Monday, December 3, 2012

BRST: A dream turning into a nightmare

If you have ever visited Ahmedabad you are very likely to know about BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System). Its not the first of its kind in the country but it is arguably the only one that still functions properly. It was started to reduce the traffic on the roads. Ahmedabad did not have a good public transport system apart from the city buses. BRTS was envisaged to be a cheap and fast way of transport in the city.

BRTS Ahmedabad has won a lot of national and international awards. It has been successful in reducing pollution by reducing the number of vehicles on the street. Ahmedabad has a population of over 70 lakh and BRTS is the first step in creating a good public transport system.

I traveled on the BRTS bus in the very first week it started. They were amazing. Comfortable seats, cheap tickets, well thought out route and courteous staff. It felt like the city was finally moving in the right direction with regard to traffic management. A lot of people started using the BRTS instead of their personal vehicles. I started using it instead of using an auto rickshaw.

Everything seemed to be working well until BRTS became a victim of its own popularity. It is estimated that more than 60 thousand people travel in the BRTS everyday! That's a lot of traffic for what is, as of now, a limited fleet of buses.

The problems with BRTS right now are:

  • The buses which ply on the route are already started breaking down. I am not sure if its because of the way they are used or because of the quality of the buses from the beginning. Seats have started breaking and the automatic doors don't work properly. 
  • BRTS drivers drive very rashly. The number of accidents that occur on the route every month is a sign of it. I mean, how hard is it to drive a bus in a dedicated lane on the road? 
  • The ticketing system is manual which means that there is a railway station like que at every BRTS station. If you really want to save time and make it convenient for the passengers then I guess automatic ticketing counters, like they have in some of the foreign countries is the way to go. Smart cards have recently been introduced but by and large most people still use the normal ticketing system. It is a waste of time and precious resources. 
  • There is no limit on the number of passengers in one bus. So during peak hours, all the buses are filled way beyond capacity. Its almost like a Mumbai local train. This happens because the number of buses are less compared to the number of passengers. 
So, what can be done?
  • Proper training should be given to drivers so that accidents do not occur on the route. They should be held accountable for the accidents that occur due to their error. They should be asked to not speed needlessly and brake suddenly. It causes passengers to fall over one another and injure themselves. 
  • Increase the number of buses and limit the number of people in a bus. It is my rough estimate that the bus has 50-60 seats. Close to 30 people can easily stand in the bus. So, if we limit the number of people in a bus to 100, it would mean that everyone in the bus would be comfortable. I know that it means a lot of people will have to wait for another bus just because the bus that has come has no capacity but I guess we have to do it so that the life of the buses and the roads and the travelling experience of the passengers is improved. An increase in the number of buses will be a big financial investment but if the journey is made more comfortable, a lot more people would take the BRTS than riding their personal vehicle. 
  • Smart cards should be encouraged. They save a lot of man hours and are also very convenient. A small discount on recharge of smart cards could be one of the options.
These are some of the small things which can go a long way in improving the BRTS experience. I traveled in a choc-a-bloc BRTS bus yesterday and heard a lot of people complain about the quality of the service. They said that this was the last time they were using BRTS. I would also not take it willingly if the situation does not improve. 

Also, I should add that people in the city do not have the simple courtesy to stand in a line to get into the bus. Whenever a bus comes to the stop everyone starts acting like the world is ending and the bus is the only place which is safe. Also, I will never understand the obsession that some people have with standing right in front of the door when their stop is 30 minutes away. Not to forget the die hard romantics who think it is mandatory to write their lovers name in all public places. Sadly, public transport in India doesn't mean it belong to everyone, it means it belong to no one. Its the people's mentality towards public assets that hurts the development of the country.
Coming back to the point, a public transport system should be something that the people of the city are proud of. This will make it more effective and help it serve its purpose. If I know that BRTS is a comfortable and efficient way to travel across the city, I will ask others to use it. The entire purpose of a public transport is defeated if the public which is meant to use it, does not think it works well. 

If the government does not do anything to improve the BRTS, this dream will definitely turn into a nightmare. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Romanticizing The Rain

I got drenched in the first rains of the season today. I usually do that. Although I am someone who never really liked rain. Rain was the annoying thing that came in between the smell of wet sand and cool breeze. I was told by someone that EVERYONE likes rains. It was supposed to have that romantic feel to it. Well, I had never felt it. For me, it was just rain. 

Until today. Today I felt kind of liberated by the rain. I felt like sitting still in a place and just letting the rain fall on me. I wanted to experience it and I did it. The rain washed away the dirt marks on my bike but along with it, it also took away the negativity that had been building up inside me. It was like a release from all inhibitions. 

After a while, I wanted to drive around the city. I wanted to watch people enjoy themselves in the rain. Watching people act in a carefree way and being happy, made me happy. A friend pointed out in the afternoon how everything looks clean and serene after it rains. Rains had calmed me down. 

After I reached home, I sat near the window and saw the rain trickle down the window. I saw it in the street light. I saw it in the lights of passing vehicles. I saw it in the moon light. I was fascinated. I put my hand out of the window and just sat there as raindrops kept bouncing over the palm of my hand. 

I now understand why people find rain romantic. It is not the boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife romantic. It seemed more platonic. I am not sure how to explain it but I am sure about one thing, it felt nice.

I've had my share of dancing in the rain for this season but I am sure that my new found love for rains will continue to grow. If you are someone who doesn't like rain then I would recommend that for once, instead of just playing in it or running to find cover, stand in an open area and experience it. It might change you. 


P.S. : The only thing that disappointed me was that there was no one around me who was nearly as hot as Kareena Kapoor or Katrina Kaif or Raveena Tandon. :P

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Satyamev Jayate

Satyameva Jayate, which literally translates to 'Truth Stands Invincible' but is popularly known as 'Truth Alone Triumphs'

In the past month and a half, it has gone on from being a phrase on the National Emblem to the name of a 'revolutionary' television show hosted by the actor/social activist Aamir Khan. The show deals with one social issue in every episode. It has dealt with Female Feticide, Child Sex Abuse, Dowry, Unethical Doctors, Inter Caste Marriages and Disability. 

The show is being touted as being 'revolutionary'. It is said to have made the 'idiot box' intelligent and smart. People wake up early (11am) just to watch this show!  Well, sorry to burst your social activist bubble but some of the presumptions you have about the show are just myths. 

Myth 1:  The show reaches out to everyone and unifies Indians against one social evil every Sunday. 

In India, television penetration is less than 25%. It means more than 750 million people in India have never seen Satyamev Jayate. So claiming that it is unifying India against a social evil is not correct. It is infact not reaching out to EVERYONE. To compare it with other shows, a newspaper article stated that Kaun Banega Crorepati's all seasons had higher average viewership than any episode of Satyamev Jayate. Yes, even the season that SRK hosted. Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chasma is almost as famous as Satyamev Jayate.

Myth 2: It's not just the show, its the discussions that take place at everyone's house after the show that are the real contribution of the show. 

Discussions don't take place in all homes. It is only a marginal number of homes in which meaningful discussions take place. Also, the homes in which discussions are taking place are the homes which would not follow any of the social evils even if the show was not aired! Discussions would have been fruitful if they happened in a home where change was required. A 'modern' home, where all family members follow social norms and are, to a greater extent, ethical, will not really benefit from just a discussion. 

Myth 3:  Satyamev Jataye is not biased towards any side and give a complete picture of the situation. 

The show takes a side. I am not sure why a show which is discussing real problems in the society needs to be a monologue. Why not give the other party a chance to explain their side of the story? Ofcourse, people who ask for dowry and kill unborn children are never going to defend their actions but what about doctors and offices which apparently 'discriminate' against disabled people?  I am sure they have a logical and reasonable argument for all the accusations that are made against them on the show. Bring them in. Make it a meaningful discussion and not a sob fest. In a few episodes, there have been grave factual errors. Statistics are often interpreted in such a way that they support their cause.

Myth 4: Aamir Khan/ Satyamev Jayate were instrumental in the getting the The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 passed in the parliament. 

If you really believe an episode on television is all it takes to push the parliament to pass a legislation then you are mistaken. Social activists do make a significant contribution to some legislations but Satyamev Jataye had nothing to do with the passing of this Bill. I have been told that a few NGOs had been demanding for this legislation to be passed for more than 5-6 years now. They are the ones who should get the credit for it. Their work in the field is substantial and has been going on for a long time.

Myth 5: Aamir Khan is the Anna Hazare that works. 

Aamir Khan has been involved in many social issues over the years. Be it the rehabilitation for people affected by Narmada Canal or Gujarat Riots or Farmer suicides. I was really happy when I saw that a 'Star' was making good use of his power. I was disappointed when I later realised that his interest in the first two issues diminished once Fanna released and in the third issue once Peepli Live released. My respect for him was revived when he went to support Anna Hazare but instead of shouting anti-government slogans, he urged people to stand for elections and vote for the right people. Alas, it was just a one off incident. 

I am often accused of being anti Aamir and I don't disagree. I don't like him and this might be reflected in the post. I have tried to give reasons for most of the things stated so as to convince you that I don't dislike the show because I don't like Aamir. I think the show is given more credit then it deserves. Just like Aamir Khan. I would have loved it if Aamir would have encouraged people to participate in the democracy and improve the system from within instead of fighting it. Awareness is important but implementing laws is an altogether different ball game. People now watch an episode and send a SMS to a ridiculous question at the end of it and they feel that their work towards the society is done. If Aamir Khan has the power and the conviction to bring about change in the people and the society and if he has the support of a lot of people, why no contest elections or even support a candidate whom best represents his views? For eg in Hollywood, look at Arnold. 

Preparing a script and making a show is easy. Everyone can whine. It's working to solve the problems that separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls). Working on these issues in real life is difficult. There are a lot of organisations out there who are working tireless to solve problems. They do not get enough credit for their work. They are the unsung heroes of the country. 

P.S. : I am, in no way suggesting that Satyamev Jayate has done nothing good. I am also not saying that it is not working for the society. I am just saying that for the amount of attention and praise it is getting, it is not doing that big a job. There is scope for a lot of improvement.

P.P.S. : For all those who tweet about Satyamev Jayate, #SMJ is incorrect. It's Satyam Eva Jayate and not Satya Meva Jayate. 

Jai Hind! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alexis's Graduation Speech in Castle S04E23

This is the graduation speech delivered by Alexis, Castle's daughter from the popular series Castle. It is shown at the end of Episode 23 of Season 4. I loved it so decided to share. 


There is a universal truth we all have to face whether we want to or not. Everything eventually ends. As much as I’ve looked forward to this day, I’ve always disliked endings. The last day of summer, the final chapter of a great book, parting ways with a close friend. But endings are inevitable. Leaves fall, we close the book, you say goodbye. Today is one of those days for us. Today we say goodbye to everything that was familiar everything that was comfortable. We’re moving on. But just because we are leaving, and that hurts, there are some people who are so much a part of us they’ll be with us no matter what. They are our solid ground, our north star. And the small clear voices in our hearts that will be with us. Always.
Alexis Castle

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Medical students going to USA have to promise to return

In one of the most inexplicable moves ever made by the Union Health Minister, Indians who want to go to USA for higher medical studies will have to sign a bond with the Ministry of Health and honour the document by returning home after finishing their courses. 

USA has, for reasons that I don't know of right now, made it mandatory for students to get a NOC (No Objection Certificate) from the Government to enroll in an American Institute. I'll update the blog when I find out the reason. 

Government says that if the students don't come back then they will write to the American government and bar that person from getting a license to practice there. Also it is not clear for how many years the government wants to students to stay in India after they force them back post studies. This apparently is going to stop Brain Drain. 

First of all I don't believe that brain drain is a problem. India has become such a power to reckon with because of the impression that Indians have created and the work Indians have done in foreign countries. It is how we have created out soft power. Also, Indians send a lot of money home. It's almost enviable. There are so many villages in India which have developed only because of the money their erstwhile residents have sent from their foreign locations. 

AIIMS has come out with a stat that is costs around 1.7 crore to produce a single MBBS student. It includes all the expenses and subsidies that the government spends on them. So this move is to apparently get all that money back through taxes. 

India has one doctor for every 1700 citizens. This ratio is very low compared to a lot of other countries. A recent Planning Commission report said that India is short of 6 lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and 2 lakh dental surgeons. I agree that India needs medical professionals but that does not mean you put reins on anyone and everyone you can get your hands on. 

If its just a matter of getting back subsidies so that they can be used to benefit others, then I have a solution to it. Remove the subsidies. Make everyone pay full amount. If the student works in a government hospital (urban or rural) for 10 years, then reimburse the fees. Although the government will have to improve the accountability system in government hospitals for this to be meaningful. 

A relatively easier solution is to allow and incentivise private universities to come up. Stop holding on to the 'noble profession' tag. Private individuals will not be ready to invest if there is no profit motive. If the government can't do its work properly then it should atleast let the private sector give it a try. Checking the quality of teaching in private institutions will be a cause of worry but then government colleges are not in very good shape themselves. 

The government declared the National Rural Health Mission without thinking about where they will get the manpower from and now they are looking for slaves. Disgusting. 

Dear Government,
You are not supposed to control. You are supposed to regulate. Stop coming up with random schemes and messing with development which is going on inspite of you rather than because of you. 
Frustrated Student

Update: Read - Swaminomics: The Fundamental Right to Migrate 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Right to Education: Reservation in Private Unaided Schools

The Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009 is being portrayed as a landmark legislation in the history of the country. I had the privilege of interning with the Principal Secretary of Education for Gujarat. It was around this time that the office was working on Rules to implement RTE in Gujarat. I got the chance to read those Rules before they were actually published for the whole world to see. 

I dislike quite a few things about the RTE Act. Although one such stipulations takes the cake. It is according to me, the most damaging provision in the Act. 

From June 2012, every primary school in Gujarat will have to compulsorily admit 25% students who are from “economically and socially backward” strata of the society. By every primary school, they actually mean ALL of them. Yes, even the private schools which don't take any grant from the government. This will, according to the government, integrate poor students into the main stream. Nobel thought but bad implementation.

The Government will pay fees for these 25% kids. The schools will be reimbursed by the government to the extent of the expenditure incurred by a child in the government school. It means, if the government's per student expenditure per year is Rs 5000/- but the private schools fee is Rs 20,000/- per year, the private school will be paid only Rs 5000/- by the government. Consequently, private schools will recover the difference amount from the remaining 75% of the students! 

Consequently, everyone will try to widen the definition of "economically and socially backward" strata just to abuse the economic benefits attached to it. For, the policy that is “pro-poor” will, like all policies which are “pro-” something; increases that something.

Also, due to the shortage of quality schools in the country, a lot of corporate are opening up schools by themselves. They want to enter into the education sector for the long run. It is both, a service to the society and a money spinner. But with reservations being brought in like this, corporate will be discouraged to enter. Considering India’s need for schools, the government will in no way be able to start and manage the requisite number. Government needs private schools to flourish. In the Education sector, like in any other sector, setting the market free is the key to development.

Instead of trying to bridge the economic divide, government should try and reduce the hurdles which come in the way of setting up new schools. Reduction in red tape, loans and encouragement are the only things required. Government does not need to manage the education sector. It just needs to regulate it.

Education is one sector that was left behind in the 1991 reforms. We have delayed it long enough. The time; is now.

P.S. - For all Acts, Rules, Amendments, Bills, Notifications and Guidelines on the RTE, check this 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How Mediation can benefit the Business Community

Businesses cannot always avoid disputes. They are bound to occur. The Chinese character for conflict ‘冲突’ means both "danger" and "opportunity". There are a lot of ways in which these disputes can be resolved. Litigation is the one that most businesses choose. It is not because it is the most effective, which it is not. It is because that’s the one everyone knows about. Only a few people know about how effective Mediation can be in solving disputes. When a dispute becomes a lawsuit, the parties become adversaries and relationships are destroyed. Mediation helps to preserve ongoing relationships.

Mediation is based on the premise and on the value system which says that parties to a dispute are the ones most capable of resolving that dispute, and that the parties themselves should play the central role in any efforts to work through their own conflicts.

Business Community has a lot to deal with already. Lengthy procedures and wastage of time on petty disputes take away focus from the main objective of the business. Mediation is less disruptive to the business. It requires less preparation time and so less time away from the business than when litigating in court. Time saved from non-business activities creates more time to further the business objectives.

The advantages to the business community in using Mediation as a dispute resolution method are:

  • The first and the most important is definitely the fact that the parties can control the process of dispute resolution. They can make ground rules. This gives them the flexibility to work more comfortably in solving the dispute.
  • Mediation lets the parties control the outcome of the dispute. If you go to court or arbitration, you are leaving the decision to a judge or an arbitrator. The result might be the right decision in law but may not be the best one for your business.
  • Cost of mediation is quite low compared to that of litigation. Lawyers are not compulsorily required and there are no compulsory rules of procedure which have to be complied with by the parties to the dispute. It is a major factor when one or both the parties are relatively cash strapped.
  • Mediating a dispute will allow the parties to deal with real issues. So instead of legal issues, more personal issues can be discussed.
  • It also allows parties to discuss technical issues at length. It might not be possible in a court room considering the shortage of time and lack of expertise of a judge.
  • A business needs to be fast and efficient. A dispute resolution which is also fast and efficient should be chosen. Mediation takes lesser time than litigation and has an higher chance of being successful.
  • One of the major factors that businessmen worry about is confidential information being discussed in open court. Mediation takes care of these confidentiality issues. It’s a private process where only a few members of both sides find out about things. Anything discussed in mediation cannot be used outside because all parties sign a non disclosure agreement. Thus, confidentiality is ensured.
  • Mediation sees to it that relationships are not affected in trying to solve disputes. It is very important for businessmen to see to it that they are on good terms with everyone. No one would like their business to suffer because of some past dispute. Disputes are short lived, businesses go on forever.
  • Parties don’t need to just solve their dispute. They also need to plan for the future. Mediation can sometimes build relationships which can turn out to be fruitful for the future. This is because, during mediation, the discussions are not restricted to just the present but also include the future.

These are just some of the benefits. The list is not exhaustive. Actual benefits may be more and are subjective. The benefit of Mediation over negotiation is that in negotiation, only both the parties are present and there is no one to moderate the discussion. This sometimes leads to acts like shouting, name calling and threatening which jeopardise the dispute resolution.

Mediation process generally has a third party mediator who is not inclined to support any of the parties. His main objective is to see to it that the dispute is resolved in the best way possible. The mediator does not obey to any of the parties, and is a third party, looking at the contraposition from an objective point of view.

Mediation works wonderfully well in real business problems. For example, it can help solve consumer disputes. If the company feels that the consumer’s problem is genuine then they can solve the dispute then and there.

Mediation can also be used to solve contract disputes, service matters and even labour problems. The fact that Mediation can be used in so many different spheres and that too with such high efficiency is amazing. Creative ways of resolving conflict by owners and managers can add to the bottom line of any business whether large or small. Disputes, however small and unimportant, distract and drain the businessman.

Mediation sees to it that all disputes are solved through a collaborative approach so that both the parties are happy and the relationship between them is not strained. Mediation is the first thing that should be tried when there is a dispute. If it fails, you can always go back to litigation and arbitration. The availability of a back up is also one of the big reasons why Mediation should be given a chance at all disputes.

The advantages for businesses in adopting mediation processes, either through outside contracts or internal programs, are multifaceted and immeasurable.

The courts of this country should not be the places where resolution of disputes begins. They should be the places where the disputes end after alternative methods of resolving disputes have been considered and tried.”- Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dear Law School Administration

Dear Law School Administration,

There are two types of students that you can meet in life, law students and others. Please be very afraid of the first kind as they are the sharpest, meanest and the most bored form of student that you will ever have to face. 

Why you ask? 

Well, here are a few reasons:
  1. Smallest of problems will be held as 'violating our fundamental Right to Life'. The bathrooms are far away and sometimes don't have water? Fudge you, that's my fundamental right you are violating. 
  2. Everything that is done by you without absolute transparency is arbitrary. You choose a room on the third floor as your cabin when all other related offices are on the first floor? That's totally arbitrary.
  3. If the students don't like it, it is probably unreasonable. 
  4. We are looking for a fight. Give us the slightest opportunity and we will come charging towards you like a bull comes towards a matador with a red flag. 
  5. We will threaten to file a PIL for everything. You threw out my favorite guard? See you in court!
  6. Quoting case laws during all conversation comes naturally to us. It's our bread and butter. So if you don't understand them then don't give us the O.o look. 
  7. Most of us have a better command over the English language than other non-law students. Maybe its because we are used to drafting stuff or because we read a lot of books. We can write simple stuff in a complex way and also simplify complex stuff. Email and Facebook comment wars are one of our hobbies. 
  8. We are not just argumentative. We are bloody good at it. It is not a surprise considering how much practice we get. We can argue about *everything* from Messi to Madonna to Mulayam Singh Yadav to Mumbai Indians.
  9. Reaching a consensus is not a possibility. Atleast not for the first 5 hours of the discussion. So next time you ask for our opinion, take out sufficient time. 
  10. It might seem like we don't pay attention in class but we magically remember all the lessons from class when we need to use them in arguments with faculties. "Sir, you only taught us arbitrariness and abuse of dominant position."
  11. Didn't give me an opportunity to justify myself when you caught me using my cell phone in class? Well, you can't punish me. You violated principles of natural justice by not giving me a chance. Lawyered!
  12. Precedent is effectively used. If you did or did not do something about an incident some years ago, we will hold you to it and make sure you do it in the exact same way. Unless ofcourse we are benefiting from the change!
  13. "You don't have the authority to do this." Yes, this is one of our favorite lines. 
  14. We possess the amazing ability to argue both for and against a fact. 
  15. If everything else fails, we will always have humanitarian grounds as our backup option. 
So, if you think you can mess with us and get away with it? All we have to say is: 

P.S. - All law school administrators who are reading this, this is not a threat or something. No intention to offend anyone. These are just a few points law school administrators need to take care while managing students with this specific skill set. If you still find it offensive then well, there's nothing much you can do about it. :P

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