On a Monday morning, I joined my cousin brother and his family on short day-trip to a place called Pyramid Valley International, just off Kanakapura Road.
You have to get off Kanakapura Road when you see the sign pointing left to where Pyramid Valley International is located. Once you get on to the small road, it’s pretty bad. You pass through a village with poor roads before you reach the gates at Pyramid Valley.
There is an open ground for parking and there is no fee for the same. We parked under a big tree as it was quite sunny.
Pyramid Valley International claims to be a “new age meditation” and “spiritual science” center (if there ever is such a thing as spiritual science).
Done with my Philippines series, I had no other trip report to write about after that. Being in Kannur, I had always wanted to go to Bekal Fort in Kasarkode district, north of Kannur. Bekal Fort is the largest fort in Kerala. I had vague memories of visiting the fort when I was very young… but my mom insists I had never been there. She say it must have been St. Angelo’s Fort I got confused with and said she herself has never been to Bekal Fort!
So on a fine Sunday morning, we went to Kannur’s ‘private bus stand’. We chose to go by bus thinking it would be easy to get one as Bekal was only 90kms away. The route on Google Maps showed one long road up north and it would take no less than 2 hours. Trouble is, there was some railway crossing repair work going on along the way and because of that, the route buses would be taking today would be longer. But we were only told of this while we waited for the bus to arrive. We (myself, my mother and my cousin brother) contemplated going by train but because we wasted more than half-an-hour waiting for the bus, we missed the trains going north. Finally we boarded a bus going to Kanhangad as we were told we could catch another bus going to Bekal Fort, or Pallikere (the place), from there. So at 9:45 am, the bus finally left Kannur ‘private bus stand’ and we began our long journey to Bekal.
A bus ticket to Kanhangad costs Rs. 50 ($0.80/€0.60) per person.
The bus filled up with passengers after picking up more people from the municipal bus stations along the way. It was a good thing we got seats.
As I looked at the time, I realized we would only arrive at Bekal Fort past noon. I was disappointed knowing I would miss the morning blue skies and would instead be shooting during the dreaded 11am-1pm time slot — the period during which the sun is at its brightest and washes out all the blues in the sky in photographs.
Past noon, we had reached Kanhagad. From there, we saw a bus with Bekal Fort written on it (in English) and so we knew that was our next bus. We boarded it (Rs. 10 for ticket) and it was another 30 minutes until we reached the road leading to Bekal Fort.
Unlike St. Angelo’s Fort in Kannur, which was built by the Dutch, Bekal Fort was built in 1650AD by Shivappa Nayaka, an Indian ruler. You may read about the fort’s history on Wikipedia.
… and we were out. It was 2pm and we were hungry. There weren’t any restaurants to be found outside Bekal Fort, so we had to eat from the closest resort.
When we reached Bekal Beach Park, a security guard ran towards us and told even if we walk across on the beach without even entering the park, we still need to pay Rs. 10 per person.
There’s a “zoo” but that costs extra and it was largely domestic animals, so we just walked away. Instead my mom bought us “kids” some cone ice cream.
When I went to use the park’s toilet, even there they were charging Rs. 5 for using it! So Rs. 10 is for you to walk in the vicinity. Rubbish! And so was the condition the toilets were in going by how much they were charging.
Anyway, we asked the security guard how to get to Kanhangad railway station and he gave us the directions to the main road from where we could board the bus.
When we arrived at the town bus stand, we crossed over to the other side to get to the railway station. The next train to Kannur was only at 5:20pm, but we had no choice. We bought three tickets (Rs. 50 per person for General class) and went out to drink some chai.
It was crowded inside the general compartment, as expected, but I had no issues standing because I wanted to take photos.
The train reached Kannur station a few minutes before 7pm. After helping a French tourist who was in the same train with some travel advice, we all left the station.
Overall, the trip was good and I’m quite pleased with the photos I got using only my Sony Xperia Z1 phone camera. This is the first trip taking photos only using my phone and I am now confident that even if I don’t have my DSLR, the photos I get from my phone would still serve me fine.
But a bit of advice, if you wish to visit Bekal Fort from either Kannur or any other cities south of Kerala, just take the train. The buses aren’t as frequent as I thought they would be and it takes longer depending on the time of the day. The ticket rates are the same anyway and although you may not get a seat in some of the general class trains, you get to Kasragod district a lot quicker. Also, try and get to the fort by 9am or post lunch so you can watch the sun set from Bekal Fort itself.
Kannur may have St. Angelo’s Fort but trust me, Bekal Fort is a lot bigger and well worth the views.
As someone who believes new alternative political parties are the only way we will see a corruption-free India, I have been watching the rise and actively supporting new age political parties like Lok Satta, Nav Bharat and Aam Aadmi Party for quite some time. I personally believe Lok Satta Party, founded by Dr. Jayprakash Narayan (watch this, this and this for an introduction) is the best out of the three in terms of ideology, ethics and senior leadership — but that’s just my bias.
Although I never fully supported Anna Hazare’s 2011 Lokpal bill (because I read the bill in detail), I at least appreciated the effort and supported the India Against Corruption movement. Needless to say, the ruling government weren’t going to pass any strong anti-corruption bill. Why would they? Many in parliament and their respective state cronies would all end up behind bars. And just like how the Lok Satta movement of the 1990s turned into a political party, Arvind Kejriwal too realized he would have to sit in a seat of power if he were to see such a strong anti-corruption bill passed in legislation.
Thus the Aam Aadmi Party was formed in late 2012 (“aam aadmi” means ‘common man’). And what a ride they have had! The true underdog story of Indian politics. Barely a year old and despite all the dirty tricks the old guard (BJP and Congress) played to malign AAP before elections, Aam Aadmi Party shocked the political establishment on December 8, 2013, by winning 28 out of 70 seats in Delhi, India’s capital. Although AAP fell short of winning the majority, they were the true winners that day. BJP, who won with 32 seats refused to form a minority government, even though they could. Why didn’t they? Out of fear. BJP can’t get away with corruption with AAP’s looming presence in the opposition. So they played it safe as they can’t risk any negative press to derail the Modi-hype train, which besides a scam-ridden Congress/UPA, is all BJP has going for them.
Anyway, I’ll just dive into the whole point of this blog post. When AAP released their manifesto for Delhi, I read through it and figured I’d share my opinions. After all, AAP had asked their Facebook followers to send in suggestions. I sent mine, but I had a LOT more to say and contribute. So now that the main manifesto is out there, I thought I’d give my inputs just like how this FirstPost article did the same.
The points drafted in AAP’s English manifesto are in Italics and my comments appear in blue.
2.1 Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill The Aam Aadmi Party is committed to the passing the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill within 15 days of coming to power. This would model the Lokayukta along the lines of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The provisions of this law include:
i. All public officials (including the Chief Minister, Ministers and MLAs) shall fall within the purview of the investigation of the Lokayukta– Good
ii. Any public official found guilty of corruption would be removed from their jobs, sent to prison and their property confiscated– India will need bigger prisons
iii. Time bound investigation and punishment in cases of corruption – Okay
iv. Lokayukta would have the power to initiate investigations and prosecution against those with charges of corruption; would have administrative, fiscal and investigative autonomy. – Living in Karnataka this past decade has given me the pleasure of learning about the amazing work done by Lokayukta police in this state, especially under the leadership of Justice Venkatachala and then under Santosh Hegde. For years I loved reading the innumerable articles in the papers every week of how the Lokayukta police laid traps and caught countless government officials and MLAs in the act of demanding bribes from the plaintiffs/victims. Over time, we’re talking hundreds of crores in cash and property.
Of course, when powerful crooks are caught, their higher ups weren’t simply going to let the Lokayukta police get away with nabbing their foot army of bribe takers. Every successive Chief Minister that came to Karnataka (Congress until 2004, JD(S) until 2008, BJP until 2013 and now Congress again) has tried to thwart the Lokayukta police and strip them off their powers. Santosh Hegde even gave up asking Chief Ministers to grant Lokayukta the powers to prosecute the nabbed officials because he knew no CM from either of these parties would allow it.
So I await the day Lokayukta in Delhi at least are finally given the powers to prosecute those caught.
v. Citizens’ charter would be introduced, and any officer found exceeding time limits would be fined– Okay
vi. Whistleblowers would be given protection– Much needed
vii. Honest officials like Ashok Khemka and Durga Shakti Nagpal would be encouraged and protected. – Very good. The system needs greater positive inspiration and political backing.
2.2 Introduction of the Swaraj Bill, to devolve power directly to the people; this would curb corruption at the local level– I’ll wait for the Swaraj Bill to be drafted
2.3 Simplification of government procedures, as complex procedures promote corrupt practices– Yes, bureaucracy is often proposed by those in charge with the sole purpose of making more money in bribes.
2.4 Use of information technology to ensure transparency in government functioning – With all the IT talent in India, you would assume our government would have made use of it by now. They haven’t — because this would eliminate the act of personally taking bribes at government offices.
All I have to say regarding the Lokpal Bill is — please don’t create more bureaucracy to fight existing bureaucracy. I had my apprehensions on some of the clauses mentioned in the the 2011 draft of the Lokpal bill, like a blanket 10% of money retrieved from corruption to be kept by the Lokpal committee for its upkeep. And other bureaucratic proposals like 10-member committees for each case with specifications on what their pay levels should be.
3. DEVOLVING POWER DIRECTLY TO THE PEOPLE 3.1 Every Mohalla Sabha would be given untied funds for developmental activities in their area. The Mohallas Sabha would decide where this money would be spent.– Mohalla Sabhas can be given money but will there be measures in place to check how the money will be utilized? The IT infrastructure needs to be extended even at the ‘panchayat’ level — and those in charge need to receive sufficient training on maintaining records.
3.2 Payment for any government work would be made only when the Mohalla Sabha is satisfied with the work done
3.3 Mohalla Sabhas would directly make decisions about parks, street lights, local streets of the area– For both the above points, set standards in place for what constitutes “satisfactory” work. No more “chalega” work.
3.4 Mohalla Sabhas would be authorised to cancel the licence of the PDS distributors, and grants new licences– Guilty when proven, but good.
3.5 Mohalla Sabhas would have the autonomy to formulate any schemes from the funds devolved to them– This better not include any religious activities especially when there are more important issues that need to be prioritized.
3.6 All certificates (such a birth, death, caste, income certificates, etc) of people in the locality would be issues by the Mohalla Sabha secretariat.– Good
3.7 The decision to establish or shut down an alcohol store in the locality would be taken by the Mohalla Sabha.– This should only be on the condition of the establishment’s legalities — illegal license, owned by a govt. official, or in violation of zoning laws prescribing where liquor stores and bars can be opened. Not based on religious authority in that particular area.
3.8 Mohalla Sabhas would monitor the local government school and primary health centre– Good
3.9 Beneficiaries of any government schemes would be decided by the Mohalla Sabha.– Hmm, okay
I assume records of all that Mohalla Sabhas do will be reviewed by the higher ups at AAP periodically?
4. FULL STATEHOOD TO DELHI The elected government of Delhi does not have powers that are held by all other state governments. The Aam Aadmi Party would struggle to get full statehood for Delhi, so that:
4.1 D.D.A. comes under the authority of the Delhi government, which can take decisions regarding establishing new colonies, regularisation of unauthorised colonies, etc– Good
4.2 Police and ‘law and order’ should be in the control of the Delhi government– This is SO important to get under AAP’s authority. We all saw how Delhi Police behaved at the behest of their masters at the Centre during the 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ protests.
4.3 M.C.D should be free from the control of the Central Government.– Given how much corruption existswithin the MCD, I hope AAP gets control of this too. At least expose their crimes when you form the government.
Both the Congress at present and BJP (in 2014) will stop at nothing to showcase AAP as a failure. So good luck in trying to achieve statehood status for Delhi so that AAP can have absolute control over the state’s affairs.
5. ELECTRICITY BILLS TO BE REDUCED BY HALF Delhi’s consumers have been getting inflated bills due to malpractices by Discoms. AAP promises a reduction of consumers’ electricity expenditure by 50%. This would be brought about by the following measures: 5.1 The government would order an audit of the electricity distribution companies. Licenses would be cancelled for any company that refuses to have its accounts audited. 5.2 Inflated bills would be rectified. 5.3 Electricity meters would be checked by independent agencies. If they are found to be running too fast, the companies would have to compensate the consumer.
I have not lived in states where electricity supply has been privatized, so I’m no expert on Delhi discoms. All I have to say is, if the discoms are guilty, let it be proven. Clearly there’s a lot of discourseout thereagainst Delhi discoms. But don’t force any blanket 50% cuts unless you are certain of exactly how much they were over-charging by. Hear out what the Delhi discoms have to say at their end too. Over-charging aside, let’s not deny our nation suffers from a power deficit. I know this requires policy changes and a push at a national level (and sorry, solar isn’t the solution). Also, know that supply of electricity isn’t the only problem. Distribution is in a state of mess too…
… and so is theft of electricity. Plug the leaks, and make every citizen accountable, not just the discoms. Oh, and let Arvind Kejriwal finally clear his bills and let him encourage many others to do the same.
Additionally, the government would take the following steps to improve the electricity supply: 5.4 End the ‘raid-raj’ of electricity discoms. – I don’t know about this
5.5 Withdraw cases against those who participated in the AAP civil disobedience of non-payment of electricity bills– Self-fulfilling, but if the discoms are proven guilty of over-charging, yes, get the “clean chit” for yourselves.
5.6 Incentives and subsidies to promote solar energy; target of meeting 20% of Delhi’s electricity needs via solar energy in the next ten years. Individuals installing solar panels in their houses would be allowed to sell extra electricity to the grid.– Yes, please look into net-metering technology.
5.7 Discom monopolies would be ended and consumers would be allowed to choose between two electricity providers.– De-monopolization and competition has always led to lower prices, so this would be a welcome move. But regulation is also key.
5.8 Discoms would be brought under RTI and their accounts made more transparent.– All publicly listed companies in my opinion should be brought under the RTI Act.
6. CLEAN WATER IN EVERY HOME Water is the biggest concern of the aam aadmi in Delhi, as more than 50 lakh people do not get piped water in their homes. The Aam Aadmi Party would take the following steps to resolve this concern:
6.1 AAP’s first priority would be to ensure that every house in Delhi gets clean water– No one can survive without water, so an obvious yes to this.
6.2 Clamping down on Delhi’s powerful tanker mafia, and prosecuting the political leaders who protect and promote them.– I won’t be surprised if many of the tankers are owned by the MLAs and those in Delhi administration itself.
6.3 Restructuring Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to clamp down on its rampant corruption.– Good
6.4 Bringing transparency into Delhi Jal Board’s water supply arrangements, and getting adequate data on incoming and outgoing water supply:
i. Installing bulk water meters to get data on how much water comes to Delhi, from which of its sources ii. Installing bulk meters on raw water entering Water Treatment Plants iii. Installing bulk meters in each of Delhi’s 21 water zones to know how much water was sent to which zone every day. This information would be available everyday on the DJB website.
An absolute yes to anything data-driven and the use of technology to make lives better and administrative processes far more efficient.
6.5 Providing water from Sonia Vihar water treatment plant to areas like Sangam Vihar, Deoli, Ambedkar Nagar, Mehrauli, Vasant Vihar and Vasant Kunj. – More water treatment plants, the better. Also look into rainwater harvesting ideas on a larger scale.
6.6 Begin the use of the Munak canal and use it to supply water to Dwarka, Bawana, Okhla and other water shortage areas in west Delhi.
6.7 Currently, the DJB does not supply water to the supposedly ‘unlawful’ habitation in Delhi (like slums, unauthorised colonies, etc) ensuring their dependence on the tanker mafia. DJB will take responsibility to supply water to each house in Delhi.– Crack down on the tanker mafia for sure, but let this not legalize the slums and many of its unlawful inhabitants. You need send the message migrants can’t come by the millions to Delhi and just settle wherever they wish and expect to be served by AAP. They need to know that change can come to their states too if they elect good leaders. Delhi only has so much space and limited resources to provide for its citizens.
6.8 Water laboratories to be opened in each district in Delhi to check contamination of water.– Good. Health and hygiene first. Water quality scares tourists too.
6.9 Mohalla Sabhas to play a role in the local distribution of water.– Okay
6.10 AAP opposes the privatisation of the DJB, and re-affirm its commitment to the state’s responsibility to provide clean water in every home in Delhi– I’m generally against the privatization of essential services, so yes to no privatization of water supply. Our country can’t afford to charge so much for water just yet. Water is something the government must subsidize for now.
6.11 Domestic consumers who have got inflated bills (up to November 2013), will not be liable to pay these bills.– Find out how much the bills were inflated by and ask the consumers to pay the real amount.
6.12 Families that use up to 700 litres of water per day would be provided free water. Any household using a greater amount of water would pay the entire bill amount. High rates would be charged for any household using more than 1000 litres of water per day. – Provide free water only to those who fall below the poverty line. You must ensure you have enough of something to give it away at will. First ensure you have enough supply of water.
6.13 Repeal the recently passed law that automatically increases water rates every year. – Wow, such a law exists? Stop it, review the Jal Board’s finances, eliminate corruption and only then take a decision on raising water charges.
Given Delhi’s increasing population and absence of its own source of water, there is a need to evolve long-term and sustainable water policies. These would include:
6.14 Incentives and subsidies for recycling of waste-water from kitchens and bathrooms. 6.15 Utilising Delhi’s abundant rainwater by systematic city-wide rainwater harvesting policies. 6.16 Reviving Delhi’s water bodies (like lakes, baolis, etc) by ensuring their recharging by rainwater; maintaining them in partnership with local communities
All well and good and a must. Water is going to be that one precious commodity India will be struggling to provide its citizens (as if this isn’t already happening) unless measures are taken NOW.
7. MAKING SEWERAGE SYSTEMS WORK, BUILDING COMMUNITY TOILETS
7.1 AAP is committed to building 2,00,000 public/community toilets in Delhi, whose maintenance would be monitored by Mohalla Sabhas– If there’s one thing that the government should take a hit on financially and provide for free to citizens, it’s toilets! I’ve seen the pay-to-use model fail in Bangalore and it’s the same story in several other cities. I’ve seen men urinating outside toilets in this country! Either because they don’t even have Re.1 or Rs.2 to spare, or they just don’t feel like paying when all these years they have been doing it for “free” in public. Let the toilets be free to use, the administration just needs to continue maintaining cleanliness — for free.
7.2 One-fourth of the city is not connected to the sewage network; AAP is committed to connecting all houses to the sewage network, irrespective of the nature of the settlement. Areas with new sewers would have redesigned sewage systems to be decentralised with local treatment of waste water.– Excellent! Even though I’m against slums being set up practically anywhere the settlers feel like making their homes, you can’t risk diseases and poor hygiene due to lack of sewage connectivity.
7.3 Delhi Jal Board has virtually no statistics on the amount of sewage generated in the city. In the absence of appropriate data, sewage treatment capacity falls woefully short and untreated sewage pollutes the water of Delhi. AAP would take the following steps to rectify this situation:
i. Bulk sewage meters to be installed in each locality to get accurate data on amount of sewage generated. ii. Based on this data, building appropriate number of new, decentralised sewage treatment plants. iii. Incentives and subsidies for recycling of water from kitchens and bathrooms iv. Environmentally-friendly methods of treating sewage would be promoted.
All needed! Also look into waste-to-energy technology to further boost power generation, or at least achieve self-sustaining facilities.
8. BETTER WASTE MANAGEMENT, A CLEANER DELHI 8.1. Mohalla Sabhas would be given complete authority and funds for waste management and cleaning of their localities – Good
8.2. Littering or disposal of construction debris in public places would be heavily fined. – Tough to implement given how many cases of littering you will witness daily, but try.
8.3. Effective implementation of the ban on plastics bags– Invite private enterprise in the recycling of plastic waste.
8.4. Segregation of bio-degradable and non-biodegradable waste at the household level. – This is being done in Bangalore but the collection agencies are doing a bad job of collecting segregated waste and then mixing them together haphazardly. So ensure those in charge of collecting waste have the necessary know-how, the tools to carry out and dispose off the collected waste in the prescribed manner.
Also start a campaign and invite participation from NGOs with sponsorship from corporates (if needed) to instill civic sense among Delhi’s citizens (and for that matter across India). Teach children in schools about keeping their surroundings clean and how littering henceforth is an offense. Promote a “Cleaner India” vision. Even educate them on segregation and why it is being done. We have to bring up generations of Indians who have better attitudes about cleanliness when outside. I say “when outside” because we all know how clean our homes are, but some how when we’re out in public, the mindset turns for the worse.
9. HIGH QUALITY EDUCATION IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
9.1. Aam Aadmi Party is committed to the provision of high quality education to every child in Delhi, irrespective of their ability to pay. Towards this end it shall make all possible efforts to substantially improve the standard of education in government schools, and bring them on par with high quality private schools. At least 500 new schools would be opened. – Tear down illegal slums and build schools in their place, I won’t object. Use Delhi’s real estate for the better.
9.2. Adequate facilities would be provided for all students and teachers in government schools; this would include enough classrooms, drinking water, separate toilets for boys and girls, etc.– Will never say ‘no’ to such things
9.3. More crèches (anganwadis) would be opened for children under 6-years of age. – Make sure these anganwadis are well-used and equipped with trained staff. I’ve seen some anganwadis start out great, but later turn into abandoned buildings because the teachers failed to show up.
9.4. Teachers will be appointed on all vacant posts in Delhi’s schools. – Okay
9.5. Government schools and crèches would be monitored by an ‘Abhibhaavak Sabha’, an open assembly of all the parents of the children who study in that school. – Good idea
9.6. New law would be introduced to control profiteering by private schools and colleges; this would regulate fees and clamp down on ‘donation’ demands by private education institutions. – This is needed nationwide, but it should be handled on a case-by-case basis. Good quality education comes at a price. If those who wish for their children to study in proper international schools with air conditioned classrooms and tennis courts, let those parents have the right to pay what the schools charge — especially if they are satisfied with what they are paying for. What I would like to see a clamp down on are schools misusing the words “global,” “international,” and “world” in their names and simply offering your run-of-the-mill state board syllabus or CBSE education.
Do investigate the financials and income tax records of those running colleges and schools for unaccounted “donations”. It’s a known fact several individuals and corporates use the tax-free, “non-profit” status of educational institutions to raise funds for their other businesses (which is why they set up educational and religious institutions in the first place). Lastly, if at all institutions justify the need to charge an upfront fee, tell them to stop using the word “donation”. We ALL know these payments are a compulsion, not an option.
9.7. Introducing child-friendly pedagogy and ethics-based education, instead of learning by rote. – I’m all for primary education becoming more interactive, visual and fun. And before you do, the teachers need to be improved as well. Don’t ever pull off a stupid Kapil Sibal-like plan of handing out tablets to everyone when the teachers don’t even know how to operate them. Not to mention no electricity to charge computing devices.
9.8. New colleges to be started specifically for students from Delhi. – Isn’t this a form of reservation? Are Delhi’s citizens finding it tough to get admission in Delhi’s colleges despite having the requisite credentials?
9.9. Improving facilities and expanding Delhi government’s universities, such as Ambedkar University. – No comment as I don’t know much about all this
9.10. Contractualisation of teaching jobs (in both government and private institutions) would be stopped, and all posts regularised. Regulation of teachers’ salaries in private schools. – To the last point, if private schools justify paying high salaries to certain teachers, they have the right to continue doing so.
9.11. Attempts would be made to roll back the 4-year Undergraduate Program (FYUP), which has been undemocratically introduced in Delhi University. – Yogendra Yadav obviously knows more about these things more than I do, so no comments from my side.
9.12. No schools shall refuse admission to Children with Disability. – Good, but also revise building regulations to ensure schools and other public infrastructure must have wheelchair access and facilities to assist the disabled.
10. IMPROVING PUBLIC HEALTHCARE FACILITIES
10.1. Government health care facilities would be improved (and made as good as private hospitals) so that all citizens of Delhi – rich or poor – have access to high quality health care. New government hospitals would be opened to ensure Delhi conforms to the international norm of 5 beds for every thousand people.– Quality healthcare and school education are two things I wish would be a birth right to every citizen in an ideal world. So if you have the financial ability to make this happen, go ahead.
10.2. Bring to completion the several half-built hospitals in Delhi.– Good
10.3. New primary health centres would be established, these would be monitored by local Mohalla Sabhas.– Okay
10.4. Improving and upgrading facilities in government hospitals to bring them on par with high quality private hospitals.– If you can afford it, sure.
10.5. There are 40% vacancies in doctors posts, and 20% in those of medical staff. These would immediately be filled.– Go ahead. But why were they lying vacant?
10.6. Private hospitals built on land granted by the government would be made to fulfill their commitments towards public healthcare.– Fine, but if they decline, tax them for the use of land or ask them if they would rather just buy the land at prevailing market rates.
10.7. Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, Naturopathy and other alternative systems of medicine would be promoted by the government and would play an important role in the public healthcare system.– Many of these alternative teachings are considered pseudoscience and ineffective by the medical community. Teach them, but I’m not sure I agree with the “play an important role in the public healthcare system” part.
10.8. Generic medicines would be promoted in Delhi.– Okay
10.9. Large percentage of diseases in Delhi are caused by polluted air, contaminated water and improper waste disposal; AAP would work on controlling these for a long-term solution.– Please do. Our polluted environments alone are responsible for India’s image as a country you will fall sick in.
10.10. Management and monitoring of dispensaries and primary hospitals would be done by Mohalla Sabhas. – Good
10.11. A special task force would work on a war-footing to control dengue in Delhi. – Good
11. SECURITY FOR WOMEN , CHILDREN AND SENIOR CITIZENS Delhi has the highest rate of kidnappings and rapes amongst all cities in India. Aam Aadmi Party shall work towards evolving both long-term and short-term solutions for this. Since the Delhi Police is not under the government’s control AAP would pressurise the central government to:
11.1. Ensure that all FIR’s are registered by the police. 11.2. CCTV cameras are installed in the FIR registration rooms to monitor whether the police is registering all FIRs 11.3. Implement all the provisions suggested by the report of Verma Committee.
As much I want the police force under AAP’s governance, the above is something that’s going to be an uphill struggle to achieve. I do wish CCTV networks are installed across Delhi and linked to the respective police stations. Also, expose corrupt police officers, have them punished and removed from service.
The Delhi government would take the following steps to ensure the safety of it’s citizens:
11.4. A Citizens’ Security Force would be formed with a branch in each ward, which would provide security to anyone in distress, with special focus on security of women, children and senior citizens.– Much needed, kind of like a neighbourhood watch. This should involve the Mohalla Sabhas as well.
11.5. Ensuring swift dispensing of justice in cases of crimes against women by establishing special fast track courts.– Please do. The quicker Delhi loses its “rape capital” tag, the better.
11.6. Ensuring lighting and security provisions on roads, parks, buses and all public spaces. – I can’t stress proper lighting enough! This alone deters criminals to stay away from the area.
11.7. Increasing number of well-located and safe Working Women’s Hostels and shelters for homeless women. – Go ahead
11.8. Ensuring implementation of laws (like Juvenile Justice Act, POCSO Act) for security of children. – Good
11.9. Honouring of all police and security martyrs from Delhi, who sacrifice their live providing security to the citizens of our country; their families to be given Rs. 1 crore in their memory. – I know no amount of money can value one’s life, that said, go ahead if you have the finances.
12. SWIFT AND FAIR DISPENSATION OF JUSTICE
12.1. Establishing new courts in Delhi and appointment of judges; running courts in two shifts, if needed. – Anything to serve justice quicker
12.2. Ensure no adjournments are made in cases where the Delhi Government is a litigant – Ha ha, good!
12.3. Special courts would temporarily be set-up to dispense cases that are pending in lower courts. – Anything to serve justice quicker
12.4. Proceedings of all court cases would be video-recorded and made available to ordinary citizens. – Once the verdict has been passed?
13. DEVOLUTION OF POWER TO GRAMS SABHAS AND BETTER FACILITIES IN DELHI’S VILLAGES
13.1. Decisions regarding the development of Delhi’s villages to made by the local Gram Sabhas, which would be granted untied funds to utilise according to their priorities. – Their priorities have to be practical; shouldn’t be driven by faith or caste-ism.
13.2. No land to be acquired in Delhi’s villages without the consent of the Gram Sabha– You can’t have unnecessary hurdles in land acquisition, but isn’t this between the seller and the buyer? Especially if both parties involved are in the clear?
13.3. Central government would be pressurised to remove unnecessary restrictions regarding land use in villages. Power to extend boundaries of ‘lal dora’ would be given to Gram Sabhas. – Can’t comment until I know what these restrictions are.
13.4. Compensation would be given for land that has been acquired by DDA, but not compensation not granted. – Obviously yes
13.5. Efforts would be made to give security of tenure to landless farmers who have been given lands on leasehold. – I’ll laud the effort.
13.6. Improve bus services to Delhi’s villages– Good
13.7. Substantial shortage of schools in Delhi’s villages; increase number of schools and colleges. – I’ll never say ‘no’ to this
13.8. Increase number of hospitals based on the population living in rural areas in Delhi – Please do. Villagers are often the ones who suffer the most at poorly maintained government hospitals.
13.9. Farmers would be provided agricultural subsidies– Instead of mere subsidies, impart knowledge and better agricultural techniques. I know there are agencies like NABARD already doing this but present subsidies also include forcing farmers to use fertilizers and chemicals they could do without. Subsidizing over-priced fertilizers or the next crop killer from Monsanto won’t do the farmers any good. Only benefactors are the agencies who are paid off to market their chemicals.
13.10. Veterinary hospitals would be made for animals– Sure, they have a right to good health too.
13.11. Provide better sports’ facilities, as Delhi’s villagers have been home to international-level sports persons. – Please promote sports and invest in better facilities. Sports come under “soft power” and India’s improving performance in global events like the Olympics will only subsequently improve our nation’s image.
14. BETTER FACILITIES AND REGULARISATION OF UNAUTHORISED COLONIES
14.1. Unauthorised colonies would be regularised within one year; this would be at the rates announced in the notification of March 24, 2008; residents would be given ownership rights. – Again, you can’t go around giving away free land to people just like that. Why should the middle class be forced to buy homes on loan in Gurgaon and Noida but the poor can just settle and claim land much closer?
14.2. Unauthorized colonies come up with protection of the police and political leaders; any such efforts would be strongly clamped down upon in the future.– Good, clamp down on this nexus. If the residents have found work in the city, provide the essentials like sanitation and water for the sake of maintaining hygiene, but let them know this does not mean it’s their permanent home.
14.3. Mohalla Sabhas would play a central role in the process of regularisations, and the planning and supervision of public work in these colonies. – Just ensure the people who are part of these Mohalla Sabhas were not once a part of the aforementioned nexus.
14.4. Long-term policies to ensure availability of low-cost housing, to prevent the mushrooming of unauthorized settlements– Yes, but also help the middle class out too. Even Rs. 50 lakh homes are no nowhere to be seen nowadays. I know land is expensive in Delhi but let’s not deny corruption and black money in real estate is also the reason for abnormally high prices in the NCR region. Once you start exposing the ill-gotten wealth with public officials and their investments in real estate, this should deter realtors from dealing with such people, forcing them them to lower prices to the more realistic demand in the market.
15. BETTER FACILITIES AND REHABILITATION OF SLUMS
15.1. Efforts would be made to rehabilitate slum dwellers by giving them flats/plots, where their slums are located. – If they contribute to society in the form of some work, sure… but again, no expensive freebies. When word spreads about how much better Delhi is under AAP and the poor are “getting free housing in expensive Delhi,” more people are going to migrate from UP, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country. You can’t accommodate them all. Checks need to be in place to ensure these slum dwellers don’t then rent these flats out and earn extra income for something they never paid for (this happens in Dharavi).
15.2. In case in situ rehabilitation is not possible, slums dwellers would be relocated to the nearest possible location where proper provision of public services is possible. – Okay, but educate them about the fact if good governance were to come to their town/village, they wouldn’t always have to migrate in search of a better life.
15.3. The long-term housing policy would ensure that low-cost housing is available in large numbers, to prevent slums from coming up in the future. – Good, but unless the peripheral towns around Delhi are developed and have good governance, I don’t see migration to Delhi slowing down. Land and housing will obviously run out one day.
Till appropriate rehabilitation of slum dwellers is done, no slums will be demolished. Till then the following steps would be taken:
15.4. Repairing of local streets in slums– Okay
15.5. Adequate provision of community toilets to ensure the health and safety of women; these would be maintained by the local Mohalla Sabha. – Consider Portaloos/portable toilets
15.6. Slums shall be provided with public services such adequate supply of water, waste management and sewerage networks. – Okay, for the time-being, but slums shouldn’t remain “slums”.
16. PROTECTING THE COMMON MAN FROM RISING PRICES
16.1. Electricity bills would be halved and 700 litres water would be provided free. – Provide free water only to those who fall below the poverty line.
16.2. Clamp-down on hoarding and profiteering that increases commodity prices. – Do this PLEASE! It’s a known fact the biggest profiteers in Indian agriculture are not the farmers or the end retailers, it’s the middle-men and hoarders. Crack down on them and investigate the supply chain for Delhi’s markets.
16.3. Regulating the fees of private schools; providing high quality education in government schools. – Regulation, okay.
16.4. Improving public healthcare system, so that all common people have access to high quality healthcare irrespective of their ability to pay. – Good
16.5. Corruption is a significant factor behind rising prices; this shall be brought under control by passing the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill. – Agreed
16.6. Black economy is a major factor behind rising prices, and election funding is the nadir of this black economy. AAP seeks to present an alternative on how elections can be fought with clean money. – Already proved it, and I contributed too 🙂
16.7. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a way to protect the common people from rising prices, but corruption is rampant in this system. PDS shops would be monitored by Mohalla Sabhas, rations will not be replaced by cash transfers and pulses and oils would be added to the PDS. – Yes, please do this and expose the corruption
17. INCREASING EMPLOYMENT IN DELHI
17.1. Vacant posts would be filled in all departments of Delhi government; new schools and hospitals would be established. – Okay
17.2. Improving facilities in Delhi’s industrial areas and facilitating growth of industrial enterprises to generate more employment in Delhi. – Yes, focus on small and medium scale enterprises. Businesses suffer a lot of bureaucracy and are forced to bribe authorities to get licenses and other approvals. AAP should make the entire process of setting up a factory or company much easier. This alone will encourage businesses to set up shop in a ‘cleaner’ and hassle-free environment. (I have suggested below an idea for a product that can be easily manufactured by small scale enterprises)
17.3. Promote vocation education; establish large number of vocational training institutes in Delhi– Much needed. The unemployed should be encouraged to take up various skilled jobs instead of resorting to setting up the 9568th chai shop in the city.
17.4. Young entrepreneurs would be provided loans at low interest rates. – Okay
17.5. Ending contractual jobs and regularisation of all government and private jobs. – Okay
17.6. Facilitating greater trade within Delhi by having trader-friendly policies. – Good
17.7. Providing space and security to street vendors. – Another set of people who have to bribe police officers daily/weekly/monthly.
18. FACILITATING TRADE IN DELHI
18.1. Simplifying VAT and other tax structure of Delhi, to ease tax compliance by traders– Good
18.2. Policies to facilitate the revival of wholesale trade in Delhi– Okay
18.3. AAP government will not allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Retail in Delhi– I disagree with this but to state why I disagree with this, I have cite my reasons and that will take more than 5000 words. I know BJP also “opposes” FDI in retail but they’re only doing that now to make a complete U-turn next year after they win Lok Sabha elections and then allow it so that they can claim credit for it. To those opposing FDI in retail, I’ll be selfish enough to say you don’t know what you are talking about!
19. IMPROVING FACILITIES IN INDUSTRIAL AREAS
19.1. Providing better facilities – like roads, water, electricity – in Delhi’s Industrial Areas. – Pathetic infrastructure is the biggest complaint from Indian industry, so please fulfill this.
19.2. Streamlining rules and regulations for running and establishing industry. Simplifying licensing procedures. – Great
19.3. Providing training and low-interest loans to young entrepreneurs wanting to set up industries– Repeated, but ‘yes’.
20. NO CONTRACTUALISATION OF JOBS AAP strongly opposes the recent trend of contractualisation of both government and private job and will take the following steps to end this exploitation:
20.1. No contractual employment would be allowed against posts that require work to be done all-year round; jobs would be regularised and made permanent. – Permanent with pensions for government jobs? Look into some blatant abuses of this contractual work in the private sector but you can’t enforce how they run their business.
20.2. Contractual labour would continue in temporary work like construction; efforts would be made to improve working conditions of workers employed contractually. – Yes, it’s the least you can do until the project is complete. Ensure decent standards of temporary accommodation (the employer should ideally be paying for this) and sanitation for these migrant labourers, and their children.
20.3. Ensuring strict implementation of minimum wages– Okay, but this has to be reasonable and not enforced by rogue unions.
20.4. Restructuring the Labour Department to ensure greater transparency and accountability; ensuring strict adherence to labour laws– Any effort to clean up government offices gets a thumbs up from me.
20.5. Pressurising the Central government to changing labour-unfriendly provisions of the Contract Labour Act (1970). – Okay
21. SOCIAL SECURITY FOR UNORGANISED SECTOR WORKERS 86% people working in Delhi are in the unorganised sector. These include constructions workers, domestics workers, security guards, rag-pickers, street vendors, etc. The Aam Aadmi Party shall ensure minimum wages and regulate their working hours, weekly holidays and working conditions. Provision of social security shall be initiated along the lines of the Construction Workers’ Welfare Board. – Okay, will comment further once the measures have been proposed.
22. LICENCES AND PERMANENT SPACES TO STREET VENDORS
22.1. Licenses would be given to street vendors by the local Mohalla Sabhas. – I know there exists a Delhi Food Safety authority, but revoke licenses if street vendors fail to meet health standards, quality of water, etc. Yes, it can be done. In Singapore, even street cart vendors need to comply with food safety norms.
22.2. Fixed spaces would be allotted for local markets and street vendors by local Mohalla Sabhas. – Good. Also ensure these areas have segregated facilities and dust bins for waste disposal and educate the vendors of the same.
23. CONVENIENT AND INEXPENSIVE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
23.1. Holistic transport policies to be formulated for all forms of transport such as metro, buses, autos, rickshaws and cycles; for this purpose a ‘Unified Transport Authorty’ would be established. – Oh my god, PLEASE do this! Form ONE agency for all transportation management and introduce a payment system like Hong Kong’s Octopus card. As in, one smart card which can be used to pay for Delhi Metro, buses and autos (if possible).
23.2. Large scale expansion of bus services in Delhi– Make them safer too
23.3. Resolution of all legitimate grievances of DTC employees– Okay
23.4. Secure and reliable last mile connectivity from bus and metro services to be introduced via feeder services, shared autos, e-rickshaws and rickshaws. Route rationalisation to be done for all these modes of transport and unnecessary restrictions to be removed. – Make the necessary road infrastructure for the same.
23.5. Clamping down on the rampant corruption in the Transport Department– Go ahead
23.6. Extending and developing the Ring Rail service in collaboration with Indian railways– (No comments; don’t know much about this)
23.7. Large-scale expansion of Delhi metro– Of course! Moving more people via mass transit is always a better way to de-congest roads. Not building even wider roads.
23.8. Concessional rates on buses and the metro for senior citizens, students and persons with disability. – This doesn’t already exist in Delhi??
24. IMPROVED ROADS, WITH SPACE FOR NON-MOTORISED TRANSPORT
24.1. Multi-storeyed parking facilities to made in busy and congestion localities. – Please do. If they are priced very affordable, Delhi’s vehicle owners will surely make use of it.
24.2. Local streets to be maintained by Mohalla Sabhas– Okay
24.3. Pavements for pedestrians shall be made on every possible road. Unnecessary restrictions would be removed for rickshaws and adequate rickshaw stands made. Special corridors to be made for cyclists. – Yes to cycle lanes and footpaths! Why is it that footpaths are a rarity in India?! Also, provide bicycle parking racks across the city.
25. FAIR ARRANGEMENTS FOR AUTO-DRIVERS AND AUTO-COMMUTERS
25.1. Large number of auto-rickshaw stands to be made in Delhi– Okay
25.2. Facilitating bank loans for purchasing of auto-rickshaws; as well as streamlining purchase without ‘waiting’ and ‘black markets’. – It’s a sad fact that many auto drivers don’t own the rickshaws they drive. They are owned by private individuals and cartels/mafia, and auto drivers are just that — drivers. Licensed drivers who wish to buy their own auto rickshaws should be able to avail loans at reasonable interest rates.
25.3. Clampdown on corrupt practices and demands for bribes by the Transport Department. Prosecution of those engaging in illegal practices in auto-rickshaw financing. – Please do. Again, corruption only makes life more expensive for everyone.
25.4. Preventing harassment of auto-rickshaw drivers by the police. – Good. This is a harassment I see everyday in Bangalore. Many are pulled over at the will of the officer. We hate auto-drivers when they over-charge us and harass commuters, but we need to deal with their problems too.
25.5. Ongoing revision of auto-rickshaw fares; introduction of waiting charges. – Waiting charges exist in Kerala and it works here; the people aren’t complaining.
26. YAMUNA: ENDING POLLUTION AND ENCROACHMENT 26.1. Connection all localities and houses to the sewerage network and ensuring that no untreated sewage would enter the Yamuna. – Good, please stop this.
26.2. Establishing numerous Effluent Treatment Plants to ensure no untreated, toxic effluent flows into the Yamuna. – Great!
26.3. Preventing further encroachment and construction on the Yamuna river bed. – Good
27. REDUCING POLLUTION, SAVING THE RIDGE
27.1. Delhi Ridge is the lungs of the city; they would be protected from encroachment and deforestation. Afforestation would be done in all parts of Delhi in collaboration with local Mohall Sabhas. – Good, plant more trees where ever possible.
27.2. Stray animals live in inhuman conditions; the Animal Welfare Board would be enhanced from its ‘advisory’ status to policy-making and enforcing department. – Okay
27.3. Delhi is one of the world’s most polluted cities. Public transports would be improved to reduce the number of cars on the road; incentives would be given to low-pollution fuels like CNG. – Yes, Delhi’s smog is only a few years away from ending up as bad as Beijing or Shanghai.
28. PROTECTING CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF SCHEDULED CASTES
28.1. Ensuring use of S.C. component plan for the welfare of Scheduled Castes 28.2. Ensuring implementation of SC, ST and OBC reservation in Delhi government jobs. 28.3. Zero- or low-interest loans for entrepreneurs from Scheduled Castes. 28.4. Simplifying procedures for being issued caste certificates
I’m against the very concept of caste system and all it’s “perks”. So no comments from me for all the above. This is something every political party panders to in India because clearly some people in the SC/ST/OBC category feel it’s their right somehow to “enjoy” the benefits of being looked down upon by society.
29. LIFE OF DIGNITY TO THE VALMIKI COMMUNITY 29.1. Many members of the Valmiki community work as ‘safai karamcharis’; AAP will end contractualisation in safai karamchari posts. – No clue about this.
29.2. Provide educational opportunities by improving government schools and colleges. – Everybody regardless of faith should enjoy the right to be educated.
29.3. Provide livelihood opportunities to Valmiki youth to help them find employment in fields other than those of safai karamcharis. – Same as above.
29.4. Protective gear and insurance for workers who enter sewage drains. – Please do. It’s sad to see some of them work barehanded cleaning drains 🙁 Gloves and safety gear cost the government only a few thousand rupees annually. Health and safety first.
30. PEACE, JUSTICE AND EQUALITY FOR MUSLIMS 30.1. Ensure that fake encounters and false cases against Muslim youth shall end. – Not just Muslims, everybody!
30.2. Improve condition of government schools as poor Muslims send their children to government schools. – Again, ‘yes’ to better education.
30.3. Provide true second language status to Urdu– Okay, not like it really matters at this point.
30.4. Provide economic security to those Muslims engaged in small scale enterprises. – Again, something everyone should benefit from.
30.5. Bring transparency in the functioning of Delhi Waqf Board– Okay
30.6. Resolve the issue of land for graveyards– Again, Christians and Hindus need space to be buried as well.
31. JUSTICE TO VICTIMS OF 1984 MASSACRE 31.1. All efforts would be made to bring justice to victims of the 1984 Sikh massacre– Go ahead. Our legal system is a dinosaur.
31.2. Many victims of the massacre live in colonies like Tilak Vihar that lack adequate facilities like roads, sewers. Infrastructure would be developed in these areas. – Good
32. TRUE SECOND LANGUAGE STATUS TO URDU AND PUNJABI
32.1. Implement second-language status given to Urdu and Punjabi.– It’s only a status. Sure, why not.
32.2. Adequate teachers to be employed for teaching Urdu and Punjabi – For whomever these languages matter.
32.3. Teaching and research in Urdu and Punjabi in Delhi state universities– Okay, it’s not like students will be forced to study these things. It’s only an option.
32.4. Encourage study and research in Sanskrit– Yes, it’s a language that may soon be forgotten. Preserve it at least for our the sake of our heritage.
32.5. Support all minority languages in Delhi– Support, sure.
33. PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY
33.1. Enhance the definition of disability– Good
33.2. Help Children with Disability get admission into schools and colleges– Good
33.3. Establish new institutions for protecting the rights of persons with disability– Okay
33.4. Make public buildings accessible and barrier-free. – This is the biggest hurdle for the disabled once outside their homes. Most buildings don’t have wheelchair access nor braille-coded signs for the blind.
34. OTHER MARGINALISED COMMUNITIES
34.1. Take steps to end discrimination against nomadic (NT/DNT) communities. – End discrimination against anybody based on faith, ethnicity and caste.
34.2. Ensure that the trans-gender community gets access to education and healthcare; protected from harassment by the police. – Good
35. SPORTS AND CULTURE
35.1. Opening a public library in each Vidhan Sabha constituency in Delhi– Good, and make it air-conditioned if possible. As someone who used to spend a lot of time in libraries back in my college years, I know how annoying it is to read newspapers with the fan blowing down at high speeds. Let these libraries be solar-powered.
35.2. Make museums more accessible and interesting– Yes please. Get good artists and sculptors to make better displays. If corporates wish to come forward and sponsor a museum’s improvement with minimal credit/promotion (in exchange for accountability over how their money is being spent) allow them to do so.
35.3. Improve sports facilities for boys and girls in all wards in Delhi– Good. India has so much potential in sports at a global stage.
35.4. Bring all Sports Authorities in Delhi undr the RTI and Lokayukta. – Please do. India has corruption even in sports!
35.5. Sports facilities built for the Commonwealth Games to be made available for sports persons in Delhi. – Wow. This isn’t being done already? After the CWG scam and the crores of tax payer’s money spent?!
35.6. Recreation Centre for senior citizens in each Mohalla/Ward– Good.
——————- End of manifesto ——————-
I read AAP put in much deliberation when formulating this manifesto. AAP may have high hopes, but at this point our country is in need of radical reform, politically or otherwise. Some would argue AAPs manifesto is unrealistic and will “bankrupt” the Delhi government. I don’t think it will, especially if AAP were to soften the ‘losses’ by curbing corruption. As for delivering on their promises, when AAP tries to implement many of their schemes, they will realize some of it cannot be fulfilled as easily as they hoped. For example with water during summer season, unless and until AAP knows Delhi has enough reserves of water to give away, only then can they fulfill the promise of 700 litres of ‘free’ water. Likewise with electricity and other perceived “freebies”. You first need to know what is going at the Jal Board and the electricity providers before making such promises. (By the way, even BJP promised a 30% cut in electricity rates in their Delhi manifesto)
As for “bankrupting” the government, I would much rather find out how much the past governments have “bankrupted” Delhi’s finances through corruption. I know Delhi is considered a revenue surplus state but let’s not deny this — where there’s money, there’s corruption — especially in India. Both the MCD and the Delhi Jal Board reek of corruption and have been accused and charge-sheeted for the same in the past. Unless their finances are truly revealed, corruption exposed, I won’t mock AAP for their “unrealistic” propositions.
Since AAP don’t have the majority in Delhi government (yet), it will be very hard for them enforce all the major changes (like Jan Lokpal Bill) that require bills to be passed with a majority vote. As mentioned earlier — both BJP and Congress now have a common enemy in AAP, the proverbial ‘monkey on their backs’ it seems. The sooner BJP and Congress can get rid of AAP (mainly by tarnishing their image and branding AAP as “failure”) the sooner the old guard can get back to their corrupt ways.
That said, I would like to suggest a couple of things that were not highlighted in the manifesto.
Blacklist bad contractors
The main reason why many roads in India don’t last and are ridden with potholes is because of the poor quality of work done by the contractors. And it’s not like the authorities aren’t aware of this. We all know this is intentional. There’s more money to be made doing things the wrong way than doing it right. If roads are poorly paved, ruined after one monsoon, then officials and their contractor buddies would get the excuse to float another tender. As long as the right people get their share of the money, the contractors will continue doing a bad job.
AAP should expose the nexus between such bad contractors and their ‘contacts’ in the concerned government bodies. Blacklist such contractors for 5 years and send the message to the rest of them that poor quality of work will not be tolerated. Here in Bangalore, Lok Satta Party’s Ashwin Mahesh uncovered the BBMP (the Bangalore municipality) the project cost of an underpass jumping from 72 crores to 116 crores “all of a sudden”. Of course, nobody in the opposition raised this in parliament and the Bangalore Mayor didn’t respond when Ashwin Mahesh asked him how this happened without the requisite technical approval process. Further proving Ashwin Mahesh’s point, in corruption “there is no opposition, only partnership”.
Lowest bid cannot always ensure quality
Often times with infrastructure tenders, the winning bid is often the lowest bid. But in India, I can’t recall many infrastructure projects ever being completed on time, early and within the estimated costs (or less). More often than not, it’s all the complete opposite. There are many companies who won the winning bid by quoting unrealistically low prices only to then run short of funds, delay the project and then go back to the government citing costs have gone up and hence they need more money.
Some of these excuses can be genuine, but ensure at the time of tendering contracts, the participants are professional contractors who are thorough with their cost overlay and expertise in implementing the work. The “lowest bid” scam is also played out by bad contractors knowing very well they can squeeze more money from their chamchas in the government (e.g. from Rs.72 crores to Rs.116 crores). Many good contractors also stay away from participating in such contract bids because they know they will not get the project until they grease the palms of the right people, or stay away knowing the hassles involved in dealing with them.
Involve outside talent in design and planning
Throughout the world, it’s either the capital city or the financial capital (e.g. Sydney vs. Canberra) that is a showcase of the absolute best a nation can achieve. In India, there’s not a single city I deem truly “world class,” because be it Delhi (our capital) or Mumbai (our financial capital), our cities still lack the very basics. Excellent roads, a proper underground sewage network (many areas still have open drains), a clean network of electric wires with the poles standing straight, limited pavements/footpaths throughout the city (which leads to people just walking on the road), trash everywhere, few dustbins, safety for women, hygiene… and the list goes on and on.
And it’s not like India lacks the design talent nowadays to build an effective master plan for a truly world-class city. Mind you, when I use “world class” in India, I’m still talking about the basics! I know we have world-class malls, apartment complexes (with world-class pricing to match), amazing IT parks and offices. But the minute one steps out of these privately built confines, the inefficiency and ‘third-class’ planning of the government (deeply rooted in corruption) is there for all to see. India is still a land of luxuries, but without the basics. I say ‘still’ because in the past, our maharajas lived the opulent life in massive palaces while the extreme poor lived outside the palace walls.
Invite designers, master planners, artists and good architects to design a modern Delhi without ruining the city’s heritage and history. Old Delhi should remain “old” in aesthetics — because that is part of its appeal — but “new” when it comes to cleanliness, maintenance and functioning infrastructure. Invite design students or artists and give them a particular locality or neighbourhood as their ‘canvas,’ and ask them to come up with ideas on how colourful and unique it can look after a makeover. To give you an example of what I mean, here in Bangalore, there exists a group called The Ugly Indian who have inspired many concerned citizens to take up a ‘black spot’ and clean it up themselves (mostly because the civic authorities fail to do their job).
But all that the general public can do are, in my opinion, temporary solutions. The government (that’s AAP) needs to invite master planners, engineers and landscape designers to better plan and design Delhi’s constituencies. Replete with footpaths as wide as possible, public toilets, painted walls to avoid posters being plastered all over it, dustbins every few meters, public parks and shaded spots people can sit and watch the world go by without obstructing anyone. Artists and art students will be more than glad to paint a wall into something beautiful as they can’t ask for a better showcase of their work than a public space where millions will see it over time.
Throughout India, if there’s one thing that ruins our public property, it’s posters. Be it movie posters, ad posters, notice posters, posters for PG accommodation, etc. None of these people pay the municipality or seek permission to stick posters. Ideally all of them should be paying for putting these posters up as it amounts to a commercial activity, but I can see the uproar — especially from the theatre owners and the film industry — who will claim banning posters will affect their business. Asking to pay for putting up posters will see a backlash from theatre owners who will use this poster excuse to raise ticket prices, saying they now have to incur “greater expenses in promotions”.
So as a compromise, approach the threatre owners (involve the distributors and the film industry) with a request to drastically reduce the number of posters they put up. At a time when movie-related content and promotion of upcoming movies take up much of our satellite TV programming, there is no need for so many posters to be put up. It’s not like those putting posters have done any research into the effectiveness of a 100 posters stuck indiscriminately across a city, versus a few posters strategically placed to gain the most eyeballs.
Try this instead. Assign dedicated, high visibility spots for free, kind of like a public notice board. But have the poster area divided based on standard poster sizes and instruct the printers to follow the same.
Bangalore is no longer a “Garden City,” it’s now turned into a “garbage city”. The Chief Minister of Karnataka promised Bangalore would be “garbage-free in 5-6 months time“. This was back in June. Nothing has happened. The amount of uncleared garbage in Bangalore is for all to see, and is yet another growing pain in the worsening state of this once (relatively) clean city. After months and a few all-expenses paid field trips to see how other cities are handing processing of garbage, Bangalore’s corporators are planning to hire this company.
Your manifesto didn’t highlight land-fills. Delhi too is suffering from its own garbage crisis and 3 out of 4 landfills are beyond capacity, leading to contamination of groundwater. Please look into composting technology for organic waste and incinerator plants which burn non-organic garbage into electricity. Setting up incinerators would help to bring landfills down to size.
Ensure co-ordination between authorities
More often than not, there isn’t any co-ordination between the different civic agencies when it comes to public works. For example, the road outside my house in Kannur (Kerala) was only paved a few months ago right after the monsoon rains. And just two weeks later, the water authority dug up the side of the same road to lay pipes. We can’t rule out collusion in corruption as well in such cases. As if the municipality didn’t know the water authority had to lay pipes? And now the roads are back in a bad state, meaning another excuse for doing up the road next year. Imagine how many crores have been wasted all these years because of improper, and on purpose, bad planning.
Build to standards
Set standards on road widths and other infrastructure work (some already exist but are often rarely complied with) and maintain uniformity across the city.
Equip Delhi’s street sweepers with better tools like trash pickers, besides the usual broom. I suggest this because in Bangalore and else where in India, the street cleaners tend to be slightly older women and I can imagine the strain on their backs must be too much because of the constant bending down while cleaning everyday.
One can import them from China at a mere $2 a piece but I brought up trash pickers because these tools are easy to make in India. So just approach small scale industries in and around Delhi and pitch the idea to them. The engineering behind them is simple and the materials used in making them can be found in abundance (recycled plastic can be used). Let this be a push to make use of the small scale factories right here in India. I’m sure they won’t cost anything more than Rs.100 – 150 to make (in bulk), so even if the AAP government were to fund it, surely a few lakhs in investment can net thousands of pieces.
Trash pickers will appear as toys to young ones, encouraging them to get one and use it to clean their surroundings. Set the trend, and I’m sure other cities will seek the same, thereby helping the manufacturers in Delhi boost their production.
Demolish illegal properties and seize the land
So it seems demolition of some illegal buildings are being undertaken post AAP’s victory in Delhi 🙂 Let this continue. Demolish illegal constructions or seize the property. You need to use Delhi’s land bank wisely.
Proper laying of Optic Fibre Cables
Please incorporate a provision for the easy laying of optic fibre cables (OFC) when designing and planning road works. OFC cables are often cut and damaged when municipal workers dig up roads and it’s surroundings indiscriminately without any consideration for what’s underneath the soil. This is not only frustrating for the telecom operators who own the cables but also for the customers who lose internet connectivity, who then take their anger out on the ISP. Here in Bangalore, the BBMP claimed over 90% of the cables were laid illegally — which is hard to believe because you can’t simply dig up roads day in and day out to lay cables without the zonal engineer noticing. Of course, no action is ever taken against the authorities who probably accepted bribes to let anyone dig up roads.
So to avoid roads being dug up in the future every time someone wants to lay optic fibre cables, create paved tunnels by the sides of the road.
If the cables need to cross over to the other side, use pipes or tunnels beneath speed breakers and zebra crossings (these can be paved using inter-lock bricks so removing them becomes easy).
The tunnels can be concreted or made out of hard plastic. It maybe expensive, but the cost of doing this can be subsidised by the charging the telecom/cable operators a reasonable rate per km. The telecom operators are anyway supposed to pay a rate per km for laying OFC cables. But instead of simply burying the cables underground, the cable owners will be more than happy to pay for a better, long term solution. This way, if the telecom companies want to lay more OFC cables or do any repair work, all they have to do is open the grills and get to work without obstructing the road or traffic too much.
An expensive solution, sure, but henceforth any infrastructural development AAP does has to be long term and not continuing the ‘bad way’ we have been following all these years. Doing things the way we are used to doing them thus far maybe cheap, but it gets expensive (and messy) in the long run. Infrastructure development henceforth should be long-term and not short-term. High time we got over the ‘5-year planning’ mindset, or “how can we win the next election?” strategy.
Consider using waste-to-energy technologies to solve two problems at once. The IRC recently made it official for the use of plastic in road construction to reduce the use of bitumen and thus lowering the cost per kilometre. When you have the money, invest in machines that will help in the maintenance of Delhi. Such as brick-laying machines to quicken the making of footpaths, road cleaners/vacuums to clear the sides of roads from dust (which vehicles avoid) and garbage trucks used in the developed countries — not the open lorries with garbage debris falling out of them as they ride the city streets during the day.
Oh, and regarding this…
‘No Laal Batti’ – Yes, I agree. Every MLA abuses it and leave it only for the CM whenever needed. There is nothing more annoying for the Indian driver than to be stuck in traffic in the hot sun or during rains just so a minister can comfortably pass through.
‘No Security’ – Erm, at least keep one armed guard? The reason why our current MLAs have so many security personnel is, a) they know how many people hate them; b) for their bloated ego. AAP leaders will be a target for the opposing political parties and their army of thugs, especially when they see AAP do well. AAP has already lost a key member in this fight for a better India. Don’t risk anymore lives.
As for the remaining armed guards, put them on the streets of Delhi or in AAP’s constituencies to protect women and ensure safety of the public. Their presence will also be a measure in curbing crime.
Half salaries – Look, people in India don’t have a problem with MLAs getting high salaries. What they have a problem is, despite the high salary, the bungalows, the travel perks and many other privileges, these goons makes crores in ill-gotten wealth! It’s the ‘black’ money and illicit wealth we have a problem with! I read somewhere the salary for a Delhi MLA is Rs. 37 lakh annually? Pay it. If the AAP MLAs don’t wish to spend it all, let them donate it to the poor and needy in their constituency every month. What’s the harm?
No bungalows – Take it and make the big house the MLA’s office. Let the workers stay there if needed (when they have to work late) while the MLA can go back to his/her own house and sleep. Why would you want the ‘aam aadmi‘ to bother your family every time they wish to see their MLA? Leave the family out of the public eye. Turn the bungalows down only if the house is located far away from a MLA’s constituency. The MLA should have an office or a house in his/her constituency where the resident of that constituency can come to for official visits and for other meetings.
I could offer more thoughts and suggest more ideas but I won’t. I have written more than 12,000 words and spent two weeks drafting this article. I have more ideas in my head and I shall update this post when I am done with the illustrations for the same. For now, I would be more than happy if a few key people from Aam Aadmi Party would at least read through all that I wrote.
As for who I am, how I thought of all this and why I bothered to write all this. I’m no engineer nor a politician, but right from the time I began living in Bangalore (from 2003 onwards), I would look at my surroundings and wonder why things couldn’t be done in a better way (maybe it’s because I grew up in a “developed” Middle Eastern nation). As Arvind Kejriwal himself said, this isn’t “rocket science” — and he’s right, it isn’t. In the last 2-3 years I myself stopped complaining about the problems India faces and started learning about the solutions to fix our problems. Following Ashwin Mahesh on Facebook introduced me to Lok Satta Party two years ago and that is what finally inspired me to support a political party in earnest. It felt good knowing that we have a better choice for politics now. Following Ashwin Mahesh alone helped me learn a LOT about India’s pathetic legal structure and bad governance, and not to mention all the corruption in Karnataka and Bangalore. And many of these ideas were conceptualized in the hopes Lok Satta members, had they won the 2013 Karnataka Assembly elections, could implement them in their respective constituencies.
I’ve also travelled a fair bit outside India, and whenever I travel, I am constantly frustrated when I think about problems back home. I grew up in Bahrain, but I have visited Dubai, Abu Dhabi and several nations in South East Asia. Not America or Europe (mostly because they’re too expensive for me right now), but if you want to see places “better” than India, we don’t need to go very far. Even countries like Thailand are cleaner, safer and have better infrastructure compared to India. People don’t realize how ‘behind the times’ India truly is.
It’s embarrassing India is called a “rising super power,” when as soon as you step out of the few world-class airports, everyone knows India is nowhere near attaining that status. This is why I started supporting new age politics. Because no matter how many good ideas we may all have, how much of a talented workforce we have, it’s all wasted if you pitch those ideas to a corrupt government. Ashwin Mahesh himself was a part of ABIDe, a task force set up by the former BJP CM Yedurappa in 2008 to suggest ideas for a better Bangalore. Like all past CMs, they all say they ‘will do this, will do that’ soon after they win. And what happens down the line? Nothing.
Convened by MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, ABIDe had Ashwin Mahesh and RK Misra (then a part BJP’s Good Governance Cell; this was before he quit to start Nav Bharat), ABIDe had grand ideas to reform the various agencies that govern Bangalore. They submitted reports and held meetings — all of which went to waste as MLAs refused to attend them and nobody wanted to make any changes to the existing system. Guess why. Eventually Ashwin Mahesh and RK Misra quit knowing the existing political class wasn’t going to implement anything ‘good’ because that would be ‘bad’ for MLAs and their cronies. ABIDe was later disbanded. Both Ashwin Mahesh and RK Misra then joined politics to take on the legacy parties. (See the pattern here?)
India is no longer a poor country. We have immense wealth and resources yet to be untapped, but all this wealth is under the control of the wrong hands (and in their pockets). India’s image isn’t going to get any better until our nation sees good governance. For 50 years after independence we could have used the excuse India is still a ‘young’ country looted by the colonial British. Not anymore. Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and several other nations were all ‘poor’ post World War 2. Now look at them. Yes, I know, you can’t compare smaller nations to India, but do we even have one state out of 28 states that can be considered truly ‘developed’?
We can’t change attitudes and habits overnight, but we have to raise future generations of Indians with better attitudes. All of this starts with good governance. Presently the entire system is corrupt. Where is the motivation for any good police officer or any good government official to do a good job when he or she faces the wrath of a corrupt senior who will punish them with a transfer because they dared to challenge the wrong?
Even though parties like Lok Satta existed for years, the era of social media and cable news (and of course the Anna Hazare movement) truly helped AAP get off to a great start. After having campaigned for Lok Satta in Bangalore earlier this year…
… I realized first-hand the challenges new parties face going up against the legacy parties of India. It was shocking to see how much money (and liquor) was being given away by the BJP and Congress to voters — all of which are illegal and all of which the Election Commission turn a blind eye to. I wished Lok Satta’s candidates for Bangalore had won a few seats in Karnataka’s Assembly elections, but alas, we never enjoyed the kind of publicity AAP got. All the more reason why I was thrilled when AAP did so well on December 8th. AAP’s victory in the Delhi elections changed the game and opened the door for all of us!
So now, AAP forms the government with 28 seats with Congress offering “outside support” — which won’t last very long, trust me. I hope AAP are able to fulfill a lot of their manifesto’s promises, and maybe even consider my suggestions(?). AAP won’t be able to pass many crucial bills, including the Jan Lokpal bill, unless they have a majority in parliament. But I’m sure AAP knows that. I’m also sure that AAP formed a government to prove the point to the people of Delhi that no major work can be done because the Congress and BJP will vote against everything that will make AAP look good. This will upset the people of Delhi too. AAP will then tell the people in a few months time, “look, see all that we have done so far? We can’t do more good work unless we win with a large majority” and the people will shout in agreement. AAP will then dissolve the government and go in for re-elections with greater support from the people of Delhi. (Well played Arvind Kejriwal ;-))
To win that greater support, get working on the basics immediately. Like fixing Delhi’s roads, exposing the water tanker mafia, etc. Clean up the city. After all, the jhaadu is AAP’s symbol, and you bought quite a lot of brooms for your election campaign 🙂 Now put it to use on the streets! Cleaning streets will signal the difference. Put up dust bins, maybe even those with ash trays on top. I suggest this because most of the ‘daily’ litter on the streets can be traced back to the chaiwalla and the small stores that sell pan masala, cigarettes among other small items. Place dustbins right there! All such work do not require bills to be passed. Only action. This will drive the message to Delhi’s citizens that AAP is at least trying to make an effort despite the opposition. This will only win AAP empathy and votes.
Another measure AAP MLAs can greatly make an impact with is by helping people in your respective constituencies who have been forced to pay bribes or were demanded to pay bribes to get something done. To give you an example, Ashwin Mahesh is often approached with cries of help from people who say civic authorities are demanding bribes for property registrations, licenses or even water connections. Ashwin Mahesh tries his best to help them out even though he’s not an MLA. Now, AAP has 28 MLAs. Hear out people’s complaints regarding bribes during your mohalla sabha meetings and set aside a date when the MLA will escort his people from his or her constituency to the very offices and ensure they get their documents and genuine problems resolved without having to pay anything more that what he or she is supposed to. What are those corrupt officials going to do? Threaten an MLA? Take cameras with you if needed. If I were a minister, this is what I would do.
Regardless of politics being played out in Delhi, I wish AAP all the success. Had AAP not performed so well, I doubt the Lokpal bill would have been passed by Congress without much resistance from BJP. Anna Hazare may hate Arvind Kejriwal for entering politics but so be it. Arvind Kejriwal did the right thing. So did Dr. Jayprakash Narayan, when he turned Lok Satta from a movement into a party in 2006. Dr. Jayprakash Narayan is now an MLA and a respected leader, even if he may not be a popular national figure. You have to fight the system from within, and as a Lok satta party member, I will continue to support AAP and other new political parties who refuse to the toe the line the legacy parties have thus far survived on.
People want change, and I’m glad I’m living at a time Indians now have better political options. We may not see the changes immediately, but I’m glad I at least get to be part of that change!