Saturday, April 15, 2023

Mysore Chronicle: Rail Museum

fter the inauguration of new Bangalore -Mysore express way, this was our first journey to Mysore. As usual a good plan was in place - with just one exception. We didn’t plan when to start from Bangalore. I usually want to start as early as possible, but one or other task will cost us some delay here and there. Eventually, we will end up being late. So this time, no plans to start early. We just decided to start in the morning!!!

After filling the back of the car to brim with all essential items for journey and a fortnight stay in Kerala, we started. One thing I noticed is, I packed quite less items when I travelled in bike in the past for same duration. Two saddle bags and a main bag was more than enough. When moved to more spacious car, someway luggage also increased!!!

Dedicated one for erstwhile Mysore queen

Traffic was normal and after spending time in some signals we left NICE road and entered Mysore express way. Its very wide; hardly much crowd. Long stretch of empty black top with a lot white straight lines stared at me under burning sun. In between those straight lines there where a lot of fast moving bulls and elephants (cars and lorries). After some ten - fifteen kilometers, driving was mostly monotonous. There was nothing to with steering or clutch; just accelerator was enough. 

Summer sun is not at all friendly, temperature was slowly but steadily rising outside. We reached Mysore couple of hours before lunch time. After having various dosas from A2B (near railway station), we drove towards rail museum. Its very close to the station. Entire area was very neat and clean. After buying tickets we three - me, divya and mother went inside.

First one the left was an area which show cases various gauges used by Indian Railways (IR) in the past. From narrow gauge to meter gauge to broad gauge. Now IR predominantly uses broad gauge. However narrow gauge is still used in some mountain lines like - Nilgiris, Kalka–Shimla etc. Lines inside Gir forest still use meter gauge and most metro networks are on standard gauge. 

Looking at various items used by IR in the past we moved forward and made our next stop at an old coal powered, heavy weight! engine. It was painted very neatly. I didn’t expect mom to climb up; but she enthusiastically did. We look at the area where workers moved coal from its storage to locomotive. It looked nostalgic, not that I travelled a lot through coal powered locomotives but due to old movies which showed the same thing. In that little space there was one more family where one guy was explaining how it works to his wife and trying to figure out how it looked like in the past. 

Train Locos

Moving further there were rail cranes which still proudly carry the engravings of British era. After moving around a bit we walked towards toy train's station. 

Entry ticket also includes a ride in toy train. It starts from a station(named Central Park) there in every 30 mins and run two rounds around the open area in the museum. We sat in a row somewhere in the back and waited for the train to start. After a while TTR! Came; checked our tickets. After waiting for some more time, loco came to life. After completing two circles, we got down and walked towards the exhibits in the middle. There was nice place to sit and look at the trees which are fully covered in violet flowers. Divya took her own stroll across the loan and looked at trees and metal heavy weight champions with great curiosity. 

Toy train coming out of tunnel

Well, it was time to go. We moved towards the exit. At one side, Maharani's couch was on display. We went there walked towards the other end reading different plaques which explains which areas inside that couch were used by maharani of erstwhile Mysore kingdom and for which purpose. The couch can't claim much aesthetic beauty; may be time took its toll. We slowly walked towards the exit.

If you already visited Mysore a couple of times and wanted to see something different, then Rail museum is a good place to go. Mysore railway junction is next door. As a standalone destination museum doesn't offer much, but kids might like it. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

New Impressions

Its been a long time since I posted anything here. Its not that, I didn't try. I did try couple of times, but was not able to bring myself to write a complete article. I can blame it on a lot of things; from writers block to not having time because of my work. Well, deep in my heart; I know that, its not true. As someone told, its all about priorities. Probably it was not my priority to write? or I had other priorities which took more time? To console myself I can say yes. But again I know that, its not true. I did spend a mind blowing number of hours in OTT platforms like Amazon prime etc. So, I can firmly say that its not about availability of time or priorities. Anyway I am not going in to analysis-paralysis mode to find out (or manufacture!!!) the reasons. Better option may be to say, I don't know and move on.

However, this long break did help me to understand more about what I would like write about. Contrary to the existing theme of this blog; it don't have anything to do with defence, foreign policy or politics. Its not that, I am moving away from that. In fact, as per me politics continues (and should continue) to be as the most important theme in anyone's life. How we elect someone to govern us and how they are infact governing us is indeed important. I may continue to pick and choose something from here and there. Being said that, this blog is going to become more personal. Well, don't assume it is going to be a journal or diary for me. It's not. In fact, I am not a person who write either of those and there is no plan to start one. What I meant here is, this blog is going to become a colletion of my journies, my experiences and my opinion on vaious things. So looking forward to start a new chapter here.


Friday, September 3, 2021

Via Attappadi Hills

Mannarkkad Town bus stand to Aanamooli Forest Check post - 10km.
Aanamooli Forest Check post to Attapadi Ghats View Point - 3.6km.
Attapadi Ghats View Point to Silent Valley National Park Entrance - 7.2km.
Silent Valley National Park to Aanakkatti Interstate(Kerala-Tamilnadu) Check post - 34km.
Aanakkatti Check post to Coimbatore - 30km.

Mannarkkad-Aanakatti-Coimbatore road is an alternate for Mannarkkad-Palakkad-Coimbatore road. The problem with the Anakkatti route is, it will take much more time even if the distance is very much the same. Anakkatti route also has multiple hairpins and ghat sections. Also, the Mannarkkad - Aanakkatti section of this road is not that good. 

Despite lived two decades in Mannarkkad, I went through this route only five times. This time also, I started early in the morning (best time in the day to enjoy the forest) from Mannarkkad and soon reached the Aanamooli Forest check post. Guards asked for passes (one of the side effects of Covid). They were a bit perplexed to hear that my actual destination is Bangalore; to confirm the same they asked for details about the routes I am planning to use. After a brief chat with them, we started our journey through the hills and hairpins. 

At the time of writing, the road is not that good in many places, there are many potholes in the road, and in some areas, it's very narrow. Soon we reached Attapadi Ghats viewpoint. By the time, fog thickened and the road was hardly visible. We stopped that and looked at the vast expanse of forest from there. Couple more cars stopped that and they started taking selfies. By that time, the rain started. We just sat in the car and enjoyed monsoon rain for some time. After that, we continued our journey towards Aanakatti. 

If you have time, make a stop at Mukkali to visit Silent Valley, National Park. This time I didn’t stop there. Don't expect too much from the park safari, only a small portion of it is through the core zone. However, if you are lucky you can see a lot of small wild animals including the savior of Silent Valley National park - The lion-tailed macaque.

Crossing Mukkali, we continued our journey towards Anakkatti. Kerala Tamilnadu border is here. Anakkatti is well connected with Mannarkkad, Attapadi in Kerala, and Coimbatore. From here we continued our journey towards Coimbatore. There is a number of brick kilns on the road, from there the view of hills is very nice. There is ample space in the area, in case you would like to have some snacks this is a good area to stop.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

India after Covid - Nine areas where we see major changes

Currently, in India, we are seeing the weakening of COVID's second wave. 'Weakened' doesn't mean wiped out; hence, there is a possibility that delta and its variants - probable future series like lamda, zeta, eta, etc may hit us with more power. I assume that one day, current or future vaccines finally will be able to bring the disease under control. 

In this article, I would like to discuss major changes that may happen in India and that is directly linked to Covid. 

1. Perception of Government
Clearly, neither central nor state governments were able to predict or do advance planning for the second wave. This clearly made a hole in the invincibility and infallibility perceptions of the current central government across the population. There was a time when all actions by the central government - regardless of its own merit - were considered to be the right thing to do. This is going to change; a lot of those changes are already there. Note that, this might not affect the winnability of central government. 

2. Poverty
Over the last three decades, India pulled millions out of poverty. A lot of that effort was undone by this single disease. As per the numbers from Azim Premji University, during last year's local down approximately 230 million(2.3 crores) Indians were pushed back to poverty (numbers are based on national minimum wage around 45$/month). Earning of organized labor sector also reduced - many lost jobs and many others suffered a direct or indirect reduction in salary. At the same time, the price of a lot of items, including but not limited to petroleum products were increased. This will definitely take a hit on family savings and their budget. Many families will be forced to cut back their expenses; this will have a domino effect on consumer markets.

3. Medical Expenditure
India's government spends around 1.2% of its GDP on health care. Even in normal times, Indians pay 60% of their health care cost from their savings or by borrowing. Covid generated huge medical bills. The absence of government services in many places left the people at the mercy of private hospitals. Many of whom charged exorbitantly. Economist says, even in normal years 1 in every 20 families are pushed into poverty due to medical expenses. Just imagine the situation in a year ravaged by COVID. Emergency and long-term medical expenditure will push a lot of families to poverty. 

Will this bring a change in the way Indians pay for healthcare? Probably yes. I think this is the right time for governments (central and state) and the insurance sector to pitch in and cover the masses. 

4. Biological water and public health 
India is not known for the eco-friendly processing of medical/biological waste. More than one and half years of Covid created a lot of medical waste; all of these are not getting processed properly. If not addressed early this is going to create a new set of problems. 

We all saw the pictures of numerous bodies floating in Ganga. We also see the government personals re-cremating the bodies which were in shallow graves in the riverbed. If not addressed early this is going to create problems for people who are living downstream and depend on river water. 

5. Business
Needless to say, all businesses are affected by Covid one way or another. Take the example of the tourism and hospitality industry. Globally the number of tourists and business travelers reduced considerably. This affects the business of hospitality, airlines, tour operators, hotels, etc. Similarly, people are cutting back on all non-essential expenditures. This affects a lot of small and medium-scale industries as well. It will take some time to recover. 

In some areas, things may have changed permanently. For e.g. teleconferencing, video conferencing, and other real-time communication softwares are here to stay. This means growth in business-related travels will not be as per earlier projections. Work from home (WFH) culture might increase even if everything is back to normal. This means people don't have to pay rent inexpensive cities, instead of that they can sit wherever they are comfortable and work from there. 

The closure of theaters moved a lot of movie releases to OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix etc. This will essentially change the way we are watching movies.

Similarly, more government services will be moved to the web and apps. This will definitely cut down the work of a lot of middlemen and consultancies. There are many more categories like that. All of them need to reinvent themselves to survive. 

6. State finances
One of the biggest threats to independent decision-making of states and federalism is the dire state of state government's finances. Most of the state's financial situation is an economic basket case. They were not able to generate enough revenue from the activities at the state level and depends on the central government's transfer of funds to states. Even if these funds are the right of states, the central government collects and then distributes them. The ability to print, collect money, and set rules gives the central government disproportionate power in the Indian federal system. Unless the states are not able to generate income on their own and improve their finances; even the most forward-looking and prosperous states will not able to implement their policies. Simply taxing more on liquor and petroleum products is not going to make this change. 

COVID was probably one of the toughest nails on the coffin called state treasury. Since health care is a state subject, each state has to spend a lot from its pocket. At the same time, tax growth is not as per the expectations.

7. Antibiotic Resistance
As per multiple reports, in exasperation or otherwise, a lot of antibiotics and other medicines which are used as a last resort were used like normal paracetamol tablets during the pandemic times. How it is going to affect antibiotic resistance on large scale is yet to see. There will be some damages. 

8. Nature
Among a lot of bad things, there is some good news as well. For decades, the ever-growing intervention of human beings in nature and its cycles created catastrophic damages. COVID put a break on a lot of those activities, where the conventional bans had no effect. We still fire up the coal plants and pump a lot of greenhouse gases; but, reduced human footprints on the source of rivers and forests are showing some kind of revival in the health of aquifers and other water bodies.

9. Social media
Pandemic brought back a lot of families together. People who see old friends and relatives only via video calls and hear via mobile phones can see them sitting on the next chair. One side effect is, many spend more of their hours on social media, which beyond a point may not be healthy. 

Wish that COVID go away as fast as they spread across the world and once again we can roam freely across the globe without wearing masks.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

An Interesting One Time Settlement(OTS) with IDBI Bank

There are some common practices in banking and finance. One such practice is, if you borrow money from a bank then you need to pay it back with interest. If you fail to pay, then bank will take appropriate actions to recover the money. Well, this is for common people. In the case of agriculture loans; based on government directives banks may write off the loans fully or partially. 

There are a separate set of rules for corporate sector called 'Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) 2016'. This allows creditors to recover the money in case of default using insolvency proceedings. Under IBC, creditors may not get the whole amount. This however provides a meaningful resolution to the problem. IBC doesn't allow defaulting promotors to acquire the company under insolvency proceedings and there is a good reason for that.

What happened in this specific case is, lenders led by IDBI bank (49% owned by LIC) initiated bankruptcy proceedings against Siva Industries in 2019 for an amount in the tune of 5,000 crores. International Asset Reconstruction Company holds - 22%, IDBI Bank - 17%,  Union Bank of India (UBI) - 12% of the admitted debt. Other lenders are LIC, SBI, Yes Bank, and Bank of India. Well, company's liquidation value seems to be well below 5000 crores. 

Banks later agreed to a one-time settlement (OTS) offer from Siva Industries’s promoters (part of Aircel founder C Sivasankaran’s group). Under this settlement, banks will get 10% of their money. IDBI says, this amount is better than that of the company's liquidation value and agreed to a one-time settlement. By the way, OTS is not against the law. Even if insolvency proceedings don't allow defaulting promoters to acquire their company; bankers can still do a one-time settlement with lenders if enough of them agree. Under this Siva group will get their company back and can come out of the liquidation process. All are happy, right? 

Well no. Banks may get more money compared to the liquidation process; but they forget the fact that it is the same promoter who actually owes that much to them. Its like your company take a loan of 5000 crores from a bank, company default on payments, the bank took over the company, after some time you pay 500 crores (10%) to the bank and take control of your company. This can act as a template for any promotor to come out of insolvency proceedings in the future. If one bank can accept it and one promoter can get their company bank then what stops others from trying? After all, it's not against the existing law!!! 

The sole loser here is the Indian banking system, which losses money on deal after deal. Their NPA rates are going to create new records. Regulators should intervene and make sure to close all the loopholes in the law. OTS should not end up as an easy way for promotors to default, don't pay, and still retain the ownership of the company.