Words...and words

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bombay: Transport Infra in 2011 (Part 1/2)

An update is due on the post I wrote about the transport projects expected to be completed in Bombay in 2010. Here's the list I made last year and the status of each project at year-end:

  • 5 Flyovers/Elevated Roads
    • Hindmata Junction (inaugurated)
    • King's Circle (partly open; expected to be fully open by May 2011)
    • Lalbaug (scheduled for completion in May 2011)
    • Sahar Airport Elevated Road (quite delayed, will not be opened in 2011)
    • Suman Nagar (quite delayed, will not be completed in 2011)
  • 40-45 new 12-coach rakes (trains) for the suburban network (34 were delivered, 16 more expected in 2011)
  • Rail bridge between Mahim and Bandra, with an additional pair of tracks from Santa Cruz to Mahim (bridge completed, status of tracks unclear)
  • 1000 buses for BEST (all delivered)
  • Terminal 1C at the Santa Cruz domestic airport (inaugurated)
  • Monorail between Jacob Circle (Lower Parel) and Wadala (delayed, likely to be completed in 2011)
  • Second carriageway of the Bandra-Worli sea link (commissioned)
Bombay lost its status of hosting India's busiest airport to Delhi because of lack of space for expansion. The international airport terminal continues to be modernised and is expected to be ready by 2013. Most significantly, ending years of uncertainty, permission was granted for the construction of a new airport in New Bombay. But it will be atleast 2015 before it becomes operational (how the airport will be connected to the city is all too unclear).

The most crucial element of the city's transport system, the suburban train network saw some improvement. The number of services did not rise much on the Western line, but the conversion of many trains from 9-coach to 12-coach increased capacity by 7-8%. Services increased on the Central and Harbour lines too, though I am not aware of the exact numbers. The conversion from DC voltage to AC voltage (expected to improve speeds of the locals slightly) began, a process that will take 2-3 years to complete. The extension of local train services to the far northern town of Dahanu was not realised, and might not happen in 2011 either.

Roads remained in their sorry state, not helped by the plentiful rains this year. Work continues on the series of flyovers on the Eastern Express Highway and the remaining two flyovers should be opened to traffic by May, as noted above. The Eastern freeway (a 4-lane road along the eastern seaboard) is still another two years away, and work on the Worli-Haji Ali sea link has not yet begun. Among the east-west links, the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road was finally completed. The Santa Cruz-Chembur link is yet to see light of day though. Three other flyovers in the western suburbs (Milan Subway, Barfiwala Lane, Jogeshwari station) are likely to be delayed beyond 2011.

Two long-planned transport projects stubbornly refuse to take off. The Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) is an orphan, with neither the MMRDA nor the BMC really interested in even starting a trial run. The latest announcement is that a pilot might be in place by Feb-end, but I remain sceptical. The water transport project, supposed to provide boats for passengers along the western and eastern coasts, remains a bone of contention between the MMRDA and the MSRDC. Both agencies keep vying to implement the project, but no one is actually doing any visible work to bring it to fruition. I wonder why the MSRDC (Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation) is even involved in a water transport project.

To follow in part 2: Metro, Monorail projects. List of projects expected to be completed in 2011. 


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pedagogical Joke

Last year I spent the better part of a week reading Keegan's "The First World War". Today I came across this summary in 'Eastern Approaches', The Economist's blog on eastern European affairs ("If WWI were a bar fight"). Quite succint, and accurate :) 
Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria's pint. Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg. Germany expresses its support for Austria's point of view. Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.
Serbia points out that it can't afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria's trousers. Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it's looking at. Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone. Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so. Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene. Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?
Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action. Britain and France ask Germany whether it's looking at Belgium. Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper.
When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone. Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium. France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other. Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it's on Britain's side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.
Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it. France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change. Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway.
Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting. America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself. By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany's fault. While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.
I only disagree with the part about America. If the US hadn't delivered the final blows, Germany would have been the only person left standing at the end of the brawl.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stories from the 1940s

I just finished reading two very interesting books. "The Storm of War" is Andrew Roberts' superb history of WWII. Roberts is opinionated, but backs up his conclusion that "the real reason why Hitler lost the Second World War was exactly the same one that caused him to unleash it in the first place: he was a Nazi" with good arguments.

In "Churchill's Secret War", Madhusree Mukerjee investigates the role of the British Government in causing the Bengal Famine of 1943. Churchill hated India and his chief scientific adviser Lord Cherwell was an extreme racist. Together, opposing the repeated pleas of Secretary of State for India Lord Amery, Viceroy Linlithgow and Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army Lord Wavell, they delayed and denied modest but vital grain shipments to India that could have prevented a famine that killed atleast 3 million. In one dramatic moment on August 4, 1944 Lord Amery responded to a familiar tirade by Churchill against Indians by comparing him to Hitler! In a British War Cabinet Meeting, no less!

Of all the interesting - and depressing, relating to the famine - revelations in the book, the most prominent for me were the financial arrangements between the UK and the Indian colony. I somehow imagined that all war-time material requirements from India would have been obtained for free by the British. But there actually was cost-sharing, with the British government promising to pay the Indian government an agreed proportion of the costs after the war. Indeed I realised that my grasp of colonial Indian macroeconomics is extremely poor. Next stop: an economic history of modern India :)       

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Fork in the road

Today I watched some episodes of "Malgudi Days" on DVD. I don't really remember watching any specific episode on TV during its original/second airing (I must have been 7-8 years old), but do have vague memories of watching the show, and of course, liking it.

By and large, my exposure to the world of Hindi TV withered during the 2000-2009 decade. The last Hindi TV show I watched regularly is probably the soap "Kahin Kissi Roz" during my last year in engineering college, in 2004 or 2005. On the other hand, during the same period, my consumption of Hindi films has held up very well. In fact, during the last couple of years, I hardly remember watching any new English film (either on the big screen or on small screen).

My point? I think that the quality of Hindi films has improved significantly during the last decade. Each year there are atleast 4-6 excellent/very good movies and another 7-8 decent/watchable flicks on view. Perhaps there is a higher number of good Hollywood films (ignoring for the moment films in other languages), but 10-15 good movies annually works for me. I don't even need to explore other sources to get an adequate movie-fix. With TV, the situation is reversed. I watch so much English language TV for entertainment (British and US) that I hardly feel the need to surf to the much vaster array of Hindi channels on offer.

I wonder why the two industries have moved in different directions. Bollywood manages to produce interesting offerings like "Dev D", "Bheja Fry" and even "Bird Idol" (a new animated movie aimed at kids), albeit amidst a sea of mindless junk like "Tashan" and "Blue". Hindi TV offerings never seem to rise above the ubiquitous soaps and reality shows. Both ultimately cater to the same broad market. If Bollywood has multiplexes to showcase a "Dor" or "Manorama Six Feet Under" to a niche audience, then television producers also have the medium of umpteen niche channels to showcase their talent. Both industries have received plenty of funding (there have been dozens of Hindi entertainment channels launched in the last few years; unfortunately each one has produced the same fare). The fact that I watch Hindi films almost to the exclusion of Hollywood offerings eliminates the possibility of me being completely "westernised" to the point of not being able to appreciate modern Hindi TV programmes. I have no ideas about the reasons for this phenomenon. But I do regret not having a cause to follow any Hindi television show, since none is on par with "Gilmore Girls"or "Psych" or "Hustle".    


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Squandering a bonus?

The ongoing 3G spectrum auction has already (as on Apr 24) raised a minimum of almost Rs 32000 for the government. The auction for wireless broadband services will commence after the end of the 3G auction. The total revenue now likely to be raised by the two auctions should touch Rs 50000 cr. That's 15000 cr more than the Rs 35000 cr that had been pencilled in while preparing the FY11 budget. A cool Rs 15000 cr of bonus revenue! And yet, I am sure that "better" uses will be found for the cash than reducing the central government's deficit of about Rs 380000 cr :(

An observation about the auction. The country has been divided into 22 geographical circles for bidding purposes. At this point in the auction, Bombay and Delhi (approx population: 2 cr each) are being bid for at Rs 1080 cr each. Bihar, with over 13 cr people, is currently attracting a bid of Rs 34 cr. Is Delhi's 3G market really worth almost 250 times per capita more than Bihar?

Will probably post once more when the twin auctions are completed.   

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Defending the indefensible

The First Amendment of the US Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

In one sentence lie most of the rights a liberal state accords to its citizens. Freedom of speech has been particularly strongly respected in the US. Two recent happenings illustrate this high protection.

The Economist reported this week upon the Senate by-election in Missouri ("Congress shall make no law..."). One of the fringe (really fringe - he polled 23 votes in a previous run for Congress) candidates has been broadcasting nauseating hate speech (e.g., “Jews control the media”) on radio. Since he is a candidate for public office, all his tirades are considered political speech and granted complete protection under the First Amendment. Radio stations have to accept his adverts and cannot censor them.

The NY Times reported the US Supreme Court's decision today to declare unconstitutional a federal law banning the sale of videos depicting cruelty to animals ("Justices Void Law Banning Videos of Animal Cruelty"). The videos in this particular case were dogfighting videos depicting dogs being forced to fight each other. Other horrors meant to be prohibited from sale under this law include depraved allegedly sexually arousing movies called crush videos, depicting women inflicting pain upon and even killing various creatures with their bare feet or high heels. The Court held however, in a 8-1 verdict, that the law was too sweeping and ran afoul of the First Amendment.

I find myself agreeing with the outcomes, howsoever depressing, in both cases. Freedom of expression is too important and too valuable to sacrifice in the name of preventing useless junk (India TV) or personally repugnant and abhorrent behaviour (hate speech - unless it is immediately inciting criminal behaviour). In the case of the dogfighting of course, the actual practice remains banned, and there is a good possibility of a much more restricted and specific law passing muster.

I think that India has not protected freedom of expression as vigorously as we should have. The merest threat of adverse social reaction leads to books being banned ("Satanic Verses", Lane's book about Shivaji), movies not being screened ("Fire") and people being harassed (Actress Khusboo's remarks about pre-marital sex lead to 22 cases being filed against her, being dismissed by the SC only 5 years later).  Hopefully, as the years pass, the courts and legislatures will strengthen the effectiveness of our equivalent of the First Amendment - Article 19(1)(a).



Monday, March 22, 2010

Changing relations

Prepared a simple chart today tracking the per capita income (PPP terms, in current USD) of India relative to those of China and Pakistan in recent decades. It is rather deflating to recall that till as recently as 2006, India had a lower per capita GDP than Pakistan. But downright stunning to be reminded that China only overtook India in 1991 and Pakistan in 1996! Imagine Pakistan, by some accounts "the most dangerous place on earth" (here and here), not long ago being richer than two aspiring great powers of the 21st century :)

Note: Chart based on IMF data. The data-points from 2010 to 2014 are based on IMF projections made in Oct 2009.