Friday, April 30, 2010


I am sure many of you must have spent some time at the ‘still being created’ Delhi International Airport before taking a flight. It looks slick and is full of joints that sell burgers, beer, books and what not. It even has a spa. Of course, it is a different matter that a 'wee bit' of rain flooded the world class airport and that flights get routinely disrupted during winter because of fog. For a few burgers and other stuff , each one of us taking a domestic flight, is paying Rs.200 to GMR – the company that is behind modernisation of the Delhi airport – and each one of us, going out of India pays Rs.1,200 to GMR. Now hang on. You will find the media littered with reports and PR pieces about the great new Terminal 3 that is coming up. I am sure you will get more beers and burgers there. But rest assured, you will probably end up paying even more to GMR as user charges!

Busy as we are with the IPL scam and other matters of grave interest to the Indian citizen and consumer, hardly any hack is paying any attention to this organised loot that is happening. When GMR wanted to charge Rs.200 and Rs.1200 more from each outbound passenger, the logic it gave was that the project was becoming unviable without that money. The company also gave a commitment that it will submit details of costs and other estimates justifying the extra charges by September 2009. In the meanwhile, India got a spanking new regulator in the form of Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA). By March 2010, when GMR had forgotten or failed to file those numbers, AERA threatened that it will be compelled to withdraw the excess charge. Managers at GMR responded by saying that all details will be filed by April 6, 2010. I may be wrong, but I think no such report has been filed yet by GMR. Meanwhile, it is reported that GMR has made close to Rs.600 crore by selling usage rights to stores, franchises and builders.We now hear that the project cost has gone up from Rs.8,975 crore to Rs.12,700 crore!

So this is a double whammy for the consumer. First, you and I are fed with stories about how world class, how unique and how great the new airport will be. Then we are subtly told to be ready to pay substantially more as user charges to GMR when the new Terminal 3 becomes operational in July. GMR is a private risk-taking company whose principal job is to chase profits and take risks. In any other same situation, if the cost of the bid submitted by GMR went up by almost 50%, it would be punished by the markets as a failure of entrepreneurship and management. But this is India, where markets are subservient slaves of a system we all know as crony capitalism. And the newly formed AERA appears to be a toothless tiger, unable to stop this loot. But why single out GMR? Most Indian companies and entrepreneurs love the Indian system of capitalism, because it rewards them even when their estimates and decisions are plain wrong. And consumers like you and me can go to hell.

Just wait for July to see how a media campaign for even higher user charges will be unleashed.


Friday, April 16, 2010


Many of you might dismiss this as a plug; but believe me, this one comes straight from the heart. If you can spare some time, please read the cover story of T e Sunday Indian magazine that is available in the stands. You will read about a police constable Pratima Rout, one of the few who survived the Maoist massacre of Nayagarh (Orissa) in 2008. She was hospitalised with four serious bullet wounds. Forget adequate care, appreciation and compensation, Pratima realised that a senior cop of the IPS cadre actually stole some of the money allotted to her for treatment. The police department of Orissa now wants to recover the money from her. The same police department kept sending her notices demanding why the bullet riddled Pratima is not reporting for work. You will read about Mase, the widow of martyr Ganga Madkami, a policeman killed during a Maoist mine blast in Orissa in 2008. Mase and her eight year-old son Sunadhar, stay in a tribal village in the Malkangiri district – far away from the state capital Bhubaneswar. She is crestfallen and defeated by India’s bureaucracy; the illiterate widow has to go every month to Bhubaneswar and bribe a gang of ghouls (office babus) before she can lay hands on the pension due to her.

There is yet another case in which the Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik personally intervened; or so the media reported. Sub-Inspector Ajit Bardhan was abducted and butchered by Maoists in July 2009. His retired father Jaykrishna Pradhan suffered a heart attack. The CM personally visited their house and issued categorical orders that the father and the widow (who incidentally went into labour on hearing of her husband’s death) be taken care of. Today, the retired father is doing the rounds of government offices because even the provident fund and family pension of his martyred son is yet to be released. There are numerous destroyed families of martyrs in Orissa – and everywhere else in India – who are going through more state-sponsored trauma.

Just forget all the hogwash about India Shining. How in God’s name can a nation and society even have the temerity to lay claim to greatness, when it so callously treats the families of those who laid down their lives to protect the nation and the society?

I could be biased because many of my close family members serve in the Armed Forces. But really, the shame is searing and scathing. I recall the summer of 1999 when India was fighting the Kargil war. My brother-in-law who belongs to The Rajputana Rifles, was sent with his unit to Kargil, leaving my sister and two young kids behind at Faizabad where he was posted. At the height of the war, I actually saw my sister being heckled by the railway reservation clerk at Faizabad who mocked at the fact that her husband had been sent to fight a war and she needed a train ticket that was her right as a citizen. I realised that day that the most destructive legacy the British had left behind was the bureaucracy.

Forget personal bias. Talk to anyone who knows these things and you will realise how the bureaucrats have systematically sidelined, humiliated and emasculated the Armed Forces. And then you read nonsense about India on the verge of becoming 'Great'? You must have a sick sense of humour...


Friday, April 2, 2010


Typically succumbing to hype and hyperbole, the media decreed that it was a “historic” verdict. I am talking about the death sentence given to five people in Haryana accused of brutally murdering a young girl and her husband for defying ‘tradition’ as decreed by caste chieftains. The man who organised the “khap” panchayat that delivered the death sentence on the couple has been sentenced for life. This is the first time that a court has given a death sentence to the accused in a crime like this. We all know that in large swathes of North India – particularly Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, such extra judicial executions of “lovers” have been a common occurrence, oft en with the cops looking the other way. In these parts of India, falling in love with someone of your “gotra” is clearly suicidal. Now, after this ‘historic’ verdict, pundits are proclaiming that the death sentence will act as a deterrent for the bigoted who think respect for ‘tradition’ and caste is more important than life and liberty.

Will it? I still recall a similar kind of media hype a few years ago when a court had convicted a Haryana based doctor of conducting “illegal” tests to determine the sex of a foetus and aborting it, because it happened to be that of a girl. That too was labeled a historic verdict and pundits had proclaimed that it would act as a deterrent for prejudiced parents and greedy doctors who routinely aborted pregnancies when the foetus turned out to be that of a girl child. To the best of my knowledge, prejudiced parents and greedy doctors – despite the historic verdict – persist with this social evil. In some parts of North India – Haryana again – things are so bad that strapping young lads have to share a bride ‘imported’ from West Bengal or Jharkhand because their parents finished off ‘local’ brides even before they were born.

This is a serious issue for all of us to ponder. What I have realised is that prosperity and even education do not seem to have an impact on the ‘mindsets’ that breed such social evils. A research study done a couple of years ago provided the shocking statistics that the sex ratio was the worst in South and West Delhi – the most prosperous and posh areas of the Indian capital. And of course, we all know that Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh are prosperous. You would think that access to higher education could change at least the people who get educated; that it might persuade them to forsake and renounce social evils. You would be mistaken. I have personally come across many Marx spouting “intellectuals” from parts of Eastern India who have passed through the portals and gates of the venerable Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and taken dowry without batting an eyelid. If an "intellectual” from JNU who becomes a civil servant, happily takes – and oft en demands – dowry, what do you expect from the illiterate villagers of Haryana?

Sure, law and legislation do not immediately help because it takes generations to change mindsets... But – if implemented effectively – they do make a difference. Look at that so-called land of liberty – America. Despite Barack Obama, racial prejudice & discrimination is an ugly reality out there. Imagine what would be the state of affairs if a law “empowering” blacks (known as the 'Civil Acts Right of 1964') had not been passed in 1964? And think about the status of blacks in America today, despite the law…