposed to the collective public interest that the Govt represents? It appears so. If the Govt can bungle on larger & more important assets like Coal and spectrum so spectacularly what credibility does it have in managing such smaller assets?

3. Can you arrive at a definitive conclusion as to how much such utilities are to be charged and the time frame for recovery that fair & equitable to all parties - the private enterprise that builds such facilities, users like us who utilize it and the Govt which facilitates ? No again if one could look at the case when Chicago city authorities leased its street-parking meters for $1.157 billion for 75-years in 2008.

So what Raj Thackeray seems to be doing to highlight this issue is pretty much like that of Arvind Kejriwal - UNCONVENTIONAL. It strikes a chord somewhere . And he has succeeded in keeping the Govt on tenterhooks going by what I saw in the city that day. Hope it helps in addressing the issue.

February 1, 2014

Spare a thought to the flogging stock

Last week was spent in making several trips to the nerve center of government activities in Bangalore - the MS Building, which is conveniently housed adjacent to the famed Vidhan Soudha. Here in the labyrinths of numerous entry gates, floors and corridors you will find the tentacles of what is a humongous State govt machinery.

Almost 17 years back i was here, surrendering my Govt job offer as a Gazetted Probationary officer and at that point i had felt that i had turned my back to this building once and for all. But strange are the ways of the world and i found myself frequent here albeit in a different role.

I was making presentations on several topics to the Karnataka Evaluation Authority which is the nodal agency apprising many govt schemes, programs and implementations. In a way it acts like a mirror to the Govt on its activities and helps it being effective.

In the process of making presentations to a panel of senior officers drawn from various dept on our approach plan & methodology in carrying out third party consultation services I had dug deep into subject matters ranging from Village development Scheme (Suvarna Grama Yojane), Land development & cultivation Program (Suvarna Bhoomi Yojane), Apiculture development scheme, Oil Palm Development, Culture & Heritage preservation.

While each of these is a vast subject that would need several reams even for a summary description and coverage, my point of this blog article is to emphasize the following

  • Govt schemes in their right earnestness seek to touch the lives of people who are the farthest from the mainstream. Implemented properly this can bring qualitative change to the remotest corner of the country where poor & marginal farmers still live substandard lives
  • For all the criticisms the Govt attracts, the sheer arch of its involvement spanning public policy making, implementation & administration is staggering. The issues on hand are complex and there are no simple answers (contrary to many of the media news channels like us to believe )
  • Many a times the Govt has to choose between the devil & the deep sea. Either way its damned for e.g., Scaling up Palm oil cultivation and production is urgently need of the hour to bridge the yawning gap between edible oil consumption and availability in this country. Palm Oil cultivation generates 4 times the yield as conventional crops and is suited for Indian agro climatic conditions. However it is ecologically destructive as countries like Indonesia have found the hard way. The international price situation is also volatile and Govt intervention in procurement through price fixing mechanisms has backfired in the past. But Govt cannot sit back & watch as the supply gap is only widening.

So let’s spare a thought to what is commonly a flogging stock.

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