Tuesday, 31 May 2016

ADMINISTRATIVE COUP IN SHIMLA-----BUSHAHR RULES !

Himachal's Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has caused immense damage to the bureaucratic edifice in the state by superseding four IAS officers in his determination to appoint a favourite as Chief Secretary ( 31.05.2016). This was expected, because the decks were being cleared for this for quite some time and inconvenient officers were being made to walk the plank in true Bluebeard fashion. Nonetheless, this purge goes against the traditions of this model state. Till now HP has had a relatively cleaner, equitable, non-partisan and transparent higher bureaucracy, and both rules and conventions have been followed in the matter of promotions. I do not recollect of any such supersession taking place in the last twenty years. It has now become an accepted( but nonetheless unfortunate) practice that a CM is entitled to appoint as Chief Secretary an officer who enjoys his " trust" ( whatever the hell that means), even if he is not the seniormost or most competent among the lot. But there are graceful ways of doing this without humiliating more senior officers who have first claim on this post.
                                                                                                                                                Virbhadra Singh's predecessor, Mr. PK Dhumal, and his close aides had a generic dislike for a particular officer who was the seniormost IAS officer in the state on at least  two occasions between 2008 and 2010 and could therefore legitimately claim the post of CS. Dhumal did not appoint him because he didn't " trust" him to do his bidding- but he didn't supersede him either. On both occasions he asked a more senior, and equally if not more competent, officer to revert to the state from Delhi and appointed them as CS by turn. Perfectly fair, compliant with rules, respectful of conventions: nobody could have a grouse, and the ignored officer happily retired as Addl. Chief Secretary.

The govt. has not only superseded the four IAS officers but has also heaped humiliation on them by placing them directly below an officer ( the CS) who is junior to them. It could have shown more consideration and grace by posting them in some Board or Corporation or Commission where they would have been nominally independent of the Chief Secretary on a day to day basis. By not making the effort to devise a middle formula and openly humiliating three of the four superseded officers( the fourth has fortunately escaped to Delhi in the nick of time) Virbhadra Singh has shown his contempt for the bureaucracy and the arrogance of a six-term Chief Minister. The bureaucracy is a carefully structured organisation in which hierarchy is important: Mr. Virbhadra Singh, who constantly stresses his own political “ seniority”. could not be unaware of this cardinal principle of organisations; he has, however, chosen to spurn it in a pattern of actions which is looking increasingly like a scorched earth policy. 
                                                                                                                                              His action has also reinforced the widely held perception that he is more than partial to officers from a particular region of the state who now form his Praetorian Guard, as it were. This will, regrettably, also create a divide in the higher echelons of officialdom which the state had managed to avoid all these years. Mr. Virbhadra Singh may or may not  be around as Chief Minister in the days to come, but this is one legacy he need not have bequeathed the state.

By the way, a little bird tells me that a similar Night of The Long Knives is being planned for the Indian Forest Service soon. Banana republic or Apple republic- take your choice, folks.

Bushahr state, a tiny principality in earlier times, has finally achieved what Mr. Virbhadra Singh’s ancestors could never do: it has staged a coup and conquered the whole of Himachal Pradesh ! Mr. Singh’s satraps rule everywhere. Is this the kind of real politic Mrs. Dilma Roussof, the ex-President of Brazil, was referring to when she coined the phrase “ democratic coup”?


















Sunday, 29 May 2016

DELHI BELLY - A COUNTRY OF GENIUSES !

If we are to go by the CBSE's just released results for the 10+2 exams we have nothing to worry about- India is a country of geniuses! Of 10,67,000 candidates who took the exam 90000 scored more than 90%, and 14000 scored more than 95% . Even more amazing, students have scored 100% in subjects such as English, Psychology, History, Commercial Arts, a feat the likes of Shakespeare, Freud , Michaelangelo and Andy Warhol would find hard to match. The country topper scored 99.4%
   How on earth can one score 100% in these subjects or 99.4% in the aggregate? In my time a 75% was considered exceptional and anything above that prompted a judicial inquiry. Perhaps the answer lies in the response of one student ( Urna Chakraborty of Springdales, Pusa Road, Delhi) when asked how she secured 100% in History: " History is a very interesting subject. I memorise everything in detail for my exam." ( Emphasis mine). It would appear that what CBSE is testing is rote learning and not true understanding and assimilation of a subject. It is also indulging in lazy question setting and rote marking. This is not promoting genuine education and learning but encouraging phenomena like the Kota model of education which is churning out thousands of tunnel vision cyborgs who go on to secure engineering degrees and then find themselves unemployable. Indian industry has been complaining about this for some time and now even the IITs and IIMs have started changing their admission processes to test for real knowledge rather than memorised data. Even some leading Universities and Colleges now prescribe admission tests rather than simply go by the 10+2 results. It is time CBSE realised the damage it is doing to the education template in the country by its ridiculous system of marking.
  It is also causing real harm to the psyche, and even the lives, of students who cannot withstand the immense pressure exerted by a system where even a score of 80% brands one as a failure. This year itself a student of Naraina who secured 60%, unable to face his parents, killed himself by hanging himself from a ceiling fan. A dozen students kill themselves in Kota every year. CBSE's toxic assessment process inturn leads to cut-offs in universities that are even more ridiculous: last year one college in Delhi had a cut-off of 101% for a particular subject! By these standards I and all my friends would be deemed to be only half-literate because none of us got more than 65% in college; the one illiterate among us ( he failed) later on went to become a crore-pati ! Last year one Shivani Mohan who secured 92.5% in her 10+2 but failed to get into St. Stephens or Lady Shri Ram took admission in a leading university in California. Come on Mrs. Irani, there has got to be something wrong with an assessment eco-system where it is easier to get admission in a US university rather than in a Delhi college. Please do something about it before heading off to UP as the BJP's Chief Ministerial candidate.

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It is encouraging to note that the Supreme Court has once again dismissed the appeal by the taxi operators of Manali( supported by a vision-less state govt.) against the NGT orders restricting the number and type of vehicles going up to Rohtang pass. Even the 1200 allowed so far is a thousand too many. But it is distressing to note that , apart from enforcing the NGT orders in a ham handed manner, the Kullu administration is doing little else to devise alternatives to minimise its effects on tourism in the valley. It should by now have fast tracked the installation of the rope-way from Palchan to Rohtang, but the govt. appears to have done precious little about it in the last four years, apart from cancelling the tender floated in the last months of the Dhumal govt. for no apparent reason. Electric vehicles is another solution, and one would have expected that the govt. would have gone out of its way to promote this pollution free mode of transport. Instead, as reported by HILLPOST a few days ago, it is harassing someone who has displayed individual initiative to procure an electric taxi: Mr. Buddhi Prakash Thakur has been running from pillar to post to get his battery driven taxi registered with the Transport and Tourism departments- with zero success so far. By now the state govt. should have framed a policy for registering of E- vehicles; if it lacks the ability to do so it should simply adopt( with suitable modifications) the policy prepared ( and implemented) by the Delhi govt. I would also advise Mr. Thakur to shoot off a letter to the NGT immediately- governments nowadays work only on court orders.
Incidentally, the govt. has ordered 20 electric buses for the Rohtang route, to be operated by the HPTDC. Once these buses arrive the govt. should ask the NGT to reduce the permissible number of cars by 200, to 1000, since one bus is equivalent to at least ten cars. This way the vehicular load will not increase with the addition of the buses. I have a feeling that the state govt. would not be too keen to do this, so perhaps our environmentalist friends or NGOs could initiate this measure.

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The general level of political discourse in this country keeps declining with each session of Parliament and with each election, and even lady opponents are not spared. Degenerate comments on each others' character, parentage, integrity, morals etc. are the order of the day. To my mind, this reflects the diminishing caliber of the people we elect to office, their lack of genuine education, their limited intellectual capacity and their total inability to indulge in the cut and thrust of genuine debate. In contrast, it is a pleasure to watch, or to read of, the proceedings of some other parliaments, especially the British Parliament. I give below two historical exchanges between MPs in the House of Commons, just to grasp how far removed we are from the Westminster model ( which we purport to follow):

* A Member of Parliament who was speaking on a subject he thought was important was irritated to see that Winston Churchill was dozing in his seat. He thundered: " Mr. Churchill, must you fall asleep when I am speaking?"
 Churchill roused himself, calmly replied: " No. sir, its purely voluntary" and went back to sleep.

*  On another occasion, this is how two peers of the realm explored each other's characters in the House of Lords:
MONTAGU ( to Wilkes) " Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox !"
WILKES: " That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress!"

When will our legislators realise that the rapier is far more effective than the bludgeon ?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

DELHI BELLY-- THE WEEKLY GRIPE [ I ]

I guess the BJP is entitled to its moment of glory after winning Assam but it shouldn't get carried away. After all it did miserably in the other four states: the argument that it " established its presence" in these states doesn't really mean anything in a first past the post system. In Tamil Nadu it didn't even open its account. Nor is it entitled to cock too many snooks at the Congress in these five states: it won 63 seats compared to the Congress's 115. The fact is that it does well only if its a two-way contest with the Congress; wherever regional parties are added major players it comes a cropper. This is going to be its major challenge in the next two years. It therefore needs to evolve a vision beyond the " Congress mukt Bharat" because if it simply succeeds in replacing the Congress with the Mamtas, Jayalalithas, Mayawatis and Kejriwals that won't do it much good, will it?
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The NOTA( None Of The Above) option appears to be finally coming into its own. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections NOTA was 1.1% of the total votes cast: in these Assembly elections the figure went up to 1.5%. In Bengal NOTA was the fourth choice of the voters, behind TMC, Left+ Congress and BJP! The total number of NOTA votes cast was 17.26 lakhs: if the same percentage was applied to the entire country it would come to 12 million voters!- that's equivalent to eight Parliamentary seats. If such a large number of voters feel that the candidates put up by political parties are not worth voting for, it certainly doesn't say much about the quality of the candidates or even their parties. Its time they started paying some attention to this indicator of a flailing democratic process.
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Its time to apply Mr. Kejriwal's Odd-Even formula to Mount Everest, given the heavy traffic up there. Reports indicate that 289 climbers have taken permits for this season, and in just four days ( till 16th May) as many as 88 of them have summitted ! Nowadays there are so many climbers jostling for space that " traffic jams" of upto two hours occur regularly at the point known as Hillary's Step just below the summit. Its easier to climb Everest these days than it is to climb the landfill at Khichripur in Delhi. The plain fact is that if you have enough greenbacks the Sherpas will put you atop the peak, dead, alive or comatose. It costs about 50000 US dollars and the Sherpas do all the rest: prepare a path through the Khumbu ice-fall, bridge the crevasses, cut steps on the South col, and stretch guide ropes all along the way; thereafter you can sleepwalk your way to the summit. Summitting Everest is no longer either an adventure or a challenge, its just s selfie moment for those who have the moolah.
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General VK Singh, the MOS for External Affairs ( how does Sushma Swaraj put up with him?) is the final proof that selection to top posts in the Army is flawed. As if he has not already done enough to expose his regressive and antiquated mind set he has once again started the road renaming drama by demanding that New Delhi's Akbar Road be renamed as Maharana Pratap road. Someone should inform him that we already have a major road named after this very genuine warrior in Karol Bagh, and Delhi's main ISBT is also named after him. I am happy( as no doubt all right thinking citizens are) that Mr. Venkaih Naidu has quashed the General's ersatz patriotism by stating that this is not on the govt's agenda. But I would like to ask a different question on road namings: why must we name our roads only after public figures such as politicians, film stars or sportsmen? I have nothing against their success in their respective fields, but is mere material success to be venerated in this manner? These are personal successes at the end of the day, motivated by personal ambition ( all that bit about " playing for the country" or " contributing to the country's development" is generally crap, with a very few exceptions) and the hunger for fame or gain. How about commemorating the qualities that really count- compassion, the indomitable spirit of man, courage in the face of fear, the defiance of odds ? How about saluting and honouring these demonstrated qualities in the ORDINARY citizen, not a page three celebrity? Three such persons come to mind immediately. Neerja Bhanot, the PanAm air-hostess who died three days before her 23rd birthday in a hijack at Karachi, having saved 300 passengers from almost certain death. Manjunath, the IOC engineer shot in UP because he spurned the bribes and threats of the oil mafia. Dashrath Manjhi the impoverished mountain man of Bihar who carved out an 11 mile road through rocks  with his bare hands in ten years, something which the full might of the state had not been able to do in fifty.
Should we not be celebrating the peerless fortitude, indomitability and character of these non descript individuals who have done more to elevate the human spirit than all politicians and celebrities put together? Can we name a road or two after them also, please?     

Friday, 13 May 2016

NO MONKEY BUSINESS IN SHIMLA, PLEASE.

I am positively appalled at the prospect that monkeys can now be shot in Shimla, consequent upon their being declared vermin by the central Ministry of Environment and Forests. We must not forget that monkeys are the original residents of this city and came here long before the Captain Kennedys, Negis and Soods: in fact the last two have taken over the government and business, respectively, in an embrace much tighter than what the poor simians exercise over Jakhoo hill.
In fact, it is my belief ( based on brahmanical intuition, and not on any empirical evidence) that it is on the famous Ridge that a stout alpha male got up on his hind legs one fine morning to have a better look at the alpha female and thereby evolved into " homo erectus" ( not to be confused with the then Maharaja of Patiala who did something similar vis-a-vis an English lady and was exiled to Chail). Further evolution took place when the government shifted to Shimla in the summers and when HP became a full state: these  produced the " home prostratus", most of whom are to be found in the civil services; the " homo corruptus". who have a natural attraction for politics; and the " homo OROPus" who wear smart uniforms and play golf the whole day. The point I'm trying to make, dear readers, is that there are many sub-species of the rhesus monkey in Shimla, so why pick only on the ones who have refused to evolve?
Some years ago the Forest Deptt. decided to adopt an Air-B+B or YOYO Rooms approach to the problem of the apes targetting women's handbags at Jakhoo ( incidentally, it is only the more evolved and stupid species that target the women themselves and not the handbags): they caught them by the dozen in Shimla and let them loose in the Tara Devi forests, where they were fed fruits, vegetables and the occasional Baljee's hamburger. It was observed, however, that over a period of time the forest officials developed healthy paunches and jowels; the monkeys themselves usually caught the evening bus from Kaithlighat and returned to their favourite haunts in the town! Very soon this experiment was dropped and the forests of Tara Devi returned to their rightful occupiers- the poachers and the timber smugglers.
Next, the Department started a mass sterilisation programme but, mindful of what had happened during Sanjay Gandhi's time, it did not sterilise the babies, the pregnant,  or even  the dead monkeys, and made no distinctions based on caste, religion or economic status. But it soon ran into an unexpected problem: the monkeys quickly started recognising the DFO or the Ranger who came to trap them, something which even the Forest Minister or I, as Secretary, could not do. They even recognised the numbers of their official vehicles! One knowing look, and they would be off, never to be caught. Nevertheless, according to the figures supplied by the Department, by now every single monkey in HP and a few in Hoshiarpur and Pathankot should have been sterilised and their numbers should have gone down significantly. That it hasn't shows that there's a foreign hand- or some other appendage- at work here: Pakistan? China? the CBI? theBandar Suraksha Samiti ? Maneka Gandhi ? It might even be a conspiracy to dislodge the present government a-la Uttarakhand: after all, if the increasing numbers of monkeys were to take over the Secretariat one fine day, would that not amount to breakdown of the constitutional machinery? My personal view is that no one would notice the difference, but then again the courts might take a different view.
Speaking of the Secretariat, the government should realise the stellar role the monkeys play in hiding its incompetence, and worse. It is convenient to ascribe missing files, for example, to the depredation of monkeys and thereby avoid embarrassing RTI queries, something we have been doing for years with panache. In fact, in the early eighties things had gotten so bad ( monkeys were even attending cabinet meetings) that the government had to constitute a committee of Secretaries to find a solution to the epidemic. Fortunately, this august body never really took off because it was notified as a COMMITTE OF MONKEYS instead of a COMMITTE ON MONKEYS! We never did find out whether the gaffe was caused by a printer's devil or a Dealing Assistant with a grudge against the IAS. In either case, he was closer to the truth than perhaps even he realised.
Let us not, therefore, run down these magnificent animals to whom we owe so much. Always remember that 98.50 percent of the DNA of monkeys and humans are identical. The difference of 1.50 percent explains why the human race is in such a mess.