Feudalism

I and Jaya were travelling by Uber the other day. When the trip started, the windows were down and AC was OFF. It was stifling hot. Jaya told the driver to put the AC on. Our journey was not for more than 20 minutes. The driver said that he cannot put the AC on as the fuel level in the car was very low. He in fact told us that he will take a diversion to fill up the petrol in the car. From where we started, trip to petrol station and back, with queue at the station, would have taken at least 25 minutes. I said please stop the car and cancel the trip we do not have spare 25 minutes for a 20 minute journey. He said he will continue and reluctantly put the AC on.

Later on the driver was cribbing all the time and I asked him why he had taken a trip though fuel was low? He had no answer. He also did not know the faster/shorter routes other than those shown by the GPS. When I started giving him the direction, he was unhappy and told me that he lived in the same area as I did and had a Rs.10/ million bungalow of his own. He also said that he was the “Barathe Patil” of that area, a title given in olden times to the local rulers. I told him that I did not understand the significance of this information. He felt that I was treating him poorly because he was a driver! But I only was looking to reach my destination in 20 minutes!

Now I understood his problem. Probably life was not treating him well moneywise, he had a property which must be in dispute; about 10/15 years back the same property was not even worth half a million Rupees. But in the minds of our friend he was still from the ruling class, though he may not get much time to rule, after driving an Uber taxi for the whole day. The titles from the olden days are now only for name sake and persons holding them have no real power in today’s modern society.

When a decision was taken in India to do away with Red Beacon on top of cars of VIP’s, the ruling class (Read politicians, govt employees)  was very unhappy because their so called importance was just taken away. That was the feeling in the mind of ruling class. Government thought that only a couple of people in India need this beacon along with ambulances, and fire-fighting trucks. A couple of months after this directive was published, I saw one vehicle with a beacon; I knew that the vehicle was being  used by middle level officer in the Government, known to me. I asked the driver why the beacon was not removed. He said their office had not received the directive, yet. Come on, the whole world including chief ministers are moving around without beacons but this guy with middle management title did not want to remove it. Loss of power? What power? Why did these people think that they got power just by putting a beacon on top of their cars? But these folks just wanted to cling to so-called power till the last moment.

What power does this beacon give? I was never intimidated by these cars and people using them but there must be a large number of people in the society who must be showing them respect because of the beacon. These guys were allowed to pass through toll booths without paying toll. They could park their vehicles in no parking zone, police would be afraid to touch them.

In olden days, we had various small states which were ruled by many small time kings. At the time of independence these kingdoms were dissolved and merged into India. In 1971, the 26th amendment to the Constitution of India withdrew official recognition of all official symbols of princely India, including titles and privileges, and abolished the remuneration of the princes by privy purses. As a result, even titular heads of the former princely states ceased to exist. Years after this was achieved, many of the so called Rajas call themselves by old titles and behave the same way. Many people also treat them with “respect”  mainly out of fear!

Why does this happen? These titles have got embedded into DNAs of Rajas and they cannot think otherwise. Some people, even today, put the title of Raje at the end of their name! For example Ashok Raje and then their surname! They are so much used to take advantage of their position that they now feel helpless without titles. In northern and eastern India feudal system of zamindari/ subhedari (Land owners & favored people who were gifted lands by the then kings) existed for a few centuries. These landlords behaved like Kings and could get away with murder, literally. They used wives of their laborers as sex tools. The whole family would just live on the mercy of these Subhedars/Zamindars. Changing their way of life, achieved  through land reforms,  from their DNA was like changing their blood group! But this change has taken place.

In olden respect was achieved by titles and in modern times by red beacon on the car! In life one needs to earn respect by own behavior, achievements (not monetary), and humility.  It is how you get along with all strata of people in the society, that is more important than your so called title of Ex Raje or MP or MLA. Those who have achieved in life earn their respect and they don’t keep people as if they own them! I know of an ex-Mayor of Pune. One day I was driving in a car somewhere and a person went on his bike in the opposite direction. The face looked familiar but I could not place him. Later on it suddenly struck me. He was Mr. Ankush Kakade whose Mayor ship term had ended only the previous day; on the next day he was going somewhere on his own bike, no showmanship. No tantrums! Probably in public life we need more Ankush Kakade’s! An idea struck me suddenly. In the beaconless cars Government must put photograph of Ankush Kakade to give everybody reminder to all modern day Rajas, that they should emulate Kakade and not some Ashok Raje! Return their official cars and homes when their term is over and not to cling to benefits offered by the position! My friends I will say that India is progressing when this is achieved.

Abuse

Abe sale kya kar raha hai tu! When we say the word “abuse” we think of the words like “sale” or stronger ones; I am not going mention stronger ones for obvious reasons. Sometimes we abuse as we have a serious difference of opinion or sometimes we do it out of extreme affinity! I will explain to you what I mean. I had read a story about Mohammad Rafi, the great Indian singer. In Mumbai’s Shivaji Park area, Rafi used to sometimes stop to eat paan (Beetle Leaf). Of course the vendor never knew about this, as Rafi would sit in his car and ask his driver to get a paan. Once Rafi saw a serious argument between the driver and the owner of the paan shop and things started turning nasty! In the background Rafi song was heard. Rafi got down to check up what was happening. The driver said the shop owner was abusing him! The vendor was, of course, speechless when he saw Rafi standing in front of him in person!

What happened was, as Rafi was crooning in background, the shop owner was so involved in listening to the melody (of course while creating paans) he told another customer, “Arey yaar, ye Ma…..d (choicest of hindi abuse) Rafi kya gata hai! Muze to rulata hai!” (This xxxxxx Rafi is singing so beautifully he almost makes me cry!) Now this was his way of showing affinity to the great Rafi. When Rafi heard this he told his driver that this was the way the shop keeper was expressing his love to him! Driver should not take the literal meaning! Matter resolved.

Now the word used was abusive but not the meaning. We use so many such expressions during our day to day conversations that we sometimes forget that this can create misunderstanding. But there is one abuse that cannot be misunderstood; is this abuse built in Indian DNA? Let me explain.

This event happened years back in the UK. 10/15 Indian families were staying in a locality; the common thing between them was that they were from the same village from India. Telephone bill of one person was very high for a period. This person went to the telephone company office and showed them the error. They found out that one telephone call to India was logged for 12 hrs. Obviously this was a mistake. Mistake was immediately corrected and credit given to customer. Customer said thank you and went home. Where is the catch? What was done was that, the person called an India number in their village and different families spoke with their dear ones for 40/45 minutes each, of course it added to 12 hrs! Why do we do this? Is this not system abuse?

On some flights they offer unlimited alcohol in certain classes. Our friends will drink so much because it is free. Why? I don’t know. I call it system abuse. Many people make a lot of money from various business activities. Since farming income in India is tax free, they show most of income from farm sector to avoid taxes.

A friend of mine was telling me that many parents of Indians living in USA, take green card for enjoying mainly the medical facilities. They are supposed to file tax returns in US even if they make money only in India. Taxation treaty ensures that there is no double taxation. But except my friend, all were NOT filing returns! This is bad form of abuse by so called educated people!

When Pizza Hut opened up in India, they were offering salads from Salad bar. One could go and create his own salad. People would go to the Salad Bar and fill up the plate in a huge heap! By huge I really mean huge! They would have tough time walking back to their seat as the balancing of the heap was pretty tricky! Just because they gave option to create own salad, was it right to abuse the system? Pizza Hut stopped offering make your own Salad facility!

The way we abuse road system in India is to be seen to be believed. Two wheelers are supposed to carry two people, we started using them to carry a child with husband and wife, then two children! Later we have started using them to carry four adults. Is it just to oppose any rule that Government proposes? Why wear a helmet? So what if there is a rule? What is your problem, if someone is going to die it’s me and not you. So why are you bothered? This is especially true in Pune. In Mumbai on an average 10 people die every day as they are run over by local trains. How does this happen? People cross tracks instead of climbing the bridge to change platforms! Why? Why?

Red traffic signal! What is that? It’s a place where fools stop. What happens when there is a policeman around? People wait because they have no option. I have seen “round-abouts” in other countries working very smoothly without any signal or a policeman.

No form of abuse is good but the system abuse is the worst because it is done by people deliberately knowing that they are doing something wrong. Are people not bothered about cheating? These people are probably not cheats or thieves but are like you and me who just abuse the system when the system is not looking into details. I try to tell people whenever possible when I see them abusing the system. Do you?

Pollution! Nobody’s Baby!

Recently all of us have heard of pollution issues that are literally choking Delhi and probably this is only the beginning. As usual we go about the issues as if it is Government problem and has nothing to do with us. There are a couple of things that need to be considered. Nobody could have predicted that India will manufacture 3 million four wheelers per year and one million plus two wheelers per month by 2015. Increased car ownership can be considered as effect of liberalization. This improved the economy  at a rapid pace, at the same time growth of IT sector started. Combined effect of these two factors led increase in aspirations of fast growing middle class. But growth of two wheelers is purely because of poor infrastructure of roads and public transport in our cities. A society is considered developed if middle class and upper middle class people in that society travel by public transport.

Consider any city in India. Except for Mumbai, where does public transport carry large number of people daily. What is their other option? People have to move like Sardines packed in the “Local” trains. Ask any Mumbaikar about Metro and he will agree that ALL trains in Mumbai should be like Metros! Why Rs.90000/ crores planned for Shinkansen cannot be used to Mumbai “local” train quality improvement? (I am aware that its a special deal) Millions of Mumbaikars will bless the Government if this is done. What are our governments priorities? What are our society’s priorities? What do we want to achieve? Do we want to become a four/two wheeler dependent society? Do we have the discipline to become individually owned vehicle based society? Are we at all striving to become an advanced nation?

What is really adding to pollution? I am comparing data in general and not for any specific category. During discussions on pollution, we talk only of vehicles like cars, trucks, buses et al but there are other factors too. I am discussing Delhi issues because it has become first city in India to have really suffered. Factors contributing to pollution in Delhi are

  1. Winter/Weather
    1. Winter causes stagnation of cold weather near the earth’s surface  ie inversion due to cool air. This is not new to Delhi and has been an old phenomena
    2. Air flow patterns from Afghanistan and Pakistan, pick up from Haryana and Punjab, smoke created by farmers burning the straw in the fields.
    3. Delhi generates 10000 tons municipal solid waste per day. This is burnt every day.
    4. Pre monsoon dust storm also add to this issue
  2. Industry
    1. Delhi has massive construction projects going on; these add to pollution
    2. There are many industries in Delhi
  3. Power generation plants
    1. Badarpur power plants are 30 to 40 year old. Plants use very poor coal quality and have very old design equipments with almost zero automation. This cause high pollution as well as cost.
  4. Vehicles all types
    • Delhi has 7.5 million vehicles on its roads. Many of them older than 15 years.
    • By sheer volume, we miss out that two wheelers also have equal share in pollution because they are 70% of total vehicle population.
    • Government policies have kept diesel cheaper than CNG for most of the period thereby discouraging the use of CNG
    • Diesel buses which carry 50/60 passengers are taxed more than diesel cars.
    • Large number of trucks going to other destinations  just pass through Delhi though they have no business to be in Delhi.
  5. Dust cleaning from roads
    1. In India road cleaning is done every day using “Zaru”, a broom. With this method maybe 50% of the dust that should have been collected goes into air adding to pollution.
    2. It is seasonal but Diwali fire crackers add to pollution
  6. Delhi has a typical mix of Government authority where Delhi is a state Government but has a very large number Central Government establishments. This causes the clash of authorities so taking decision can be tricky for both!
  7. It is Supreme Court that has been pushing the Government. Supreme Court has now taken actions which best can be described as knee jerk. What is going to happen by not allowing to register say 15000 large diesel SUV/C class vehicles?
  8. Delhi citizens almost pay no money for parking their vehicles on public roads. This leads to indiscriminate buying of vehicles. In cities like New York 30 years back people had pay US$ 300/ per month to park their cars in apartment complexes.
  9. Besides this Governments policies play a major role in vehicle pollution issues. Following two tables show the Indian standards and European Standards for pollution norms.
  10. EuroNorms
  11. BharatNorms
  12. When the policies were declared by European Union, which were then followed by Indian Government, the EU wanted to reach Euro VI standard by September 2014. Whereas Indian goal was equivalent of Euro V by 2017! This is where the real issues start. Pre liberalization there used be Hindu Growth rate of 2.5% per year in India. Probably as we believe in Karma, we are in no hurry to change things. When this rate grew to between 6 & 8%, pollution also started galloping. We just forgot to change our targets  for pollution control which probably would have been ok for Hindu Growth rate! .
    1. Even on decided targets there is a major failure in implementation.
    2. Currently for fuel supplies, Northern India and large cities in other parts of India get BS IV for petrol & diesel. Rest of the country is expected to be BS IV in Jan 2016, BS by Jan 2020 and BS VI by 2023!!  Unconfirmed report says that industry will struggle to meet even BS IV norms by 2017.
    3. Vehicle industry says it will struggle to make BS V by 2020 and  BS VI by 2024!
    4. This proves one thing we are very adept at selecting appropriate names. EURO norms name is converted to BS. I need not elaborate the meaning of “BS”.
  13. Large Industries have money to open new factories but they do not have money to improve their Vehicles for better norms. Our Government owned fuel companies have thousands of crores to spend on marketing and opening new pumps. But they do not have money to improve refineries to make improved quality fuels.
  14. Why Government cannot give stringent targets to Automobile manufacturers and Fuel companies for going straight to Euro VI or Bharat VI norms? All these groups make noise but if they are forced they will do it. It is about putting correct priorities! Is it about the lack of political will? Is it about the clout of these big companies? Is it plain bribery? Why can’t Government push Public sector companies?
  15. Governments work on these issues only when the Supreme Court pushes them, otherwise everything is seems to be hunky dory.
  16. In olden days also I remember very foggy weather in Delhi in winters. Practice of cleaning roads with “Zaru” is an age old practice. Supreme court has already forced Smog caused by burning of straws in fields in Haryana and Punjab is also a very old practice. The factors mentioned were causing problems even in those days but word pollution was not in fashion.
  17. When nations proceeded rapidly towards industrialization they adopt new technologies, new ways of doing things. I am sure people must have been defecating in open in most countries in olden days. But this changed drastically. But in India in spite of Government trying very hard by making laws like “having toilets in home” as a pre-qualification for standing for local elections, people build the toilets but still defecate outside! Oh, we like it that way!! You will hardly see anyone spitting in developed countries. Mind you tobacco chewing was rampant in these countries too!
  18. Unless Governments, Industries, Fuel Companies, People all make concentrated efforts jointly and simultaneously problems of pollution will just remain that, Problems of Pollution, irrespective of whether we have authorities like National Green Tribunal (NGT)

In conclusion, we can say that following factors are causing pollution in Delhi.

  • Large number of vehicles and incorrect policy on diesel
  • Government apathy on regulations
  • Atmospheric conditions in winter
  • Auto makers & Oil industry taking advantage (gain what?) of lack of political will of Governments
  • Age old practices not being changed, road cleaning by “Zaru” & straw burning in farms
  • General apathy of public in not forcing  Government to pass strong laws. Yesterday’s example of passing of “Juvenile Justice Bill”. Public pressure forced law makers to pass this bill in the parliament.