Sunday, July 5, 2015

DESTINATIONS: SWITZERLAND (1987):EXCURSIONS (1)

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VALLORBE


Near Vallorbe
Long years ago, perhaps in mid 1970s, I happened to be in Bastar – a district that was till then not fully explored. This land prehistoric as it is, is inhabited by the members of the ancient Gond tribe. During that trip I had occasion to visit the Kutumsar caves known for their stalactites and stalagmites. Only 38 kilometres from the district headquarters of Jagdalpur, the caves are pretty long and are underground – about 30-odd metres below the ground
Stalactites in the caves
level. It was quite forbidding as the caves had not till then been illuminated. But what I saw was amazing – parts of rocks streaming downwards and, likewise, others that were climbing up from the cave floor with accretion of minerals from water dripping down from the protrusions of the former. Taught to us in Geography lessons in the college, Kutumsar presented to me the first glimpse of
The river nd jungles near Vallorbe
stalactites and stalagmites – and that too deep within the bowels of the earth.

The Vallorbe caves are, however, overground in the Jura Mountains which is a sub-Alpine mountain range located north of Alps. It stands between the Rhone and the Rhine valleys forming watersheds for each. The mountain range extends from France to Switzerland and to parts of (south-western) Germany. In Switzerland it covers several cantons. The name Jura is derived from Celtic term for forests and it has lent its name to a “department” in France, a “canton” in
Stalactites and stalagmites joining up
Switzerland and to the Jurassic period of the geological timescale.

 Situated about 100 kilometres away from Geneva, Vallorbe caves were discovered about fifty years ago and were opened for public viewing in 1970s. Later, they were also electrically illuminated making the insides more inviting in a constantly maintained temperature that is comfortable for the visitors. The caves have been the outcome of actions of River Orbe that originates in France and after entering Switzerland disappears underground only to come up on surface near Vallorbe. It was fascinating to see the stalactites and
A descending stream
stalagmites in brilliant illumination. The authorities have done a wonderful job of providing viewing points and galleries for visitors. Similar provisions in Kutumsar are needed to make it more tourist-friendly

SIGNAL DE BOUGY & LE PONT.

 We also had a day trip to Signal de Bougy, a park with some stunning views. It is supposed to be a great place for walks. Another day trip was to a place called Le Pont that
One of th two lakes at Le Pont
Brother and his small family at Signal de Bougy





is situated between two Swiss lakes and is supposed to be a starting point for hikers.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bhopal Notes - 4: MP government's homage to MN Buch and Charles Correa

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MP Vidhan Sabha designed by Charles Correa
A few days back a report came out that would have gladdened the hearts of many. It said that the state government had taken a decision to maintain the basic identity of Bhopal as a measure of homage to the two departed stalwarts, MN Buch and Charles Correa, who had handsomely contributed to the identity of the city. One need not dilate on Late MN Buch; everyone who lives in Bhopal is aware of his contribution to the city. For those who do not know Charles Correa, he was the architect (engaged by the MP government on the recommendation of Late MN Buch) for designing the iconic Bharat Bhawan – a centre of arts and culture of national importance. Charles Correa, later, also designed the building for the state legislative assembly on top of the Arera Hill. By designing these two building Correa ushered in some kind of commonality between Boston and Bhopal. In Boston he designed several buildings including at least two in the world renowned MIT.

Greenery, hills, lakes and ponds of the town along with its heritage were close to the heart of Buch. He also tried to seamlessly connect the old and the new towns. The Master Plan for the city that he designed contained provision of maintenance of these elements to enable it to grow organically. Most of these, however, have been compromised by wrong planning or, perhaps, lack of it. He was unhappy about extension of the town in all directions without proper and convenient connectivity. He also spoke against development of Bhauri where, he said, there was inadequacy or even absence of water. That has proved to be true and a report recently had said that the government was thinking of tapping the Upper Lake for Bhauri’s water needs which would put the Lake under further stress. From the beginning he was against allotment of extensive agricultural lands for educational institutions in the catchments of the Upper Lake, including to the media house of Jagran which has now built an university there.

Now that substantial damage has been done precious little is possible. But one would be happy if the government, as a measure of homage to the two distinguished urban planners, is able to rethink its plans for the city and attempts to conform them to their visions as far as possible. It wouldn’t take much to actualise their visions for the city. It would suffice if greenery, apart from being maintained, is enhanced, the lakes of the city are scrupulously maintained and conserved observing the sanctity of its catchments and construction is banned on the hills around the city followed by a concerted effort to re-forest them.

But would the government be ever up to it? Although it seems to have taken the decision to act in accordance with the visions of Buch and Correa but one cannot really trust its intentions. For the last ten years or so we have been hearing the netas talking about conversion of the city into a Paris or a Singapore but it continues to be what it was – perhaps worse. It doesn’t take much to mouth assurances or talk tall. Ultimately, what matters is the achievement and that has been much, much below par. Although Bhopal is the capital of the state yet not one project has been successfully brought to fruition. Delays and corruption have been endemic and there are no perceptible signs of improvement. In fact, life of the denizens has progressively become difficult

 Not many would, therefore, trust the government when it comes to improvements in the city and in the quality of life of its people. The decision, therefore, can only be taken with bagfuls of salt.


___________
Photo: from the Internet  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bhopal Notes-3: Crunch time for BRTS

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The Bhopal BRTS is increasingly coming in for criticism. In Bhopal Notes-2 I had written about a seemingly concerted effort by various departments, authorities and those who manage and run it to kill the System. Apparently, there no redemption is in sight. There has been no reaction from any of the authorities indicating that they are keen to salvage it. The System seems to be running in its own lackadaisical way – limping along with no perceptible improvement.

Apparently, the authorities concerned, too, are slowly giving up on it even as pressure is building up on them to allow school buses, mini buses, other sundry buses, fire-brigade and army vehicles to be allowed on the corridor. The crux of the suggestions that are being poured forth is that all heavy vehicles should be shoved on to the corridor, leaving the mixed lanes for cars and three and two wheelers. The argument goes that there is no logic in keeping 20-odd kilometres of corridor largely empty of buses when the mixed lanes experience frequent jams for want of adequate space. Admittedly, the number of four, three and two wheelers, taken together, is far greater than the number of buses plying in the corridor. On the other hand, buses that should be in the corridor are stabled on account of various administrative reasons

Recently two former chief secretaries have come out with their comments. While Sharad Chandra Beohar (a batch-mate of mine) has rejected the system outright saying it was wrong to have established the BRTS when all over the world the System has failed, Kripa Shankar Sharma has, inter alia, said that the System is failing because of absence of feeder services and concomitant infrastructure.

I do not know where Beohar got his information from. It is not quite correct to say all over the world the BRTS has failed. Actually, as far as I know it has been a success even in the backward regions of South America, South-East Asia, China, leave alone the advanced nations of the West. In fact, many advanced countries would like to have the System running in their respective countries. Failures, if at all, have been in India – Delhi and Bhopal are the shining examples. Ahmedabad, however, is a runaway success celebrating its fourth year. The reasons for the failure are basically the ‘cultural factors’. Up in the North of the country we do not want to change from our wayward ways and we do not try to curb our proclivity to disobey laws, rules and instructions. This seems to have got into our DNA. As a result, given the absence of even a modicum of governance, chaos results and then everyone passes on the blame to the changes that have been wrought – in this case the BRTS.

It would be interesting to ascertain from those who are condemning the BRTS as the cause of frequent jams how many of them have ever paid heed to the ‘rules of the roads’ and displayed the ‘etiquettes” while using public road-space? One can see two wheelers or even four wheelers desperately trying to get past the next vehicle throwing all the rules to winds as if there is no tomorrow. And, even 70 years after independence we have not been able to teach the truck or heavy vehicle drivers not to take to the fast lane and stick to it for all their worth regardless of the pace at which they crawl. What have our driving schools and licensing authorities or traffic policemen been up to? One can venture to opine that most of the jams are the makings of our unruly, disorderly and impatient ways that have largely gone unchecked.

If we went by what Beohar and others suggest there is likelihood of more frequent jams in the narrow corridor. Besides, in that event it would cease to be BRTS as “rapidity”, the essence of the System, would be lost. In that case the corridor could as well be done away with. Ambulances and fire fighting vans one can understand but certainly not the sundry buses, minibuses and other heavy vehicles. In fact, other buses and minibuses have no business to be plying on the BRTS routes. It is because of these buses the System has been losing money. They may run on them but they should be prohibited from picking up or dropping passengers on the mixed lanes. This has evidently not been thought of till now. With Magics and other smaller vehicles running all over there is hardly any need for multiple bus systems.

Although we had heard at the planning stage terms like “mobility plan” of the city which, perhaps, meant preparing a comprehensive plan for commuters’ mobility. But that doesn’t seem to have happened as while the BRTS was readied, no plan for feeder services was put in place. While the former is not being fed, it is instead being poached on by sundry systems. This is where Kripa Shankar Sharma is right. In planning the entire thing a top-down approach was adopted whereas what was necessary was to start from the bottom and plan for feeders to make BRTS vibrant and viable. At the very first instance necessary infrastructure should have been put in place in the shape of junctions, parking lots etc. to feed the BRTS low-floor and AC buses.

Be that as it may, the Bhopal BRTS is heading for a crunch situation. As the pressure builds for practically doing away with the corridor there does not appear to be any political will to save it for the sake of common man. Soon it will be “to be or not to be” moment when the authorities will have to decide either way. However, while doing so they will have to keep, inter alia, the following salient points in mind:
1.    The corridor has been built for more than 70% of the commuters who do not have the means to use personal transport but have as much right to speedy transit through the city. This is in keeping with the National Transport Policy of “moving people, not moving vehicles”. Globally BRTS is considered the most cost-effective way for providing high quality public transport.
2.    The intention behind the System was to nudge more and more people from use of personal vehicles towards speedy and decent public transport on account of not only the country’s rising rate  of emission of greenhouse gases but also to reduce the import bill for petrol and diesel.
3.    All over the world there is a perceptible move for use of public transport, green vehicles like bicycles, etc. shunning private transport in view of the rising incidence of violent and extreme weather mostly attributed to the progressive global warming largely because of burning of fossil fuels. We too have suffered from them with loss many lives and valuable property.

4.    In the current context, giving up on the corridor would be highly retrograde step and may even bring forth innuendoes against the people of the state and its governing establishment. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

DESTINATIONS: SWITZERLAND (1987): CHATEAU DE CHILLON

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Situated at the far end of Lake Geneva, Chateau de Chillon is a place of prime tourist interest around Geneva. The highway from Geneva takes one past Lausanne and Montreux to more than eight hundred years old Chateau. It is supposed to be the prettiest Swiss chateau, located as it is on a rocky outcrop on the banks of the Lake close to the French border. Some say it dates back to Roman times but its construction seems to have begun around nine hundred years ago. It
The Chateau, the Lake and Jura Mountains
was owned by three different nobilities during different periods of history – the House of Savoy, the Berenese and Vaud. It was in control of the Savoy family for around four hundred years (12th Century to 16th Century) during which the Chateau was expanded and improved and was extensively used. The turrets were incorporated during their control. Berne and Vaud continue to be
Inside the Chateau
cantons in Switzerland; the city of Berne is also the capital of the country.

A chateau is nothing but the residence, with or without fortifications, of nobles or the gentry of the gone-by era. Its English equivalent is a castle – a stately home. As somebody has said, “it is personal (and usually hereditary) badge of a family that, with some official rank, locally represents
The Lake through the tall windows
the royal authority; thus, the word château often refers to the dwelling of a member of either the French royalty or the nobility”. Loire Valley in France is famous for chateaux (plural of chauteau) that were built by French kings and French nobility.

Accessible by a small bridge, Chateau de Chillon (pronounced Shiyon) is surrounded by the waters of Lake Geneva. The Lake probably worked as a natural moat for the Chateau. Built over a period of, centuries, it has
A cruise comes calling
buildings and outhouses. The chateau appeared to be without much of interior decoration. However, some old pieces of furniture were of interest. The windows were interesting as these were designed for not only letting fresh Alpine air in, but also for viewing the placid waters sitting comfortably on a rather broad sill. From some of them one got stunning views of the Lake.

The Chateau is also known for its dungeons. Cut into the rocks,
Outside the Chateau
they must have given the prisoners a prolonged life in their dark and dank confines. These, however, are now tastefully illuminated to give the visitor a more accurate perception of their forbidding confines. The dungeons gave the Chateau somewhat of a notoriety, more so after Lord Byron, the English poet, having visited the Chateau, wrote his famous historically factual poem “Prisoner of Chillon castle” – a prisoner who, it seems, was a man fighting injustices of the House of Savoy.


Blowing into Swiss hornsAdd caption
As we arrived at the Chateau I noticed two Swiss men blowing into horns making unfamiliar sounds. I have had occasion to come across massive horns measuring around six feet used by hill people. I once saw a photograph of Tibetan horns which appeared bigger that its Swiss counterpart having a bell that, unlike a Swiss one, was not curved and upturned. The player sat on a high stool to blow into the horn the end part of which rested on a table like fixture. At the Chateau two players or the musicians in what appeared to be traditional dresses stood in front of the Chateau blowing into the long pipe through their mouthpieces. The bases of the curved and upturned bell of the horn rested on the ground. 

Lake Geneva as seen from the Chateau

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Maggi 2-Minute Noddles imbroglio

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Nestle India got it out of the blue right in the neck. The “blue” in this surprising event was the innocuous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). A stray safety test of Nestlé’s 2-Minute Noodles yielded lead content far too excess in proportion than what was permissible. And all hell broke loose – for Nestle India.

Food safety has never been an issue in India. Here checking for adulteration and contamination to ensure safety has all along been non-existent. Everything, from cooking oil to lentils and from milk to spices used to be adulterated. None ever intervened – neither the municipality nor the government.

Adulterated stuff was taken as a given, there were no two ways about it. People bought their rations – those days there weren’t many packaged products - cleaned them as well as they could and consumed them. When one would buy a sack of wheat it had to be washed and tediously checked for small pieces of stones that were added to ensure that every quintal had less of wheat and a substantial amount of gravel. Gravel seemed to be omnipresent in all the grains, lentils and rice. Even at the flour mill one’s good wheat would be mixed with inferior quality wheat and what one got was flour that was not entirely of one’s good-quality wheat. All the time, wholesalers, retailers and millers were short-changing the customers but no enforcement authority, if at all there was one more than half a century ago, ever took notice of it. The concept of consumer rights was then way out in the future.

The retailers would buy from wholesalers and then display the grains and spices in half-open sacks. One had no clue about what all had gone into those heaps of grains and ground spices, especially the latter – coriander, red chilies, cumin seeds and so on. One had to, therefore, buy them whole and then grind them, if necessary, at home. About 40 years ago a Delhi newspapers splashed a warning for consumers on its front page about the adulterants that were found in spices like coriander powder which had dried and powdered horse dung, powdered red chilies that had powdered brick, powdered cumin seeds had saw dust, black pepper corns were mixed with papaya seeds etc. The same, perhaps, is largely true even today when these are sold loose.

The advent of packaged food somewhat mitigated the prevailing distrust against the food items that one bought off a grocer. These were claimed to be select items of grains and lentils, cleaned and sifted before packaging or of spices – whole or powdered. More expensive than what was available at the grocers’, packaged food products were even taxed by certain state governments that took them far away from the reach of the common man. However, soon
the rising middle classes increasingly became wholly dependent on them with the proliferation of hassle-free packaged food items and emergence of better and modern outlets. Many multinationals and domestic big corporate houses got into the act as business was booming. Not only the traditional grains and spices, even the new-kid-on-the-block, the breakfast cereal, emerged as a winner with increasing consciousness of common folk towards a healthy and nutritious diet. Currently, a whole new range of packaged grains cereals, spices and half-cooked foods are available in the markets – from parathas (Indian pan cakes) to potato crispies, shami and seekh kebabs to yoghurt, etc.

All these became popular in modern kitchens as the Indian woman progressively was no longer what she used to be – home and kitchen-bound. She too was out on the workplace like her man and had very little time for the regular chores of the kitchen. Increasing westernization of the Indian lifestyle, therefore, bestowed an important position to the packaged food industry in most households. Whatever they put on the store shelves were picked up without any questions being asked, generally, for the reason that large and reputed industrial houses were involved. It was their brand value that sold the items. Ever more, the government enacted laws that made it mandatory to list the ingredients with their respective quantities and caloric values and also mention “sell by date” or “best before” a specified date for information of the buyers. All this enhanced the credibility of all that was offered in attractive packages.  The consumer was happy and things were hunky dory for the manufacturers.

That is, until Nestle’s Maggie 2-Minute Noodles exploded all around! Of all the states it was in generally sleepy UP where 17.2 ppm of lead that was reported in a sample of 2-minute Maggi Noodles – seven times the permissible limit. The media went to town and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) commenced investigations holding a microscope. That is when they found excessive amount of lead, i.e. more than 2.5 ppm and misleading labeling in the package that indicated “No added MSG”. Another slip that was found was regarding the product “Maggi Oats Masala Noodles” that was introduced without product approval.

 No final word has been pronounced yet by the FSSAI as Nestle is still arguing out the matter with the authorities. But several states had packets of Maggi noodles tested for lead and possible presence of MSG – a chemical that is generally added for flavour. Some of
them found excessive lead and promptly banned the product. That is when the herd mentality took over and state after state issued ban orders although UP, where it all began, is yet to ban it, waiting as it is for the test report. In the meantime, Maggi Noodles have been trashed not only in India but in places where Nestle India was exporting them like the US, Singapore, Australia etc. In the country all nine variants of the stuff have been recalled – marking a first ever instance of product recall. Nestle India is reportedly going to take a hit of Rs. 320 crores.

The fallout has been immense. While the consumers’ trust has been betrayed, the entire packaged food industry has been rattled. FSSAI has ordered testing of noodles, pasta and macaroni of all brands. The earlier disdain for the prevailing laws and requirements seems to have disappeared. Tata Starbucks has decided to suspend a dozen ingredients it uses in its coffee pending approval from the food safety outfit. Another multinational, Hindustan Lever, has withdrawn all its Knorr Chinese range of noodles as the product was yet to receive approval. ITC, another biggy in the industry, has ordered more tests of its products, presumably to conform to the requirements of regulations. The upshot is, if the government is tough everybody, howsoever big, falls in line.

Hopefully, this is only the beginning. A country is reckoned as civilized only if its food is safe.  Not only many more packaged stuff need to be looked at for breaches of standards, there is also a whole world of cooked stuff that is dished out to unwary citizens from hotels, restaurants, dhabas and from the street kiosks that need constant checking. Having scant regards for consumer rights, they more often dish out poison. Upholding the rights of consumers to pure, wholesome food, the state needs to clean up the unholy mess.




 




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

DESTINATIONS: SWITZERLAND (1987): GENEVA

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Geneva at night
Decades ago when two of my elder brothers used to collect postage stamps we used to find the ones of Helvetia very attractive. Helvetia is nothing but the historical name of the Swiss Confederation. The name is derived from Helvetii, the name of the tribe that inhabited the Swiss Plateau before the Roman conquest. The name Helvetia is still used on the coins and postage stamps of the country.

 Whenever one talks of Switzerland, the Alps and Geneva are often associated with it. Among the Swiss cities Geneva is so well known
At the League of Nations
that not many people know that it is not the capital of Switzerland. It is far better known than the capital Bern about 200 kilometres away in the east. Geneva is a “global city”. It used to be the seat of the League of Nations, the first inter-governmental organization that was established after World War I in 1920 with the avowed intention of maintaining world peace . Even now it has many United Nations specialized agencies and other international organizations headquartered there. My brother used to be in one such UN agency – the General Agreement on Trade Tariffs which later morphed into the World Trade Organization.

Building housing offices of the organisation of Intellectual Property Rights
Geneva is a city of diplomats who are based there working for various international organization or those accredited to several UN agencies. No wonder, it has a disproportionately large expatriate population. Geneva is also an important financial centre ranked third most important in Europe after London and Zurich. It also has the third highest quality of life after Vienna and Zurich.

A picturesque city, Geneva has two mountain chains around it – the Alps and the Jura. It is situated at the Western end of Lake Geneva. It is here that the river Rhone, after entering the Lake earlier, flows
Jet d'eau in all its glory
into France and eventually falls into the Mediterranean Sea. Hills and water bodies combine very well to make Geneva an enchanting place. The Lake is the largest body of water in Switzerland among quite a few others. It is so large that it is reputed to have seen a tsunami wave long ago in the 6th Century. A large number of yachts of varying sizes are always seem to be berthed on its shores – confirming the saying that Switzerland is the playground of the rich and influential. In fact one comes across a jungle of masts of yachts at Interlaken too, a few scores of miles away to the east.

Yachts in Lake Geneva
The Lake also has what is known as the most famous landmark of the city which is featured in the city’s tourism literature. The Jet d’eau (Jet of water) is one of the tallest fountains of the world which is visible from all over the town and from high up in the air. Situated at the confluence of the Lake and River Rhone it jets about 500 litres of water per second to an altitude of 140 metres. Installed in 1951 the Jet d’eau looks fascinating at night, lit as it is with multi-coloured lights

From Versoix we would travel to Geneva every other day as it was only around 10 kilometres away. There were frequent trains
Working the bus ticket dispenser
running back and forth. Swiss Railways, the French acronym of which is CFF (it has two other – SBB in German and FFS for Italian), have a legendary reputation for punctuality. The time tables are replete with arrival timings that looked difficult to observe but Swiss rails seem to do that effortlessly. Once I took a train from Geneva to come to Versoix that showed the arrival time as 16.28. As I got off the train at Geneva I happened to notice the clock right in front and

it showed the time 16.28. The trains are fast, comfortable, safe and very dependable.

The family on a Geneva street
One could see high-end cars on Geneva roads in large numbers, i.e those that were so rare on Indian roads almost 30 years ago. Audis, Porsches, Mercedes, Alpha Romeos etc. were very common. Curiously, I don’t remember to have seen any Cadillac there. Perhaps, the European luxury cars were more preferable making the the car-scape there very interesting. In Geneva we
The Reformation Wall
noticewd for the first time automated muti-storied unmanned parking facilities. Obviously, they made extensive use optical character readers (OCRs) coupled with electronic sensors. In India automated parking facilities have just arrived.

One remarkable monument that Geneva has is what is known as the Reformation Wall. The Wall is on the grounds of Geneva University founded by John Calvin, a French theologian and a pastor during Protestant Reformation. It honours individuals and events of Protestant Reformation by depicting them in statues and bas relief. Statue of
At the Geneva University groundsAdd caption
John Calvin, the most important figure of the Reformation is also on the Wall. The wall was built in 1909 to commemorate the 400th birth anniversary of Calvin and 350th anniversary of the establishment of Geneva University. Founded in 1559 by John Calvin it started off as a theological seminary and a law school and over the three centuries it  gradually moved towards a full-fledged secular university dropping its religious credentials.

Eagle on the University gate post
I happened to visit the local postal headquarters to check out their ways of doing things. It was entirely different experience. Unlike in our (Indian)  office the corridors were entirely empty with no lower grade officials gossiping or lounging in the corridors near the doors of the officers . The doors were all shut and one had to knock to hear a faint “Oui” from inside after which one could you to open the door and walk in. Most impressive, however, was the way the Swiss postal system handles gold. Gold is something which is an important part of their parcel traffic. Wherever it is handled, including the conveyor up which it goes for dispatch, heavy security is ensured having iron grills all around. The security is so tough that none can get a hand to any of the parcels. The place was entirely sanitised.
On the University grounds
Among the culinary delights was Raclette, a Swiss dish that is native to a few parts of Switzerland. It is basically melted cheese with potatoes. Cheese and potatoes is quite heavy combination. If I recall, cheese on boiled potatoes is heated to be served with some spices. Another delight was escargots which are nothing but land snails that are eaten in France and Spain. We had never had it but as it is cooked with a lot of butter it was pretty good in taste. One has to use a special tong to hold it and turn the contents of the shell into one’s mouth. It seems the snail is removed from the shel and cooked with garlic, butter
Geneva Celebrates Swiss National Day
and chicken stock and placed back in the shell which, obviously, is also cleaned up  


Geneva has a number of places nearby that are good for a day out. Places like Signal de Bougy, Neon, Le Pont, Vallorbe are close by. My brother, however took us to little more distant places like the Top of Europe and to Chatau de Chillion. Write-ups about them will follow


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bhopal notes - 2




Collapse of BRTS

One of the AC buses that have gone off the roads
We have a BRTS corridor that took seven years in building sacrificing thousands of massive shady and benign trees and now we have hardly any buses plying in the corridor. Did we create the wide spread of barricaded asphalt to keep it unoccupied forcing various other vehicles to jostle around in the remaining limited space that was left for them?

The low-floor and even air-conditioned buses acquired at great public expenses are currently off the roads – sitting on their numerous wheels.  The wheels that should have been rolling are all static putting the commuters in a jam in this beastly heat when the temperature hovers around the 40s and once even topping 450 C. Is it incompetence or lack of political will or sheer greed? One does not know what it is.

 One feels so jealous of Jaipur – a town probably of the same size as ours, which not only completed its BRTS corridor a few years ago having buses running on it, it now has a metro built in record time of four years currently doing its 9 kilometre beat. Obviously, politicians of all shades, the bureaucracy and the Jaipur municipality are all far more competent than the bunch we have here. They want their capital to progress and prosper; here they only talk and talk doing nothing.

Our buses that were supposed to be sophisticated with GPS and electronic route-markers are said to be running at losses. The companies that had contracted to run them are not able to ply them anymore. They have not paid even the royalty that was due to the Bhopal City Link Limited (BCLL); it is perhaps the other way round – BCLL, the special purpose vehicle that runs the BRTS failed to recover the due royalty. It is now being said that the company running the AC buses suffered a loss of a hundred thousand every month on each one of them.

Reports have also appeared of the RTO issuing permits in ever increasing numbers for running of more minibuses, Tata Magic and Piaggio Ape` taking away more and more passengers from the BRTS buses. The complaint seems to be that there is no level playing field for the low-floor buses as more numbers of smaller vehicles are being pumped into the roads offering numerous options to the commuters. Ideally speaking, the minibuses should have been banned on the routes of low-floor buses. Minibuses, at best, could be used for feeder services for low-floor routes. That did not happen and the BRTS system was starved of traffic. It is entirely the fault of the administration and its various agencies. The government appears to be watching the situation as a mute witness. It has created a situation where more money is made all round on a recurring basis – what if the publicly funded system collapses. After all, it was the government’s fault that it allowed corruption in its own once-efficient Road Transport Corporation so much that it collapsed under its weight.

So, the upshot is that crores of rupees provided under the project for creating BRTS and acquiring sophisticated buses have gone down the drain. The people can only helplessly watch the buses rust and decay wherever they are stabled. The administration, apparently for no reason, sacrificed thousands of magnificent trees for the project only to get vast expanses of asphalt radiating the scorching summer heat with no greenery to mitigate its stinging effect. What is more, people of the city suffered years of inconveniences with dug up roads that narrowed down passages creating jams. It is eventually you and I who have lost on all counts. Hundreds of crores of tax-payers’ money were transferred by the Centre, only these were played around with and not gainfully spent. The people of the city were all along shortchanged by the powers-that-be. Above all, the primary aim behind creation of BRTS – that of nudging people towards use of public transport in order to lower the carbon emissions – has been defeated in this town.

It is the government and the municipal corporation all together that seem to have killed the System as all the milking that was to be done out of it has been done and it has no use for those ‘milkmen’ anymore. I wonder whether it is a calculated move as, according to information, the experts feel that a light metro in not justified for want of adequate traffic in this city that already has BRTS. Strategy seems to be to kill the BRTS to justify the light metro. Apparently, new ‘milkmen’ have arrived on the scene to milk the light metro and they are hell-bent on having it commissioned regardless of its utility.