Cause and Effect

On 15th April, the Delhi government took the decision to introduce the odd-even scheme for another fifteen days. Once again, private vehicles with an odd-numbered licence plate can run only on odd days and, even-numbered ones only on even days.

It appears the scheme has been reintroduced at the first available opportunity because the original odd-even scheme, introduced in January for fifteen days, was a resounding failure and did nothing to solve the problem it was introduced for, that of reducing atmospheric pollution in Delhi.

But what it did do during those fifteen days in January, as our leaders have discovered, is that it seemed to have resulted in some reduction in traffic on the roads. Quite against the run of play, it seems. Now who would have guessed that if you prohibit half the cars from coming onto the roads, the number of cars on the road will reduce.

At least not the Delhi CM, alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). How, then, can one blame the Delhi government for not knowing?

Displaying maturity and foresight far beyond any political mandate, Delhi’s political leadership has decided that atmospheric pollution, a raging issue just three months back, does not need to be solved any more. Till, of course, it becomes an unsolvable issue once again next winter, requiring drastic measures that don’t work. Which gets solved once again by the onset of the following summer, creating bigger problems to solve.

As is the case this year. Freed from the yoke of solving the pollution issue, as summer is now raging in Delhi, the government has reintroduced the odd-even scheme, this time to reduce traffic on the roads. Like atmospheric pollution, traffic needs to be reduced only for fifteen days. Of course, as with all good schemes, it has been reintroduced because of pressure from the public.

Quite a handy scheme this odd-even is turning out to be. First it is introduced to reduce atmospheric pollution which it does not. Now it is introduced to reduce traffic on the roads. Wonder what else it can be introduced for? For solving the issue of the plunging water table? For providing food to the poor? Poor performance of Delhi Daredevils in IPL? European refugee crisis?

One wonders if any other scheme will ever be required…

The big question everyone is asking is; what will the scheme solve this time. Last time it was introduced to solve the pollution issue and ended up reducing traffic on the roads. As this time it has been introduced for reducing traffic on the roads, it cannot be expected to reduce traffic on the roads. One wonders what it will really solve. At every corner tea-shop, in every metro coach, people are busy guessing the problem that the odd-even scheme will solve this time. Radio jockeys are having a field day running contests for people to guess the problem the odd-even scheme of April 2016 will solve.

There is really no saying what a decision of the government might end up solving.

A senior minister in the AAP government in Delhi, who had taken it upon himself to treat all women of visibly foreign looks as being of questionable character and personally led police teams to raid their homes, is preparing to start these raids once again.

“We don’t know what we might end up solving,” he looked somberly into the horizon and stated, while putting on his helmet in preparation for the raid later in the night.

In Gurgaon, or Gurugram now, always eager to copy from Delhi, transport authorities are busy breaching medians on busy roads, contrary to the once popular belief of reducing criss-crossing traffic to smoothen the flow.

Their response to enquiries from the media is, “We know it will solve something. As of now we don’t know what. But we will tell you as soon as we find out. Meanwhile, expect more central medians to be breached.”

The political will to take decisions without thought and logic is back.

“I have no idea what, but I might have solved something today,” is the new war-cry of members of the Delhi cabinet.

For more details of the odd-even scheme, go to post titled ODDities and EVENtualities.

Face to Face

ECS (name changed), one of India’s largest IT companies, probably the largest, engineered a coup of sorts a few years back when they setup a female-only BPO unit in a country in the Middle East, well known for its treatment of women.

They engineered another coup when they got the Indian PM, during his recent visit to the country, to visit this Centre.

As we all know, conditions and regulations in a host country need to be respected. Even if you are the PM of a big nation. The Indian PM, full marks to him, has never been known to be non-accommodating, especially where uninterrupted oil supplies are at stake.

Though it was a secretive visit, with no coverage in the media, for obvious reasons, some photos of the PM’s visit to the centre seem to be emerging.  We bring these images to the readers of darkofficehumour for their reading and watching pleasure.

Remember, you saw them here first.

The PM walking in with the CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons, the majority owner of ECS

The PM walking in with the CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons (name changed), the holding company of ECS

PM having High Tea with staff, alongwith serious discussions

PM having High Tea with staff, alongwith serious discussions

A worried CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons wondering how to locate the PM in the crowd

A worried CEO of ECS and Chairman of Mata Sons wondering how to locate the PM in the crowd

The PM in the crowd

The PM somewhere in the crowd

 

Moment of alarm as an unidentifiable object sighted in the background; subsequent investigations revealing it to be a male of the species

Moment of alarm as an unidentifiable object sighted in the background; subsequent investigations revealing it to be a male of the species

 

Management team of the Centre standing separate from the staff, like in any self-respecting organisation

Management team of the Centre standing separate from the staff, like in any self-respecting organization. These people are quick learners!

Posing with the PM. Looks like an amateur photographer!

Posing with the PM at the end of the visit. Looks like an amateur photographer!

 

These images underscore the importance of this visit. From the expressions on the faces of the participants it is clear that historical changes are afoot.

Remember, you saw it here first!

Party Hall

My favourite people are at it again.

No, I am not talking about politicians.

I am not talking about business-people either.

And, neither am I talking about spiritual leaders.

I am talking about the faithful; the followers of the spiritual leaders.

They were there when a geriatric spiritual leader was accused of rape and forced confinement by two young women.

They were there, with their infirm and frail, thronging to the retreat of the spiritual leader who saw visions of some 15th century mystics, raised a private army and used children hostage as he kept law-enforcement agencies at bay with firearms.

And they are there, in thousands, at every townhall meeting held by another spiritual leader, popular on TV, who randomly imagines objects associated with a memory or experience a suffering devotee has shared; it could be a tree, a stone, a cow, or anything else. Anything. If the devotee is able to see the object imagined by this guru, the cure involves him doing an act suggested by the leader that he has not done before. If he has done that already, the cure requires him to stop doing it, or undoing it. In case he fails to see the object, which is rare, the burly security guards help him see the light.

I used to often lie awake at night, worrying for this leader. Since rape and firearm brandishing had already been taken, I would wonder if he had any means still at his disposal to distinguish himself in this crowded space.

But I needn’t have worried. Spiritual leaders will find a path.

The latest path laid out for my favourite people leads to the World Culture Festival being organised in Delhi. By yet another organisation run by yet another renowned spiritual leader. They will be there. In millions.

Because this is a private function, the army, funded by taxpayer money, has been called in to erect pontoon bridges over the Yamuna to make the venue accessible. And not without good reason. After all, as a ministry spokesperson has explained, do we want a rusty army to protect our borders? What better practice to keep them in shape than working like daily-wage labourers to construct a pontoon bridge for a private show. The shape that guarding the borders in frozen Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield, or working as part of a multinational Peace Keeping Force operating under the UN banner in Africa, and many others, could not give them.

In addition, of course, to “in public interest”, that most transparent and explicit of terms.

To do their bit for the highly respected forces, patriotic citizens are sending invitations to the army to come and fix their light-bulbs and mow their lawns. What if I cannot guard the nation’s borders. I can contribute by keeping the armed forces in good shape. And because it will be “in public interest”. Such patriotism never fails to move me.

And because doing so has been banned by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the function is being held on the flood plains of the Yamuna, facilitated by No Objection certificates from several agencies. And because it is such a sensitive subject, the only other structure allowed to come up is an ancient temple constructed fifteen or so years back.

Apparently flood-plain destruction could lead to floods. But how is a spiritual leader, or anyone else, to know? Did anyone know that topography alteration and unchecked human activity on the riverside, could make the Uttarakhand floods a few years back so devastating, before the devastation happened? Could anyone know that haphazard construction along the banks of lakes, blocking channels which would have normally allowed rain water to drain out, would cause unprecedented floods in Chennai, before the floods happened? How is anyone to know that flood-plain destruction could lead to floods, before they actually happen?

The spiritual guru, himself, has spoken about how 100,000 volunteers had been releasing eco-enzymes into the Yamuna to improve the river’s water quality and the improvement could be gauged from the fact that water buffaloes, which had shunned the river in the past, had now come back to it. Since these enzymes have neither been tested by any scientific body for their efficacy, nor has the organisation asked for permission from the Central Board of Pollution Control before releasing them, what the guru is saying must be true. Moreover, these eco-enzymes are so effective that they do not appear to have been used for cleaning-up and other major river system.

Moreover, now the Central government has also given him a character certificate and clarified that his intentions cannot be doubted as he is committed to protecting the environment. They know.

In all fairness, the Delhi government has responded to the questions asked by NGT and washed its hands off the controversy, citing conflict of interest. They come into the picture only if there are floods, they have clarified. They have no role to play in preventing floods. And it is logical, they say. If they were to prevent floods from happening, how would they ever get to discharge their duty in the event of floods as there would be no floods.

Even Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has objected to being unfairly targeted by NGT. “We have only issued a No Objection certificate. It does not mean they start building. Where in our certificate does it say they can go ahead and build?”

Answer that.

The Prime Minister and President have been slated to participate as is a private function. Like they participate in private functions of the common man. The President, since, appears to have withdrawn.

An NGT bench has directed the organisers to pay Rupees 5 crores as environmental compensation, down from the 120 crores apparently being considered at one stage, and permitted the event to go ahead. As can be expected from a spiritual organisation, it does not appear to be facing any difficulty in paying this fairly substantial amount, even though it says it is considering an appeal in the Supreme Court against this order. So that my favourite people, with perhaps many political leaders, bureaucrats and business leaders in their ranks, can go and benefit from the spiritual experience that starts today.

A leading businessman, meanwhile, seeing an opportunity that only successful, seasoned businesspersons can, has applied to DDA for holding his daughter’s birthday party next month on the Yamuna flood-plains alongwith a request to the Army to serve drinks at the event, to keep them in shape and “in public interest”. At Rupees 5 crores (approx. USD 750,000) for 3 days for a space of 48 acres, that could be illegally expanded to cover a thousand acres, it sounds like a great bargain. The Yamuna flood-plains could become the most sought-after Party Hall yet.

Free Basics

Big business is at it again. Doing what they are best at. Making the world a better place. By telling us what is good for us.

According to some reports, Facebook has spent close to a hundred million US dollars in promoting Free Basics in India. How’s that for a start to altruism?

Free Basics, for the uninitiated, is a concept being promoted by Facebook, alongwith Reliance, one of India’s largest business houses, who are about to launch their 4G enabled mobile telephony services, whereby a certain set of websites will be made available for free to all users. Accessing websites beyond this permitted list will attract charges.

As is always the case in India, the lesser the understanding about an issue, the more the number of people offering knowledgeable opinions, including yours truly. While some of the debate has been on the role of Telcos in a society, whether they should merely be the conduits of Voice and Data, charging on the basis of volume, or whether they should have a say, and interest, in what passes through their network, most of the uninformed knowledgeable voices have been on the role and interest of Facebook and its founder and primary shareholder, who we will refer to as MZ, which, clearly, is everyone’s business.

In order to cut through the dross of uninformed debate, and present the real picture to the public, MZ agreed to an interview with a prominent reporter of a leading daily. Here are some extracts from the freewheeling interaction.

Reporter: Thank you for joining us today MZ. I know you are a busy man. Let me come straight to the point. Why are you promoting Free Basics?

MZ: After creating a successful business, a lot of responsibility is thrust upon you. People look up to you. It becomes your responsibility to decide what others should do. We have decided that others should follow Free Basics.

Reporter: Thank you. That is very eloquently explained. Tell me, why is Free Basics important?

MZ: That is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is “what will happen if there is no Free Basics?”

Reporter, sheepishly: OK, what will happen if there is no Free Basics?

MZ: Nothing. Absolutely nothing will happen if there is no Free Basics. Hence all the more reason we introduce it without any delay. Before this realisation becomes common knowledge.

Reporter, mentally clicking another “Like” for the answer: You have decided on a Free Basics model where you define the websites that a User will get access to. How did you decide on these websites?

MZ: All our decisions are guided by one mission; of helping people. The websites included are the ones which people really need for their day to day activities. Like Facebook. Isn’t that what a poor farmer in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, praying for rain while sowing seeds in the searing heat, really need? Isn’t that what a hard-working miner in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, while working underground in the peat mines, where he cannot even access the net, really need?

Reporter, clearly impressed with MZ’s passion for helping people: What about the other sites?

MZ, without noticing the interruption by the Reporter: …and the list has been rounded off by adding other popular websites in each category, which nobody has heard of; like Jagran Josh for Career and Jobs, instead of Naukri and Monster. It was a lot of hard work, unearthing sites that nobody has ever used. But I am thankful to our dedicated team that we have filled all categories.

Reporter: There is some research you have quoted that in 50% of the cases, after a User has tasted the Internet, within 30 days he starts accessing it on a paid basis. Does that not defeat the purpose of providing Internet for free?

MZ: Don’t you want to see development in this country? If the poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh, or the hard-working miner in Jharkhand, cannot contribute to making Facebook shares rise year after year, how will you call them developed?

Reporter: Would it not have been better to give a certain amount of data free of cost? That way, they could visit the sites that are useful to them, and also limit the time spent on surfing.

MZ, displaying signs of exasperation: Did you grow up in a socialist state? Looks like you don’t understand the meaning of freedom and democracy. In a democratic society, freedom is the right to choose from the list that big business and government have dished up for your own good. Do you want to create anarchy? Everyone accessing websites that are useful to them. Unthinkable!

MZ, while waiting for the Reporter to recover from this outburst: Besides, if he got what he wanted for free, why would he ever graduate to become a paying user of the Net and become developed?

Reporter, a little defensively, having no words to counter that iron-clad logic: One hears that none among what we call developed countries have opted for Free Basics. The only countries which have permitted some form of Free Basics are Uganda, Tanzania and Philippines and a few others.

MZ: There are many reasonable nations in the world. They see reason as soon as I offer to buy out their country with Facebook shares.

Reporter: You have spent a hundred million dollars in promoting FB. Would the money not have been better spent if you had used it to create Internet accounts for a million people.

MZ: You need to get your facts right. We have not spent a single cent on promoting Free Basics. We have run a campaign to educate people so that they understand what is good for them. Are you questioning the value of education?

Reporter, side-stepping the question: It appears that you are trying to bring about a change in the functioning of Telcos. Though run by private corporations in many countries, Telcos are still primarily viewed as utilities providing a basic service.

MZ: Look, you can only do so much. If Telcos don’t understand that complicating an existing, working model, without adding any value to the ecosystem, is what is good for them, there is not much that I can do.

MZ, suddenly becoming agitated: Your Prime Minister promised unfettered access to the Indian market when he hugged me in Menlo Park a couple of months back. Indian Telcos better agree!

And, on that conciliatory note, the interview ended.

We are all better informed and better placed to decide what big business and government have decided for us.

ODDities and EVENtualities

No prizes for guessing what this is about. The title pretty much gives it away.

In a bid to reduce atmospheric pollution and improve the ambient air quality, that, thanks to the joint efforts of the common man and successive governments over several decades, has snowballed out of control, the Delhi government has decided that, beginning 1st January, only cars with even numbered plates will be allowed to run on even days and odd numbered ones on, you guessed it, odd days.

Their hand has been forced. They have had to resort to take this step because other, more reasonable, permanent measures, that would permit the common man the luxury of choice, have never been tried, and hence can be classified as totally ineffective. Like charging a substantially higher price for gas-guzzling vehicles. Like a road-pricing system that deters driving and parking in the city. Like an enforcement of simple traffic rules such as parking to ease needless jams. Like closing down illegal factories. Like regulating construction activities in the city. What is the government to do?

A similar mandate had once been issued in the capital of a big country, to the North and East of ours, with an even larger population. My fellow common men and women had marvelled at how quickly they had been able to take decisive steps, without bothering about process and consensus, in the interest of the nation, and how we have been mired in bureaucracy while attempting to take similar steps.

As soon as Delhi Chief Minister (CM) announced that cars with odd and even numbered plates will be allowed on odd and even dates, without bothering too much about process and consensus, my fellow common men and women have broken out in criticism, of the CM taking unilateral decisions without respecting the democratic fabric of our society and the impact of such decisions on the common man.

That the decision has been well thought through and all possible angles examined is evident from the fact that the government has promised to repeal this arrangement by the 15th of January, if the common man is inconvenienced, pollution be damned.

For the convenience of the common man, emergency vehicles, ambulance, fire, hospital, prison, hearse, enforcement vehicles, vehicles of paramilitary forces, Ministry of Defence, pilot and escort, vehicles of SPG protectees and vehicles bearing diplomatic corps registration numbers would be exempted from this rule. As will be the vehicles of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta.

As, indeed, will be vehicles of persons with disability, two-wheelers, buses, CNG vehicles, women drivers with women co-passengers and children upto 12 years of age and vehicles of persons in a medical emergency carrying proof; like a body, perhaps.

The remaining vehicles, if any, will be managed by a posse of cops withdrawn from other unimportant duties around the capital where they are deployed despite not being required so that they can be withdrawn on a whim, as well as an army of volunteers, drawn from their various important tasks of doing nothing.

In order that the arrangement gets a “trial by fire” in real-life conditions, schools in Delhi have been ordered shut till 15th January in order to decongest roads.

The Delhi government hopes to launch an App for car-pooling and giving lifts to strangers. In a display of responsible governance, it has appealed to people to avoid giving lifts to strangers for security reasons.

Meanwhile, capacity created on roads, if any, will be quickly absorbed by making new, bigger buildings, with even more grossly inadequate parking spaces, and narrowing down passageways with the help of unauthorised parking. As was so effectively done when the Delhi metro came into being and took away, we are told, some load from the roads. While absorption of road space has been planned for, it is not yet clear how the reduced pollution, if any, will be replaced, so that another hurried decision, to reduce it and save the lives of common men and women, can be taken in the future. The CM has appealed to the common man to play his part if he desires to be saved again in the future.

Vilified they may be for taking this decision, one has to grant, even if grudgingly, that the Delhi government has taken a bold step. And, in doing so, they have opened up a gloriously simple and effective path for solving many of the internecine problems plaguing the world, so that we can live together and happily, if not ever after, at least longer.

Crimes against women, committed by men, as they almost always are, will soon be history. The state government is about to issue a decree to permit men and women out on the streets on odd and even days. Only persons with disability, women with other women and children upto 12 years of age, persons in a medical emergency carrying proof, paramilitary forces, SPG protectees, diplomatic corps, the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, Governors of states/ Lt Governor, Chief Justice of India, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, Chief Ministers of states except Delhi, judges of Supreme Court and High Court and Lokayukta, will be exempt.

We can look forward to a future of rock-solid fixed-line quality connections on our mobile phones. Only even numbered phones will be allowed to function on even days, and odd numbered ones on odd days.

Death caused by irresponsible use of private fire-arms will be reduced to half by permitting only arms with an even-number registration to fire irresponsibly of even days, and, you guessed it again, odd-numbered ones on odd days.

This could change the world.

It already is changing the world. Fighting to be in the race to save the world from drowning in pollution, a village in Italy has banned the making of pizzas in wood-fired ovens, while Japan has banned smoking between 9 AM and 12 noon on weekdays. In an effort to not get left behind in the race to save the world, the Nordic countries have come together to ban walking and cycling and introduced a steep tax on all cars that are not SUVs. Found wanting in their ability to further improve the quality of their air, they hope these steps will position them well to contribute to this noble cause when the need to save the world arises the next time.

While the city celebrates, a citizen group has struck a sour note by asking the Delhi government for a refund of half of the road-tax car owners have to pay at the time of buying a car. “If you are not permitting me to use my car half the time, you can only charge 50% of the amount,” is the logic.

But the government is not letting such trifles worry them. After all, they have the power of inadequate assessment and hurried decision-making on their side.

Train of thought

I have been invited by a friend from college days to his hometown for his 50th birthday bash next week. He lives in a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

I hooked up with another college friend living in Gurgaon, who was also invited, hoping that we could travel together.

“We have the option of going on the 14th night by train which reaches at 4 AM in the morning on the 15th. Or else we could take a flight on the 15th,” I confidently updated him as I had done some research on the tickets.

“Flight? To where?,” came his response, aware as he was that this small town did not boast of an airport.

“Bhopal”, I informed him. “It is then a 3 hour drive from Bhopal to his town.”

He said, absent-mindedly, “Not sure if we should take the train. The night will get messed up. We won’t be able to sleep properly if we have to get off at 4 AM. And, if that happens, we will not be able to enjoy the celebrations later that day.”

He seemed to have a point. I added, nodding, “And we could also end up messing up the night for the person who will pick us up from the station at that unearthly hour.”

There was silence at the other end of the phone line. Suddenly, the phone crackled again, “Most likely it is a poor taxi driver. And, it might disturb the sleep of his wife as well who may be getting up to ensure that her husband at least gets a cup of tea before he leaves home.” He sounded concerned. He had clearly been thinking about what I had said.

I could see where he was going, and added my concern, “What about their children? Their sleep could also be disturbed on account of the commotion in the house. Most likely they live in a small house. They may need to miss school that day.”

He was quick to understand. He said, “And if they have exams going on, as many schools do in December, they might have to miss an important exam.”

I was horrified. I said, “Noooo… That means they may have to fail the grade. They might be forced to repeat the year. Not only that, they will become the laughing stock of their peer group, and outcasts in the junior class they are forced to join.”

He said, slowly, weighing each word, “And       that     could      be     their     first     step      towards      juvenile      delinquency. They could get into acts of petty crime in order to show their defiance to the world.”

I said, “And small acts of crime, if unchecked, eventually lead to bigger acts of crime. Encouraged by their small deeds of crime, they may even run away from home to a big city hoping to make it big in the world of crime.”

“Can you even imagine what their parents would go through if that happens? They may have been able to handle petty acts of crime and bring them back in line, but surely their running away would devastate the parents”, he rightly pointed out.

“It could lead their mother into a state of permanent depression. Perhaps even an early death. The father would probably neglect his work and run around looking for his children. And that road eventually only leads to the bottle,” I said.

“The children, meanwhile, having somehow reached the big city, might have to face the harsh realities of life. They may have to beg for food on the streets,” he suggested, as if from experience. I knew where it was coming from. I shared that experience with my friend.

“And who knows, they could become eager recruits for one of the many crime syndicates who keep looking for recruits for their cause all the time,” I said, trying to objectively look ahead, based on extensive knowledge on the subject from years of watching Bollywood movies, especially about twins separated at birth or in the local fair.

“And one day, having achieved a modicum of success in the underworld, they might return to their town to look for their parents. Finding their mother dead and father gone to waste could only incite hatred against the world, for causing such untold misery and pain to them and their parents, and motivate them to take revenge,” he said confidently.

“And, as we know, anger can cause a dropping of your guard and lead to mistakes. In such a state one can become blind to dangers. They could invite the wrath of law-enforcement agencies, leading to either arrest or elimination in an encounter,” I added.

Even the thought of such a possibility was too much to bear.

He asked, “Do you want to be responsible for the untimely death of two school-going children and their mother, and the father going to waste over drink?”

I responded, “No, do you?”

“Not at all,” he responded without a moment’s hesitation. My chest swelled with pride. There was a reason he was my friend.

We decided to make informed, responsible choices. We decided we will not go by the train that reaches at 4 AM the next morning. We decided to take the flight, narrowly averting the calamitous chain of events we could have triggered had we taken the train.