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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Destinations :: Chandigarh (1975-78)

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Vidhan Sabha building (from internet)
Chandigarh was not new to me. I had spent a couple of days there in 1961 along with my entire batch. We had been taken there from the National Academy on an instructional tour to see the developments that were taking place in the country. Bhakra Nangal Project and Chandigarh were more or less symbols of the emerging new India. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru used to be proud of them and would call Bhakra Dam a new temple of India.

Chandigarh was the first city built from the scratch in a planned manner. The government had engaged the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier for planning the city and designing its public buildings. Chandigarh at that time had been designated as the capital of Punjab
Another view of the Assebly building (from internet)
– Haryana was yet to be born.

I am still fascinated by Chandigarh. Over the last 40 years or so it has developed into a very livable city.  Corbusier planned a low-rise city with lots of green, divided into sectors. Each sector was made self-sufficient with shopping, schools, health centres, etc. They were, as they say, also “introvert” having only four accesses into them from the main roads. The city’s biggies were accommodated in first few sectors close to the scene of official action whereas the foot soldiers were kept at a distance. It was said Corbusier wanted decision makers to be cool and hence were kept close to the Shiwaliks.

 
A sector that had only laburnums
DR. MS Randhawa, an ICS officer who was a trained botanist was appointed chairman of the committee to plan greening of the city. He designed landscapes and extensive gardens along the arterial roads. The famous Dr. Zakir Hussain Rose Garden was his gift to the city. He also had got trees of different flowering species planted in each sector. It used to be said he had ensured that right through the year one or the other sector would be in bloom. In Sector 11, the sector next to the one where I used to live, he had had jacarandas planted and in March-April the place used to be awash with purple. No wonder Chandigarh soon came to be known as the “City Beautiful”. Unfortunately, the extensions that were seen coming up were not as green and beautiful as the original Corbusier’s city, though some of the houses I had occasion to visit were indeed architecturally beautiful.

I had gone on deputation to Chandigarh to the Post Graduate Institute
On our back lawn
of Medical Education & Research, PGIMER for short, in 1975. It was a beautifully built up complex with a super-speciality hospital – a rarity in those days. It had an energetic and dedicated Director in Late Dr. PN Chuttani. A perennial bachelor, his life was devoted to the Institute. Because of his contacts his name was something to reckon with in the northern states. Apart from being a well-known Gastroenterologist, he had the sharpest of minds I have ever come across. His capacity to catch even the most complicated problems of establishment, a subject not many technical people are fond of, was remarkable. He had spread himself around northern India and had developed personal relation with chief ministers of all the northern states. It was in his office that I met YS Parmar, the then chief minister of Himachal Pradesh and Farukh Abdullah. The other two chief ministers, Bansi Lal of Haryana and Zail Singh of Punjab I

somehow missed and I have been none the worse for it

Tube roses in the garden
I had gone there as in-charge of the Administrative Wing with the designation as Deputy Director, Administration. Although the Institute was raised in the same manner as Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, it somehow could never capture the latter’s all-India character. Having been located in Punjab it remained largely as a regional institute catering to the needs of the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, but with some outstanding faculty and medicine-men.

Initially I was allotted a room in the sprawling guest house that the Institute had behind the Administrative Block in Sector 12. It had three bedrooms in two floors and a sprawling lawn in front. A British visitor was in another room. We used to meet on the dinner table. Once he heard what he thought was a weird kind of noise and asked me about it. It was nothing other than a few jackals howling. The Institute had a sizeable forest which it had left undisturbed and
An arrangement in the house
there were jackals as also other wild animals.

I was later allotted a semi-detached bungalow very close to the Guest House which was more than adequate for me. Dr. Chuttani offered me a bigger outfit in Sector 24 but I didn’t need it. The one that was allotted to me had a front and back lawn with a huge sapota (cheeku) tree that would routinely bear fruits. It has somehow become part of the Chandigarh culture to plant and nurture flowering and fruiting trees in the open space around the houses.

A section of the Rock Garden
I think that is precisely why the Institute had a fantastic man as its horticulturist. Shyam Lal as he was known would tend to the Institute gardens pick out the rose plants as soon as budding commenced for exhibitions in December at Delhi. The institute won several prizes every year all because of the dedication and the pride he had in his work. He was a constant presence on the Institute gardens whether they were in its public or private spaces.

Once he brought a very submissive looking man to me. Shyam Lal introduced him as Nek Chand and said he was developing a remarkable garden using only broken pieces of ceramic which he
A solitary poplar swaying in a squall (taken from my back verandah)
seemed to have run out of. I asked the Chief Dietician who was all for palming off all the broken crockery from his kitchens. I went to see the garden with Shyam Lal, It was nothing like what it is today. Only a few sections had been created, yet it was nothing of the kind I had seen before. The piece of land that he used was of the Central PWD and he was being asked to vacate it. He was a road inspector of the PWD and as the land was not being put to any use he, using his latent talent and unusual imagination, started working on the figures and put them up in what is now an internationally acknowledged rock garden. The then Minister of Health, Dr. Karan Singh, visiting Chandigarh for the 1975 Komagatamaru 
Congress session in December, also visited Nek Chand’ garden. He was so impressed that he not only leaned on the Central PWD to allot the plot of land to Nek Chand and also to have the disciplinary proceedings against him withdrawn. Nek Chand was later invited to create similar gardens in France and Germany. Thankfully he received the very well deserved recognition before he passed away in 2015.


Incidentally, the guest house that I made a mention of became an improvised jail when Jai Praksh Narain was confined there. Those of the current generation who may not know about him, he was the inspiration
An ethnic section of the Rock Garden
behind a movement that was later associated with his name and resulted in Mrs. Indira Gandhi clamping down on the country that infamous “Emergency” of 1975. Under her directions he had been arrested and was brought to Chandigarh. Overnight the height of the compound walls were raised and the ordinary-looking decent gate acquired sinister proportions with only a small opening for people to go in and out. Perhaps the entire exercise was not necessary as Jai Prakash Narain, or JP as he was commonly known as, could not have attempted a jail-break, frail and old as he was. I had met him once at the prompting of the Chief Dietician of the hospital, a very dear friend, at the hospital attached to the Institute when dysfunction in his kidneys had commenced. I found him an exceedingly handsome old man and a very decent politician – many cuts above all the politicians of that era.   

JP was being taken care of by Dr. Rajinder Kalra who was in-charge of the staff clinic and was and continues to be a very good friend. If I
One more view of the Rock Garden
recall, he didn’t hold a post-graduate degree but had terrific clinical acumen. One night I requested him to check my mother’s BP. He came with his newly-acquired equipment and was alarmed by the reading. As it was above 300 he checked it several times only to get the same readings. As it was late in the night it was not possible to get any medicines. He used my mother’s medicines in small doses at regular intervals of an hour or so and sat through the night checking the BP every hour. He left only after he had brought the pressure down to 200 or so. I am eternally grateful to him for what he did for my mother that night.  

The “City Beautiful” cannot be considered isolated from its beautiful water body. The Sukhna Lake on its outskirts was also the idea of the planner and designer of the town Le Corbusier. The 3 Kms2 Lake is at the foot of the Shiwalik Hills and was created by damming the Sukhna
Early morning gold spilling on to Sukhna Lake
stream (Choe in local lingo). The top of the dam was converted into a beautiful promenade for the health-conscious, something like what one has along the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, only the tall mountains are missing from its backdrop. Motorboats are not allowed on the waters and so are food stalls anywhere near it – something the Bhopal authorities would do well to emulate to keep the Upper Lake waters unpolluted. In those days there wouldn’t be much of a crowd on the Promenade but now, one understands, boating and the birds of various kinds, including the migratory ones, attract a large number of visitors.

Symbolic of City Beautiful - a fantastic piece of sculpture
Incidentally, I met my current “Facebook” friend Vijay Kant Bakshi at the Institute who was working at that time, if I remember, in Pathology Department. Looking for greener pastures, he had applied and got a job in Dubai. That’s when he came and saw me and requested for being accommodated back in the event of his coming back. He had submitted his resignation. I could only assure him of my best efforts. Soon I got a cablegram from him intimating that he was on his way back. He came back and told me that he fainted at the very entry point - the airport in Dubai. The section he was in was not air-conditioned and had a tin roof resulting in the place boiling at the temperature of 510 C. That was Dubai then – far cry from what it is today, having probably the plushiest of airports in the world. He gave up the whole thing as a bad job and came back. Thankfully, the Institute Chief agreed to his re-instatement purely because he had impeccable credentials. After all, he was the topper of School of Art of Chandigarh. Today, he is happily settled and producing, as is his wont, beautiful water-colour landscapes and uploading them on Facebook.


Around three years in a post that hardly posed any challenge was, I thought, too much. In 1978 I opted for coming back to my parent department. But in those three years I made some lifelong friends, association with whom was indeed enriching. Some have passed on
but some are still around and contributing to the society in any which way they possibly can.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 45 :: A raid in Bhopal that was well deserved

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A bustling market of Bairagarh

The local newspapers this morning brought in happy tidings. They carried the happy news of a raid at the house of a BJP man who not too long ago was very close the centre of power in the state. The news had broken last night about the Income Tax officials’ raid at his premises which yielded, as has now become the norm, hidden crores of rupees in old banned currency and new high value currency plus quite a few silver biscuits.

The raid took place in his house in Bairagarh where a few BJP biggies of the Centre have also been hosted and entertained. The man concerned was given a position in the state a few years ago equivalent to the status of a minister of state. Proximity to power centre of the state probably had given rise to a sense of immunity from action against his wrong-doings.

His is a typical example of a good-for-nothing, unscrupulous man making good in politics and reaping the pelf that is associated with power. He is reported to have started off as a bus conductor from where he was summarily removed for indulging in manipulation of cash. That’s when he moved into politics and worked his way up getting closer and closer to local power centres. As he got identified with power and powerful people the next step was for him to get involved in wheeling and dealing. The money, mostly illegal, flowed in enabling him to buy more support – political or extraneous. Something like that is reported to have happened to him and the bubble that he had blown for himself to cocoon in has now burst around him.

Bairagarh is a suburb of Bhopal which has numerous rags-to-riches stories. Certainly not all have acquired the riches by honourable means. Inside the nondescript fa├žade of houses there is luxury paved at every inch. If properly investigated, this small suburb that hosts mostly wholesalers and traders can yield hundreds of crores worth of illicit wealth. Bairagarh is known for smart business where the only concern is personal profit without any obligation to society at large. Taxes are seldom paid. Here everything goes – from passing off ‘duplicate’ material as original to ‘hawala’ transactions in millions. That is why, as Balzac had said, behind every fortune in Bairagarh there are crimes – yes crime in plural, not in singular.

Reports say the searches are yet to be conducted in several other properties of this gentleman (?) We will be waiting for more revelations with bated breath, at the same time wait for some more raids on such delinquents and sinful for whom these, unfortunately, are hard times. 

*Photo from internet


21st December 2016
 


Friday, December 16, 2016

Demonetisation :: Pak's sinister designs forced Modi's hands

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The e-mails had been going round and round for sometime carrying the supposed facts regarding the reasons for the sudden demonetisation but one couldn’t really believe all that was conveyed in them. True, Modi had in his election campaign assured that he would fight the menace of black money and bring back all that was stashed away in banks abroad. But, two and a half years had gone by and yet nothing was seemingly moving on that front. He was, therefore, being baited and mocked at by the Opposition inside and outside the Parliament for his extravagant unfulfilled promises.

Perhaps, they were all wrong. It seems to have always been at the back of Modi’s mind, only he was waiting for an opportune moment. What the e-mails contained was indeed alarming and, if things would have been allowed to be left as they were the country would have been in serious trouble. There is a furore over the problems created by demonetisation of high value currency notes at every level of Indian society, more so for the poor and deprived classes. But, one cannot really imagine the consequences had no action been taken on what Pakistan was plotting for economic and financial destabilisation of the country. A report in the Hindustan Times (HT) on 10th December 2016 carried some of the facts but not all the facts of the matter. According to it, Modi had said while campaigning in 2014 in Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh on the Indo-Nepal border that he would fight the ISI designs to destabilise this country.

There was a specific reason for this statement and this was mentioned in the Hindustan Times report rather cursorily. The Police had in 2009 seized Rs. 4 crore in fake Indian currency notes (FICN) from the currency chest of a nationalised bank. These notes were supplied to the nationalised bank by none other than the Reserve Bank of India. The detection of FICN in the currency chest of a nationalised bank was a serious matter. But the newspaper did not report how it was dealt with by the Reserve Bank or the Centre. This is where the newspaper became part of the secular press as it would have exposed the erstwhile Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance government.

The facts are contained in the e-mails that have been in circulation for some time. One did not pay attention as one thought it was probably a prank of Congress baiters. Now that the HT, an unabashed Congress supporter, has reported it howsoever cursorily, it seems the whole thing was true and very alarming and the congress government at the centre chose to put a lid on it. It did not take any action and in bureaucratic rigmarole the matter seemed to have been suppressed and buried.

This is where these identical e-mails come in which tell the entire story and the huge ramifications in India of further lackadaisical approach to this sinister design of the ISI and Pakistan government. The story of demonetisation begins 2009-10 when seventy-odd nationalised banks along the Indo-Nepal border were raided only to find counterfeit Indian currency notes and what was shocking was these were supplied by the Reserve Bank of India. That only meant that even the Indian Central Bank had been compromised and it was circulating FICN pushed into India by Pakistan. On inquiries by the CBI it was found that the FICNs were so close to the genuine currency that an ordinary mortal could not detect it. It was only some foreign labs which confirmed that those notes were fake. The minute detail that proved that those were fake currency was reportedly inserted only to distinguish them from genuine Indian currency notes.

Investigations in the matter had proved that the mischief was being done at the UK based company De la Rue from which the RBI was buying 95% of the currency paper. The company was also supplying paper to Pakistan. Blacklisting of the company reduced it to bankruptcy. Later printing of currency notes was outsourced to three foreign companies but soon there was an anonymous complaint somewhere in 2011 from officials of the Ministry of Finance who seemed to have said that it was not De la Rue alone which was compromising the security of the bank notes, other foreign companies also were doing the same. One does not know what action was taken by the government but it seems this information was withheld from the Finance and Home ministries of Government of India.

Sometime later, on Modi’s initiative in 2015 another foreign company – Louisenthal, a German company – was found to be supplying currency paper to Pakistan which was printing high quality fake Indian currency notes and pushing them into India from all directions over land and by air. The Home Ministry barred it from selling bank note paper to the RBI. Pakistan had jacked up the printing of FICN and pushed them into India with vigour and confidence that its economic and financial sabotage would go undetected.

If one goes by what Gen. GD Bakshi, a security expert, has to say one would get an idea of the extent of damage that could have been caused by unchecked infiltration of FICN from Pakistan. He says that India had around Rs.16 trillion worth of Rs 500/- and Rs. 1000/- currency notes in circulation. Pakistan was already printing 15 trillion of these notes to smuggle them into India.  Pakistan had established five sophisticated presses for the purpose. This, as Gen Bakshi says, would have “unhinged” the Indian economy with runaway inflation, steep price rise and unlimited terror funding.

In fact, under these circumstances demonetisation came rather late. Nonetheless, it came before much damage could be done. With the ban on high value currency notes frequency of terror strikes have gone down and the stone-pelters of Kashmir are out of business. Even the Hurriyat which used to distribute (counterfeit) money received from Pakistan has now invited tourists to visit Kashmir as it is fearful of losing relevance in the absence of the old and now-banned high value currency notes. Even the Pakistani kingpin of FICN committed suicide the other day finding himself in a tight corner after demonetisation.

It is unbelievable that the Manmohan Singhs, Rahul Gandhis and Gulam Nabi Azads of Congress were not aware of all these goings on. It is during the reign of the UPA-led government that the RBI was found to have been compromised. Only they did not take the serious breach of security seriously enough. Now that Modi has caught them on the wrong foot they have raised merry hell and have disrupted virtually the entire winter session of the Parliament. Even Rahul Gandhi, popularly known as Pappu, has been threatening of an earthquake were he to be allowed to speak in the Lok Sabha. He should thank his stars that Modi has been pretty decent about it and has so far not made political capital out of the then government’s inaction subsequent to detection of major security breach.

12th December 2016


Monday, December 5, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 44 :: Ramsar status of Bhoj Wetland threatened

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A weekly pull out of a local English language newspaper published the other day the news of arrival of the feathered friends around the water bodies of Bhopal. With the approach of winter these friends are flying in from distant lands only to roost and breed around the local water bodies. The report was based on the sightings of several bird-watchers of the city. Apparently, bird-watching or birding as it is generally mentioned is becoming popular, more so, during the few winter months. Among the water bodies the report mentioned were numerous ones, from Hathaikheda Dam, Kaliasot Dam to Kolar Dam and Ghodpachhad Dam in and around Bhopal, though Van Vihar or, more appropriately, Bhoj Wetland remains the primary venue for the visitors. Even the Shahpura Lake gets some of these birds.

Most of the birders are very charitable towards the Bhoj Wetland. They never mention that the birdlife of the water body has been steadily dwindling. Hence the names of water bodies located outside the city are generally mentioned. Only a couple years ago I had come across a report that the migratory birds were coming to this region during the season but they were overflying Bhopal and going as far as Halali Dam, around 50 kilometres away.

The arrivals in Bhopal had to decrease because of thoughtless increase in human activities around the Wetland. To start with, it was a mistake to locate the Sports Authority of India complex so close to the Bird Area. It may be satisfying the requirements of distance from a bird area but the intense human sporting activities with or without powerful lights does drive away the birds. Unceasing human activities of such nature close to a bird area will never be to their liking, especially when they come flying over long distances from their native habitat.

The amusement complex of Sair Sapata of the Tourism Development Corporation was another ill-conceived project which is now up and running for some years. Situated bang on the Upper Lake next to the bird area, it is spread over an area of around 25 acres. Designed to entice visitors, especially children, it has a toy train, musical fountains, children’s play area spread over 2 acres and several view points. An additional attraction is the suspension bridge with profuse illumination at night. Conceptually one cannot have any quarrel with it but its location was unwisely chosen particularly because it is so close to the Wetland threatening its status of Important Bird Area. Its nightly activities would certainly drive away the birdlife from the area which, according to some reports, has already happened.

Apart from these major deterrents, the water of the Upper Lake was highly polluted till the arrival of the last monsoon. It had been so for humans for quite some time but it later became harmful even for the fauna that have made the Wetland their temporary or permanent habitat. The last heavy monsoon seems to have been helpful in diluting the pollutants and has drained away some of their lethal elements. This is what the local Pollution control Board claims which, I am afraid, one takes with a pinch, if not fistful, of salt.

What is more alarming is the ongoing construction that is continuing unabated in the absence of any check. The government and the Municipal Corporation have not acted upon the report submitted two year ago by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Environment engaged by the government for suggesting ways to conserve the Upper Lake. In the absence of any check already numerous schools have been opened in the Bishenkhedi area and there is a proposal to build a cricket stadium of international standards accompanied by sundry other construction that might become necessary. If that were to happen the bird life of Bhoj Wetland could well be written off.

As situation stands today, the fact that seems to emerge that Bhoj Wetland does not habour any more the birds – domestic or migratory – in the same numbers as it used to when it was declared a Ramsar Site as also, later, when it was designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Apparently, before Bhoj Wetland was declared a Ramasar Site it used to host on a “regular basis” 20000 or more water birds. That is one of the criteria for designating a wetland as a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention. From the reports one gets these days or even on the basis of visual assessments it looks like that the Wetland hosts “on regular basis” far less number of water birds. If that be the case the Ramsar Status of the Wetland would be considered to be under serious threat and so also its status of Important Bird Area.


Only a scientific count of the birds and bird species would reveal the facts of the matter. I do not recall any such count in the recent past. It would, therefore, seem to be high time that such a count is arranged by the state government in collaboration with some recognized organization like the Bombay Natural History Society or by the Indian chapter of Birdlife International. If the views that now prevail of reduction in the Wetland’s birdlife are found to be correct, the authorities could, perhaps initiate actions to strive and prevent withdrawal of the status.