MERCEDES POLITICIANS FOR BICYCLE PEOPLE

What is India’s poverty line?

That is a big political issue in a country which houses maximum number of the world’s poor. There have been experts and their panels – many of them – but still we haven’t been able to define who is poor.

There are truckloads of data in statistical wisdoms and in countless luminary minds – yet we regularly form panels of eminent economist(s) to correct the anomaly in the previous poverty line – only to dismiss it – because the result of burning the midnight oil here is always so absurd that you would dismiss it as soon as you are enlightened with it.

In April 2014, the government unveiled its newest poverty line – Rs. 32 a day in rural areas (Rs. 960 a month) and Rs. 47 a day in urban areas (Rs. 1410 a month). That was, in fact, an improvement over the standards set by the Tendulkar committee – Rs. 27 a day in rural areas (Rs. 810 a month) and Rs. 33 a day in urban areas (Rs. 990 a month).

According to this new poverty line, 29.5% Indians are cursed to live below the poverty line. Now that is around 23 crore Indians.

And that is when this newest Indian poverty line is nowhere to the World Bank benchmark for the poverty threshold – $1.90 – a threshold that the World Bank recalibrated in October 2015 – from the earlier benchmark of $1.25. Now, based on current Dollar to Rupee exchange rate, that comes to around Rs.127 – almost four times of the newest rural poverty line in India and almost three times of the urban one.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

MAHAD BRIDGE COLLAPSE: YET ANOTHER MAN-MADE TRAGEDY

The Mahad bridge tragedy on the Mumbai-Goa highway is horrible and shocking. Around three dozen are suspected to have lost lives though there are no figures to quote yet. According to the Maharashtra officials, there were two state transport buses and eight private vehicles passing through when the bridge collapsed.

But the state response has been on the expected line. An enquiry has been ordered and any accountability will be fixed only after that. And given the fact that the Maharashtra government had certified the bridge as fit only the last year, we should not expect that much is going to happen beyond this sham enquiry.

It is as it is – the lax attitude of administration in every man-made tragedy – be it the disastrous floods of Uttarakhand or many train disasters or building or bridge collapses like this or the annual human crisis caused by monsoon and drought.

The Mahad bridge collapse tragedy, like all of them, is totally man-made. It was a British era bridge that had completed its life yet the Maharashtra government saw no structural problem in it. There was incessant monsoon rain in the area for five days which caused flooding of the Savitri river over which the bridge was built, that in turn, could have caused the collapse.

So, first the government apathy let a dangerous bridge remain open for public even if a new parallel bridge was built. Second, the government failed to do a proper structural audit of the bridge in case of heavy rains.

The Mahad bridge collapse tragedy that has taken around three dozen lives is not the last one. As long as the government apathy continues, we are bound to face life’s vagaries in this way or the other. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavist has now ordered audit of all 36 British era bridges on the Mumbai-Goa highway. But why not safety and structural audit of all the British era bridges in India? Why we only react in the aftermath of some tragedy?

After all, these are human lives.

The government collects taxes from us to manage our lives; it takes taxes for the house we posses; it taxes our restaurants bills and services like electricity, mobile and theatre bills; and it imposes road taxes, toll taxes and vehicular registration charges for building and managing roads and highways,

Yet, dilapidated buildings do collapse.

Yet, new and old flyovers do collapse – like this Mahad bridge collapse or the Kolkata flyover collapse this which was under construction.

Yet, potholes do take lives like the Vasant Kunj accident in Delhi last week where a man was run over by truck after he fell from his motorcycle which had got struck in a pothole.

So, why do we pay those taxes?

Though in a different context, a Maharashtra High Court judge had put forward the observation that the citizens should stop paying taxes if the government was not able to fulfil their basic needs – in this case a corruption free society.

While hearing a fund embezzlement case in March 2016, Justice Arun Chaudhari of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court had observed that “corruption is a hydra-headed monster and time has arrived that we stop paying taxes if the government fails to curb corruption”.

©SantoshChaubey

CAN CHANGE IN THE SYSTEM BE BROUGHT WHILE BEING OUT OF IT?

Can change in the system be brought while being out of it?

It’s obvious answer is both – yes and no.

It all depends on the prevailing circumstances in the system – whether the system still has the elements who care for the conscious voices – or it has got deaf enough to block them on the periphery – if throwing them out is not an option.

The classic case where the centre or the core or the ‘haves’ sections of a society rule it with sheer domination – keeping the critical or hostile voices or the ‘have nots’ at the periphery – and the vicious circles of hegemony continues.

Unfortunately, it the second category that defines our prevailing socio-political system where even the world’s lengthiest written constitution has not been able to ensure the proper implementation of all its tenets – and its spirit.

Like it is always said that even if we got our independence from the British, we are yet to see a flawless democracy ruling the systems in the country. Though we are the world’s largest democracy – and a robustly functional one – the Global Democracy Index, annual ranking the Economist, finds us a flawed democracy – placing us at 35.

And it is not without reasons.

We have a transparent electoral system but the political corruption vitiates the whole atmosphere – so much so – that now the political class is considered and seen as a class apart – the elite who themselves feel and behave like supremacists. The deeply percolated VVIP culture (VIPism) has now become a part of even the smallest governance units of our country. And when you political class stars acting like it owns the country, it is the beginning of the process that starts killing the democratic spirit of the society – that starts contaminating every aspect of the society – so much so – that corruption has become a way of life for us.

The second biggest political reform movement of India, after the JP movement of 1970’s, the anti-corruption agitation led by the veteran activist Anna Hazare in 2011 was fuelled by anti-corruption sentiments only.

But like the JP movement, it, too, was co-opted by the people ruling the mainstream of the society.

If we have to set it correct, we need to overhaul the system – and to do that – we need to change the way we do politics.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

WHY EVERYBODY LOVES A GOOD FLOOD AS WELL..

The Madhya Pradesh legislative assembly house was scene to some chaotic developments yesterday. The political opposition led by the Congress was taking on the Madhya Pradesh government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and an all around ruckus was in the air.

And in the centre of it was the poor common man – this time afflicted by the flood fury!

And by essential by-product of it – the designs of bureaucratic corruption!

The issue in point was distribution of adulterated and rotten wheat sacks to the flood victims. Reports said some wheat sacks contained as much as 20 kg soil in a pack of 50 kg.

The news had come from a state which has a popular chief minister who has been consistently elected by his constituency and who is now in his third consecutive term.

Well, it’s a flourishing business – the relief and rescue work in the aftermath of annual spells of droughts followed by Monsoon floods – the annual pilgrimage for bureaucrats and politicians who see them as the opportune channels to siphon off money.

We should be thankful journalists like P. Sainath who devoted their whole life to rural reporting, especially on farm suicides, droughts and agrarian crisis. The book written by Sainath, ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’, makes for a pithy and informed reading. It shows how droughts have become big money spinners for the governing machinery and the appendages dependent on it.

He writes, “A great deal of drought ‘relief’ goes into contracts handed over to private parties. These are to lay roads, dig wells, send out water tankers, build bridges, repair tanks –– the works. Think that can’t total up to much? Think again. The money that goes into this industry in a single year can make the withdrawals from Bihar’s animal husbandry department look like so many minor fiddles. And the Bihar scam lasted a decade and a half. The charm of this scam is that it is largely ‘legal’. And it has soul. It’s all in a good cause. The tragedy, of course, is that it rarely addresses the real problems of drought and water scarcity.”

The above paragraph from his book is enough to sum up the malaise of corruption that has deeply corroded the drought management system in our country. His book says the drought victims call the drought relief bounty “teesra fasl (the third crop), a harvest that never reaches them.

Floods are in the same category – the annual ritual of harvesting illicit wealth.

It’s not that P. Sainath was the first person to write on such issue. And as long as the human apathy goes, there will always be the concerned souls exploring our hinterlands to tell their stories who are left on the margins to die. Yes, but P. Sainath gave us a seminal book, an event to talk about, a reference to go back, again and again.

We are yet to see such a consolidated work on floods – because floods, at times, prove a better milking cow than droughts for corrupt officials.

The 2013 Uttarakhand floods disaster killed thousands. The rehabilitation process is still not over. But see the crass apathy of the bureaucratic machinery. Those tasked with relief and rescue efforts were busy in minting money – submitting forged bills and manipulating relief figures. While thousands had died and many more thousands were displaced and were in imminent danger, the Uttarakhand rescue officials were busy in ordering lavish foods in hotel accommodations that they claimed cost them Rs. 7000 a night. This and many more shocking details have emerged in many RTI replies. The information obtained clearly shows how the data were manipulated for personal gains – Rs. 200 for half a litre milk, diesel bills for two-wheelers, relief materials to the same lot of victims again and again and so on.

In the season of annual Monsoon floods, first it is about manipulating resources in the name of checking immediate human crisis elements like arranging shelter and food for the victims. In the immediate aftermath, it comes to controlling a looming epidemic because of the stagnant water that carries dead carcass and other pollutants. The rapidly going up floodwater presents a golden opportunity to push for anything and everything – no tenders, no negotiations. The rush to keep supply lines sustained sees cheaper relief materials and medicines being pushed at higher cost. Floods, in that sense, provide a better opportunity to money vultures than droughts.

Post this comes the phase of rebuilding infrastructure – roads, bridges, railway tracks, embankments – and here the big money lies. Contracts are given to the parties and we all know how it is done.

We all, every year, think about this basic question – that why can’t the administration lay out a stronger layer of concrete that would last for at least four-five years? We all know the answer – corruption. Every year, new tender is floated and fund is released to the contractor carrying the work. And it is a good deal for everyone – from government officials to contractors. Money changes hands. The process is repeated year after year, sometimes season after season.

And the practice goes long back. In fact, a 2007 report by the Financial Times, quoting commentators and media reports wrote, “Even flood prevention mechanisms, such as river embankments and sluice gates, are deliberately left unmaintained. Every time they are washed away, it means more money for the contractors, technocrats and politicians.”

The 2007 Financial Times report was based on reports of corruption that was siphoning off money that should have ideally gone to the victims of the 2007 floods that had affected India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Stories of manipulation and corruption in the 2008 Kosi floods of Bihar are yet another eye opener.

Floods present a similar opportunity, like drought – or in fact any natural calamity of big scale – but what makes floods and droughts big opportunities for money minded vultures – are their geographical spread and regular frequency. Their earning potential far outweighs other catastrophic happenings like earthquake, cloud burst or cyclone. These are localized in nature and thus are limited in scope. And even then we find our Google searches inundated with the news reports of corruption and manipulation in their aftermath – replete with stories of human misery.

Big projects, big money. Small projects, small money. Simple!

If everybody loves a good drought .. ‘that’ everybody loves a good flood as well!

©SantoshChaubey

COFFEEHOUSE BULLSHIT?

Well, that is truly a post-modernist expression that some ultra-modernists folks speak out loud – every now and then.

I heard a character in a movie speaking it last night while I was randomly shuffling channels.

Coffeehouse bullshit catches your attention.

Because all that has been in the name of ‘coffee culture’ or ‘coffeehouse culture’ is simply not bullshit.

Coffeehouse culture has its connotations and nuances, and it has its relevance to the cultures in societies it has had its vibrant presence.

Historians say the coffee culture (or the coffeehouse culture) originated in Turkey around 14th Century and spread in many European countries. As UNESCO puts it – ‘where time and space are consumed, only the bill is in the name of coffee’ – the coffeehouse culture has had a great contribution in European political and cultural revolutions – and in European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Like it happens even today, you pay for the space and time while sitting in a coffeehouse, spending some quality time, or doing the routine networking. You easily end up paying somewhat 10-20 US$ for two mugs of coffee even in many not so uber cool Delhi outlets. Rationally thinking, these price points are astronomically high for the product but you don’t feel so because you know you are paying for the ‘time and space’ there.

Back then, passing through years, and even now, coffeehouse culture has had that same symbolism – obviously with era-specific modifications/adaptations. People may argue that internet is threatening the discourse culture of coffeehouses.

Well, they miss the point here – internet is reshaping the ‘public sphere’. Its most relevant examples are ‘Arab Spring’, ‘The Occupy Movement’ and ‘massification of Guy Fawkes’ masks in popular culture.

Not all the debates, not all the coffeehouses back then were part of the lore. Same holds true even today. Debates will find their coffeehouses (or their ‘public sphere’). Willing folks will find their outlets.

Those who mattered – stood out and spread. Those who will matter – and those who are willing to matter – will initiate or join the conversation.

Internet has made the exchanges faster and freer. Communication can begin anywhere and its threads can be picked up from anywhere.

All this is not some bullshit!

Obviously, it has some crap quotient. But then that is an inevitable part of a commercial activity where people’s time means money.

Today, the coffeehouse culture is a global phenomenon in democratic countries across the globe – and in countries where the ‘public sphere’ has been crushed – and is being crushed.

Yes, expressivity varies – but then, that is the rule of the game.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

MODI GOVT @ 2: A DAY OF STATISTICAL TALES

Today was basically a field days for spokespersons. They tried to cover as much length and breadth of this country as possible and they tried to speak as louder as they could so as to become audible (and visible) to media and social media eyes and ears and so on. What was put in action some days ago saw its top pitch today and will have its various notes in the days to come.

The biggest of them (in stature), held big sized rallies like the one held by Narendra Modi in Saharanpur.

Then there were extensions – from the ruling party – and from the opposition – selling and counter-selling achievements and allegations.

And then there were propped up or spontaneous splinter entities – on airwaves – blessing or bashing the two years of the Narendra Modi government.

Now, statistics tells what you want it to tell.

So, Narendra Modi, his spokespersons, other leaders of his party and his supporters have plenty to tell – from social empowerment – to introducing structural changes in infrastructure – to industrial turnaround – to internal and external security – to foreign policy.

Likewise, Narendra Modi and BJP’s political rivals, including Modi’s detractors, have as much in their kitty as they want to scatter – and they want to scatter it all.

So, if NDA and BJP’s ministers, MPs and other leaders are busy holding meetings and rallies in different parts of countries, hard-selling their claimed achievements in these two years – the two years, that according to them, have changed India – political rivals and opposition, including Congress, Left Front, JDU, AAP and others are busy hard-selling their counterpoints – presenting point by point rebuttal of government’s claims.

But the fact is – statistics doesn’t really tell the stories that pull votes in times of elections – if figures are without facts – or even if figures are with flimsy facts. We all saw how NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign crumbled in 2004. We saw how miserably the Manmohan Singh led UPA government failed in convincing people in 2014 Lok Sabha polls that it indeed had delivered on governance.

Like Modi has directed his ministers and party members to take their achievements to people, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, too, had tried. The difference is – Modi is on the job right from the first year of his government while Manmohan Singh’s government tried it as a desperate campaign measure in the face of a sky-high anti-incumbency after nine years in the office.

Obviously, those statistical tales didn’t help Manmohan Singh and Congress then and the party was reduced to its lowest tally of 44 in the Lok Sabha. Narendra Modi must be having that in mind.

The biggest currency that Narendra Modi has, after two years in government, is – he still has no competition at his level. He is still the most popular politician, one of the most popular prime ministers and the gap between him and others who could pose as his rival to the prime minister’s office in 2019 is comfortably wide. In fact, he is sitting at the top pretty comfortably.

After two years of Narendra Modi in 7RCR, the official residence of India’s prime minister, India, still, has no political alternative to him.

But then, three years is a long time in India’s political landscape. Anything can happen. Let’s see which way the political tide turns (and soars) starting with the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections early next year.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

RECENT RAINFALL PATTERN IN MP BUNDELKHAND

BUNDELKHAND DROUGHT DISTRESS

MP Bundelkhand

RECENT RAINFALL PATTERN IN MP BUNDELKHAND

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

EKNATH KHADSE’S HELIPAD AND PRIYANKA GANDHI’S BUNGALOW: THIS IS OUR POLITICS, FOLKS! (II)

If Eknath Khadse is emblematic of how crassly insensitive our politicians can become, can be, the row over Priyanka Vadras’ (or Priyanka Gandhi’s) house rent is equally disturbing.

The only thing is, we have forgotten ‘getting disturbed’ over such ‘undemocratic developments’.

Not so long ago, a senior party leader of Congress, the party of Priyanka Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi and her brother Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Kapil Sibal, had taken a house in the same tony location, Jor Bagh, though certainly not as posh and VVIP as Priyanka’s house is, and less than half in size, for a whopping monthly rent of Rs. 1600,000 or Rs. 1.92 crore a year.

Now, let’s jot down the obvious:

Priyanka Gandhi pays a ‘super’ subsidized rent of just Rs. 31,300 a month for her Type VI house in Lutyens’ Delhi.

The house measures 2765 sqm in size and reports say that no such big house with all its natural extensions like lawns and amenities is available for rent in the area Priyanka’s house is located.

If we go by the reports of sky-high rent being paid by Kapil Sibal, the minimum that Priyanka Gandhi needs to pay as rent around Rs. 35 lakh a month. And even then, the rent cannot match house’s expanse and location.

Priyanka Gandhi was given this house in 1997 at a monthly rent of around Rs. 53,000. Her request for subsidized rent was accepted in 2002 and her rent was fixed at 8,888 by the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Now, the person who fixed it can only tell us about this interesting combination.

The revelation here is, the loss to the public exchequer since 1997 – because even a rent of Rs. 53,000 a month for a larger than life bungalow in India’s most VVIP zone in Delhi, a city where people are cursed to live in cramped houses and flats, was a jaw-opener for anyone – for its sheer meekness.

Let’s go by the simple logic – that we common folks have to shell out 10% more every year on our housing rent. That makes it roughly around Rs. 350,000 a month after these 20 years – for Priyanka’s Rs. 53,000 in 1997.

Her current house rent of Rs. 31,300 is more or less in line with this ‘annual 10% hike’ norm. So, it is a direct loss to the public exchequer – running in millions – when India’s successive governments have failed to define a proper poverty line in the country – a political class that still accepts the wisdom of expert panels that find a person above poverty line if he earns Rs. 40 a day or so (Rs. 32 rural and Rs. 47 urban) – even if Rs. 40 cannot earn a decent one time meal on the prevailing market prices.

Like the Bombay High Court said while hearing the petition on water wastage by BCCI on conducting IPL matches in Maharashtra – that it was criminal that BCCI was wasting hundreds of thousands of water in every IPL game when Maharashtra was facing the worst drought of 100 years, when people were not getting water to drink and bathe – this, too, is criminal when poverty, quality literacy, education and healthcare still need critical attention.

How can this paltry sum be justified by anyone, let alone by the party that has been in power for some 60 years of India’s 70 sovereign years?

How can Congress counter this when a simple two bedroom house less than 100 m in size in Delhi costs around Rs. 20,000 in monthly rentals and its goes up to around Rs. 50,000 or so in many upscale areas?

How can Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi justify that Priyanka Gandhi indeed needs a ‘super’ subsidy for her housing rent when Robert Vadra, her millionaire husband, claims that ‘he always had enough and he didn’t need Priyanka Gandhi to enhance his life’?

But nothing will move folks, except some hue and cry. It will die down soon. That is the state of affairs in Indian politics. That is the standard here.

Be it BJP for Eknath Khadse or Congress for Priyanka Gandhi – the colours fade into oneness, the lines blur when it comes to ‘certain’ political compulsions. It was a BJP government in 2002 that had ‘super’ subsidized Priyanka Gandhi’s housing rent. It was a BJP government that had retained Robert Vadra on ‘no frisking VVIP list’ at the country’s airports in 2014 in spite of strong reservations. It is a BJP government in Maharashtra whose minister has made mockery of farmers’ plight by wasting precious water even if his chief minister says in the Bombay High Court that the IPL matches could be taken out of the state to save water.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

BCCI DOESN’T BELIEVE IN COMMUNICATING!

Continuing from my last article, I thought to do some more data crunching with BCCI annual reports (or income/expenditures statements to be precise). On BCCI’s official website, you can find annual reports of the world’s richest (and now insensitive) cricket body from the financial year 2007-08 onwards.

I am not saying I carried out some deep data mining. In fact, I was not in a mood to do so because, it seems, everything related to BCCI is so complicatedly dull. Account statements shown in annual reports 2014-15 and 2013-14 look straight and easy to comprehend but when you look at 2012-13 AR, the income and expenditure statements look jumbled because they don’t correlate with what you find in the next year’s AR, i.e., the income and expenditure statements for the financial year 2011-12 are different in 2011-12 and 2012-13 ARs.

Okay, there might be some heads that I might be missing. Not an issue! There are various ways to write financial data and bookkeeping and tabulation is a boringly tedious process.

Anyway, my purpose to look into ARs of BCCI is not about its financial spreadsheets and their clarity.

In the season of continued ‘ignorances’ and convenient ‘dumbnesses’, when India’s policymakers have persisted with the same set of policies that would force thousands of farmers to commit suicide, mostly due to drought, and sometimes due to freaky weather patterns, my purpose was to look into the nature of the ‘responsiveness (or social responsiveness)’ of BCCI – as the organization that controls cricket in India, a game loved (if not revered now) by masses has found itself caught in an episode that tested its commitment towards them – who give it the sanctity to exist – who make it the richest cricket body in the world – who make cricketers stars and millionaires – yes, their love for cricket – that makes cricket a massive enterprise in India.

But BCCI failed to prove enterprising for them – for the people of this country.

Let’s see some figures here.

BCCI AR

Now what do they tell?

To be continued..

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/