Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Modi needs our help too

The following article has been written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
From the afternoon of May 16, there has been a continuous stream of articles telling us what Narendra Modi ‘must’ do. The barrage of articles continue till date, most of them telling us what Narendra Modi’s top most priority ‘should’ be. These ‘must’ and ‘should’ advice varied from withdrawing security cover to Robert Vadra to ushering in massive structural reforms in the governance system. I have no doubt in my mind that most of this advice is well-meaning. It also reflects the stringent and demanding nature of citizens and, in some cases, exposes the extremely low patience levels we possess.
I have been wondering though, what ‘should’ we, the citizens, do to contribute to this mission? What ‘must’ we do so that we get the sense of having contributed to the betterment of the country? A few points that Modi made in recent speeches provided an answer.
Towards a clean and healthy India
In his reply to the motion of thanks to the President’s speech, Modi has given a hint for the same. He asked us why we can’t strive to make our country a cleaner place by 2019 as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. This is a subtle yet important mission.
For whatever reasons, hygiene awareness among us is very low. Most images of India, when shown on Western media, comprise of our dirty streets, garbage-strewn rivers etc. Worse, some of us even take pride in spitting on roads, littering footpaths (wherever they are available), relieving ourselves on walls etc. For the Government of India to realise its mission of a clean and healthy India, the simple thing we can do is to simply not do these things. We must strive to become examples to follow, by resisting any temptation to litter, spit and relieve ourselves in public. And then if time permits and you have the inclination, efforts must be made to spread awareness about the same (like organising health camps in slum/rural areas, chalking out innovative ‘walk to work’ programs to increase awareness etc). Hygiene in public places is a huge differentiator between developed and developing countries. If our surroundings are not inviting enough for tourists, there is no way we can aim to become a ‘developed’ country.
This is not to say the onus is entirely on us as individuals. The dream of a clean and healthy India cannot be achieved without people in rural areas realising the importance of healthy lifestyle. The onus of creating awareness and ensuring implementation in these areas lies largely on the State and Central Governments. Any added benefit that we individual can contribute is a bonus.
Discipline on the roads
Narendra Modi made one more point during the run-up to the election. Answering a question on how simple co-operation by citizens would increase efficiency in the Government system. Governments could use traffic policemen in a better manner if people follow traffic signals. How true! Why should two to four traffic policemen man junctions that have fully functional traffic lights? It is because of irresponsible behaviour of motorists and drivers that this situation has arisen. Why can’t we follow something as simple as a traffic light?
Most of us are educated enough to understand the difference between right and wrong. At the maximum, one needs to wait for 3-4 minutes at a traffic signal. Except under rare conditions, those willing to jump the signals have no pressing work that they can’t delay for 3-4 minutes. This rashness increases the responsibility on traffic police to ensure they man signals too — what a waste of precious human resource!
Contributing to informed discourse
As we have seen, informed discourse in our media is a rarity. Inane and irrelevant topics dominate the discourse on TV. Some of us fall prey to silly misinterpretations and arrive at quick conclusions. The onus is on us to improve this quality. Falling prey to the media discourse and wanting to follow their model will spell doom. It is our responsibility to contribute to a genuine fact-based debate — every issue need not be looked at from an emotional angle.
Narendra Modi was hugely successful in shaping the discourse before the elections. Social media played a pivotal role in shaping this discourse — we have seen the fruits of this effort. Now is the time to strengthen this performance. This can only be done if our focus remains on facts rather than rhetoric.
The purpose of this article is not to belittle the suggestions pouring in regarding what Modi must do. But I believe he cannot be successful without our help. I only intended to explore ways of helping him achieve a better India.

A hero making our roads safe

The following article is my 100th article for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
Over the past couple of days, I have been involved in discussions which interlink two important topics that have been the buzzword in recent times.
The recent overwhelming mandate to the BJP and the NDA was seen as a positive vote towards good governance, transparency and efficiency. These may sound like lofty words, but when these concepts get implemented at the ground level, the differences it can make to people’s lives is enormous.
The unfortunate passing away of Union Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde has initiated an unexpected debate on twitter: Road safety and adherence to traffic rules. There was near unanimous opinion that we are a very bad lot at following traffic rules and also adhering to safety instructions.
And here, I would like to briefly mention the superb work of one-man army, K Gangadhar Tilak, to usher in both transparency and safety on our roads. Gangadhar Tilak is a retired Railways Superintendent Engineer. Post-retirement, he briefly worked in an IT industry before picking up on his passion to bring about a change.
The story of potholed roads is common to every city and town. It is a testimony to the apathy of either the contractor or the implementing agency that it becomes a herculean task to find a neat stretch of road without potholes. Needless to say, these potholes can sometimes be the gateway to hell.
Distressed by the state of roads in Hyderabad, Gangadhar Tilak took upon himself to fill up potholes wherever he could. Dearth of material was not an issue as he found the tar material lying on the roads itself. On his own, he used to plough through the material, place it in his car and take it to the pothole location and fill it up. Most of the time, he did it under blazing sun because sunlight is essential for the drying up of the tar. He has turned his car into a ‘Pothole Ambulance’. It’s not merely a name – this car actually has a lot of material on the back seat and inside the boot.
Gangadhar Tilak: A hero making our roads safe
Needless to say, initially support was not forthcoming. He was questioned on the need for him to take such physical labour at such an age; some even ridiculed his commitment, but nothing deterred him. The idea of having safe roads kept him going. Since filling up of potholes cannot be done in rainy season, he used to do this even during the peak summer in Hyderabad. After individually filling up nearly 500 potholes, he approached the GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) Commissioner. The Commissioner, surprised at the dedication of Gangadhar Tilak, agreed to officially provide him with tar material, so that he could continue with this mission. As word spread,
many youngsters started helping him. Last Saturday, the 1000th pothole was filled in Hyderabad.
Gangadhar Tilak: A hero making our roads safe
Every single pothole has been documented. When the Commissioner started giving him a lorry load of material as and when needed, Gangadhar Tilak maintained a record of all potholes filled with that material. During this process, he has also observed that the other lorry loads that go out on official government work do not maintain such a record! There is no telling as to how many potholes have been filled or for that matter, if the material has been used for filling at all. In fact, as far as we know, there is no concrete explanation as why the lifetime of our roads are so small! Why can’t the quality be better than what it is now?
Tilak is proposing that the GHMC move to such a model, where every spade of tar material must be accounted for. If as an individual he has been able to identify and fill 1000 unique potholes in Hyderabad over the past 4 years, imagine the number of potholes GHMC could have filled?
The question, therefore, that pops up in the mind is why is it that such services are not transparent?
Most citizens do not know an easy way of approaching government offices for resolving such issues. Roads are laid and re-laid only to break here and there. Why isn’t it easy for a concerned citizen to approach authorities and demand a quick resolution? If a senior citizen can do it, what stops the Government from doing it? The above is a specific example of how easy it is to usher in transparency, which will thereby eliminate corruption and enhance safety.
Speaking of safety on roads – the accident of Gopinath Munde does not have anything to do with bad roads. Fixing of the roads is Government’s responsibility, following rules is ours. Safety on roads is guaranteed, only if they are smooth and we are not hasty. In this particular case, transparency in filling up of potholes will go a long way in ensuring safety on our roads. Enlightened and committed citizens like Mister Tilak are rare. It would be only prudent if the Government, at micro level, makes all of its services as transparent as possible.
Gopinath Munde’s death also underscores another important point: Adherence to traffic rules. It is a shame that so many of us educated folks flout safety and traffic rules on the roads with impunity. Some even take pride in doing so, as if it is some heroic thing to do. Heroism is defined by what Gangadhar Tilak is doing at his age; not by riding bike through the traffic with three people on it! Mister Tilak is contributing towards transforming India. Hats off to his efforts!

The birth of two states

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
Two new States have born on June 2nd. Technically, one might argue that only one new State is being formed – Telangana. However, Telangana gets the existing capital city of Hyderabad. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh has to rebuild everything from scratch – including its capital city (which is not yet decided). Hence the argument that two new States will be born tomorrow. One is Telangana – citizens of the State are in an elated mood for achieving their long standing demand of a separate Statehood. The other is Andhra Pradesh – citizens of the State are in a pensive mood because they now have to focus on rebuilding the State.
The latest struggle for splitting Andhra Pradesh into two States can be dated back to year 2001 – when KCR (who was miffed that Chandrababu Naidu didn’t give him a Ministerial post) formed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). His journey only saw lows till the end of 2009, when his umpteenth fast-unto-death grabbed Sonia Gandhi’s attention and she decided to split the States. However, it was not until mid-2013 that her party made a final and formal announcement in this regard.
Multiple articles on this site have continuously highlighted the shocking manner in which the bifurcation process was carried out. Our argument was strengthened by the fact that every single party (including TRS) had serious issues with the contents of the Bill that was introduced in Parliament in February 2014. The haste and pace at which it was carried out has put the process to a shame. The Congress sensed some electoral benefit into splitting the State without giving serious thought to various repercussions – the result – it faced a total rout in both the Telangana and Seemandhra regions! The environment was so polarised during the process that no party could get serious Amendments to the Bill, till BJP woke up in the Rajya Sabha and insisted on certain provisions to be included.
Evidence of the botched up process was visible last week. The Bill said RS members of the two States will be split by taking a lottery. Members were reluctant because they might get to be representatives of the other region! The lottery was postponed by two days, but there was no choice but to conduct the lottery. Four members from Telangana now represent Andhra Pradesh and five members of AP now represent Telangana!
Another big issue was the bandh called by the TRS, protesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi Cabinet’s decision to merge seven mandals of Khammam district into Andhra Pradesh. This ordinance makes an Amendment to the Bill passed by Parliament in February 2014, and alters the boundary of the State. Seven mandals in Khammam district have been allotted to the residuary State of Andhra Pradesh, because they fall under the submerged regions of the Polavaram national project. The TRS cried foul saying that this is against Constitutional provisions etc. However, this was an agreement reached in February 2014 itself between the then ruling and Opposition dispensations.
Since the Lok Sabha passed the Bill without any debate, the Government was reluctant to Amend the Bill and send it back to the Lower House from the Upper House. Any insistence on BJP’s part would mean a severe backlash against the party in the region – something they did not want. So a commitment was given by the UPA that an ordinance would be brought out merging these 7 mandals into AP instead of keeping them in Telangana. Various accounts indicate that they couldn’t do this because of the code of conduct.
Since the appointed day of the States is June 2, the Modi Cabinet passed this Ordinance (a decision to which they agreed to when in Opposition itself!). The argument for merging is that rehabilitation of the villagers will be easy if they belong to Andhra Pradesh instead of Telangana. The argument against is that the design of Polavaram project itself is flawed, and these mandals must remain in Telangana.
These are just two instances I listed above. There are some tensions in the manner in which the Government employees are being allotted. There will be multiple other issues that will crop up. This bifurcation is happening in a vitriolic atmosphere, and KCR’s recent rants are not helping in assuaging this feeling. The need for a statesman at the helm was never felt like this before. While it makes little sense to hamper on the past, it is crucial to note that such things need not happen again (an earlier article explains what can be done to avoid this.
Andhra Pradesh begins is new journey with a huge revenue deficit (so far, Hyderabad was the cash cow. Now, all revenue from Hyderabad will go to the Telangana Government), deficit of educational institutions, deficit of clarity on capital etc. Telangana begins its new journey with elation, and aspirations to usher in a new culture. The mood in Andhra Pradesh is pensive, whilst it is celebratory in Telangana. KCR has been sworn-in as the first Chief Minister of Telangana at 8 am on June 2. Chandrababu Naidu will take oath as the Chief Minister of AP at 7:27pm on June 8. Whilst the past cannot be done away with, we sincerely hope that the future of these two States will see equal prosperity being ushered in. The path is not smooth, but trust must be placed on the leaders at the helm. Chandrababu Naidu will have to summon all of his administrative acumen to bring AP out of the mess.
K Chandrashekhar Rao will have to step into a new role of being the administrator rather than the agitator. It is incumbent on these two leaders to show the way forward for both the States. Here’s wishing them all the best in this new endeavor.

TDP is back !

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
In what is perhaps the biggest swearing-in ceremony ever, Chandrababu Naidu took oath last night as the first Chief Minister of the new State of Andhra Pradesh in the presence of lakhs of people and the who’s who of NDA. Six Chief Ministers and nearly the entire Union Cabinet was present on this occasion along with LK Advani. There was criticism that such extravagance could have been avoided because of the precarious financial condition of the State. Naidu brushed it aside saying this is a celebration of people’s victory and aspiration. However, this is going to be the story of Andhra Pradesh for the immediate time to come – grappling with the massive financial deficit.
Chandrababu Naidu promised waiver on all kinds of farmer loans. Not stopping there, he announced waiver of loans incurred by the women self help groups (DWCRA). He promised people that these will be first two files that he will sign, once he takes oath as the Chief Minister. At that time, the burden on the States exchequer was estimated to be Rs 70,000 crore (Around the year 2012). This promise was made before the process of bifurcation was started.
There was no going back on the promise after the State was bifurcated too. Estimates put the loan waiver amount to burden the new State of AP to the tune of Rs 55,000 crores! A whopping amount, considering the revenue deficit of the State to be Rs 15,000 crores! The fiscal imprudence doesn’t end there – every section of the society was promised with freebies left and right – with revenue such a revenue deficit, it remains to be seen how Chandrababu Naidu will cope up with the fiscal burden of building a new State and living up to his promises. Under normal circumstances, it is nearly an impossible task to arrive at an balance between spending for building the new State and spending for the freebies.
The mindless bifurcation carried out by Sonia Gandhi coupled with the fiscal imprudence of the TDP’s promises is precisely one of the main reasons why the immediate roadmap for the newly formed State of Andhra Pradesh is riddled with question marks. There are many plans on paper; and without doubt there is a huge potential in the people of AP to ensure these plans succeed. However, the immediate term plan will be fiscal prudence and that will go for a toss once the modalities of the loan waiver become evident.
The State needs to build a new capital – all indications from Chandrababu Naidu show that the Vijayawada-Guntur region will be chosen as the new capital. The State needs to build educational institutions like the IITs, IIMs etc. The State needs to build AIIMS type hospitals. The State needs to create employment opportunities for the youth – which means that it has to attract entrepreneurs to setup industries. The State needs to find new avenues to bridge the revenue gap. The leadership needs to show way for the people, so that their emotional attachment with Hyderabad doesn’t become an impediment to progress in this region (an earlier article explains why Hyderabad is such a big bone of contention . All these are no mean tasks – perhaps, the biggest challenge any politician is every facing today.
It is here that people are hoping that the administrative experience and acumen of Chandrababu Naidu will benefit them. This hope primarily arises from because the State has been witness to the transformation that Naidu brought about in the Hyderabad region. At a time, when Bangalore was being unanimously voted as the IT destination of India, Chandrababu Naidu took it upon himself to convince IT giant Microsoft to setup their R&D centre here. His personal interventions meant that Microsoft opened their first overseas centre in Hyderabad. The rest, as they say, is history. A new city – Cyberabad- was created. Sops were announced for companies and procedures were simplified. The result – today Hyderabad contributes to nearly half of Telangana’s revenue! Jobs created are not restricted to IT alone, but to a variety of associated fields too, including the dreaded real estate ones! Today, nearly 20 lakh employees in and around Hyderabad owe their position to the foresight of Naidu then. A new city was literally built out of mere rocks!
And it is with this example that Naidu sounds confident of bringing out AP out of the brink. The TDP has many experienced Ministers too, and above all, there is a friendly Government at the Centre led by a superb leader – Narendra Modi. Speaking at the event yesterday, Venkaiah Naidu also expressed confidence that the combination of Modi and Naidu will ensure that Andhra Pradesh will be back on the developmental track within no time. During his campaign, Narendra Modi laid out specific plans for specific areas in the region. He envisioned Tirupati to be the hub for hardware manufacturing, including electronics; given the long coastline the State has, they envisioned AP to become the ‘cargo hub of Asia; given the abundant growth of cotton, they envisioned a textile hub in the Guntur region; and given the vast tracts of fish farms in the east and west Godavari districts, they envisioned a sericulture hub. Given that the undivided State of AP produced, perhaps the largest number of graduates, both leaders have promised making the residual State of Andhra Pradesh as the hub for education too!
The “been there, done that” attitude of Chandrababu Naidu inspires hope, but one also needs to be cautious if this will turn into overconfidence. Fiscal prudence is the need of the hour – mere slogans won’t help anymore. Naidu, when questioned repeatedly, on how he will achieve all this, replied back saying, “Where there is will, there is way”. Only time will tell how long Andhra Pradesh will take to self sustain itself. For now, congratulations to Chandrababu Naidu for the fightback to come to power again!