Pollution control is not a priority

The Times of India report, “Order industries to bear cost, CPCB requsts NGT” (Aug 26, 2016), illustrates the bureaucratic setup by the state and central governments for pretending to be doing something about the Periyar pollution, without producing actual results.

The report says, “The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has pleaded to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to direct polluting industries to bear the remediation cost to save Periyar in Eloor area.” [2, 3, 4]

“The treated effluents should not be discharged through Kuzhikandom canal as it may continue to wash the sediments further down the creeks. The flow has to be contained to facilitate remediation activity. Therefore, the industries should be directed to submit a time-bound action plan to stop discharging treated effluents to the canal, the board submitted.”

“It said that multiple contaminants including DDT, endosulphan, chlorobenzenes and metals such as manganese, vanadium, zinc and chromium have been found in soil, groundwater, sediment and surface water and immediate steps need to be initiated to rejuvenate the river body.”

Apparently, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPB) do not have any real authority. KSPB appeals to the CPCB, and CPCB in turn appeals to the National Green Tribunal (NGT). If governments were serious about solving pollution problems, KSPB would have had real authority. (And provided an appeal process regarding its decisions.). An empowered KSPB would have been able to take action on its own. For example, shutdown a polluting plant. Instead, it has to go through laborious legalistic procedures, while the pollution problems continue to deteriorate. Even though it was determined that Eloor region is one of the most polluted places in the world in 2006, no real action to control pollution has been taken so far.

The CPCB pleading to the NGT is also meaningless. Most of the polluting companies are running at a loss. So even if the NGT rules that the companies to bear the remediation costs of the pollution, it won’t produce any tangible results. The current situation is the result of bad industrialization policies in the 1930s. And time has shown that chemical industries are a disaster for kerala.

So the logical course of action is to close down the loss making chemical factories, and the Kerala Government to assume the cleanup costs. In addition, implement an Eloor-Edayar Redevelopment Program. Anything else will be prolonging the misery of the people in the Eloor area, and further collapse of the Periyar ecosystem.

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My encounter with the curse of God’s own country

By Rajeev Sunu – Last week, I was trying to soft sell Kerala to a multinational company director in Sydney [2, 3, 4, 5] and was listing out the unique advantages that give my home state an edge over Tamil Nadu [2, 3] for setting up an international logistics operation and an e-commerce platform.

But the executive asked me bluntly: “Isn’t that the south Indian state with 100 percent literacy and all those smart ones working in the Middle East and other countries? I have heard horror stories about trade union activism in that state and we don’t want to get caught in such politics and mess up our business.”

My own experience of trying to facilitate a global business group’s investment has taught me that doing business in Bangalore [2, 3] is far easier than doing it in Thiruvanthapuram [2, 3]. In a way it was simple: in Kerala the potential investor was made to feel that they are sort of receiving a favor from the administrators; in Karnataka [2] there were committed resources to market the investment-destination product and to service the clients on an ongoing basis.

Kerala’s tragedy is that it has no business development managers to market its potential in national and global markets. Innovation and change are alien to the state’s bureaucracy, which is primarily trained in the art of balancing socio-political equations while acting as advisory channels to ministers. more> http://goo.gl/5bl5Vr

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An example of government inefficiency

The Times of India report, “Oppn gheraos mayor, alleges docu forgery” (Aug 26, 2016), illustrates the lack of common sense and petty mindset of the elected officials in the Kochi Corporation, and provides operation details of a “Red Tape paradise.”

The report says, “The LDF councilors led by opposition leader K J Anthony gherooed Kochi Corporation Mayor Soumini Jain on Thursday (Aug 25) alleging that the mayor forged a file a file related to the appointment of a clerical staff as coordinator for the Smart City project.”

“The file is related to appointment of a senior clerk named O V Jayaraj as coordinator of Union Government Funded Smart City project. He was officially appointed as the mayor as the coordinator on July 30, but the mayor misled the state government and the principal secretary that the appointment was made on July 20. Actually, it was on July 22 that the mayor directed the corporation secretary to to from a cell to look after the Smart City project. The secretary received the file on July 26 and order setting up the coordination cell was issued on July 30,” V P Chandran told the council. When Jayaraj was transferred from Ernakulam to Manjeswaram on July 22, he approached the Kerala Administrative Tribunal pointing out that he was the Smart City project coordinator and secured a stay order.”

“The mayor tried to explain details related to Jayaraj’s matter, but could not do so because of the din.”

The situation at the Kochi Corporation is an illustration of the pseudo-democracy in operation. The opposition leader, E J Anthony is misguided in his allegation of misleading the councilors. It is the Mayor’s prerogative to say when the Mayor decided to appoint O V Jayaraj as the Smart City project coordinator, without requiring confirmation by the appearance of relevant documents in the “Red Tape paradise.” The Mayor is occupying a position of responsibility and has the authority to make decisions of that office. And the Mayor’s role is not to dutifully follow the rules of the “Red Tape paradise.” If discrepancy in the dates in documents is significant (in the order of months), then probably a case can be made for forgery. Here the opposition councilors are quibbling about 2 days, wasting time and ignoring more important issues.

The issue actually reflects lack of professionalism on the part of councilors of the Kochi Corporation. This incident and similar such incidents can be avoided completely, if there is a rule in the “Rule Book” that the decisions of the Mayor and other officials of the corporation have to be documented within 2 weeks (15 days) of making the decision.

A related topic is why Kochi Corporation is operating with paper document files. If Kochi Corporation truly plans to become “smart,” it is high time Kochi Corporation implemented a modern online document management and workflow automation system, eliminating red-tape inducing paper documents and files. At present there is no coordination between the various government agencies, resulting in inefficiency and conflict-generating decision-making. In this example, the newly appointed Smart City project coordinator had to appeal to the Kerala Administrative Tribunal to cancel his transfer order. Whichever agency or official that decided to transfer him would have able to know that the Mayor was in the process of appointing him for the new position if there was adequate coordination. This is one instance of the complications due to lack of sufficient collaboration between various Kerala Government agencies. Imagine all similar conflicting decisions being made throughout the Government of Kerala, resulting in inefficiencies and unproductive efforts. These inefficiencies can be avoided by implementing an internet-enabled collaboration system for the Kerala Government and all its departments and subsidiary agencies.

There are political lessons to be learned from this example as well. At present, the political parties seems to think that they can “do as they please,” once they win the election. And the opposition considers it their duty to obstruct anything the party in power tries to do. All political parties and government officials need to understand the “purpose of government” and act accordingly.

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Intellectual freedom yet to be won

The Times of India report, “Scientists and academics hit out at draft education policy” (Aug 23, 2016), highlights the regressive policies of the Government of India. It is a good sign that professionals in Kerala are able to see through the gimmicks promoted by politicians.

The report says, “The draft of the new education policy (NEP) 2016 has drawn flak from the state’s scientific community with many of the members pointing out that instead of addressing the real problems faced by the education system, it proposes measures which will further stagnate the education performance in the country. It also mentions that the proliferation of sub-standard institutions has contributed to the falling education standards. However, the policy is silent on replacing such profit-oriented private ventures with well-funded government schools and colleges, said Francis Kalathunkal, General Convener of the Breakthrough Science Society.

“The NEP 2016 document steers away from directly spelling out the Hindutva agenda of the NDA government but academicians point out that the preamble of the NEP 2016 says that the education system which evolved first in ancient India is known as the Vedic System.”

“Scientific methods and the lives and struggles of great scientists are not included in the curriculum. Naturally, students learn science just as any other subject, without understanding that it is a guide to thinking. That is why we see so many people who have studied science subscribing to all sorts of superstitions,” said a senior scientist.

“Our system gives no priority to value-based education. Instead, it looks at making education big business in order to reap profits,” said Calicut University’s life sciences department head Dr. E Sreekumaran.

“Science textbooks are overloaded but there are no facilities to conduct experiments. Science students should be told in the beginning itself that there is no Bible and no God in science. Only then, they can challenge existing paradigms and invent out of the box thinking,” said Praveen Raj, senior scientist at the SIR-National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology.

India sorely needs to improve its R&D capabilities to achieve the ambitious goals set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, such as Smart Cities, Make in India, Startup India, Standup India, etc. R&D means original thinking, which is in acute short supply in India. Probably, the best example of this situation is illustrated by the fact that the impressive achievements of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) are the result of mimicking or borrowing developments from America or Russia. And, in spite of access to practically unlimited funding to DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization), India is importing technology [2, 3, 4, 5] for its defense needs wholesale.

Mahatma Gandhi won political independence for India. But India is yet to achieve intellectual independence. Intellectual independence is independent thinking, unhindered by blind faith [2, 3]. It is similar to the situation in Europe in the middle ages, after the collapse of the Roman Empire (“Dark Ages“) [2]. Europe won intellectual independence through the Renaissance [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. What India needs is a similar transformation to achieve intellectual independence.

Education is at the heart of this problem, without which industrial development, a key component for economic development, cannot progress. Regardless of how glorious the Vedic System may have been, it is rooted in a world that no longer exists. We are in the process of transitioning from the Holocene Epoch to the Anthropocene Epoch, with increasing existential threats to humanity. To be a “superpower” today means having a strong science and technology industrial base in the economy. It also means having citizens with forward looking outlook and independent thinking, not hindered by blind faiths, or clinging to customs and traditions, afraid of today’s challenges.

The purpose of education is to prepare a person to face life effectively. In today’s technology-driven fast changing world, that means scientific thinking skills, and ability to learn new things throughout life. The education system should be helping people achieve intellectual independence, become forward looking, overcome inhibiting behaviors rooted in customs and traditions, in addition to helping learn subject-matter skills in various disciplines.

Unless such a transformation is brought about in the education field, Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious goals will remain just empty words.

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Cut cities free

India’s urban nightmare can be ended with legislative changes and capacity building
Times of India – US secretary of state John Kerry is unlikely to forget his visit to New Delhi in a hurry. Not once but twice his meticulously planned trip was derailed by routine monsoon showers, leading him to humorously quip [2, 3] to his IIT Delhi (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi) audience, “I don’t know if you came here in boats.”

It is almost 25 years since the 74th constitutional amendment mandated setting up of municipalities as institutions of self-government. But the spirit underpinning the amendment has been ignored by states even as they ask for decentralization and more powers from the Center. Thus India’s economic dynamos Chennai [2, 3], Mumbai [2, 3, 4], Delhi [2, 3, 4], Bengaluru [2] and Hyderabad [2, 3] have all been crippled by poor or non-existent urban infrastructure.

Urban governance reforms must be based on the principle of accountability. It is time to narrow accountability to a single office such as an elected mayor, as successful cities across the world do. The mayor should be the executive head of a city, equipped with sufficient legal powers and financial resources to get things done.

Unless both Centre and states can find the political will to carry out urban governance reforms, talk about smart cities or Swachh Bharat [2] will remain just idle chatter. more> http://goo.gl/xR9bDt

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Economic development enabling networks

(cartoonstock.com)The Times of India report, “Minimum broadband speed may be raised 4 times” (Aug 21, 2016) illustrates the lack of understanding of reality by Government of India regarding broadband.

“I propose to take up the matter with the communications ministry,” IT minister Ravi Shanker Prasad [2] told TOI. “We will consider laying down a policy for increasing the minimum broadband speed from the current levels.”

“The last time minimum internet speed was revised was in August 2014 when it was doubled from 256kbps to 512kbps. Experts and industry analysts say that the present speed is ‘abysmally slow.’ and is inadequate to match up with the fast-developing app ecosystem that is fueling the growth of internet adoption across the country.”

“Telecom operators in the country are moving to 4G services that promise data speeds in excess of 10mps. The government also feels that there is a need to upgrade the speed on fixed line broadband connections that are reaching homes, especially when it has initiated a highly ambitious broadband outreach program to connect as many as 2.5 lakh (250K) gram panchayats through fiber cable network called ‘Bharat-Net.'” [2]

“According to a report by Nasscom and Akamai, India had around 330 million fixed and mobile internet subscriptions as of December, 2015.”

Attempt to legislate minimum broadband speed by the IT minister is laughable. Increasing the minimum broadband requires installing communication systems that can provide true broadband speeds. The US FCC tried the regulatory method of increasing the broadband speeds, with the result that 39% of rural America do not have broadband [2].

Even the current speed of 512kbps is available only sporadically. During peak load times (evenings mostly), the network throughput drops to 2 or 3 kbps, or a few bytes per second, or stops completely — for both wireless and wired connections. This is because as the number internet users increased, there was no corresponding investment in upgrading network capacity. So setting minimum broadband speeds by regulations will have no effect for improving broadband services in India, without seriously addressing the network infrastructure investments needs. (The use of access line speed to indicate network connection speed is misleading. What is relevant is the connection throughput, regardless of the connection line speed.)

Another reason for the low performance of internet in India is the three choke points at Chennai [2, 3], Mumbai [2, 3, 4] and Agarthala [2] to internet backbone. Internet is a distributed network, hence performance improves with increasing number of connections to the backbone. Those responsible for the internet architecture in India either do not understand the basic principles of internet, or improving network performance is not their priority.

“Telecom operators in the country are moving to 4G services” is incorrect. Only Reliance Jio [2] is seriously deploying 4G. The reason is 5G technology [2] trials have already begun. So why would other service providers deploy 4G, which will be obsolete by the time deployment is completed.

In addition, there is another issue which is getting no attention at all. Broadband has the potential to enhance an economy tremendously. For example, in healthcare, education, energy and environment, economic opportunity, government performance, civic engagement, public safety and others. However, using the advanced applications require the use of a desktop, laptop or a tablet computer. Using a small screen device such as a smartphone will not provide full scale application functionality. But number of smartphone-only internet users are also counted to puff up the internet user statistics. Such user statistics distorts information about the potential economic benefits. A suggestion is to categorize internet users into two (minimum) categories:

  1. (Full) broadband users, who access internet using full size screen and reasonable network connectivity, and
  2. Broadband lite users, who access internet using small screens and/or limited connectivity.

It is only true broadband users who can gain most of the much-hyped benefits of internet.

One of the current market distortions is that internet has become primarily an “always-on” mega entertainment medium, leading to speculations as to what happened to the hyped economic gains from internet (“The great productivity puzzle“). The primary reason for the missing economic productivity in the advanced economies is because much of the new tech development and deployments have been entertainment focused.

This presents a historic opportunity for India to lead the development and deployment of economic-development-oriented network systems (as opposed to entertainment-centric networks.) Such an initiative can provide tremendous boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Make in India program. However, an initiative for developing economic-development-oriented network systems requires “enlightened leadership,” which may be missing.

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