How feudalistic

Attempts to replace beacons with sirens must be squashed, VIP culture must be rooted out
Times of India – On Monday, May 1, so-called VIPs were to bid bye-bye to beacons. This followed on last month’s Union Cabinet decision that beacons would only be allowed on vehicles providing emergency services like ambulances, fire engines and police conveyances.

Unfortunately many netas and even babus are resisting the change tooth and nail. From up and down the country there are reports of attempts to bulldoze the beacon ban.

Particularly worrying are reports of beacons being replaced with sirens. Quite apart from the noise pollution and illegality, this is an accident hazard. The traffic disruption caused by VIP beacons was bad enough but the screaming of VIP sirens would be even worse. more>



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>



Discard primitive beliefs for industrial progress

The Times of India report, “City roads turn fatal, one death in every two days” (Aug 2, 2016), provides yet another example of the lack of purpose for the authorities in Kochi.

The report says, “Data available with the city police showed that on an average, one life was lost every two days due to road traffic accidents (RTAs) in Kochi city between January and June this year. Within a span of 182 days, 88 fatal accidents claimed 91 lives.”

“Fatal accidents are a combined result of negligent driving, drunken driving, unauthorized parking, narrow and potholed roads. Poor condition of roads is a major risk factor, said a senior officer. Transportation expert Dijo Kappen said most accidents due to “hurry” when motorists try to make up the time they lost on bad roads and traffic jams. “The state had 14,000km of PWD roads in the state in 1975 for 1.17 lakh (117K) vehicles. Though length of PWD roads had increased 32,000km, the number of vehicles will touch one crore (10m) very soon,” he added.

“Mayor Soumini Jain and district collector MG Rajamanickam had recently blamed each other for the bad condition of city roads after the high court sought a progress report on road repairs.”

It looks as if Kochi authorities secretly believe in the primitive practice of human sacrifice “to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods.” It is high time authorities discarded primitive beliefs, quit squabbling, and developed an effective governance structure for Kochi. Current division of roles and responsibilities seems to be optimized for creating gridlock, squabbling, avoiding responsibility, and promoting inefficiency.

There are probably two primary reasons for the deplorable condition of Kochi roads:

  1. Continued use of materials that were suitable for traffic conditions several decades ago, and
  2. Lack of funds for using quality materials that can withstand current traffic conditions that include heavy vehicles.

Solving these problems require a change in mind-set. It involves taking ownership and providing leadership to make Kochi a regional industrial center, the potential for which exists due to its unique geographical location: “Cochin is strategically located. It is in southwest India, just 11 nautical miles off the international sea route from Europe to the Pacific Rim. With direct sailings to important markets of the world could position it as an industrial and logistical hub for South Asia.”

Taking such visionary leadership will automatically solve the funding problems. For example, Los Angeles took advantage of its geographic location to become “a global city with a diverse economy in entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, sports, technology, education, medicine and research. And is and is one of the most substantial economic engines within the United States.”

“The economy of Los Angeles is driven by international trade, entertainment (television, motion pictures, video games, music recording, and production), aerospace, technology, petroleum, fashion, apparel, and tourism. Other significant industries include finance, telecommunications, law, healthcare, and transportation.”

Los Angeles is currently “self funding” an initiative for building next generation transportation system.

Kochi has the potential to develop into a similar “global city.” What is needed is will and visionary leadership. And discarding primitive beliefs, squabbling and narrow mind-sets.


Industrial development needed before high-speed rail

The Times of India feature, “High-speed rail not on track yet” (July 15, 2016), highlights the lack of economic development priorities in the way Kerala authorities plan mega projects.

The report says, “The DPR (detailed project report) submitted by the DMRC to the government suggests acquisition of 1,155,57 hectares of private land and relocation of 3,868 residential/ commercial structures on its route for realizing high speed rail from Thiruvanathapuram [2, 3] to Kannur [2]. As many as 36,923 trees need to be felled to realize the project which will cost Rs 1,27,849 cr ($19.2B) to the state exchequer.”

T Balakrishnan, CMD, Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd said they would conduct a further study, as announced in the budget, seeking a better alignment. “It is true that we have submitted the DPR. As the government wants to study more options, we are going back to drawing board.”

Total cost of the project at the time of completion in 2027-28 is at Rs 1,27,849cr ($19.2B), as per current estimate Rs 86,735cr ($13B).

The line is expected to reduce 8,868 vehicles reducing road congestion.

Current plan contains 105km underground tunnel and 190km of elevated duct.

Daily passengers between T’puram and Kannur by 2025-26 estimated at 5,857.

“The DPR suggests that union and state governments may waive of respective taxes Rs 13,541cr ($2.03B) and Rs 5,841cr ($876m) to help the project. The DPR says the remaining Rs 91,446cr ($13.72) can be raised from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The state government’s burden will be Rs 17,272 crores ($2.6B). The state government may raise part of the amount by domestic borrowings.”

The report adds, “The Anti-High Speed Rail People’s Forum is planning to resume their agitation once they get a clear view of the state government stance on the project. The committee, chaired by environmental activist C R Neelakandan, has around 150 units and 10 district committees under its ambit from Thiruvanathapuram to Kannur. (“Anti-HSR activists to wait and watch”)

Based on the information in the report, it seems Kerala government is behaving like children who get excited about new toys. What is missing is the economic rationale for the high speed rail system. The number of vehicles in Kerala was 6.411 million (2012). The HSR is expected to “reduce 8,868 vehicles reducing road congestion.” Therefore spending Rs 127,849cr ($19.2B) on HSR can hardly be justified as reducing congestion. Only remaining reason, other than as an expensive toy, is faster travel within Kerala. However, faster travel as an economic justification depends on economic activities that can benefit from faster travel. Currently there are no industrial centers that can benefit from HSR.

Rationalizing the HSR because of the availability of paying passengers is not a justification that can be used by a government that places the interests of its citizens first.

What needs to happen before planning the HSR is serious efforts for industrial development. Starting incubators and startup clusters [2, 3, 4, 5] by themselves will not create the necessary industrial development. Claiming otherwise exhibits utter lack of understanding of economic development dynamics [2] in a modern economy.

Aside from an independent industrial development effort, the HSR project presents an opportunity to initiate the development of a high speed rail industry in Kerala. Similar opportunity for initiating the development of a metro rail industry in Kerala was squandered away in the recent past. However, half-hearted attempts [2] at industrial development will not produce results, neither will “political engineering development projects.” Learn from the French government how they are providing full fledged support, including loans to Kochi Metro to help support the rail industry in France [2, 3, 4, 5].

A responsible government will prioritize the state’s industrial development ahead of expensive toys that adds to the state’s financial burden.


Education is not for democracy, but excellence

The Times of India feature, “Time of Change” (July 3, 2016) is helpful in understanding the thinking of the new Kerala government.

In your report, the minister for transport, A K Saseendran “unveiled a three-prong thrust for all the three departments (Motor Vehicles Department, Kerala Road Transport Corporation [2], and water transport), identifying the most challenging task to be resurrecting the loss-ridden KSRTC.” (“A roadmap for change”)

The report adds, “Kerala boasts of the largest transport network in the country with more than 4,200 KSRTC buses and over 10,000 private buses plying the streets, servicing lakhs of commuters and connecting even the smallest village and city.”

C Raveendranath, minister for education, says, “The practice of terming schools as ‘uneconomic’ must stop as the value of schools cannot be measured in terms of money.” The minister added, “Government is planning to upgrade all the schools with public participation. Public participation would rekindle the democratization process in education.”

From the reports, what stands out is the mind-set of the Kerala government. It is that of a “Nanny state” [2]. The transport minister is keen on expanding the state owned transportation system. The state will be better served, instead, if the minister focuses on creating conditions that will enable private businesses to effectively operate transportation systems.

The education minister talks about “democratization process” in education. “Democratization” seems to be a code-word for promoting mediocrity and uniformity. In education, Kerala needs to promote excellence to have a viable economy, instead of depending on people migrating for jobs.

The efforts outlined by the ministers are routine — not transformative — and continuation of the status quo. For transformative changes, Kerala government needs to change its “Nanny state” mind-set.

The purpose of a government is to create conditions for a thriving economy for its people. Peter Drucker says, “The purpose of government is to make fundamental decisions, and to make them effectively.. The purpose of government, in other words, is to govern.” And not doing.

If the goal is to have the government do as much as possible, it is limiting. But if the collective energies of the people are unleashed, the possibilities are endless.


A plan for economic development

A confluence of forces — increasing chronic budget deficits, declining agriculture, slowing tourism, reduced foreign remittance, among others — make it necessary to think about new ideas for developing Kerala economy.

It seems Kerala government gimmicks and shortcuts are catching up with the tourism industry, reports The Times of India (“God’s own destination, but heading nowhere,” Apr. 27, 2016).

“The problem is that what you see on the screen is very different from what a tourist experiences when they touch down,” says the report. Seems like the Kerala tourism department has been using the skills from the movie industry in the state to win awards, but lacks understanding of essentials for building a brand. Brand is about trust and promise. Marketing makes promises about future experience that must be fulfilled. Otherwise the trust is broken, and the brand withers. Apparently, Kerala tourism marketing was about “luring tourists,” and the methods are no longer working.

“The basic requirements are infrastructure development and capacity building. Government needs to ensure good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage-free, provide hassle-free inland navigation by mid-size boats from Kollam [2. 3] to Kottpuram, develop eco-tourism clusters to protect Kerala as a green destination, besides ensuring continuous quality audit of tourist facilities,” said E M Najeeb, president Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry. Tourism cannot function in a bubble, but is enmeshed in the local economy. It is not viable or practical to develop good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage free, or provide hassle-free inland navigation for the sake of tourism. However, it would be feasible to achieve those goals as part of overhauling the Kerala economy for making it sustainable.

First step is to develop a plan for an optimum transportation network for whole of Kerala. Once different modes of transport suitable for different regions are identified and transportation networks are designed, they can be constructed as funds become available. It will not solve the problems immediately. But, over time, will provide adequate transportation — which will never be achieved with the current piecemeal, ad-hoc, fragmented approach. Here is an outline of the priority areas for transforming Kerala economy to be sustainable:

  1. Enhance quality of education
  2. Agriculture producing premium organic agro-products [2]
  3. Plan Kerala-wide optimum transportation networks for phased implementation
  4. Implement integrated wellness and heathcare solutions
  5. Implement integrated water distribution and management
  6. Implement integrated waste management and pollution control
  7. Develop electronics and ICT (information and communication technologies) industrial capabilities, beyond the current services focus

Building malls and apartments will not result in a sustainable economy. Neither will “exporting partially educated people.” As experience has shown, IT Parks, as currently implemented, will also not produce required results. So it is time for serious investment in core industrial capabilities. Electronics and ICT sectors can form core “market activities” for a comprehensive economic development plan, for example, using “Metropolitan business planning” methodology.

To sum up, trying to build the infrastructure needs of tourism in isolation is not viable. But it can be achieved by an integrated approach for transforming the Kerala economy to be sustainable.


French standards have fallen

The Time of India reports about the Kochi Metro project: “French team happy with progress report” (Apr. 21, 2016). And adds, “A three-member team from Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the French development agency funding the project, visited the metro sites and expressed satisfaction over the progress of the work on Wednesday (Apr. 20).”

For the Kerala government, the Kochi Metro is more a political propaganda [2] tool than a transportation system. The metro trains are expected to be operational June this year. It seems unlikely that the deadlines [2, 3, 4] will be met. There were reports that even when the service starts, it will be partial as significant portions of the tracks and stations are still under construction. Actual areas served by the Kochi Metro will be less than originally planned. For example, when the current construction is completed, service will not reach the transportation hub in Tripunithura [2, 3] as originally planned. Lots of trees were cut to make way for the Kochi Metro, and there were promises that 10 trees will be planted for each tree cut. However, the actual trees planted were far less than promised, and forest department found that the saplings are not being cared for [2, 3]. (That said, it needs to be pointed out that the Kochi Metro is progressing better than many other development projects in Kerala.)

Yet, according to the report the French agency, AFD, is satisfied. France has a rich tradition of high standards, and, in fact, established the metric system of standards [2]. Besides, many scientific breakthroughs originated in France. For example, analytic geometry [2], calculus, chemistry, and high-speed rail [2, 3]. And, of course, modern democracy started in France [2, 3, 4, 5].

So the interesting question is: Have the French standards slipped? Or, perhaps, France does not want high standards for Kochi Metro?


Safe cycling: Who dares may die

In response to a report in The Times of India, “Safe cycling: Who dares may die,” Mar. 4, 2016.

Your report brings out both encouraging and discouraging information about cycling in Kochi.

Your report says, “Cycling as an exercise, for recreation or as the preferred mode of transport is going through a revival.” But, “motorists tend to have some sort of prejudice against cyclists, especially during peak hours, as we are moving at a slower pace. I have been threatened many times and motorists have tried to bump into me on purpose or blown their horns incessantly,” says Hariprashant M. G.

Another disheartening statistics is, “From the 13,167 accident cases involving two-wheelers reported in the state last year, nearly 20.77% of them had cyclists on the receiving end.”

As pointed out in an earlier post, behavior of Kochi (and Kerala) drivers leave a lot to be desired.

There should be a comprehensive plan to make Kochi bicycle-friendly. Copying some of the things they have done in bicycle-friendly Amsterdam would be a good idea.


Rs741-crore ($110m) German loan deal to be signed by mid-march

In reponse to a report in The Times of India, “Rs741-crore ($110m) German loan deal to be signed by mid-march,” [2, 3, 4] Mar. 8, 2016.

The report about the German loan for the water transport [2, 3, 4] illustrates the problem with development projects in Kerala.

There is lot attention and effort made for getting the initial finance. But hardly any attention to operations and follow-on issues, leading to stranded investment and financial loss. For example,

  • How operating expenses will be covered? Can the service be operated profitably?
  • Who will perform maintenance, repair and overhaul?
  • Who will provide the necessary training for the new systems?
  • Running the boats efficiently will require many support systems. Anyone paying attention about them?
  • There is already an organization operating ferry services. Why create a new entity because some new boats are being purchases?

If new projects are incorporated into existing organizations — instead of ignoring them until the next crisis — it will help provide for ongoing organization renewal, avoiding organization decline and failure.

“Rather than a transportation project, it will be one which would redefine infrastructure facilities in the islands and and places surrounding the city. The development would enhance the standard of life and livelihood facilities of the people in areas which come under the project. The better connectivity to the city will also improve the lives of residents in these areas,” the official said.

How can running some boats bring about all these benefits? If, indeed, it is so revolutionary why was it not done before?

Based on the report, the Integrated Water Transport is another half-baked plan to generate publicly, without planning for necessary follow-on steps. (The report on the same page, “New master plan proposed to save Brahmapuram” [2, 3, 4, 5] provides an example of a half-baked waste treatment plant started with lot of fanfare without sufficient planning, and not providing any of the promised benefits after completion. The plight of the fertilizer factory, FACT, and Smart City [2, 3, 4, 5] are two other examples.)

In the Silicon Valley, getting venture funding is considered a success, and over 90% of the venture-funded companies proceed on to failure. Kerala government considers getting a loan for a project as an achievement. Due to lack of comprehensive planning and effective execution most of the projects fail to take off, fail to deliver promised benefits or become zombies.

For things to actually improve, Kerala government and its agencies need to stop publicity-generating, finance-focused mode of operation, adopt comprehensive project planning methods, and develop operation expertise and capabilities.


9 KMRL staff ‘sacked’ by collector

In response to a report in The Times of India, “9 KMRL staff ‘sacked’ by collector,” Mar. 2, 2016.

The report says, “Nine officials deployed by KMRL (Kochi Metro Rail Ltd.) were working at the land acquisition office in collectorate. Of late, they have been leaking information and even title deeds signed between private parties and revenue department for the project. They gave documents to outsiders, creating headache for authorities.”

The actions by the Ernakulam [2, 3, 4, 5] district collector, M G Rajamanickam, appears autocratic. The KMRL staff duty is to the public, and not avoid “creating headache for authorities.”

The land acquisition documents are public property because it relates to land to be used for public purposes. They may be kept confidential while negotiations regarding the acquisitions are in progress. But once final decisions are made, people have a right to know the details of the acquisitions made on their behalf.

In colonial times the collector may have been the final administrative decision maker for the district. We are now in the 21st century democratic India, and colonial norms do not apply. The land is acquired for use by the KMRL. So the KMRL staff is in a better position to make decisions about issues related to the land.

Even if there are disagreements, the democratic approach to resolving differences is through dialogue, discussions and negotiations — and not “my way or the highway” approach, which seems to be the district collector’s approach.