Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bhopal notes 19: Of repair of buses and related matters

I feel jealous of the towns where I find the BRTS buses running without any problems. In recent months I have been to Jaipur and Kolkata. Both the places have implemented the Centre’s proposal for introducing the system and in both the places there didn’t seem to be any corridor and the buses were plying through the crowded streets. In Kolkata I happened to notice that the JNNURM was writ large on the buses that were bought off the funds provided under the Mission.

It is only in Bhopal that the BRTS has faced all kinds of problems. These have been dealt with from time to time in these notes. It is now reported that more than 50% of the fleet of low-floor buses are off roads on account of their utterly bad condition. The Municipal Corporation has prepared a proposal for repair of these buses at a cost of Rs 5 crore which seem to have been transferred by the Centre but not released by the state government to the Corporation for want of a proper proposal.

The condition of buses has degraded within a short period of time. Obviously there has been improper maintenance. No wonder the buses have been taken off the road at great inconvenience to the rising number of commuters. Unfortunately, the Municipal Corporation has never been able to carry out any of its functions properly for the benefit of the people. In almost every sphere of activity it has failed and yet one wonders how the state government thought it fit to entrust to it the work of building the BRTS corridor and running a fleet of costly buses. Special purpose vehicles for each of these items of work should have been created for greater efficiency in both. If the State government had to wind up MP Road Transport Corporation basically because of corruption at all levels how the Municipal Corporation could remain untouched by the same culture. In fact, its employees are more corrupt and half the inefficiency of the outfit is because of its corrupt ways.

The report in the newspaper, in fact, has touched on this aspect. The employees, it seems, create situations in which money has to be spent so that they could put a large portion of it in their pockets. The proposal for repair of the buses by a contractor is also reported to be for the very same purpose. Whether it is the elected representative or permanent officials, all are alike; all look for their respective share in transactions that are carried out at the behest of its officials. The public are being ceaselessly short-changed and, surprisingly, none in the government seems to notice it. Even if they happen to notice it, probably, they gloss over it. There appears to be a complete breakdown of civic services and none seem to be bothered.

If the Corporation cannot render its services properly how can it be expected to run a so called smart city? All its staff, from the mayor downwards, are chasing the mirage of converting the town into a smart city –most of them being unaware what makes a city smart. The main reason for chasing this dream seems to be the grant of hundreds of crores that will come from the Centre and a good deal of it will be disposed of in the way the staff of the Corporation have developed expertise. Benefits for citizens is not on their minds; it is only the filthy lucre that attracts them.

Photo of Kolkata JNNURM bus is from the net

Monday, December 28, 2015

India's new highways

Betul-Nagpur highway
We were to travel by train to Nagpur to take the Indigo flight from there for Kolkata. But the train got cancelled because of the unprecedented rains and floods in Tamil Nadu, especially Chennai where all the rakes were held up. With no other available alternative we had to hire a taxi to travel by road.

Half the journey was pretty miserable, travelling as we were on an apology of a highway. In two decades, one each of Digvijay Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, this trunk route between South and the North could not be made travel-worthy and respectable enough for living up to its venerable title of National Highway 69. It was one of the wretchedest roads that I ever happened to travel on. It seemed to be competing with the so-called highways of Assam, Manipur and Mizoram that I travelled on more than two decades ago. Of course the one that took me into the town of Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, walked away with the cake. While travelling on the Mongoldoi and Goalpara stretches one wondered how the Army managed to mobilize its heavy equipment in the 1962 war through these roads which must have been worse at that time.

 But then, this was in the North-East which was remote and almost inaccessible fifty years ago. This one in central India had no reason to be so neglected connecting as it did the North of the country with the South. Metalled only in name, the patchwork repairs apparently carried out from time to time made it worse. Bouncy and hitting the spine where it hurt, a distance of 200 kms or so up to Betul, a district town, took as many as 4 tiring and painful hours.

With such rotten roads the state could never have progressed and, no wonder, it has remained backward, though the current chief minister takes pains to project it as a progressive state. If I recall, it was Mao tse Tung who had said that if one wanted prosperity, one had to build roads.  The US, too, set upon building roads and highways during the Great Depression of the 1930s to enhance the shrinking investments even if it was on behalf of the public. The network of national and state highways built during those few years took the economy on a flight. The country’s prosperity was largely contributed by the investments that were made on infrastructure during the Depression.

But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Mercifully, our travail ended a little before Betul situated on the Satpura Ranges as a new spanking highway took off before the road entered the town. The new highway not only bypassed Betul, it avoided all small towns and villages on the way which slow down the traffic due to people using the road as an outer courtyard of their house. The four lanes of smooth level concrete with a pretty wide central verge with saplings in the process of growing up ran unhindered very much unlike an Indian highway with all its unevenness, pothole, ditches and the clutter. It ran right up to Nagpur, barring a few exceptions where, perhaps, the right alignment could not be found or, maybe, for some legal issues. The best part was up to Katol with excellent signage and directions for the commuters. For buses serving the towns and villages on the way there were “bus bays” with diminutive bus stops in each with seats and shelter for the passengers.

Many others may have used the completed national highways or travelled over the Yamuna Expressway but this was my first exposure to our new-age national highways which are and, hopefully likely to be like any highway abroad in industrialized and advanced countries. What were missing were the restrooms and arrangements for rest and recreation. Perhaps, these too will come by and by.

 Nonetheless, it was a very pleasant experience to drive through those one hundred odd miles. Later while travelling to Pench Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh we drove over another lovely highway with teak forests on both sides but it is yet to be brought to the level of the Betul-Nagpur highway.

As far as Nitin Gadkari's part of the work is concerned on the
A heavy vehicle seems to be stationary on the highway
Betul-Nagpur highway, it is excellent. Some concerns about management of traffic, however, still remain. While an occasional bullock cart is still seen on the highway, cattle also stray into it obstructing the fast and even flow of traffic. Then there is the habit of our two-wheeler riders to take the wrong carriageways enhancing the hazards for the driving public. The foremost problem, however, is the proclivity of drivers, especially of trucks and buses, to take to the fast lane and stick to it for all they are worth. No amount of honking ever makes them yield the fast lane to faster vehicles. Sometimes, therefore, one wonders whether it is now time to switch to the American way of driving, reversing the current traffic rules which are not observed anyway.
One supposes that till the time the system of "highway patrol" is established travellers on our highways may have to put up with this nuisance. Our truck and bus drivers are all probably licensed and yet they generally believe that the lanes on the extreme right are meant for heavy, beefed-up vehicles, that is, for the vehicles they drive. Over the last sixty years or so that I have had the good fortune to travel off and on on highways no government transport authority or traffic police seem to have been able to disabuse their minds of their utterly wrong belief that could and, perhaps, should bring them to grief.

*Photos of Betul- Nagpur highway are from the internet.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Steaming World : Time up for blame games

Chennai airport under water
That climate change is now a reality has now been brought home to the common people. A warm November with hardly any need for woolens, particularly in the central parts of the country, making the people realize how true the predictions were that were being made for some time.
A region where the cold weather would herald its onset from the last week of October with cool nights requiring covers and light woolens remained unusually warm this year. It couldn’t really attribute it to below-average rainfall. The fact is the winter this year has failed to set in so far and hence one tends to wait for December with trepidation not knowing what it has in store for us. Already, 2015 has been declared the hottest year so far with temperatures worldwide hovering above normal.

Surprisingly, however, northern parts of the country did have their usual quota of cold, sleet and snowfall since late October which worsened in November. Rain and snow hit Jammu & Kashmir as well as Himachal Pradesh with ferocity disrupting road communications bringing traffic to a halt for a few days. But in deep South, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, on the other hand, got a raw deal. It was at the receiving end of extreme and violent weather with heavy rains and floods. Both were man-made -- the first one because of global warming and the flood havoc was because of constructions on drains and wetlands as a consequence of  thoughtless urbanization that choked the points of egress of flood-waters.

While the South is sogging wet, the country a few latitudes above it has been bone dry giving rise to misery for farmers in northern Andhra Pradesh and the new State of Telangana. Rainfall deficit has been up to 70% and the crops have withered and hundreds of farmers have committed suicide. Large scale switch to cotton in regions where rainfall is scanty put the famers in difficulties.

The trends of rainfall deficit and crop failures have been witnessed for some years now. The governments should have been able to devise by now strategies to combat the changed weather pattern. Unfortunately, that does not seem to have happened anywhere in the country and lives of farmers are being lost.

In the east the Sunderbans in West Bengal has been bearing stoically the impacts of global warming. Every year the inhabitants brace themselves for the monsoon which unleashes severe cyclonic storms with rising seas accompanied by coastal flooding and erosion. The Sunderbans is now a constantly shrinking landmass with rising seas that swallow islands, gobbling up more and more land every year progressively reducing its  ‘carrying capacity’ of humans. It is here that global warming has given rise to “environmental refugees” for the first time in India. Many have left their sinking islands to fight their way into the Sagar Island, a large island which is likely to suffer the same fate in course of time. The refugees will then join their folks in Kolkata.

The demographic push will not only be felt in West Bengal, even Bangladesh is likely to witness “environmental refugees” pressing on to the mainland from its larger portion of the Sunderbans and, quite likely, eventually pressure will build up on the Indian borders too. A human problem of immense proportions is likely to unfold in not too distant future action to combat which the governments are yet to decide on.

A recent report says that the phenomenon of global warming will progress faster than what was estimated earlier as the rising temperatures encourage greater natural emission of methane, a greenhouse gas that already is in excess among other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The window of opportunity is, therefore, getting smaller and smaller.

No wonder the United Nations organizes every year Climate Conferences to plan to find ways and means to control not only the emission of greenhouse gases as also, as a corollary, to contain the rise in global temperature to 20 Centigrade above what prevailed during pre-industrial times. This year’s conference in Paris will be the 21st Conference of Parties after the first one held in 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated and legitimised.

1992 reminds one of George Bush who made the stunning statement that the American (opulent and wasteful) way of life was not negotiable. Two decades have elapsed since but an agreement has eluded the world community so far for achieving the objectives of limiting the rise in global temperature to 20 C above the pre-industrial level during this century.

Differences in approaches have prevented an agreement – the world having been divided between developed and developing countries. The former have been held responsible for pumping most of the greenhouse gases and, according to the developing world, should not only cut down on their emissions but also finance poorer countries to adopt technologies to promote for them a cleaner growth.

Hitherto restricting the global temperature increase to 2°C over the pre-industrial average has generally been reckoned as an adequate means of avoiding dangerous climate change. However, according to climate scientist Kevin Anderson “recent science has shown that environmental and social impacts of 2°C rise are much greater than (what) the earlier science indicated, and that impacts for a 1°C rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2°C rise.”

Climate scientists have explained that for this reason “avoiding dangerous climate in the conventional sense is no longer possible, because the temperature rise is already close to 1°C with effects formerly assumed for 2°C.” Anderson’s researches have shown that a rise of 40 Centigrade by 2060 is very much on the cards given the record of inaction till date on climate change by governments.

Researchers have also indicated that there is a linkage of global warming with the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Currently, this concentration is close to 400 ppm and it has been reckoned that the global rise in temperature can be restricted to 20 Centigrade if the greenhouse gases are not allowed to exceed 550 ppm. It has also been felt that stabilisation of greenhouse gases below 400 ppm would provide a higher degree of certainty of temperature not exceeding the 20 C mark. That, however, seems to be impossible now as the concentration of green house gases in the atmosphere is likely to overshoot 400 ppm anytime now.

Naturally therefore, so much of importance is being attached to the Paris Summit. The world would be seen to be standing at the edge of a cliff; a false step and it will be a disaster. It is a matter of ‘do or die’. There is no time to play the blame game now. We are already late. Our thoughtless actions have brought us to the brink of disaster.

Now is the time to retrace our steps back and get back to sustainable living that does no further damage to our planet. Rich or poor, all have to come together as it is a matter of survival of humanity in this wonderful “commons” that our planet is. The Summit, therefore, places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of world leaders. Hopefully, they will not disappoint and arrive at an agreement that had eluded them so far to rescue Humanity before it is too late. 

Foto: from the net

* Published as blog courtesy INFA

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...