Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jaipur Blasts: Potential for Political Mileage

With in minutes after the serial blasts in Jaipur on May 13 politicians started competing with one another to gain maximum mileage out of it. Human aspects were lost sight off in this political hullabaloo and received some media attention only on the succeeding day.
While the blasts have taken the nation by storm, there was and continues to be heavy competition among politicians in condemning the (terrorist?) act in strongest terms. Expletives have not been publicly used but have been heard in private gatherings. Administration is content with an after the incident mop up of dead bodies and spilled blood in a typical bollywood filmy style but for a villain. Will anyone own up the responsibility for administrative and intelligence failure?

If we go by the past trends, that no one ever will. Some terrorist group has already claimed responsibility for the attack and administration is too happy publicizing the same, while politicians are trying to maximize their mileage in this election year. There is a heavy competition among media houses to be the first to publish such claims, while politicians continue with condemnations bordering on expletives with subtly hidden pointers towards a particular neighboring country. All that is fair in love of Hindu votes for the forthcoming wars that will be fought in various constituencies this year.

The pertinent introspective questions that will surely not be asked by our politicians, administrators and wise political commentators alike are, “Was there anything we could have done to avoid this mishap?” and “What can we do in future to avoid recurrence of such mishaps?”

Home Ministry and all its security agencies are undertaking a postmortem analysis pin pointing the exact quantity, quality and source of explosives used meticulously bypassing the pertinent questions, because none cares.

To prevent terrorism we have to learn to identify it. A terrorist can hide in chaos, so we need to eliminate the chaos that has become a synonym for India. To begin with there are claims that some bombs had been planted on bicycles. If you analyze this simple harmless claim, then it will be very clear that there is no parking for bicycles at the place where blasts took place. Why it is not there is anybody’s guess. The most plausible explanation I can find is that charging for parking of vehicles outside a place of worship may interfere with the freedom to practice one’s religion, and hence the government encourages a free for all parking outside the places of worship.

If there were a proper parking area, then the damage from a bicycle bomb planted in parking would have been far lesser. Even the blast might have been avoided, if a bicycle was standing outside parking had attracted attention of at least some responsible citizen by being something out of ordinary. Possibly, the terrorist himself might have run away in terror, if questioned by some security person(s) as to why he was parking outside the parking area.

Similarly, if there were orderly queues in the temple, any unidentified baggage or package would have been noticed. A proper traffic control and orderly movement of vehicles and pedestrians also might have brought to the notice of law enforcement authorities any unusual or suspicious characters.

If these ideas are propagated then my purpose is more than served. Hence, here is a synopsis of what can be done to avoid such mishaps in future. Of course, for detailed explanations and roles and responsibilities for implementation thereof, it will be nice to have a commission to undertake this job and hold lengthy hearings and submit a massive report which may be tabled in the parliament and whose copies may gather dust till some remote future point of time when some conscientious politicians and bureaucrats bring it out of oblivion and implement some parts of the same.

Firstly, the public image that entire India is a free parking zone for any and all vehicles needs to be changed. Creation of “Pay & Park” zones all over cities will go a long way in eliminating bombs placed in parked vehicles. This will create some employment and also increase revenue of local administrative bodies.

Secondly, the public image that fundamental rights include “the right to litter and create garbage yard any where we choose” needs to be taken care of. This will eliminate placing of bombs under cover of garbage. A stringent penalty for littering and even a general penalty on the entire area contributing to such garbage may do the trick.

Thirdly, a degree of accountability has to be explicitly fixed on the Police Station in whose jurisdiction the acts of terrorism happen, and the intelligence agencies responsible for covering the city and state of the incident, in that order. This may help improve the placid attitude of those concerned and those who are really in a position to prevent this.

Even the Mumbai Serial Blasts of July 11th 2006 might have been avoided or at least the damage could have been far less if there were enough local trains to accommodate the passengers. It was only the crowd which led to ignorance of the bombs planted in the trains and the person who planted them. Only after implementing the tenets given above our slogans of not ignoring any unclaimed package or any vehicle left parked in a public place will bear fruit and act as preventives they are intended to be.

Only if those basic tenets are followed, there can be hope for preventing such mishaps in future.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


The news item in ToI of May 9th “GMR wants increase in Delhi airport fees” is not likely to get noticed by most users of Delhi airport and to their own detriment. GMR backed consortium has taken the contract on certain terms laid down by the government, which it found profitable. It has received funding from its equity participants and lenders by showing the same terms and projecting them as profitable. Cost escalations and contingencies are an essential part of such long term financial deals and must have been accounted for. There have been no unforeseen developments on those fronts to justify additional burden on air travelers unfortunate enough to use Delhi airport.

This is all the more so, if the amenities curtailed in the name of work-in-progress for indefinitely long periods are taken into consideration. Airports all over India and the world do undergo renovations and modification / expansion from time to time, but such gross chaos as has been prevailing over Delhi airport ever since the renovation by GMR has commenced is really unprecedented.

One improvement that all users of Delhi airport must have noticed and regretted is that five rupees wala cups of tea and coffee have gone missing since the development work commenced and have been replaced by fifty and hundred rupees wala cups. Even the outside stalls have doubled their price taking the cue from GMR group.

To begin with most basic of amenity of wash rooms has a number of units that is less than that of any decent shopping mall. This is despite the goal of handling one million flights per annum by 2010. The queues that extend for a couple of yards outside wash rooms during peak hours will bear witness to this on any day. If the number of units in washrooms has been rationed by some bureaucrat, then it’s a different matter.

Similar chaos prevails in baggage handling and situation is even worse at International terminal, where you will find foreign travelers alighting from long haul flights sometimes desperately trying to locate washroom through the labyrinth of barricades erected for renovation work for better amenities.

Lastly, India may be the only country in the world where airport tax works out to be thrice the amount of basic fare on many no frills flights. Gathering such data across continents is not my cup of tea, but from the limited information available I can say that I have never seen airport taxes in excess of 50% of basic fare on most international airports outside India.

The projections of revenue and profitability given to the financers by GMR should be examined by a qualified team, and need to be recast keeping in view the unprecedented rise in the number of air travelers before government takes any decision about further increase in airport fees or permit levy of user development fee.


#MeToo Campaign and I

The last week found all of social media flooding with the #MeToo campaign. The campaign that was sparked by the Harvey Weinstein allegatio...