Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why is India so ungodly?

Cleanliness is (next only to) Godliness- believed Mahatma Gandhi.
Why is it then that cleanliness is such an ignored aspect in India?, particularly in the context of the civic infrastructure about which I wrote in my earlierarticle wherein I requested signing of an online petition demanding "right to quality civic infrastructure' to be made a fundamental right (...this petition incidentally is still struggling at a piddling 98 signatures after a week in existence)
Despite the usual refrain one hears that Indians are such by nature, I'd say that our attitude towards cleanliness has been shaped over past many years by the complete lack of administrative focus on this essential aspect of providing uniformly clean civic infrastructure & diligent upkeep of the same - yathaa rajah, tathaa prajah!
The first step to changing our situation is to open our eyes to dirty reality around us & importantly make a habit of questioning it - what better way to achieve this awareness than utilizing the power of social media as a platform to enable social change?
What motivated me is the immense success of the "Ice Bucket Challenge" that went viral on social networks and helped create widespread awareness about a disease called ALS - What gives me hope is the fact that if awareness & action can be triggered for a disease that effects not more than 200,000 people worldwide, it is perhaps possible to achieve similar results for highlighting the disease called 'rotten civic infrastructure & upkeep' that impacts a billion plus Indians.
This is also a extension of the approach called Gandhigiri, a bollywood invention that went on to become part of popular Indian lexicon now - Gandhigiri is nothing but shaming a person/ an institution into action through a peaceful, legal and mockingly respectful form of protest.
It is time for affirmative action that forces the government to tackle this malaise immediately rather than wasting time trying to take political mileage out of this unfortunate situation through symbolic schemes like Swachh Bharat Campaign that hasn't yet been able to make the lethargic civic administration(s) clean-up its act even while exhorting the citizens to clean-up their neighborhoods themselves.
It is time the citizens do something other than perennially cribbing about the state of affairs - Like the later-age mahatma Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam once said "If you want to leave your footprints in the sands of time do not drag your feet"
This is where the Clean India Challenge comes into picture;

While this challenge already started its rounds in a small way on Facebook, it will take a lot more to make this go viral so as to make an impact and change the status quo for all of us. 
I call on all my fellow citizens to take up this online challenge in a big way and challenge the offline reality of the inadequate civic infrastructure & upkeep in India.
Let there be light!

Update: 25th August 2015
One of the comments below made it pertinent that I explain the Why, Who & How of this challenge - here goes;
WHO ARE WE SHAMING? ------> We are shaming "us' - which includes the people as well as the government
WHO DO WE WANT TO SHOW THESE PICTURES TO? ------> We want to show the pictures to 'us' and to world as such
The rationale behind this being that unless we face (& expose) the reality in all its glory we wouldn't be motivated nor compelled to act on it decisively. After all isn't acceptance of a 'need for change' key to changing?
HOW DO YOU ENVISION CHANGE HAPPENING THROUGH THIS? --------> I envision change happening through the following process;
However before I explain the process, I need to list the following assumptions I made;
  • Creating Quality Infrastructure is the primary responsibility of 'the state' - Maintenance of the same too the primary responsibility of 'the state'. The citizen’s contribution towards civic infrastructure is primarily by way of paying taxes as required.
  • Citizen volunteerism towards maintaining cleaner neighborhoods can only be justified/ demanded/ expected ONLY when 'the state' did its job well - which I seriously doubt Indian civic administration does.
 *'the state' as defined in the constitution of India - I request you to read my petition on making 'right to quality civic infrastructure' a fundamental right to understand these assumptions more.
Sensitizing Indian residents to the quality of their neighborhoods. Provoking a sense of outrage among the citizens to this casual disregard to their right to quality civic infrastructure & hence create a sense of entitlement. Thereby vastly increasing their propensity to challenge the status-quo and create a citizen vanguard of cleanliness.
As the challenge catches up and more and more people upload pictures and hashtag them, a visual story the state of affairs in in each city, each colony will created - which will be the base-line for demand of change/ rectification
Utilizing the emerging sense of entitlement among citizens & encourage more and more people to sign the online petition for making "right to quality civic infrastructure' a fundamental right. Please note this demand aimed at amending the constitution is a symbolic act of saying the change of attitude required is at the very core, that in this current world, 'right to live' alone doesn't suffice a 'right to a right quality of life' is equally important AND that our dirty neighborhoods don't afford us that at this time.
Utilizing the hall of shame repository, the local neighborhoods can step up and demand the local civic authorities to clean-up their act & the neighborhoods in the bargain.
Through a sustained campaign bring about a social change that sustains than fizzle out after some fancy photo-ops
If one recalls/ searches up internet, the PM of India threw open a "Clean India Challenge" in October 2014 wherein he nominated a few CELEBRITIES?? (Sports, film et al) to pick up a broom clean their dirty neighborhoods and upload pictures (clean/ dirty) and tag other lesser celebrities to join - This was eventually supposed to have gone viral and in the bargain cleaned up India without a major burden on the government exchequer.
When did you last see this challenge in circulation: November 2014??? - This hasn't sustained since it played on cleaning up being a voluntary citizen act rather than the states responsibility & citizen entitlement - It failed since people realized this is more of a photo-op & a popularity contest (to be hand-picked by the PM to participate). Its unfortunate that none of the nominated celebrities bothered to asked the PM why they should also pay all the taxes and also wield the broom and why the local civic authorities never realized that their neighborhood needed some sprucing up?
This challenge is a relaunch of this misfired celebrity challenge. This Clean India Challenge 2.0 is our challenge, the peoples challenge and one based on facing reality before changing it & importantly one that puts the onus on the government first and then the citizen.
Finally, the worst thing that can be done to any voluntary social action is to let cynicism kill it. I exhort all to rest their doubts for this time and act instead - In a worst case scenario, this will be another aborted, ignored mission - but one that hopefully will leave a few more citizens with a higher sense of entitlement & responsibility.

'Right to Quality Civic Infrastructure' as a fundamental right

This is a reproduction of the petition I published today on For once, I'd be happy seeing more signatures on the petition there than seeing likes on my post here :-) - Happy Independence Day to all my compatriots.

I was pleased when my city figured in the 100 shortlisted during the stage-1 of recently launched Smart City Mission. I was baffled though when I realized that this 'smart upgrade' is primarily about attempting to implement the following 'features'
  • Adequate water supply,
  • Assured electricity supply
  • Sanitation, including solid waste management
  • Efficient urban mobility and public transport
  • Affordable housing, especially for the poor
  • Robust IT connectivity and digitalization
  • Good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation
  • Sustainable environment
  • Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly
  • Health and education
Wait, aren’t the above 'core infrastructural elements' as labelled in this self acclaimed 'bold, new initiative' in reality the default amenities any tax-paying citizen would/ should expect?, let alone one living in a city but even by those in a town or village?
As I reflected deeper on this apparent irony, I realized how in the past 44 years of my existence I haven’t yet once walked around my house without getting depressed about the apathetic layout, bad roads, lack of usable footpaths, absent green lungs, unreliable garbage & sewage management systems and the general lack of finesse around where I live. My childhood optimism that things would greatly improve when I grow up was shattered when I found out in a recent visit that my native town is a far worser dump than it was a good 30 years ago!
It's clearly not a lack of ideas nor a paucity of requisite engineering capability to develop infrastructure at par with world standards, a fact clearly demonstrated by the amazingly executed projects such as Bandra-Worli Sea link; the Pir Panjal tunnel dug through the Himalayas; the multitudes of express highways such as the fully elevated one between Mumbai, Pune; the top-rated airports & terminals operational in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai et al. As a highway commuter in India, you wouldn't want to reach the destination too soon, the infrastructure within the destination invariably is always a let down - This dichotomy is perplexing.
This dichotomy isn't limited just to civic v/s high-way infrastructure. All the governments over the past seven decades have created & nurtured a class system of human habitats across the Indian republic - consider the following;
  • Between urban; semi-urban and rural centers the quality of civic infrastructure is tellingly different from being inadequately maintained in urban centers to shoddily executed in semi-urban to non-existent in the rural habitats
  • Within a city there are pockets that are highly developed while some are semi-developed and some are completely ignored for example the sheer difference in the layout and upkeep of Lodhi Estate v/s Shahdara in N. Delhi; Banjara Hills v/s Nallakunta in Hyderabad; Bandra Bandstand v/s Dadar in Mumbai et al. The difference in the amenities in the elite v/s middle-class localities is shamefully blatant - It's as though one has to pay a price for not being economically strong enough to acquire property in a posher locality. This discrimination doesn't make any sense considering the property tax collected so aggressively by the civic administration is calculated and charged using the same unit rates across all localities, elite or otherwise.
I am not sad anymore, I am now furious with this senseless state of affairs. I think I am as entitled to good civic infrastructure as the denizen of any other developed country is. As a citizen of India I believed it’s my right to be provided enabling civic infrastructure.... Or is it?
Propelled by this desire to better understand my entitlements as an Indian citizen I looked up for supporting information only to realize that;
The word “infrastructure” occurs just twice in the Constitution of India......
…….quite innocuously only in context of a district &/or a metropolitan planning committee preparing a ‘draft development plan’ and submitting to the GOI. (Ref: Part IXA.—The Municipalities.—Arts. 243ZB—243ZD.)
Neither the fundamental rights nor the directive principles touched upon this aspect in any specific detail.
I do understand the times were very different when our sacred constitution was drafted, adopted and enacted. I fully comprehend the fact that all aspects covered under fundamental rights and directive principles were of paramount importance for a nation that just liberated itself from alien rule & as a diverse people that were yet to get the full import of governing themselves and in understanding what it actually takes to behaving as a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.
Sixty nine long years hence though the rights as perceived by an average globally-aware Indian citizen are far more evolved though not very frequently voiced. A mere ‘right to life’ won’t suffice no more, there has to be necessarily a ‘right to a right quality of life’.
Even if as a symbolic gesture towards triggering an attitudinal change that we so badly need to make, I as a citizen of India request the prime minister of India & ‘the state’ (as defined in constitution of India) to initiate an amendment to the constitution that;
  1. Expands the list of Fundamental Rights by including of “Right to quality civic infrastructure”
  2. Expands the bandwidth of Directive Principles to reflect the above inclusion as a necessary duty of the state
  3. Expands the scope of Fundamental Duties to make maintenance & upkeep of civic infrastructure as much a duty of the citizen as it is of the state
Let's give the rational & ambitious gen-Y of our country a more compelling reason to be proud of their country than continuing to burden them with an expectation of unquestioned nationalistic pride.
I request all my fellow citizens to support this petition by signing it (& sharing it on their social networks) thereby making a meaningful impact on the 69th Indian Independence day!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Don’t serve noodles al Dente

Like for most of my generation & the later ones, Maggi has been an integral part of my growing up and I felt it’s my nostalgic duty to put up a defense in favor of its beleaguered maker. However as more details started emerging, it became clear to me that an outright defense will be an aberration. So here I go serving up a steaming bowl of instant wisdom to Nestle.
React don’t respond
When trust issues like these crop-up, a quick reaction from the effected brand, however half-baked, will still help assuage the consumer fears than a measured but delayed response would – a typical consumer will only view this time-lag as hesitation (stemming from guilt..) and hence lose faith.
Now again, even this measured response shouldn’t come across as an ill-articulated stand that raises more questions than it answers. CEO Paul Buckle says “Nestlé’s safety measures and standards are same all over the world” - Safety measures, perhaps yes but this statement can’t be factual when it comes to standards as these can differ depending on the market – If Paul meant to say Nestlé’s compliance adherence is the same all over the world, he should say that. This clarity becomes that much more significant given the lack of clear-set of applicable standards in the Indian context & hence one sees FSSAI oft-quoting FDA while interpreting various facets of the results.
Screw brevity, be verbose
Any attorney worth his salt will vouch for the fact that there are no short cuts to drafting safe harbor clauses & the more verbose; the lower is the chance of it being interpreted unsuitably.
It’s perhaps not a lie when Nestle says ‘No MSG added” & it is absolutely possible that the proteins within the noodles & taste-maker put together can throw up a peak for glutamic acid on the chromatogram. But considering FDA clearly considers this label as misbranding and as misleading the consumer, Nestle should’ve used some discretion and printed a more elaborate disclaimer to the effect
‘No MSG has been added to this product during manufacture. It is however possible that the product does contain trace quantities of Glutamic acid that occurs naturally in many proteins’
Challenge the rulebook, but before breaking the rule
I believe there is some merit in Nestle contesting the test method(s) used by FSSAI et al to ascertain lead-content in Maggi and its good they want to ‘engage with the authorities’ on the same. Why wasn’t this done early on Paul? I’m sure the inadequacy of the method prescribed by FSSAI &/or BSI was crystal clear to Nestle for over two decades as compared to their probably superior internal STP – what’s the consequence of talking about method integrity after failing?
It is also a valid contention that applying lead-limit set for noodles to the separately-packed taste-maker isn't logical and that it should be sufficient if the combined ingredients meet the limit. But again it's not clear why Nestle chose to ignore this potential risk of regulator considering both as separate products while enforcing limits.   
Finally, isn’t it a regulatory thumb rule that in order to comply with a specific standard, product should be tested using the prescribed method of the regulator & not by the manufacturer’s internal method?
Don’t serve noodles al Dente
That’s for pasta. So rather than quoting technicalities, tell the consumer clearly what they can expect and expect consistently. The consumer deserves to know that your latest variant is approved or if it is still a test marketed item.
Trusted brands need to work on keeping the consumer trust – it’s a double edged sword. No company let alone a top brand like Nestle can afford to get complacent in any market about quality, compliance and transparency however lackadaisical the enforcement is &/or however half-aware the consumers there are of their rights - This is tantamount to a brand-harakiri & for no noble purpose either.
A final dash of taste-maker
Since my intention was a defense to start with I would still close it thus – I believe Nestle has the requisite stature, maturity and still sufficient consumer trust to pull itself up from this mess and shine again.
This war-on-Maggi by the Indian regulators will hopefully stir other slumbering giants in food & pharma industry who have gotten used to using the Indian regulatory lacunae & its ineffective enforcement to their advantage and instead start prioritizing consumer interest above all.
As for the warring lords in the Indian regulatory arena, my appeal is three fold
  • Keep up the heat and not just on Nestle
  • Demand compliance but only after setting & implementing standards
  • Let science prevail not sentiment
Wake-up and smell the soup!
Post thought - 08 June '15
It's imminent that the Maggi saga will rake-up a huge public debate with respect to the general quality of the mostly uncontrolled unprocessed food out there in India. While this sounds great, I’m worried this unplanned extrapolation may bloat-up the debate & dilute its impact.
Before throwing in unprocessed food into the simmering pot of processed-food debate, it should be noted that the challenges with unprocessed foods are a very different devil and it's more an public distribution issue while Maggi noodle fuss is all about enforcement & adherence to quality standards for processed food.
Also, this is a more immediately addressable consumer rights issue as problem with quality of processed food amounts to a breach of contract between seller/ maker & buyer/ consumer. A much complex scenario however will be in play for unprocessed food where such clear definition of roles isn’t easy and the debate cannot solely happen on the merit of what an end-consumer expects.
For the sake of efficiency I think it'd be ideal for regulators & activists alike to channel the current enthusiasm towards addressing the gaps in processed food segment first - else it could be a classic case of biting off more than one can chew.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why did Scott Adams give up on Venture Capital?

More than the brilliant humor & the tough to ignore desi-connect called Vijay, what caught my attention in today's DILBERT section of Times-of-India was the date of strip itself viz., 1.20.09 - Now that's pretty dated even for an average Indian newspaper that's stuck in a time-warp when it comes to being current on syndicated comic content.
My subsequent query on the website revealed that there're no strips on either 'venture capital' or 'venture capitalist' after the above strip of 2009 – Whoa! If that isn't disillusionment what is? particularly considering how the age-old crib of 'VC model being broken' got a lot more traction post the recession-wreaked 2009 and that would've meant a lot more meat for Scott to chew on!
I wonder why Scott gave up on this wonderful pun-amenable character called VC so very unceremoniously.
VC = Vijay = No good?
Of course I did search for more strips of my compatriot Vijay too. It was rather interesting to note how this chap’s tagline/ descriptor changed from "Vijay, the world's most desperate venture capitalist" in 2005 to "Vijay the venture capitalist" in 2008 to "Vijay, the world's worst venture capitalist" in 2009 ---- Despite my respect & awe for Scott Adams, I can't help but wonder if there's a botched-up fundraising behind this obvious gripe.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Satya Nadella - A defense that is not one

One more treatise on the Karma guy’s woes - couldn't resist the temptation to jump on to the bandwagon, my bad!
One cannot discount for the fact that as a male he could potentially have some level of bias and foggy view of gender-equality which may have influenced his initial response which in hindsight does sound a tad too casual for the kind of platform it was – I’m not still going to pursue that angle here since enough debate is already happening out there.
My focus here is on some obvious racial backlash against Nadella using this incident as a ruse/ excuse & what's said here is relevant only to the section of netizens whose foremost view of Nadella seems to be that of an Asian-Indian & not as a successful, self-made American corporate/tech executive.
This current racial slur is evident in the following refrains;
  • Calling into question his competence (Indian) to handle the top-job of an American corporation vis-à-vis other more 'deserving' (European?) contenders
  • His ethno-cultural, rustic! (India, Hindu?) roots perpetuating his patriarchal, rigid approach to gender
  • His (in)ability to articulate his position well during the initial comment & in his subsequent explanation (non-native English speaker?)
Ironically, many pursuing this angle seem more cock-sure about the meaning of 'Karma' than Nadella himself who, whether or not a practicing Hindu, will still understand better the context & consequence of Karma at a subconscious level given the all pervasiveness of it in an Indian context – this is not to say he’s a saint who knows his pearls of wisdom, but to underscore that misinterpretation of karma is a distinct possibility if the meaning has been merely googled up.
Given his upbringing in an multicultural urban set-up, in a socially sensitized & progressive familial environment; my own understanding of the shared cultural ethos & social metric he'd have been exposed to & going by the fact that he made it to top on his own steam in a foreign country, I'd believe Satya Nadella understands the implications of discrimination at work of different types, is perhaps more gender sensitive than many mono-cultural tech-executives in the US of A and as articulate in English, if not more, than most native speakers of that language. Ponder this, if the Indian, Hindu angle were absent from his profile, he'd surely have been interpreted far more reasonably by the currently raving minority out there & here.
By all means, rip him apart on what he said or didn't for weeks & months to come, but only while treating him an ‘American male tech-CEO’ & NOT as a ‘Indian-Hindu male & a compromise CEO of an American corporation’
Like any, this too shall pass. But let this not leave a bitter aftertaste of racial prejudice for the hard-working aliens in the land of opportunity.
POST THOUGHT: 16 October 2014
In Telugu, which is Satya Nadella's native tongue (also mine), the term 'Karma/ Kharma' is typically used in the context of acknowledging consequences of one’s action. The most commonly used phrase is Naa kharma, anubhavinchaka tappadu, which can be translated as 'I have to bear the consequences that come my way' – It should be noted here that the individual doesn't clarify if the consequences are of his/her actions or someone else’s. Another common usage is Evari karma ki vaarey baadhyulu which translates as 'an individual owns complete responsibility of dealing with consequences of his karma'.
Effectively, in Telugu, the term Karma is used as a philosophical refrain/ reproach (to self or others) that conveys the sense that "an individual has to own up & deal with the consequences of his karma, be it good or bad". So after all, If not his initial botched-up response, Nadella's subsequent patch-up message to his employees does seem to have some influence of his linguistic roots :-)
Image Courtesy: Seattle Times

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An open letter to the Indian Prime Minister-designate

Dear Mr. Modi,

Heartiest congratulations on receiving a clear and emphatic mandate from the people across India!

I always believed great leadership is what India needs at the current juncture and in your relatively successful demonstration of a development based governance model in Gujarat and in your super-effective execution of the poll blitzkrieg unleashed by BJP, I see a definite promise of this leadership need getting fulfilled.

Cynicism however being the hallmark of an oft-let-down individual/ population, I am a tad cynical despite nurturing a predominant hope of seeing a promise materialize. Upon introspection, I realize that my current bout of cynicism has been triggered by what I repeatedly hear about this verdict of Indian population being a mandate against corruption; a mandate for a long overdue Indian-spring, no less & finally a mandate for development.

Mandate for development? Probably yes. But is it against corruption & pro-clean governance too? The cynic in me doesn’t agree….

I’m cynical largely since a small but a startling fact I’ve stumbled upon pretty much trashes the claim of this election being a mandate against corruption; the fact being that AAP that contested on a national scale on an anti-corruption platform manages a mere 2% vote share and trails behind the 2.5% of an upstart regional party that symbolizes everything corrupt in Indian polity.

Even if I discount this as owing to the tell-tale impact of an escapist-legacy that AAP couldn’t shrug-off, this for sure underscores the fact that corruption wasn’t the top-of-the-mind issue for the average Indian citizen headed for the polling booth & there was every sign out there to say that money flowed like water in this general election and a significant proportion of the voting junta had had a field time letting one party out-bid the other.

I am cynical also because in the revamped scheme of things within your party, the past blemished have sauntered back right-in and have been duly resurrected and reinstated honourably, all in the larger context of coming to power and providing an alternative to the chronically fatigued dynasty that grappled with corruption at all levels.

Finally, I am cynical because there is this improvised practical theory gaining ground among the Indian citizens that corruption isn’t a big issue as long as development happens & within the narrower realm of visible development.

I absolutely loved it Narendra bhai, when during the victory speech at Vadodara, you reiterated the importance of inclusiveness in development. Unlike many liberals who raised an eyebrow on what you didn’t state explicitly, I indeed understand you meant to include all segments of population in the development process without malice towards any one in particular. I know for sure anyone who has come to power on such a unique mandate, much less you, would waste such an opportunity by indulging in antics that result in polarization & marginalization of a specific segment. Only, I’m worried that all this inferred disengagement between development & corruption in the Indian psyche shouldn’t end up making inclusion merely a term to denote equitable sharing of spoils among a corrupt polity and a corruptible populace, irrespective of region, community or caste.

Notwithstanding the oft-employed reproach that Indian growth rate over the past few years has been way above the rate of most advanced countries’, I know you understand well that we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples here & in reality India lags behind these nations in infrastructure and civic amenities by a decade at the least. I trust that you fully realize that development at this scale isn’t possible merely by launching or going after symbolic, disjointed developmental initiatives that neither impact the quality of life nor help improve the perception of an ever-doubting international community on India’s capability to operate as a transparent & corruption-free business nation.

Cynicism apart, I am thrilled by the fact that the clear mandate will help you avoid the oh-so-typical arm-twisting, blackmailing politics of the coalition/ alliance governments and this in-turn will allow you to focus on executing your vision that much more smoothly and without hindrance. Given this and given your own leadership potential this is the closest, I suspect, India would ever get to an Indian spring.

I’m positive Mr. Prime Minister-Designate that you’ll seize this moment to redefine the paradigm & give me a reason or a score to feel more proud of being an Indian wherever I go.

I wish you, your cabinet and all Indian citizens the very best in the days to come!

Acchey din…, bas ab aane hee chaahiye!!

Respectfully yours,
A fellow Indian