Saturday, May 09, 2009

Who wants to become a doctor?
Evidently, not too many people, as this ToI report notes.

It takes ten years of sustained, punishing, high-risk training of the finest minds to make a trained specialist (obstetrician, surgeon, pathologist); fourteen if you want a 'super' specialist (cardiologist, brain surgeon). The results these days, despite the risk, can be quite impressive.
The only known 'de-risker' we know? The calibre and training of the mind-hand holding the scalpel.

About 15 years ago, Maharashtra created a new 'super-risk': a line of mantris and babus of the command-and-control dispensation, for whom doctors were slave labour.
Clever policies and incentives ensued: mandatory rural postings, endless exams, shifting universities, disappearance of teaching seats, and, of course, increasing reservations.

The finest minds have voted with their feet. Should we be surprised?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why do we have such appalling bureaucrats?
Municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak was criticised by the High Court for equating the case of a newborn that went missing from Sion Hospital to instances of stolen mobiles and ornaments on Wednesday.
...because our babus are not accountable to ordinary citizens in any way. At least netas have to get votes every 5 years!

The epitome of this creed is the IAS, whose officers have no accountability to the people they are supposed to serve. This is, however, not surprising, since the IAS is the direct descendant of the Imperial Civil Service (ICS) whose sole intent was to keep the white man above the native, giving him free reign to exploit and suborn. Saheb was answerable only to the queen. We have merely replaced the white man with a brown one, the queen with the CM/PM.

Which explains Phatak's grossly callous statement.

The IAS is a failed institution, way past its expiry date. It needs to be taken behind a barn and shot. Roles like the 'MC' need to be handled by professional managers selected competitively and held in place with performance contracts. Incompetence such as this should ensure that the person remains unemployable for life.

At long last -- Mumbai reforms her property tax system

This was an idea whos time has come a 20 years ago.
While still riddled with caveats and riders, this is a welcome move.

Linkage to capital value create buoyancy in the tax base, and mumbai will no longer have to depend upon constant increase in tax rates (the tax rate for commercial propoerties, for instance, was over 120%! -- like 97% income tax in indira gandhi's time) to fight inflation.

Now, how about the other property reforms the city sorely needs:
1. Sending Rent control where it belongs -- to the dust bin?
3. Repealing archaic laws like fixed FSI that throttle the supply of real estate and moving to a more rational system that frees space? (e.g. more FSI near transport hubs)?
4. Moving to a city master plan with simplified, rational bye laws for construction that use FSI as a motivator for realtors to give up land for creating open spaces and infrastructure?
2. Mapping all property parcels in the city down to cadastre into a visual, electronic database (such as a GIS)? This will allow efficient tax administration, ownership management and allows for total tax control, transaction control and also gives the administration full view into land usage?

Many more to come, for mumbai to even become a city worth living in!
But with ULCRA gone and taxes reformed, some glimmers of hope!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Gandhian fetishes

If the pre-poll sound bites are to be believed, one thing looks clear.
Irrespective of who wins the general elections in 2009, centers like mumbai will find things getting grimmer.

For no political party wants to focus on fixing things, choosing to fall back on tired, ruinous ideas and shibboleths.

The Congress has promised a return to nehruvian economics.
Which means incubus like state smothering that slows everything in its path to a crawl.,
Fair enough, we've lived under that with the UPA.

Not to be outdone, the BJP too wants to take india back to the stone age by resorting to Gandhian economics.

We leave the readers to enjoy the fruits of some other Gandhain policies. The reason gandhian policies fail is not because Gandhi was not a good man. Far from it.
The reason they fail is because the world is not full of men as good as him. Hence, they are motivated by baser notions like greed, fear etc. Gandhian policies fail because they're designed for an ideal world, not the real one.

1. The Gandhian fetish of "rural-ism" that posits that india is a country of villages.
Sure it is, but most villagers dont want it to be that way.
That, is immaterial to policy planners, who focus on choking cities of infrastructure..
The result: Mumbai today

2. the Gandhian fetish of "do-it-yourself" or swadeshi.
The result:

3. The Gandhian fetish of "Non-violence", even when facing a murderous enemy.

Not one political party is talking about stuff that matters: such as making our institutions accountable for one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slumdog and Slumbai

It had to happen again.

Some white guys threw a bone in the direction of something indian (i am referring to slumdog millionaire, the movie), and people went into raptures about how the west is 'waking up to india'.

Most people i spoke to called slumdog millionaire a "triumph of the spirit over hardship" or "the never say die mumbai spirit" or something similar and seemingly inspirational.

Friends and colleagues gushed about how the fellow in the movie rose despite the deprivations of the slums and having to dive into human faeces to win some international dole-fest.

Cliches and prejudices aside (brilliantly articulated here), they are to be expected, it is the misplaced joy of the average mumbaikar that is disturbing: not one person found the presence and the continued growth of slums troubling anymore.

Not one person.

The slum -- and the urban planning failure it represents -- is the pink elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about. Just like the pink elephant of islamic terrorism.

It is now part of us, never to be sought to be removed, merely to be accepted and taken in our stride.

However, this pattern of ignore and move on has been going on. For 60 years, year after year (or election after election) we the people of mumbai have consistently voted NOT to fix things, preferring the soporific of rice at 2 kgs (for the masses) or the "wonderful mumbai spirit" (for the chattering classes) to real, painstaking change.

Mumbai is now a city without a collective objective and a collective aspiration.
A city without a future.

Over at Shadow Warrior, Rajeev points out how this is also visible among hindus at the national level. Everyone has a plan for our decimation. We don't even know that we're being hunted.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Going to the dogs, literally

The Mumbai High Court recently passed a landmark judgment - the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC for short) can now cull stray dogs, especially if they are a nuisance.

This is a welcome move, and a long-overdue rescinding of the very unfortunate blanket ban on culling that was introduced over a decade ago. Since then, the number of strays in mumbai has skyrocketed, with numbers such as 60,000 - 4,00,000 being trotted around!

Of course, sundry animal rights activists are aghast. This is not surprising -- for their very existence is totally dependent on the perpetuation of the nuisance of stray dogs.

And a nuisance is what it is -- over 18,000 people fall victim to dog bites every year in Mumbai. This is merely the number a) reported and b) in government hospitals. The real number is likely to be much higher. Strays also pose a real threat in other ways -- they harass pedestrians, bite children and 'gang bark' through the night -- depriving citizens of sleep.

As a result, strays are persona non grata all over the world. If found, they are impounded, handed over to volunteer animal lovers to keep as pets within their premises. Those that are not 'rehabilitated' are put down with lethal injection or other humane options.

So why did the HC have to pass this judgment, that too to fix a silly 'no kill' rule that had prevailed for some 15 years?

Like all debates in Mumbai, this one too is an example of how powerful, connected vested interests can corner a decerebrate administration into misgovernance.
Disallowing killing of strays was a blatant piece of misgovernance -- because it placed the safety of stray dogs over that of the populace.

The way to get this is to use one of the oldest tricks in the book to fool the saamanya nagarik: re-frame the problem. 'Stray activists', whose survival depends upon these mutts reframed the argument as a "animal rights" argument. The saamanya nagarik, unsure how to respond, agrees, that animal rights need to be protected. A few ask tough questions, but their voices are soon drowned out. Flood the newspapers with photos of singlet wearing girls holding animal rights logos and you have a fait accompli.

However, ours is a system with checks and balances -- and justice, even though slow, grinds exceedingly fine.

But the battle is not over yet -- 'stray activists' may even hold a dharna in front of Vilasrao Deshmukh (or his replacement, i forget his name) to pass a 'let strays remain stray' ordinance. Bolstered by images in ToI, He may oblige.

This story is an exact rehash of the Mumbai taxi story -- 15 million mumbaikars cannot get safe, clean, transparent taxi services because 55,000 existing cabbies want the status quo to remain.

So how do we get out of this -- how do we save Mumbai from itself?
Simple: vote in an administration that will place the interests of all citizens above the interests of specific identities.

That means voters must vote for leaders who promise governance, not distribution of scarcity on identity-based criteria (free power for x, college seats for y, you know the spiel).

That means a literate, economically aware populace that can make the tradeoff between short-term issues and long-term improvements.

Till then, be prepared to travel in a dirty, bone jarring, rickety old taxi, a stray dog in tow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Changing Gears

Its time for a change.

Going forward, this blog will focus on issues, of Mumbai, for Mumbai and created, more often than not, by Mumbai (and her residents themselves).

Its an attempt to shift focus from things that don't matter to the things that do.
Things that will determine if Mumbai remains a city worth living in 25 years from now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fooling all the people all the time

The Indian media is going into raptures over the NSG waiver, hailing India’s “major success”. Some are even proclaiming the “End of Nuclear apartheid” thanks to this deal. India will now have 24/7 electricity, it would seem, thanks to Manmohan Singh.

The BJP predictably, is rather angry that too much may have been given away – specifically in the area of weapons testing – to get this waiver.

In reality, however, both parties have got it wrong. This deal is totally, completely irrelevant – both from an energy and military security perspective. It is classic politics -- all froth, no substance.

In terms of energy security, the waiver will do nothing for India. All the waiver does is allows India to enter the “shop of suppliers” (who peddle uranium and nuclear power plants) and do business with them at market rates. The trouble is these toys do not come cheap.

Nuclear power is extremely expensive, even before considering potential environmental costs. Various sources have placed the price of power from a nuclear power plant in India in the region of 12-16 Rs per unit, vis-à-vis Rs 2-8 per unit from the conventional “mix” of plants (hydel, coal, gas, oil, others).

The “waiver” is hence the intellectual equivalent of a Prada store adopting an open door policy. Sure the indigent and daily wage earners can come in, but they’re unlikely to be able to afford anything on sale.

Second, these toys take extremely long to make – upto 10 years from stone laying to commercial power supply. In that time, India’s generation gap is likely to cross 70,000 MW! Montek and Co themselves concede that at most, nuke generation will contribute 10% to this gap closure.

So we will have 7,000 MW of Nuclear power ten years from now. Maharashtra’s power shortage is 6,000 MW. Today. What do we do for the immediate 10 years?

In Indian conditions, Even the 10 year time frame is a myth. It took India 20 years merely to get one Sardar Sarovar done, when its only downside was tribal displacement. Replace “displacement” with “toxic nuclear waste” and pictures of deformed babies. Now imagine the opposition to even one such plant.

All in all then, Manmohan’s great coup – coming on the back of purchased MPs and a forever tarnished Parliament, is likely to yield nothing for the country. We will still remain in the dark.

On the other side, the BJP’s obsession with weapons testing is also tiresome. And irrelevant. Since when has International Law been an impediment to developing your own weapons program?. Such inconveniences have scarcely affected our neighbours – Pakistan and China – from coming together and raising a vibrant (and promiscuous) “Nuclear family” all the while claiming to be chaste. BJP is revealing its own lack of political depth if it it believes they cannot do the same when in power!

In all this, there is something to learn, however, about how to become a superlative politician. In one fell swoop via this deal, Manmohan Singh has re-earned and further burnished his “Reformer” credentials, washing away from the public’s mind all memory of his and his Administration’s grave acts of omission and commission since 2004 (inter alia, multiple constitutional travesties a-la Goa and Bihar, ruinous economic policies resulting in the fiscal deficit growing to pre Narasimha Rao days, blatant communalization of Indian politics with “first claim to resources to muslims” while serially trampling on hindus (“Ram did not exist”), total mishandling of domestic terrorism and reduction of parliament to a horse trading floor).

It is for this alone, that I have to admit to a grudging sense of admiration for both MMS and the Kkkangress.

They’ve proved, that if done right, you can fool all of the people all of the time.