Friday, July 6, 2018

Irritating or ridiculous

During 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was a great shortage of trained Engineers in India. The basic reason for this shortage was paucity of  engineering seats available in the colleges, with number of colleges themselves so small that they could be counted by the fingers of the hand.  There were only 3 engineering colleges in western Maharashtra and total number of seats available were well below a thousand. Government of Maharashtra decided to allow opening of private engineering colleges in early 1980’s, so that more number of trained engineers would be available in due course of time. A few pioneers, who also had political backing decided to open new private engineering colleges. Prof. Vishwanath Karad, a mechanical  engineer of 1958 batch,  from College of Engineering Pune  was one of them.  In 1983, he set up an educational institution, which he called as Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT).

Funds were no problem for the new institution as it was allowed to charge astronomical amounts (known as donation) as admission fees. However credit must be given to Prof. Karad that his rare entrepreneurial skills, political connections and  vision saw  MIT grow into a huge conglomerate over next thirty five years, imparting not only engineering education but also that in many other field such as Management, arts, commerce, science, Pharmacy, Law and journalism.

MIT also decided in 1990’s to expand in early school education area and set up residential and boarding schools that are known as ‘Vishwashanti Gurukul Schools’. Today they have six school campuses in different town of Maharashtra under control of Ms. Suchitra Karad-Nagare, executive director and trustee. Their school campus in Pune has recently been caught up in a whirlpool of controversy, when it published a school diary on 3rd June 2018, as is the practice in many schools. Prima facie, there is nothing wrong in it as it keeps the students and parents   informed about school activities.

However, some of the rules that the diary prescribed for the students can be described as nothing but short of irritating to put in a milder way; or ridiculous to put it more strongly. One of the rules says.
The students are strictly advised to use urinals and toilets in specific time allotted in the time-table. In case of emergency and medical grounds, the students should take permission from their respective teacher and proceed to the toilet with a buddy.”

The most ridiculous rule from the diary is about the colour of the innerwear, the girl students should wear in school. The diary specifies that all girl students shall wear at school only “white or beige inner-wears” under their bloomers every day. Another rule specifies the length of the skirt the girls must wear.

 The school also insisted that parents should sign and return a written affidavit that their ward would strictly obey the rules set. When the diary reached the hands of the parents, many of them were peeved and angry. Some called the rules, “coercive and unnecessary”, and approached the Education department and sought action against the school administration. Karad-Nagare justifies the inclusion of the rules in the diary and explains the rationale behind them. She says.

In past, we had some girls coming to us and complaining about such unpleasant experiences. To prevent such incidents, we decided to include rules about inner wears in the diary,” She adds further.
We had very clear intentions behind issuing the rules. The safety and security of students is out top priority. It seems some parents were uncomfortable with the language used to frame the  rules. We would give it a thought and ensure that we don’t hurt anyone’s sentiments.”

Seeing a great political opportunity in this episode, Pune’s political, leaders have jumped on the bandwagon. With so much pressure coming on school management, they seemed to have caved in and say now. “We will be conducting a parent-teacher meeting soon and based on the suggestions from all stakeholders, we will decide on a future course of action.”

However, not all parents are convinced. They say. “It is only temporarily withdrawn. But why the management should worry about colours of inner wear none is going to see except the individual . Don’t they have better things to do?”

6th July 2018.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A bridge too far

A few days ago, pedestrian extension on the south side of a railway over bridge, known as G.K.Gokhale Bridge, collapsed due to incessant rains at Andheri, one of the busy suburbs of Mumbai. When I heard the news, my first reaction was to think that the fallen bridge probably was the pedestrian railway crossing bridge built by railways at Andheri station, which would allow passengers to move to their desired railway platform from either side of the railway tracks. A bridge I was so familiar with, as I had used it thousands of times half a century ago.

I used to stay at Andheri then. It was divided, like most of the western Mumbai suburbs, in two halves, Andheri West and Andheri East, separated by Western Railway rail lines that ran in the middle. Western part of Andheri was more uptown or elite than eastern part with better shops, housing, and roads. The two halves were isolated from each other, as there was no road over bridges across the rail tracks that would connect them. Only bridge that connected these two halves was the pedestrian railway crossing bridge built by railways, mentioned above. This meant that only bona fide passengers of Western Railway could use this bridge and general public was not allowed on it. For everyone else, going from one half to other half was a nightmarish experience  as only way was through  crowded  railway level crossings some distance away to north and south of Andheri station.

I did not find this obstacle much bothersome as I used to have a Railway season ticket or pass and could use the bridge, whenever I desired, which in reality meant at least twice every day, as I stayed in western half, but by workplace was in the eastern half. However, whenever I was accompanied by my wife, we could not use this bridge unless we bought a platform ticket for her.

This situation changed to some extent when two road- over bridges were built across rail tracks around 1980. The bridge on the south of the station was named as G.K.Gokhale Bridge, which connected CD Burfiwala Road with Prof. NS Phadke Marg. This bridge is around half a Kilometer to south of Andheri station and is not of much use to commuters, because it is about half kilometer away to south of Andheri station and people even today do not find it convenient to walk all the way to GK Gokhale bridge,  just to cross rail lines. 
A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 epic war film based on the 1974 book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan. The film tells the story of a failed operation of World War II, intended to allow the Allies to break through German lines and seize several bridges in the occupied Netherlands, including one at Arnhem. Two divisions of US paratroopers, the 82nd and 101st Airborne, are responsible for securing the road and bridges. A British division, flying in gliders, is expected to land near Arnhem and hold both sides of the bridge there backed by a brigade of Polish paratroopers. The airborne troops catch the Germans by surprise and there is little resistance. Germans however, destroy the Son Bridge just before the 101st Airborne secures it. Later in a dangerous daylight river crossing in flimsy canvas-and-wood assault boats, soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division capture the Nijmegen Bridge. However, no reinforcement or support could reach the isolated British paratroops as the Germans close in on the occupying part of Arnhem at the bridge. After days of house-to-house fighting, the outgunned British troops are captured or forced to withdraw. The film ends with a British General saying, “Well, as you know, I've always thought that we tried to go a bridge too far."

When I saw this movie, I was somehow reminded of Andheri Bridge, which I crossed in the past at least twice every working day. There was really no connection between them, but somehow the association got fixed in my find and I always called the Andheri railway station bridge as the ‘Bridge too far’.

After yesterday’s mishap, I first thought that my ‘Bridge too far’ had collapsed. However after finding out that it is not this bridge but GK Gokhale bridge, I felt relieved in a small way as I knew that since pedestrian extension of GK Gokhale bridge has collapsed, there cannot be much loss of life as this bridge was sparingly  used by pedestrians.  I am glad that my feelings have come true.

5 July 2018

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Happy Days debate

It all started about four years back, when during election campaigns, one of the political parties in India, promised that if it is elected to power, people of the country would be able to see and enjoy happy days, which have eluded them ever since independence. It so happened that eventually people elected this party to power and ever since a debate has been raging on media, social or otherwise, whether this party has fulfilled its promise or has failed the people.

In India, we have a Government that works at three levels. At the top is the federal Government. Then we have the state Government and finally the local Government. The responsibilities of all three have been well defined by the constitution of India. It so happens that the same party is in power at all three levels, naturally by people’s wishes. This would mean that this ruling party cannot point fingers at others for non-cooperating, and has to accept final responsibility in all cases.

With the ‘happy days’ debate being a favourite subject of media, I thought of carrying out my own little survey at personal level to find out, whether there has been any improvement in the quality of life for me. At the outset, let me make it very clear. I am just an ordinary law abiding urban citizen of India. I live within whatever is earned by me. I neither need any special help from Government to get rid of my  loans, nor am I part of the begging brigade that wants things kept reserved for them. I am sure that there are millions like me in India, who just want to live their life peacefully.

Let us begin with the central Government. My passport was due for renewal this year. The renewal procedure earlier was very cumbersome with forms to be filled in quadruplicate and a travel agent’s help was a must. The new procedure involves filing a form on-line and things just follow logically after that. Your appointments are set up by SMS and you do not need to do any follow up, except attend the passport office, go through their well-organized process, and finally visit the Police station for verification if asked for. I received my passport just within a month with no hassles. Considering the number of passports handled by this office, I found that time of one month was quite reasonable.

Another point of contact with central Government is obviously filing the Income Tax returns and getting the refund. I shudder even to think about the old procedure, where one had to stand in a long queue to submit return at the Income Tax office and then wait endlessly for the refund cheque to come. Many a times the cheque would be received after its validity was over. Now returns are to be filed on-line, where an inter-active form guides you through. The refund again comes directly to your bank account. For last three years, I have been getting my refund well within a month if not earlier.

Sometimes, when I think about the past, I feel it to be so unreal and unbelievable. Getting an LPG cylinder refill for example. I have even gone to the distributor’s office to get a refill with an empty cylinder carried along. Most of the times, there would be a waiting list of weeks before the cylinder is delivered   at your doorstep. Now things are so damn easy. Just give a missed call and your booking is done. You get the cylinder within a few days. Your subsidy is credited to your bank account directly. Previously, I have stood  in line; to get a token, which would entitle me to get a daily ration of pasteurized milk bottle (after cash payment); to book a scooter and endless number of things. Delivery time for a Bajaj scooter was once ten to twelve years and a Fiat car 16 years. Now you can barge into any showroom, pay and immediately get your motorcycle or car.  There is a plethora of milk and milk products available on shelves of every grocer’s shop.

Ever since I remember, India was always a country of shortages. As a result, price of some commodity or other would shoot up suddenly, but today these are the days of abundance. Every commodity seems to be available in good supply with moderate rise in prices. Some people may doubt that but I think it so.

Let’s now come to state Government. As I have mentioned above, I neither am a farmer nor depend upon reservation quotas to get some privilege. I believe that merit and merit alone should be the qualification. This means that I do not have much of interaction with the state Government. However, when I see Pune Metro project coming upon or people travelling from Mumbai to Pune in just over 3 hours, I know that things are coming up well. However, the real ‘icing on the cake’, as far as the state Government is concerned, is the new initiative about banning one time use Plastics. Not only I fully endorse this policy, but also I am confident that, if implemented properly, we should see the benefits well within a year. Another point that deserves credit is the availability of electric power on continuous basis. Gone are the load shedding days, when you would not know, when and how long, power would be switched off. Thanks to many reforms, power is available in abundance. 

Lastly, let’s come to the local Government or the Municipality. There are three areas, roads, traffic control and garbage, where I believe that the local Government needs to do much more. Traffic in Pune remains chaotic, to put it mildly, uncontrolled. The present garbage collection system is archaic and I would like to see far greater degree of mechanization.

Neither I belong to the party in Power, nor am I a Government spokesperson. I am just an ordinary citizen, who wants to live comfortably with whatever I earn. My observations should be taken in that spirit. I do not know whether   happy days have come or not?  But if the present situation does not qualify for it to be called so, how do we define happy days? Perhaps readers know the answer.

3 July 2018