Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mine resistant vehicles should be available for the Security forces operating in Maoist areas

One of the recent news titles read like this – “Maoist rebels ambushed a patrol team in central India on Tuesday, killing atleast 15 paramilitary Police men” (Gadchiroli District, Maharashtra). Reason? A land mine blew up their vehicle.

This was not the first time security personals became prey for land mines. But what make me anxious is we are yet to plug the gaps. Now-a-days it is possible to assemble mines and IEDs without much effort or input cost. This scheme is easy for insurgents, as they can inflict heavy damages on the state apparatus without losing anyone from their rank and file.

Now read another title, ‘More Mine-resistant Vehicles Flow to Afghanistan’ - US Department of Defence (June 9, 2009). Reason? According to former US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen IEDs become more and more sophisticated over time. Combined with increasingly sophisticated Taliban attacks, they pose an increasing threat to deployed troops.

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) is a term indicating armoured fighting vehicles used by the forces for surviving from explosion of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and ambushes. It’s peculiar design act as a shield for the crew.

Earlier MRAP designs draw much criticism because of the excessive weight and low comfort offered to the crew. However the subsequent designs are showing much improvement in these areas.

Armoured Caterpiller D9R
Another important category of vehicles which can be used in this kind of hostile environments are Armoured Bulldozers like IDF Caterpiller D9R - the customized version of Caterpillar D9. This can be used for Mounting sand barriers, building fortifications, clearing landmines, detonating IED's and explosives etc. During the fighting this vehicle even withstood RPGs and belly charges with more than 100 kg and even half a ton of explosive.

We are not the only forces facing the threat of land mines and IEDs; U.S. and British forces too faced the same in Iraq and Afghanistan. So as armies of many other countries operating in various conflict zones. If MRAP's and vehicles of similar class are able to reduce the causalities, there should not be any reason for any delay in absorbing it to the Paramilitary and Police forces operating in the Maoist hit areas.


Photo courtesy: Wikipedia (Later edited to suit this article)

Sudan and her southern sibling - Still far away from anything called peace

There were a lot of expectations when South Sudan becomes independent. Many thought that the fighting may stop now. At least peace prevails for sometime; some moments of escape for the people from the constant fear of death.

But the subsequent events extinguished even the smallest ray of hope. Within a short periods of time the next centre of tensions emerged - The oil rich Abyei and Nuba Mountain.  It seems like there is no scarcity for a reason to fight and weapons. The organised militias and state run armies often care less about the sufferings they are inflicting on the common people for some drops of oil or to propagate some claims.

Here the only two things which are not so scarce may be bullets and deaths.

Unfortunately African problems are not getting enough attention in the international circles. It looks like other than in the school atlas Africa doesn't exist for rest of the world. Other than popping up occasionally in the international conferences, the plights of Africans are not reaching properly in the international arena. Or did we accept massacres, tribal wars and ethnic cleansings as an African way of life?

Today international organizations and other countries have enough recourse to save Africa. They are not asking for international standards of life or other facilities. The only thing they are asking is some moments of peace, enough power to escape from the bullets accelerating towards them.


Picture courtesy: Wikipedia (Later edited to suit this article)

Monday, March 26, 2012

An innovative method for reducing poverty

"I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something" - Richard Feynman. What about Government of India (GOI)?

Someone observed that, there are two ways to reduce poverty. Either you eliminate poverty or you eliminate the poor. This will enable you to show a reduction in the number of people living under poverty line. Government of India turned out to be much more innovative than that - alter the formula itself!!!

Every year adjust the formula to reduce the minimum amount a person required to earn to qualify as non-poor. By the way, don’t care about inflation, rising whole sale and retail prices, fuel rates, ballooning medical expenses, increasing house rent, water charges, electricity charges, transportation charges etc. Probably this invention is the easiest way to reduce poverty ever invented in the history of human race.

I am not saying poverty didn’t shrink in India. It certainly did. Now-a-days people are earning much more and able to use better medical facilities, communication channels like mobile phones, entertainment facilities like television etc. I am not saying all, but the number of people falling in to this category is steadily growing. Along with this expense is also drawing a steadily increasing pattern. When I was a kid, bus charge was 1.20 Rs for travelling to the near-by town now it is more than 6 Rs.
Even then, if planning commission says that the poverty line is 672.8 INR (monthly income) in rural area and 859.6 INR (monthly income) for urban areas it is very difficult to digest. For those who are familiar with dollar please note that 1 $ = 51.25 INR. Let us put this amount in daily basis. It is another matter that Planning Commission will argue that we should not put it in daily basis. Anyway take the risk, approximately the amount is 22.50/day in rural areas and 28.50 in urban areas.

Let us try one example, take the poverty estimates for urban areas of Karnataka (Please see table on the right for state-wise figures). The amount is 908/month or approximately 30.25/day. This means, if your income is more than 30.25 in a day in any of the urban areas of Karnataka (Including Bangalore) you are not poor.

Well, in Bangalore potato costs around 16/kg so as onion, carrot will cost you around 25 for a kilo. Moderate price for rice can be anywhere between 18-30/kg. Sunflower oil - depends on the brand - will cost you around 70-90/litre. Most of the time in urban areas you may not own your house so you have to pay rent, water and electricity charges. For our calculation assume that a poor person will not use electricity!!!

Let’s do a simple math. Here I am assuming minimum values only (for a single day for a normal person),

Rice (250g) - 5
Vegetables (250g) - 6.50
Water 2.5L - 4
Oil (100ml) - 7
Dal (100ml) - 6
Salt+Cumin+Chilli - 1.50

Now itself the total becomes 30. Where I will put the other minimum existential expenses like rent, cloths, transportation etc? What about dependents? E.g. what about small kids, fully dependant on parent’s income?

This method of pulling down the poverty barrier and bringing more people out of it is not an acceptable practice. Based on these numbers Planning Commission’s estimation of a decline of 7.4 percentage points in poverty (to 29.8%) is not acceptable. For a nation counting 1.2 billion heads for census can do much better than this.


PS: According to the latest reports "Government had also taken a decision to set up a Technical Group to revise/revisit the methodology for estimating poverty in a manner which is consistent with the current realities." I hope government will understand the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

Photo courtesy: Planning Commission of India (later edited to suit this article)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Production record for Paddy - Nalanda, Bihar

Long time back we had a green revolution, it solved then existential problem of severe food shortage. After that, we took a long sleep. But in these days of disillusionment from other sectors there are some fine news coming again from Agriculture.

In Bihar, under the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) scheme yield of wet paddy has been recorded at 22.4 tonnes/ha and dry paddy at 20.16 tonnes/ha. According to the government reports, it surpassed the previous record of 19 tonnes/ha held by China. 

In the world of ever shrinking farming area, rising cost of fertilizers and other inputs we need nothing less than an explosion in productivity to feed the burgeoning population. Not only that, it is quite important to give confidence to farmers. In order to convince them, we need to provide new verity of seeds, fertilizers and revolutionary cultivation methods, so that they will be able to increase the yield/ha.

When I was a kid, during summer vacation we used to wait for the harvest; after that paddy fields were free to us (till the rain). In this short period we used to create our own pitches for playing cricket. As we grow older, the space for playing started shrinking very fast. There were no more paddy fields for playing cricket!!!

Dwindling profits from rice forced the farmers to go for other crops like banana, tapioca, ginger, turmeric and even Areca nut and Rubber. Slowly, we saw the vast paddy fields, once the face of Kerala villages became banana fields and the state started importing rice. Rising trade Unionism only increased the burden for farmers. Unfortunately, we can’t eat rubber, for that we need rice. As the cultivation area reduced the cost for local rice verities started increasing exponentially.

So it is important to convince farmers that they can make profits by cultivating rice, wheat etc. National Food Security Mission (NFSM), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) are indeed a good development in this direction. We need more schemes like this to sustain our food security. Hope that our mission to increase productivity will bear fruit very soon.


Photo Courtesy: US Agricultural Research Service, Wikipedia

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Afghanistan - Winding Up

Afghan Parliament

For US, exiting from Afghanistan is becoming more and more complex after the recent unfortunate events. As the time passes the bargaining power of US vis-a-vis Taliban is drawing a curve of steep decline. The recent incident of killing 16 people including kids by a US soldier only added the complexity and shattered the hope for any further nation building process - if there is any.

Afghan always taught many lessons to the strategic thinkers - to the British, to the Soviets and now to the United States. This also shows how difficult for a country – even if it is mighty US - to transform the victory acquired through air strike to a ground one; especially in a country where the culture, religion, values are totally different. This is not medieval times, so the methods applied in those days to bring the restive cities under control are no longer valid. At the same time strategic thinkers are yet to devise working plan for bringing peace to an invaded country.

Japan and Germany after WWII are examples, but in those days peace came after two devastating wars and the faith was not involved in the war. But Afghan is totally a different theatre, people can quite easily think that an external country belongs to a different faith is trying to implement values which are dear to them. In many cases the stress will be on the word faith rather than on the word - 'values'. Nation building process won't happen here if you are not committing for an indefinite period, ready to suffer more causality with enough economic war chest - options not easily digestible at home.

Najibulla regime lasted for three more years after the pull out of Soviet troops. How long the current regime will last? Three main things for any regime to remain at helm is legitimacy, power and honesty. Out of this, first two are very much critical, and the third one is an essential factor. So where is Afghanistan in this scale?

Even though there are allegations of wrong doings current Afghan government rose to power through elections, so we can say it is legitimate. But in the second case its score is bad. Will Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) will be able to replace NATO forces? Will it be able to fight Taliban insurgency and Warlords at the same time? Questions which are yet to be answered!!! Administration's worst rating is coming in the third front. Allegations of corruption are widespread and people tend to believe less and less on Afghan government in any cases related to honesty.

If no miracles happened an inglorious exit is waiting for NATO forces. But if we are analysing the facts without any prejudice we can see that US in fact achieved their goal and objectives.

Current Al-Qaida is a far cry from its (In)glorious days, its former chief  - US's primary target - is no longer alive. US eliminated many key figures, who can become a potential threat in the future. Even though in a limited form, NATO and US were able to achieve co-operation from the Russian dominated Central Asian Republics (CAR). Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and Manas Airbase many not be a great achievement in paper but a fairly good piece to show.

Drone - the fear in the sky - able to generate panic among the militants even in the previous safe heaves like inaccessible terrains of Af-Pak tribal belts. Its precision strike already took many key militant leaders off the field. Apart from this Afghan borders Iran, military presence in Afghanistan helps US keep a very close watch on Iran. Whatever be it is, US and its allies are leaving behind a regime selected by the people with some kind of adjustments with Taliban.

So even if they leave today, according to me it’s a successful exit for US as far as their goals and objectives are concerned. If they are able to bargain a air/army base close to Iran border or Af-Pak tribal belt it’s an added advantage.

For India

Soon India can find Taliban leaders sitting in the Parliament created using Indian funds.  We don’t have much reasons to be happy. Unfortunately, India centric militant organizations are not a threat to west, making them the last priority in the list...


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia (Edited later to suit for this article)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Railway Minister - Dinesh Trivedi - is going to resign for hiking passenger fares?

Congress bows to Mamata Banerjee again, Dinesh Trivedi to go - TOI (#1)

After nine years of freeze, two committee reports a hike in ticket rates were expected in this year. During this time sixth pay commissions recommendations were implemented, fuel rates touched new heights, cost increased for acquiring land for new tracks or for doubling the existing ones so on and so forth. Excluding a couple of years when Lalu Prasad Yadav was at helm, Railway doesn’t have much to show in terms of finance.

Commissions like Sam Petroda and Kakodkar are asking more outlays - in terms of thousands of crores- for safety, modernization etc. It is almost impossible for Central Government - which is already selling her priced family silver to fill the gigantic gap between income and expenditure - to invest more on Railways.

There is limit to milk the freight division further, if you milk it more blood will come out. In any way the hike in freight rate will eventually transfer to the common man in the form of increasing commodity prices.

It’s not that, to show a good financial condition in paper railway should always increase the rates. But there are times when we have to realise the facts and make meaningful judgements. Over populism will only ruin the institution. If we are freezing the ticket rates, from where the money will come for investing in new projects like laying new tracks, increasing the connectivity between the ports and industrial hubs, paying the increasing salary and pensions, replacing the old tracks and bridges, building new fast but expensive High Speed Rail (HRL) for faster passenger and commodity traffic?

It is in this situation ministry hiked the ticket rates,
"During his budget speech in the Lok Sabha Wednesday, Trivedi had said: "I am asking an extra two paise per km on suburban and ordinary second class. Similarly, an increase of three paise per km for mail and express trains.

"For sleeper class, I am asking only 5 paise (increase) and for AC chair car and III tier, only 10 paise per km, and for AC II tier 15 paise per km and AC I class by 30 paise per km."
Accordingly, over a 100-km run, the fares will go up by Rs.2 on suburban and ordinary II class trains, Rs.5 for sleeper class, Rs.10 for AC chair car and III tier, Rs.15 for AC II tier and Rs.30 for AC first class." (#2)
If Trivedi is resigning from the cabinet, then for increasing the tax rate financial minister should be resigned. If anyone killed in a terrorist attack Home Minister should be resigned. If somebody killed a tiger then environment minister should be resigned so on and so forth. What about Sports Minister, for every loss India teams suffered in home and abroad he needs to resign.

We had so many other situations where it was necessary to sack the minister, but nothing happened. We also had many ministers who took the moral responsibility for events coming under their ministry and resigned even if they are not responsible for it.

If Railway minister is getting sacked only for raising the passenger rates, that too after an interval of more than nine years, it is not acceptable. You can sack ministers for ‘n’ number of other reasons like poor performance, corruption, partiality, integrity issues etc but not for a reasonable increase in ticket rates. It will be better for Trinamool Congress to think twice before asking the minister to resign.

It required much more than taking a decision to increase the rates to save and modernize the Railways. If the minister is not even allowed to take the first step then...



1. Congress bows to Mamata Banerjee again, Dinesh Trivedi to go
2. Dinesh Trivedi's rail fare hike reasonable, say economists - Economic Times

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gated communities and School bus - Reducing Social interaction in India

I was standing on the side of a motorway watching the vehicles. Slowly, a yellow bus came and stopped some yards in front of me. Kids slowly came out of the big gates, attached to a solid thick fence guarded by security guards in uniform, and boarded the bus. After generating some more noise it slowly moved away.

I walked a little bit further; there was another big fence with a gigantic gate guarded by another set of guards, again the same scenario repeated.

I just thought about the life of these kids. They are boarding the bus right after the crack of dawn, talking with a limited number of friends in the bus, after reaching the school they are attending the sessions and finally back to home.

Aren't they missing a daily face to face session with society, some precious moments to understand the life outside the gated walls of residential associations? Abruptly past memories came to my mind, recalling the short walk to Lower Primary (LP) School which is just 10 minutes away from home, then to Upper Primary (UP) School through the paddy fields and village roads.

In Kerala both schools and monsoon start their new session on the first week of June. Located 2-3 kilometres away - we had to cross paddy fields, small canal bridge and about one kilometre through a village road dotted by small dwellings on both sides. Many of the faces become familiar with in some weeks.

Later for High School - located roughly 3-4 kilometres from home - we started using bus. First school bus; later switched to the crowded private buses and became a category most hated by conductors - Concession Tickets, popularly known as CT. In Kerala, school going children needs to pay only a fourth of the full ticket. Even though it’s a government rule CT was not available in government run busses, at least in our place!!!

Those days provided an opportunity to interact with a diverse segment of people, although I didn’t realise the importance at that time, to know how the society coexists and survives. There was no discrimination based on religion or caste or financial status or whatever it may be. Nobody cares who is the father or mother of the other guy.

Now-a-days what I am seeing is, this important thing – interaction with general society – is virtually doesn’t exist. In fact people hardly seeing others. Is Facebook – and the apps moulded on the same stable - can replace this interaction happening at the ground level? I don't know; in fact from my personal experience I don’t think so.

The problem is, limited interactions with society and nature will create problems. This will erect a wall between those who are inside that and those who are outside. Down the line, one side may not be able to understand the other one, their emotions, their feelings, their ideas, their tastes etc. This will affect the creativity of the society, most of the revolutionary inventions and discoveries are inspired by nature. Are we trying to move away from the very same nature...?


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia, edited later to suit this article

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Indian Railway, Part IV – Will the Phoenix rise again?

Indian Railway, Part I – A Race to Bottom
Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?
Indian Railway, Part III –  Accidents

Railways increased the freight rate for commodities. Hike varies from 15% to 24% covering a broad range of commodities, including Coal and Cement (18 to 24%), food grain and fertilizers (20-25%). However, rates for iron ore are reduced (#13).

As the common sense suggests, rationale for the hike is to reduce the swelling gap between expenditure and income, in other words to cover the input cost. Through the increase in freight rates Railways aspires to add an additional 15000 to 20000 crores rupee to her income.

Well, at the time of writing this article, railway is yet to decide on whether to raise the passenger fare or not. Currently the freight division’s revenue is compensating the shortfall in passenger revenues. In order to compensate the dip in margin due to the increasing input cost either they have to increase the freight charge or the passenger charge. Railways and the ministry are much more comfortable in doing the latter.

These types of knee jerk reactions to stop the downfall will not able to stop it in the long term. Policies which no longer assess the long term interests are affecting the institution. Look at the 'Job for Land policy’, according to the policy one member of each family from whose the land was acquired will get compensation according to the market prices, in addition to that one member from each affected family will get a permanent job in Railways.

Good policy isn’t it? But Eastern Railway soon realised that it is not viable to implement the policy as it is. In one situation when railway initiated land acquisition for Furfura Sharif - Dankuni railway track, they need to provide job for atleast 2300 people in order to lay just 19km track.

Conclusion - For survival

For becoming competitive enough in the future railways needs to concentrate on the vital sectors. Here, I can suggest a number of points which I think is very important for them to look in to.

1. Concentrate on the safety aspect; we can’t afford any more collisions.
2. Railways shouldn't give subsidy in passenger rates beyond a sustainable level.
3. Railways job is manufacturing, running and maintaining trains, tracks and associated infrastructure along with its consultancy business. All other non-core areas should be spinned off - by making it independent companies
4. Railways should be realistic in declaring new projects and trains - it should not become a tool for gathering votes.
5. Instead of a strictly top down departmental structure, railway should follow an enough decentralised structure.
6. Zonal and mid-level Managers should get more authority over finance and running the institution.
7. Railways should focus on port-city connectivity and try to accelerate freight transfer rate. Dedicated Freight Corridor a good step in this way, we should appreciate the government for it.
8. IR has to eliminate so many colonial time rituals which results in the wastage of time and money.
9. IR should concentrate on completing the projects in time; we can't afford to repeat another Kolkata Metro

With the hope that Indian Railway will rise again...



13. Railways to garner Rs 20,000 cr from freight hike

Some useful Rail links

1. Customer Services- SMS 54959, 57886, 5676747, CALL - 139,Email -
2. Train Schedule
3. PNR Status
4. Station Codes
5. Refund Rules
6. Ticket Reservation
7. Train Running Information
8. Complaints and Suggestions
9. Parcel Service and Charge Calculator

Photo Courtesy - Ministry of Railways, Government of India. Photos are edited later to suit this article

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't kill Life Insurance Corp (LIC) please

One English word which confusing me now-a-days is 'disinvestment', especially after government's auction of ONGC stocks. So I searched again for the meaning, Princeton defines disinvestment as 'the withdrawal of capital from a country or corporation'. Investopedia define it as 'The action of an organization or government selling or liquidating an asset or subsidiary'.

In brief I can say, selling a part or full ownership in a company by its promoter. So what exactly Government of India is doing by selling the shares of Public owned companies?

As I point out in many of my preceding articles, government’s job is not manufacturing cars or operating insurance companies or telecom companies. It can serve the best interests of the society by focussing on the fields which are vital to society like defence, irrigation, space, supplying water etc. That means government should withdraw from other fields. Exploding deficits forced the government to bring back the disinvestment plans from cold storage.

But the mode of selling the shares in Public companies is raising more questions.

The ONGC story

The recent auction of ONGC shares, deferred three times in the past, didn't find many suitors. Even though government intended to sell 5% of shares initially, only 4.91% find their market. Reasons attributed to this dismal performance were - high floor prise and the uncertainty in sharing the fuel subsidies (heavy?).

Well, FII's and domestic institutional investors watched the drama from the shores. So who bought the shares in the end? Fascinatingly, it’s another government run company - the insurance behemoth Life Insurance Corp (LIC). Now the question is who will insure this insurer?

Life Insurance of Corporation - Who will morn at her death?

LIC is one of the real poster boys of Indian liberalization. The insurance behemoth is one of the rare companies which faced one of the ruthless competitions from both foreign and Indian companies yet fought back and remained as a market leader. Out of 427.77mn ONGC shares auctioned, government received bids for 420.3mn shares, out of that LIC alone bought 377mn shares for 303/share (floor price was 290Rs).

LIC's saga is not stopping here, according to a recent Business Standard report, LIC also holds huge stakes in many listed government run companies. It owns 24.81% of Corp Bank, 18.81% of MTNL, 15.92% of PTC India, 15.42% of Orissa Minerals, 14.13% of Shipping Corp, 12.76% of State Bank of India (SBI), 12.09% of Oriental Bank, 11.58% of HPCL, 10.92% of GNFC, 10.27% of Syndicate bank.

Apart from this LIC also holds stakes in Punjab National Bank (PNB), Dena Bank, Bank of Maharashtra, UCO Bank, Allahabad Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, IDBI Bank, Canara Bank, Syndicate Bank, Indian Overseas Banks, NMDC, NTPC, SJVN etc. Many of these operations resulted in losses. In the case of Shipping Corp LIC lost around 50%, PTC India that number is 41%, in NMDC it is 39% etc.

Shifting the money around the table

Well, auction helped government to raise $2.57bn. But can we call this as disinvestment? Government is selling the shares in one company and other government run companies are buying it. This is a brand of moving the money around the table will only help to generate a feel that all is well, which is not actually so. The apathy of market and the current economic condition may force the government to postpone the share auctions in other PSU's like BHEL, OIL etc. LIC can breathe for some time!!!

This will certainly create unpleasant effects and diminish the image of Indian stoke market in front of valuable investors. What we are doing here is by one arm government is offloading shares in one company and through another arm it is buying these shares. This will make sure that temporary interests of the government is served well, but isn’t a kind of fixing the share price artificially?

LIC should not pursue and government should not force the company to buy the PSU's in this way. They are not supposed to and should not be a box where government can divest the shares of PSU's in which other investors are not interested in.

If we continue this way, LIC's margins will take a big knock creating a big hole in her balance sheet. This is one of the easiest paths to join the league of Air India, Railways, BSNL etc.

Some tips from China - Fishing in troubled waters

Well, I am not a hard core fan of Chinese financial market and their way of lending money domestically. But there are something which we can learn from them - strategic investment. Before the financial crisis Indians were in a buying spree; no matter whether it is Corus, JLR, Zain, Novelis, REpower etc. We bought these companies at the height of the market, now after the crash when the prices reached the bottom no one is ready to go for fishing.

Look at Chinese, still they are buying the strategic companies. It's not that they didn't made mistakes, they too have their share of mistakes. But just take a look at their strategic investments in Europe itself - 8.68% of Thames water of UK, 9.3% of Club Med, Fosun's 10% stake in Folli Follie Group SA, China National Bluestar Group's acquisition of Norway-based Elkem ($2.35bn), Geely Automobile bought Volvo Cars ($1.8bn), Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd bought Hummer from GM etc. They are also buying oil and gas assets in US and Canada, big mining projects Africa etc.

This is something we should care about. I wish if LIC buys some troubled but strategically useful assets abroad!!!



1. India Raises $2.57 billion Via ONGC Stake Auction
2. LIC policyholders carry disinvestment can
3. LIC's growing exposure in PSUs a cause of concern for Irda
4. China wealth fund buys nearly 9% of Thames Water
5. China Turns Investment Eye to Europe

Photo courtesy - Original photo is from LIC website, later edited to suit this article

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Indian Railway, Part III – Accidents

Indian Railway, Part I – A Race to Bottom
Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part III –  Accidents
Indian Railway, Part IV - Will the Pheonix rise again?

Northeast Frontier Railway
In the list of world’s deadly train disasters our record is not so good. Out of the first 25 deadly (by death toll) accidents four are from India.

Bihar train disaster - 1981, 500-800 deaths.
Firozabad rail disaster - 1995, 358 deaths.
Gaisal train disaster - 1999, 285 deaths.
Khanna rail disaster - 1998, 212 deaths.

If we are considering the first 70 accidents, 7 more from India will find its place on the list.

Mardaiyar river bridge derail disaster, Tamil-Nadu - 1956, 154 deaths
Gyaneshwari Express train derailment - 2010, 148 deaths
Rafiganj train disaster -2002, 130+ deaths
Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, 1997- 120
Patna train derailed, Bihar 1937, 107
Ashtamudi Lake train disaster, Kerala - 1988, 107

Out of the 11 deadly accidents, six are happened after 1990s.

Accidents – Collisions, Unmanned Rail crossings

Accidents become a part of life in IR. Now-a-days we are used to see the pictures of train accidents in unmanned rail crossings, train derailments, collisions etc in newspapers. HLSRC Committee "has recommended total elimination of all level crossings (manned and unmanned) within 5 years at an estimated cost of Rs. 50,000 crores which will get recovered over 7-8 years due to saving in operation and maintenance costs and improved train operation". See the below picture for the number of casualties during 2006-07 to 2010-11.

But from where the money will come? In such a pathetic financial condition it will be difficult for railways to raise the funds internally, massive external debts – with IR's current policies – will severely affect the institution in the long term. Union government, which already started selling the family silver to raise money to cover the deficits, may not be in a position to invest so much for railways. So from where the money will come?

“About 1600 railway staff was killed and 8700 injured while working during the period from 2007 -08 to October, 2011 which is substantially more than 1019 deaths and 2118 injuries in train accidents for the period from 2007-08 to 2010-11”. Here we have to consider that a large chunk of 723 deaths and 690 injuries are due to unmanned level crossing accidents attributed to the negligence of road users. In total, 42% of total causalities and 32% of injuries involving railways were happened in unmanned Rail crossing contributing 59% to the total death tally.

Another important concern is collision. According to the reports from 2007-08 to 2010-11 "Collisions which are 5% of the total tally resulted in 24% deaths and 26% of injuries (25% total casualties). Numbers of collisions have varied from 13 during 2008-09 to 5 in 2010-11; whereas deaths and total casualties during the same years have been 9 & 62 during 2008-09 and 240 & 536 during 2010-11. This scenario of more deaths/casualties with fewer collisions during 2010-11 indicates the severity of collisions"

Ghosts of the past

There is a small river in the border of my native town. When I was a small kid we used the iron bridge built by British for crossing. Located on  NH 213, where the number of passengers and quantity of goods are increasing day by day, government decided to build a new bridge close to the old one. After some years, construction was completed and the new bridge became operational; but after some months (if not weeks) a part of the new bridge came down leaving a behind a hole in the middle. Traffic switched to old bridge. Government gave the contract for repairing the new one, after some months of hectic work new bridge became operational again.

This time it lasted for some more time, but eventually another hold was created on the bridge and traffic switched to the old one again. Well, government repaired the new bridge again and opened for traffic. Recently, two container Lorries with very heavy cargo came there and the authorities opened the old iron bridge for it!!!

IR also carries so many ghosts from the past, according to HLSRC report around 3000 bridges are 100 years or more old, out of that 32 are identified as distressed bridges. Kadalundi, a coastal village located close to the historical Calicut town (#11, #12) too had one such bridge - 140 years old - till July 2001. On that month ‘Mangalore-Chennai mail’ fell in to Kadalundi River killing 57 people.


For reading next part , please visit this space later


11. India train crash toll rises – BBC
12. Collapse of credibility – The Hindu

Picture Courtesy - Ministry of Railways, Government of India

Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part I – A Race to Bottom

Indian Railway, Part II – Where we are going?

Indian Railway, Part III –  Accidents
Indian Railway, Part IV - Will the Pheonix rise again?

Railways always played a vital role in society. The hero of Indian transportation sector, around 2% of Indian population use it every day. In other words, every 50 days passengers equal to the entire nation’s population are transported by Indian Railways (IR). Let us see how safe the IR is?

High Level Safety Review Committee (HLSRC) Report

Safety is one of the critical components in transportation segment, especially in India where unacceptably high number of people are dying on the roads and rails. According to the reports, 1600 railway staff was killed and an additional 8700 were injured while working during the period 2007-08 to Oct, 2011. Another 1019 suffered death and 2118 suffered injuries in train accidents for the same period. In 2010-11 alone there were 844 causalities which claimed 381 precious lives.

HLSRC was formed to review safety of Railway system and recommend measures for improvements. In the face of deteriorating infrastructure, recent accidents, peril financial condition this report shed some lights on the situation IR is currently in. According to the committee report "Present environment on Indian Railways reveals a grim picture of inadequate performance largely due to poor infrastructure and resources and lack of empowerment at the functional level. Present form of railway organization is more centralized, top-heavy and hierarchical along departmental lines much to the detriment of a functional and objective oriented organization."

Passenger fares and Capital investments

Whole sale price increase Vs Railway fare
Last time when I went to home, it was a real surprise for me – there was not hike in bus charge!!! People were used to the frequent hikes in bus rates in an interval months. In fact, in Kerala each time central government raises the fuel rate we will expect a bus strike. Basically, ever increasing charges are one of the characteristic of consumer goods in the recent time. But railways are totally different, close to one decade IR didn’t increase the ticket rate. Sixth pay commission came, operating expenditure increased but railways didn’t change its stand. Good for the people? Not exactly, the freight rate remained high moreover the loss making passenger division pulled down the margin of IR. Populist measures by railway ministers didn’t help the situation either.

This not only reduced the margin of IR but also affected the capital investments in infrastructure. But this inadequate infrastructure didn’t stop the ministry to carry out the popular scheme of introducing the new trains in every budget.

Committee "strongly recommended stopping such practice of introduction of new trains without commensurate inputs to the infrastructure”. According to the reports, while Wholesale Price Index (WPI) rose by about 300 % in last 10 years, passenger fares for 2nd class travel on Indian Railways more or less remained the same" Pic A

The longest toilets in the world

Railway toilets are an embarrassment for the entire nation. Even now you can see the notice pasted to toilet doors “Don’t use the toilet close to the stations”. Just think, in 50 days railways carries an equivalent number of Indian population; if we are using the open toilets in trains what will be the situation of tracks and people living close to it?

"Barring the Shatabdi and Rajadhani Express trains which constitutes very small percentage passengers carried per day, the rest of the passengers who travel everyday defecate in toilets in the train, which falls on the rail track. Apart from the issue of hygiene, this has several serious safety implications arising out of corrosion of rails and related hardware as well as poor maintenance of under carriage equipment due inhuman unhygienic conditions." We really need to study what western countries are doing with this problem and adapt best practices across the world or came up with our own solution. Whatever it may be status quo should be changed.


For reading next part - Indian Railway, Part III – Accidents

Picture Courtesy: Ministry of Railways, Government of India

Friday, March 2, 2012

Trading in positive List - Another spring in Indo-Pak relations?

Wagah [International Border] Flag Lowering Ceremony
What comes first to your mind when thinking about India and Pakistan? Whatever it may be, friendship holds the least probability. It is difficult to envisage alliance between two nations shaped by one of the bloodiest partition in human history and fought a number of wars in between.

Yamuna never stopped flowing, so as the case with both countries. The relationship saw its ebbs and flows over last 65 years of post independent history. The antagonism may not go soon, but it doesn’t imply that it will never change. If France and Germany can live together and trade with each other after fighting a number of wars, including the two World Wars, the same may not be impractical for these two South Asian countries.

Scope for Trade

There is an enormous potential for expanding economic activities between India and Pakistan. For this to materialize absence of any more deadly terrorist attacks originated from Pakistani soil is indispensable and Pakistan should actively participate and cooperate in anti-terrorist investigations and operations.

Increasing the economic activates are beneficial for both countries. For e.g. If Pakistan is ready to import generic medicines directly from her eastern neighbour, instead of importing pricey medicines from other countries or Indian medicines itself through middle east countries, it will not only save prized and rapidly depleting foreign exchange reserve of Pakistan but also enable the state to provide much better medical service to her people at affordable rates. In the same way Pakistan can find a big market for her major export goods like Textiles, Cement, Chemical products etc in India.

Petroleum and Petroleum products are another area to focus on. Rather than importing Petrol and Diesel at Karachi port and transporting it to the northern areas through rail-road, Pakistan can easily import petroleum products from Indian refineries situated close to the border for her North-Eastern areas including Punjab (Don’t confuse with Indian state Punjab) province.

Switching to Positive trading list 

In such a situation, the pronouncement of Pakistan Government to switch from a Positive List system to a small Negative List for trade with India is a welcome step. In short, trading in positive list means, we can trade only the items mentioned in the list – this will limit the number of items that can be traded. In the case of a negative list, we can trade all items except the ones specifically blocked by the list – this will dramatically increase the scope. It is expected that this negative list will be phased out by this year end.

The immediate gain of switching to negative list is the expansion of trade to almost 90% items, instead of a dismal 17% we maintained till now. This will open a big market for manufactures and traders from both countries.


We can hope that cross border trade and associated Confidence Building Measures (CBM) will trim down the conflicts between the nations and make good the current trust deficit.

This is one of the important steps in creating a fitting South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). If we really work hard and don’t allow the terrorists to hijack the progress we can make the South Asian area a vibrant market economy and there by lifting millions from poverty and malnutrition.


Photo courtesy: Wikipedia