Friday, March 27, 2009

There Is An Alternative!

If you think of the political scene in our country, over and above despair, the query ITNA (Is There No Alternative) invariably brings up the cliché 'TINA'. Perhaps we can now look forward to an immensely possible alternative.
You'll find Hasan Suroor's explanation on exactly such an idea
A Gandhian idea gets a British makeover extremely heartening - a change for the better is after all quite possible. In the UK there is a "high-profile campaign to reduce the dominance of organised political parties and provide a platform for citizens to contest elections as independent candidates".
Captain Gopinath of Air Deccan seems to have precisely these ideals when he decided to enter the election fray.
One would like to think there's still time now for someone to put together the Indian equivalent of The Jury Team - Politics without Parties (started by Sir Paul Judge)

(I realize I may have gone around in circles around this very same idea in these two posts - Leadership in short supply and Fittest minds in Needy Places.)
Cross posted from Feast for Thought

1. The Professionals' Party of India (PPI) is fielding candidates who want to make a difference.
2. Mallika Sarabhai, Meera Sanyal are candidates with intentions of making difference, independently of any party.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why not mileage meter for autos?

Today's autorikshaw-meters show rupee/paise figures. The metered fare is calculated in accordance with the starting minimum and the per-km rate fixed by the Regional Transport Authority (RTO). But then the rates are subject to periodical revisions, entailing re-calibration of meters in keeping with the latest fare structure.

It is cumbersome, and not all auto-drivers re-calibrate meters every time there is fare revision. The situation leaves considerable scope for argument/dispute over the legitimate fare. Consumer rights activist Asha Vombatkere suggests fitting out autorickshaws with meter showing distance travelled, rather than the fare payable by a passenger.

Autos fitted with mileage-meter need not be re-calbrated whenever the authorities revise the fare structure. All they need to do is issue a fresh fare-chart to auto-drivers. Ms Vombatkere,spokesperson for Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), said the revised auto-fare chart could be published in the local media, and displayed in railway station, bus station, and autorikshaw stands.

Ms.Vombatkere says Mysore has over 17,000 autos, most of which have out-dated mechanical meters, although they had been directed by RTO to switch to digital meters in 2002. Many auto-drivers prefer the good old mechanical meters that are eminently amenable to tampering. A media report quoting official sources said atleast 100 cases of alleged tampered meters are booked against auto-drivers every week.

Related item - Incredible India, incorrigible auto-men

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sight-n-smell of our open-ness

Ours is an open society. We are unashamedly open in doing things - such as dumping garbage,and peeing in very public places.
Doesn't It look more like a garbage dump that doubles up as a bus stand? The picture, taken from an inter-city bus on way from Trichy to Salem, reflects our collective indifference to public hygine. Littering trash on public space appears socially acceptable.

So does urinating in public. I didn't have the nerve to photograph what I witnessed people doing on a busy roadside close to the main bus station in Trichy. Of course one doesn't have to come all the way to Trichy for such sight and stench of Incredible India. Pay-and-use facilities are no solution. They may well be part of the problem in some places.

At Srirangam I found an open stretch with tell-tale stains,right next to a pay-and-use facility. Which charges Rs.2 for a go. The message is clear. It is social statement by those who can't or won't pay for it.
Public notice threatening offenders with a fine of Rs.100 is widely ignored.I heard local residents saying the notice was put up at the instance of the contractor who has taken the pay-and-use on lease from the municipal corporation. Local traders, auto-drivers, hawkers and beggers milling around the temple evidently find better uses for their two rupees. Besides, they have yet to get used to the idea of having to pay for it, not Rs.2 at any rate.

Surely,the temple management can afford to spend part of their hefty earnings from 'hundi' collections on a free and properly manned public conveniences. Outsourcing them to contractors may make business sense for the municipal authorities. It doesn't serve the interests of the people; nor does it promote upkeep of public hygine.

Meanwhile, I came across a blog post in GreenLivingTips making a case for doing it outside, but in the privacy of your garden. It saves water; it's organic fertilizer, containing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. They have a website promoting the idea; and even designated a Pee Outside Day - April 19.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Community health-care

A unique home-based palliative and chronic care movement is sweeping through Kerala. Thousands of trained citizens are volunteering two hours a week to take care of the chronically ill in villages and cities. Funding for this community-based scheme that has won WHO recognition comes in cash and kind from citizens, including schoolchildren, bus drivers, labourers and others, writes M Suchitra

Under this new initiative, thousands of trained volunteers from different backgrounds spend at least two hours a week on homecare visits, running out-patient clinics, organising family help, and raising funds. Besides dressing wounds and sores, they sit with patients and listen to their problems and fears. They also listen to the concerns of family members and train them in simple nursing tasks like catheterisation. All NNPC volunteer groups are supported by trained doctors and nurses.

Reading the full story ought to set us thinking.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Helping the domestic help

Anita, Saroja, Veeramma, Sarojini, Munni amma, Ashu...

Anita in Kanpur - a very quiet worker. She'd come with her gate-pass twice a day, and do all that she needed to, silently. It was difficult to get her to talk or have any dialogue with her - she was content to listen and proceed. In a smooth takeover, she had replaced her sister Susheela who got married and 'went away'.

Saroja in Bangalore is special. The only language she knew was Kannada. Neighbour-talk consisted of warnings that 'language problem' is likely to result in the house looking unkempt. We established a rapport on day 1, even as her husband apologetically said 'amma, she does not know Hindi' (the expect-you-know language in our circles). Because of her I learnt to make not only 'akki rotis' and parathas, but also conversation in Kannada - she is the reason that I can easily impress a localite with a better-than-average smattering of Kannada. Even now we exchange updates once in a while, and that routinely turns out to be a comfortable refresher course for me (continuing education programme!)

Veeramma in Sulur - Not at all quiet by any standards, but a reliable help to take care of the housee-cleaning routine. She wouldn't mind chopping spinach occasionally or readying methi leaves, but would leave for her mother's place for brief stretches, thankfully after arranging a substitute Sarojini, whose efficiency belied her rather large frame.

Munni Amma, here in Delhi, a senior citizen who is pretty quick (to leave soapy residues in vessels). But our mutual ways are set, and she's not a complaining character and is happy to work to meet her financial commitments. But her substitute Ashu - is lightning personified. I was bemused to find that she 'completed' a half-hour job in one-third the time.

After that long prologue you'll finally get to read the purpose of this post - my way of marking this significant day (IWD, March 8). In an effort to help the domestic help, I have offered to teach each of these ladies - members of the unorganised labour sector in India - their mother-tongue, with mixed results.
- Susheela and Anita - they had to get back home quick, and alphabets had to wait.
- Saroja, that devout vegetarian. Twice a week, after completing chores at my place and hers, she'd bring her notebook and pencil, and sit with the beginner's book I had got for her. I had got familiar with the Kannada alphabet and simple words through making out route-boards on buses, an alphabet chart, and the helpful series '30 days to Kannada' (through Tamil). So you can recognise the need for me to stay ahead, if Saroja had to become lettered! Her keenness to learn, and her hopes for her school-going boys to become toppers, her diligence in all that she did, and her ready giggles helped a lot, and I like to think that she's well on the way to minimum literacy. (Our mutual understanding even saw us through a tough period when the local police placed her family also among the suspects in a daring daylight robbery at our place).
- Veeramma - 'No, madam, I can't spend time or effort on studies'. But she let her children attend some extra classes.
- Sarojini had too many domestic responsibilities, and a drunkard for a husband, and I was not successful in taking her mind away from her worries.
- Munni Amma is lettered and even knows a few English words, draws pension, and runs a happy-enough household.
- Ashu - all of 18 and, a mother of a two-year-old. She's never been to school. When I offered to teach her -
"What will you charge?"
"I'll have to ask" and later "My family said 'no'"
"Need to look after kid, so I have to get back home ASAP"

If each of us (any member of the household including elders and teenagers) can spare a couple of half-hours a week to help (at least the willing) domestic help, methinks we are doing our mite to help our nation's womenfolk take further steps forward, remember - "If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family."