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Owning the Sun

“In India, the Vedas considered the Sun as the spirit of the world thousands of years ago… (and as) the nutrition needed to sustain life. Today, when we are looking for a way to tackle the challenge of Climate Change, then we have to look at the balanced and holistic view of India’s ancient philosophy,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the International Solar Alliance (ISA) hosted recently by New Delhi.

A while ago, the NDA government lauded itself for achieving 100% electrification in the country before the deadline. As a matter of fact, the government’s understanding differed from a general one. There remains regions where the electric wires have not reached yet and the inhabitants continue to rely on archaic energy sources like kerosene, diesel and wood, thereby getting exposed to their harmful impacts and also contributing to the pollution.

Yet, due to limitation of non-renewable resources, India has finally been taking advantage of its tropical placement – late and slowly though – as it embarked to switch its energy source from thermal to solar – by choice or for the lack of it. The Modi government targets to achieve renewable energy of 175 GW by 2022, including 100 GW of solar power (40 GW of rooftop solar). As per a recent update in the Parliament, government claimed of ‘comfortably’ achieving the target. Here’s a report giving credit to non-governmental organisations and individuals for the same; as well as the government when election nears.

Delhi – capital setting benchmark

While the locals of the national Capital may hate the sun during the sizzling summers, the residents of the Milan Vihar Apartments (IP Extension) won’t – ever since they switched to solar energy. The housing society was the first to get a 141 kWp rooftop solar power plant in the capital by lapping onto the Delhi government’s proposal that offered 30% subsidy on the solar plants installation from selected four authorised contractors.

The cost of the installation – about Rs 80 lakh – was borne by the contractor, Green Ripples, as the society agreed to share the profit in 60-40 ratio (society keeps the 60 per cent) till 2043. Had the society borne the cost, it could have kept the profit too. Rakesh Sharma, the RWA secretary of the society, told The Tribune that they are expecting the bills to be almost halved now, with a subsidy of Rs 4.66 on each unit and an additional bonus of Rs 2 per unit. To reduce the bills further to almost negligible, the society plans to upgrade the plant to 300 kWp, expecting an annual saving of about Rs 1.8 million (Rs 18 lakh) without spending a single penny.

The trend was copied by the Dwarka residents too, where BSES Rajdhani in collaboration with TERI and a German company installed rooftop solar plants at seven societies of a total capacity of 506kW under the ‘Solar City Initiative – Solarise Dwarka’ programme. The plant is said to be benefitting over 700 flats saving around 0.65 million (6.5 lakh) units of power and Rs 3.2 million (Rs 32 lakh) annually.

Where wires haven’t reached

As also pointed out in several media reports earlier, while main habitations of villages get electrified, several hamlets within them remain non-electrified until some innovative minds put the spotlight on few.

Mandeep, a resident of Palamu district of Jharkhand, has been working in the Palkot village – about 250 km away from his hometown, for about a year now. As part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), he looks after the promotion of solar lamps among the different communities in the nearby villages, including the hamlets on the hilly terrains like Bartoli, which is deprived of electricity as well as drinking water.

While outsiders have to climb on foot for 15-20 minutes to reach Bartoli from Haphu – the nearest village with a motor road, the tribal residents effortlessly cycle through the rocky floor for all their basic needs – from selling their agricultural products and making major purchases to charging their basic feature mobile phones at cost of Rs 10 for each time. They mostly use the phones for calling purpose so that once charged, the battery remains usable for few days to a week. The migrant labourers, who travel to cities, often get ‘Chinese’ or other cheap phones that play songs and videos for their entertainment, shares Mandeep.

In July 2017, IIT-Bombay had visited and assessed the tribal hamlet with JSLPS team to provide solar products under Solar Urja Lamp (SoUL) project, says Aritra Chakrabarty, assistant project manager (research). The project then provided each household – about 20-25 of them – solar lamps of Rs 600 each at a subsidised cost of Rs 100 with a one-year warranty, adds Mandeep.

Despite hindrance of resources, the community is well-motivated to educate their children and most of the households have purchased the lamps to allow their children to study at night. Yet, the tribe that predicts the rains for the year during the Sarhul festival fails to comprehend the product warranty. While some of them get their under-warranty equipment fixed through the local campaigners of the JSLPS, others pay a cost for a temporary fix by local electricians and few have even dumped them when not working without approaching the JSLPS.

“To still find people living without electricity in the 71st year of independence is plain sad,” exclaimed Mandeep.

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Up north, leaving a nine-to-five job, Paras Loomba (32), an electronics engineer, ditched his air conditioned cabin to make way to the naturally conditioned Himalayan region and ended up earning his living out of transforming others’ lives. Inspired by his own ‘leadership’ expedition at the Antarctica a year ago, Loomba started Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), a for-profit enterprise that promotes ‘impact’ tourism in the land of high passes in 2013, with a local cook of Ladakh. “The idea was to have a self-sustainable model and to create micro enterprises for the villages that will be self sustainable,” says Loomba.

By 2016, they were joined by two more engineers and previous participants of the GHE expedition – Jaideep Bansal (30), an IIT Bombay graduate who left P&G, and Gaganpreet Singh (32), an NIT Jalandhar graduate who switched from Microsoft.

Loomba’s team looks for villages far away from government’s layout to install an electric grid. The team coordinates with the local authorities to seek permission and further coordinates with locals who can act as intermediaries – to avoid a language barrier – in convincing villagers to invest in the plan. “Forget electricity, some of these villages do not even have roads,” says Loomba. When GHE electrified Shade, a hamlet, it took them seven days to take the equipment over mules and donkeys from the nearest motorable road.

The team provides self-manufactured basic electronic goods as well as recreational items like solar-powered television etc. “All the electronics are designed and manufactured by us to keep a quality control. They have warranty of two years, under which one person from our team would visit the villages and check the equipment, say every quarter.” For maintenance thereafter, as a habit is developed among the villagers to contribute an amount in a village joint account every month, if any equipment gets faulty, the villagers can access the collected fund and get that fixed.

GHE also train the locals to assemble and repair these solar micro-grid products, who then become entrepreneurs owning service centers in the hamlets. “At Leh, the service centre is managed by three household ladies,” shares Loomba.

The project does not stop at solar electrification, but transits to a second stage to generate employment for the villagers through ‘mountain home stays’, wherein they put these undiscovered villages – hardly located in the Google Maps – on www.mountainhomestays.com to woo tourists to visit and stay at local homes run by women. While not many Indians take the risk to stay at these houses away from civic amenities as basic as roads, foreigner backpackers approach the team, who further coordinate the home owners via government installed satellite phones to make the necessary arrangements. The transaction takes place directly between the tourists and the hosts.

This way, GHE empowers the women population and prevent labour migration from the hamlets; some of which lie on the Silk Road. In five years, GHE has finished electrifying the 65th village on July 23: Thangso in Zanskar. So far, it has installed 377 micro-grids with an overall capacity of 49kW. The solarisation of the villages has mitigated emission of about 500​​ tons of carbon dioxide gas annually. There are still about 22 villages left in Ladakh from what GHE has identified, while they also explore solar electrification opportunities in the north-east, starting with the Arunachal Pradesh, where about 50 villages have been identified.

The next to get electrified is Ralakung in Ladakh, where voting booth has to be flown through choppers during elections, shares Loomba.

From limited grid supply to decentralising power

While few villages had no electricity, there were others with limited supply, as less as three hours a day. Villages like Samurtha, Dungarpur and Dhaulpur (Rajasthan) relied on the kerosene lamps as the primary source of light at night, which in a way slowed down their pace of life at night. Amid the circumstance, institutions like International Finance Corporation (IFC), IIT Bombay-SoUL etc catalysed a unique kind of friendship among the women of such villages, came to be known as Solar Sahelis (solar friends) – a social enterprise, which promotes renewable energy products. The organisations sold the solar lamps to the Solar Sahelis and the uneducated to less educated women of these villages – transformed into women entrepreneurs – further sold the appliances and ran their households.

In 2015, Baripatha, a tribal village in Odisha of about 61 households and 350 people, got solar panels installed under a CSR project of Ecco Solar with NALCO. The initiative funded individual solar units for each of the households with two lamps each, apart from a central 1 kW unit to light eight street lamps. The project worth Rs 7 lakh came out to be one of the most low-cost solar energy projects. Unlike other central unit projects, these distinct individual units checked the chances of misuse tapped through the exposed cables.

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While several parts of the country are switching or opting to the solar power, some state governments seem to be working in the opposite direction under the Saubhagya programme or election pressure or reason(s) best known to them.

Dharnai – the beginning

It isn’t hard to imagine remote villages deprived of electricity but was ‘ironic’ for a village like Dharnai – situated near the Patna-Gaya national highway and having a railway halt – to be one of them. It initially had electricity until the transformer blew up over three decades ago. The villagers relied on diesel generators for agricultural purposes until it got solarised in 2014 by the collaborative efforts of NGOs like the Greenpeace India with two local ones: BASIX and CEED, Pujarini Sen, campaigner for Greenpeace, told The Tribune.

“Dharnai was among the several villages recommended to Nitish Kumar (then Bihar Chief Minister before Jitan Ram Majhi took over) for solar grids. Being uncertain on the success of the project, Kumar proposed if Greenpeace can demonstrate the success of the model in one village, it will be replicated for others,” Sen added. The solar grid thus installed illuminated two schools, a health centre, a farmer training centre, an Anganwadi, about 450 houses comprising 2,400 residents, other than the commercial shops, water pumps and the street lights.

“Kumar (while Majhi had taken over) had inaugurated the grid. Surprisingly, within a month, preparations started to electrify the village – that had not got the government’s attention so far – through the main grid,” says Vivek, another campaigner.

Whether the success of the model encouraged the government to replicate the model to other villagers, “not that we are aware of, however, renewable energy policy is being extensively worked upon by the government,” hopes Nandikesh, another Greenpeace campaigner.

Politics over power

In June 2015, the Uttar Pradesh government handpicked Kannauj (UP) – then parliamentary constituency of Dimple Yadav, also former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife – to completely transform into a solar powered village by installing a 250 kW solar plant. The plant feeds residential and commercial needs of two villages in Tirwa region – Fakirpura and Chanduahaar. All of about 450 households were also given two LED bulbs of 5W and 7W each.

For lack of access to electricity despite having electric poles, areas of UP and Bihar had been a potential market for solar grids, notes Saurabh Mehta, an entrepreneur who used to install solar grids for profit. However, Mehta exclaims that with the general elections approaching in 2014, the government hastened the electrification of each household leading to Mehta losing his potential customers.

Fall before the rise

The solar industry in India is currently worth Rs 30,000 crore. As per the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, five of the world’s 14 largest under-construction solar parks are located in India, namely: Bhadla Industrial Solar Park (2,225 MW; Rajasthan), Pavagada Solar Park (2 GW; Karnataka), Rewa Solar Parj (750 MW; Madhya Pradesh), Ananthapuramu – I Solar Park (1.5 GW) and Kadapa Ultra Mega Solar Park (1 GW) – both in Andhra Pradesh. Two of the world’s top 10 operating solar plants are in India too – Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park (1 GW; Andhra Pradesh) and the Adani Kamuthi Solar Plant (648 MW; Tamil Nadu). Yet, according to reports3, the solar industry may face hiccups as the corporate funding within the industry has fallen from Q4 2017 to Q1 2018. The government has to fix issues like anti-dumping duty imposition on foreign modules, GST, falling solar tariff, failure in meeting renewable purchase obligation in most states etc. – to attract the investors.

Laudably, on May 10, world’s third-biggest solar market – India – had scrapped the blanket safeguard duty on solar modules making it easier to import the products. India’s position in the ISA has given it an access to $1 trillion in low-cost financing for solar power projects till 2030. If India surpasses the funding hurdle, solar manufacturing would help it improve its manufacturing infrastructure, combat energy crisis, boost employment and bring on socio-economic reform.

Immediate need to switch

As per Greenpeace India, a 2017 study based on the satellite data identifies that emissions have increased by approximately 32% across the country in the last five years. Their ‘Out of Sight’ (2016) report had identified air pollution hotspots in India visibly linked to the clusters of thermal power plants. As of December 7, 2017, over 300 coal power plants in India were violating the emission standard norms given by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2015, which were to come in effect by December 7. However, despite the alarming pollution numbers in the country, the Ministry of Power, the Central Electricity Authority and the power industry are attempting to push the dates further till 2022-24 and also relaxing the water usage limits.

Stressing on the impact on public health due to emissions, the former Indian Medical Association chairman Dr K K Agrawal said, “As a representative of the medical fraternity, I cannot emphasise enough the necessity of reducing emissions from thermal power plants.” He expressed concern for villages and towns near these plants, especially “those with lung disorders and breathing issues,” who are also “highly vulnerable”.

It would be wrong to state that the country lacks determination to get solarised. Yet, despite myriad of health and environmental warnings, coal continues to be the primary source of power generation in India as the electricity generated by solar is much lesser than that by the coal plants. The non-affordability to install solar power plants also contributes to the problem. Channelling CSR funds and encouraging PPP model in solar industry may help the finances. However, reports like turning National Clean Energy Funds into GST compensation may reflect negatively.

An edited version of this article was published in Tribune

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A systematic failure

THE MARKS MODERATION POLICY AND VARIED GRACE MARKS AMONG VARIOUS BOARDS WAS MISUSED TO SHOW BETTER PERFORMANCES. IT PUTS THE STUDENTS AT RISK

THE CBSE cannot hold, everything seems to be in chaos. The Delhi High Court (HC) asked the Central Board of Secondary Education to retain the moderation policy for Class X and XII exams, which hikes the marks of the students. This forced the board to withhold the results as all the papers. Millions of students will have to be re-evaluated. However, Delhi University (DU) has begun its admission process for the under-graduate courses. The Class XII CBSE students and their parents are obviously anxious.

The human resources development minister, Prakash Javedekar has consoled students that the result would be on time, but it’s already May 26 and last year the result was declared on May 21. Looking at the scenario, the Indian universities may wait, but what about those students who have applied in foreign universities? Worse, if the marks come out without moderation, i.e. lower than expected.
Patriot/ PTI

There are other complications. Several state boards, like Punjab, Karnataka and Kerala, have announced their results. They, in line with the earlier decision taken along with CBSE, did away with the moderation policy in the evaluations. Logically, the pass percentages in Punjab and Karnataka, as well as the overall percentages in the various subjects, came down by 7-14%. In Kerala, they went up despite the non-moderation. These students may now clamour for a reevaluation under the moderation policy, so that they are on a level-playing field. Balbir Singh Dhol, who was heading the Punjab board, has resigned under the wake of the current context, following the instruction of the chief minister Amarinder Singh.

Add to this the media reports that the CBSE is likely to challenge the HC order in the Supreme Court. Now, the students will need to wait for the apex court’s decision, which can go either way. The chaos compounds. However, the confusion is a direct result of the CBSE’s hurried decision. On April 24, 2017, just a month before it was to announce its results on May 24, the CBSE with 31 state boards, decided to scrap the marks moderation policy (MMP), which started in 1992.

The fact that the decision wasn’t thought through was clear when CBSE asked DU to give weightage to the (possibly lower) marks scored by its students. The board felt that the latter would be at a disadvantage against students, whose boards followed MMP and, thus, gave higher marks. This was before the HC order, and it highlighted that the board felt that the non-MMP decision would create a skew against certain sets of students.

The idea behind MMP was good. It was introduced because of several factors: evaluators’ different marking style and the need to standardise them; and, that students should be rewarded if they attempted the tough questions in different question paper sets. In practice, the policy was abused and misused. It was largely used by the various boards to give higher mark to their students to both improve the overall pass percentages, and prove that their students were better than the others. The result: percentages zoomed in the last few years and masked students’ true potential.

Recently, Assam’s education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma revealed that the state board manipulated the pass percentages of Class X students. Last year, the CBSE too gave an extra 16 marks each in mathematics to students, and Punjab gave a grace of 27 marks each to Class X students. As per media reports, CBSE’s 95%-plus club grew 23 times from 384 in 2008 to 8,971 in 2014. Thus, colleges like Shri Ram College of Commerce and Lady Shri Ram College for Women announced a 100.75% (Economics-H for non-commerce students) and 100.5% (Psychology) cut-off in 2011 and 2015, respectively. This pushed the students into a rat race, as they gave up co-curricular activities, took multiple tuitions, and preferred to learn by rote, rather than understand the concepts. Globally, a balanced weightage is maintained between curriculum and co-curricular activities, and the choice of subject combination is also independent.

After April 24, while some welcomed the non-moderation move, others condemned it for taking the decision without prior and adequate notice to the students. Patriot spoke to parents of the CBSE students, who explained that the irregularity of the board’s decisions had impacted their children’s future. Moyna Jana, a mother of a college-goer now, said that the board lacked clarity. Initially, the CBSE made board exams optional for Class X, then it wanted to re-introduce board exams in Class V and VIII, which it never did.

 A student, who didn’t sit for the Class X board in 2015 — the year it was scrapped — revealed that he was among the brightest students in his school. But possibly because of the lack of experience in appearing for board exams, his Class XII results were not up to the expectations. Consequently, he could not get admission in a better college, and is now studying in a private one and, that too, after going through a year of coaching.

Another mother, Geeta Devi talks about the unfairness of having the first brush with board exams in Class X, “The first time students get to choose their subjects in Class XI, which depends on the result of Class X. The latter is the first external evaluation, and the results differ from the internal ones. Students should get an idea of external evaluation beforehand, may be in Class IX or VIII. One needs to replace the final exam with external one.”

The article is the updated version of what was published in Patriot

Being Human

The speed at which the artifical intelligence is growing in the world, the day is not too far, when apart from women or the LGBT communities, there would be the community of superhumans fighting for their rights.

Post-production days are close to ‘no work’ days in an office of a periodic publication. I was reading a random book when I heard a ping. It was a news app notification updating me of a growing crowd at different places across the world: From New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to the Altamira Square of Venezuela, Kiev’s Independence Square (Ukraine), Rio de Janeiro, Eiffel Tower, Wall Street and so forth. The crowd is protesting to seek equal rights as that of ‘humans’. And I went back in memory lane about decades ago.

Jantar Mantar has been famous for its protest culture since the independence era. It’s been centuries that we have sought independence from the British imperialism. But haven’t recieved freedom in a true sense. The fight for equality still continues. The fight against the discrimination based on race, caste, gender, sexual preference and so on, among the humans at different parts of the world, have not even accomplished yet. And here we have, these superhumans fighting for their right to access the public spaces, that were originally dedicated for humans, to have a law board monitoring the work sought from them, to have typical working hours and week-offs, remuneration, consent for sex, right ot property, royalty claim on their work and so on.

Well, this is a futuristic account of a day when artificial intelligence would have grown at a rampant speed and the concept of superhumans with emotions would have become a reality. The day that marks the beginning for the end of humanity, as also predicted by many experts including renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.

Robots were invented to minimise human labour. But the increasing automation has triggered a major threat of unemployment: more at labour sector than the areas that still require human analytical skills, although the latter ain’t spared for long. An analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting and consulting firm, has predicted that about 40% of jobs at the United States could be taken over by robots in next 15 years; and a report prepared with Assocham, another consulting firm, has stated about China installing 30 robots for every 10,000 industrial workers. For countries like India, where due to illiteracy or incompetent education, a major chunk of population is engaged in manual labour, the threat is horrifying. While we grapple with the job quotient and question our survival, how spared is our personal space from another take over?

Earlier, we have had virtual companions to play games with, be it chess or tennis. Now, we have humanoid robots with different modes programmed in one: family, romantic, as well as sexy. There are AI-designed applications to talk to, like Siri; apps to suggest clothes, like the Echo Look; programmes to teach things, robots helping at work or to dance or to hangout with. So soon, we would have shiny superhumans walking alongside us, going to work, partying, hanging out and what not. The advanced fear could be humans being enslaved by the robots, or a situation when a robot start loving a human and getting adamant as in the film ‘Robot’ or a robot retaliating for losing a game, as in ‘Ra.One’. However, we may remain fortunate if we follow Chatbot’s Life which believes that human intelligence is evolving dynamically and the human cognition cannot be pursued by a humanoid. Whatever, the situation may be, its high time to realise the need to develop newer skills beyond current the analytics, if we are to survive the machinic expansion and still control over the wheels.

 

Real, Barca garner eyeballs

Real, Barca garner eyeballs

It was a historic moment for the Indian football fanatic fans. For the first time, the Spanish league, La Liga, preponed El Clasico, the famed matches played between two age-old rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, by a few hours to woo and wow Indians. The  December 3 game began at 8.45 PM, India time, rather than 12.30 AM. To top it all, the league’s local office organised giant screenings in Delhi and Mumbai which were attended by 14,000 and 6,000 folks, respectively. For two hours, thousands of people partied non-stop with football, food and booze at the capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

“Both Real Madrid and Barcelona enjoy huge popularity in India and we feel that we owe the passionate fans a chance to experience such an event,” said Javier Tebas, president, La Liga. Added Luis Garcia, who has played for Spain’s Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid, “It was a fantastic atmosphere at the screening and it was wonderful to see such enthusiasm from the crowd. It was a high intensity match and all the fans who turned out will be happy.” Tanishk, a Real Madrid fan, said that the “energy and ambiance is worth the pain.”

swati-8
Credit: Swati Dey

At the Nehru Stadium, a ‘theater-size’ LED screen (38’x18′), along with a set of smaller ones (8’x4′), ensured visibility from all angles. Still, there were dozens who climbed the trees to get a better view. No one was unhappy that they had to stand the entire time as there were no seats. In fact, the fans were elated that there was a food court and also a bar. Tebas seemed satisfied: “This is a big step, and what we believe will be a great start to our journey in India.”

Apart from El Clasico, the evening was attended by Kunal Kapoor of the Dear Zindagi and Rang de Basanti movies’ fame and video jockey, Anusha. A mini-football game was held before the ‘Match’, and loud music accompanied it. For the fans like Kushagra Jain, who came with his friends from Galgotia University in Noida, it was “a match between (Cristiano) Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and (Lionel) Messi (Barcelona”. For the organisers, it was a tussle between the celebrity quotient of La Liga and EPL (English Premier League).

La Liga believes that its league has the more renowned players – Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar (Brazil), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), and Karim Benzema (France) – it is the EPL, and its teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, which has a higher following among the Indians. This is why Tebas wants to “take La Liga across the world”, establish it as a “global and inclusive” league, get closer to the fans, and provide them with “newer, more exciting experiences”. La Liga wants to be the most skilled and popular league.

Before the match began, the opposing fans seemed confident about their teams. “Barcelona is perhaps playing better, but not up to its mark,” felt Prasun Shome. Retorted Adhar Sharma, “Barcelona is out of form, so Real Madrid will win.” It was only ironical that it ended in a 1-1 draw with both teams frittering away easy chances to score a winning goal. However, the comments and analyses didn’t stop after the match.

“Benzema came in the way, otherwise Ronaldo would have scored with his bicycle kick,” said Saif Sami, obviously reminded of the move in the second half. It was a near-perfect shot, minus the French star. Saif’s younger brother, Ajmal, who is an encyclopedia of sports and has facts on his fingertips, was there too. So were two friends, who are football rivals – Gunjun Motiramani, who supports Barcelona and madly follows the exploits of the famous trio of Neymar-Messi-Suarez, and Neda Hashimi, a Real Madrid admirer whose football God is, obviously, Ronaldo. Motiramani said that her team should have won.

Former La Liga player, Frederic Kanoute, thought that it was an “evenly-fought match” and was a “treat” for those who saw it live. Kanoute was present at the screening in Mumbai’s Khar Stadium. The final words came from Rajesh Kaul, president (distribution and sports), Sony Pictures, which is the league’s Indian broadcaster, and which earned millions of dollars from the preponement and screenings. “El Clasico is among the most viewed annual sporting events in the world and we are enabling football fans… an opportunity to experience one of the most heavily-anticipated games of the season with the football legends,” he said.

The story originally published at Patriot

Insanity of Theology

BIBLE says Death was the penalty of a Sin, because God’s created Adam & Eve ate God’s created Apple on advice of the Serpent (God’s created).

QURAN says Allah asked Azazil to leave the Garden of Eden when he asked the reason for why he, being a creature of Fire, should bow to the Man, creature of Mud (an ego that was neither counselled, nor Forgiven).

RAMAYANA worships Ram even though he abandoned Sita, questioning her character for She was Kidnapped (and even after the Fire Test); and no one questions Raasleela of Krishna.

Such theologies would be cut across by Curiosity & Rationality, to only give rise to it’s own Religion!

NO more Argument for an Auto Ride!

The other day, someone posted on my Fb wall about his conversation with an Auto-driver, wherein the latter expressed his dissatisfaction for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi; and that he regrets his choice of promoting AAP. (Auto-drivers in 2013 have played a key-role in promoting AAP in Delhi, by carrying their posters for free or at cheap rates). Freedom of choice is a fundamental right – and it should be respected, of whoever it may be. However, the wall-post forced me to ask another random auto-driver the reason for the same. He responded:

Kya kaanoon banadiya hai, jisko dekho call kar deta hai or hamara challan karvaa deta hai” (What law they have made? Whoever can call and complain against us, and court then penalizes us with a challan). He added that, ‘it is no more an Aam Aadmi’s (common man) party, but a party that is also filling its pocket from our hard-earned money’.

The Norms

  • It has been a rule in Delhi that no auto-driver should impose unreasonable charges to the passengers, but run by meter only.
  • The day charges and the night charges are different.
    Day: Downing charge is Rs 25 for initial 2 km; further which, Rs 8 for each kilometer.
    Night: Downing charge is Rs 32 and the total fare is 25% above the day fare (11pm-5am).
  • Waiting charge: Rs 30 per hour, charge subjected to a minimum of 15min of wait.
    Luggage: Rs 7.50 for luggage heavier or bigger than shopping bags or small suitcases.
  • Effective since September 2014, no auto-driver can deny going to any place or have favorites for locations, be it a day or night – until they have ‘On-Duty’ board displayed at front. Respecting their wish to be able to go home without inviting a prosecution, they can pick passengers towards their home location only when they display an Off-Duty board with location mentioned on it. The amount of challan for refusal is Rs 2000.
  • If passengers find any auto-driver not running by meter or refusing to go without the ‘Off-Duty’ displayed, the passengers can report to the transport helpline: +91-11-42-400-400. This number is mandatory to be put on the auto as well.
  • The Helpline representative would ask for the vehicle no., origin & destination city and passenger’s credentials (Name, address and mobile no.). S/he would also speak to the auto-driver in valid requests scenarios to either convince him or at least to hear his part as well, and avoid being biased.
  • If the auto-driver is yet stubborn on overcharging, refusal, or running on road without fixing the meter, the helpline registers a complaint, and a reference of the complaint is sent to the passengers’ mobile no. (see image). The passengers after few days get a confirmation call from Traffic line, for successfully procession of the challan.

Auto Complain screenshot.jpg

A Sneak-peak

The increase in the minimum fare from Rs 19 to Rs 25 (since May 4, 2013) and the per kilometre fare from Rs 6.5 to Rs 8 (Rs 4.5 per km in 2010) was followed by a strike due to an increase in CNG price (many auto-drivers did not support the strike as increased fare would have only increased the auto-rentals and not directly benefited them; but they were absent from the road to avoid the violence of hooligans). In 1997, the Supreme Court had stopped issuing of new permits concerning the polluted smokes that the old-autos emitted. This resulted in many autos being bought from black market financiers at a higher cost of up to Rs 6.5 lakh. Many took loans at higher interest rates from the financiers, due to the absence of a bank credit. Overcharging was one way for repaying the loan, afford the CNG conversion that followed, handling the police and feeding their families.

On Nov 19, 2010 SC judges KS Radhakrishnan and CK Prasad allowed permits to 45,000 new auto rickshaws, which dropped black-market permit price from Rs 6.5 lakhs to Rs 2.5 lakhs. In 2015, SC allowed Delhi government to have 1 lakh autos. The government had also tied up with 3 banks (PNB, IndusInd Bank & State Bank Bikaner and Jaipur) for facilitation of loans for auto-drivers – to save them from high interest rates charged by the local financiers.

Many commuters (auto) have had experiences when most auto-drivers either claim that the meter is damaged or simply refuse to go if the passenger denies commuting on their higher prices; drivers even speed-off on mention of locations they don’t wish to go towards. This becomes troublesome especially for patients, senior citizens and pregnant women, who neither can afford a cab nor bear the hassles of the  DTC buses. Others opt for autos to save their time and end-up paying more than what the meter would estimate. The overcharge could have been justified few years ago due to the burdening loan, CNG conversion and less fare. However, with the revision of the fare, issuance of more auto permits, availability of bank credit and where each kilometre doesn’t cost more than Re 1.50 in CNG, and let’s add two or three rupees more on each kilometre for maintenance, rent, road tax, bribe and miscellaneous – is it really fare for an auto driver to charge over Rs 8 for a kilometre?

If one wants to tip the auto-driver, it should be by-choice, not imposed or demanded. This regulation on Delhi auto-rickshaws eases commuting as compared to the neighbouring cities: Noida or Gurgaon, and especially the places in Delhi that the auto-wallas interpret as ‘Out-of-the-world’.

However, immense money, time and mental calm could have been saved, if we would have had equally efficient DTC buses and no potholed roads that annoy auto-drivers more.

On waiting for a bus for long at Anand Lok, when I called the DTC Helpline they replied: ‘Aati hi Hogi…’ (must be on its way). Moreover, many buses indeed don’t stop at all the bus stops. Hope some light be bestowed on that too.

Was it important – Like & Share! Not important – Criticise! Want to contribute, please do – Comment!

Reference links:

  1. http://www.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/142d56804c577136b037f6ac8a5ce753/New+Pub.+Not.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&lmod=-369665456
  2. https://delhitrafficpolice.nic.in/public-interface/auto-rickshaw-taxi-fare-calculator/
  3. http://www.ndtv.com/delhi-news/delhi-auto-rickshaw-drivers-start-displaying-no-service-plates-667334
  4. https://kafila.org/2011/11/20/a-few-questions-about-a-few-thousand-new-auto-rickshaws-in-delhi-simon-harding/
  5. https://kafila.org/2010/04/02/the-truth-behind-the-strike/
  6. https://kafila.org/2010/03/24/auto-rickshaws-in-delhi-why-sheila-dikshit%E2%80%99s-comments-are-misguided/

Yes, it is your Disgusting Call Centerrrrr!

Mom returned from the market with loads of clothes and shoes – Puja shopping. While I was excitingly trying them all, she said: “I met Neelam Aunty (name changed). We talked for quite some time. She was asking about you. I told her that you were working at a call centre. And she exclaimed: ‘Chheeee! Chheee! Chheeeeee! Ask her it’s a shabby sector and not to work there anymore’. I could not speak further. You disgusted me!” I packed the newbies back and quietly left the room.

FLASHBACK:

Mom was getting old, plus she could not have worked due to my ailing sister. I was the only hope for a single-parent family. But, I wanted to study. So, I welcomed to work for a Call Centre: good money, financial security, plus night shift – so I could easily continue with my regular studies at day time. I remained sleep deprived until I completed two graduations and two post-graduations –three of which in regular set-up, as I aspired to live a dignified life. Still do!

Six out of seven years of my work experience have been more or less in about six call Centres: for a month or less in few, to about three years in others. Luckily, in the several companies I had worked, I got promoted or was given different responsibilities too fast also – in the last one, I was off-calls in four months, and was looking after site’s customer service score for the next three years.

I started working at eighteen, during the concluding teenage, when I did not even complete my 12th. Still remember, how ambitiously I listed down a wish list of 47-goods to gradually purchase from an internship stipend of Rs. 8000/- a month. Call Centre industry, if has empowered me to be addressed as ‘Mam’ (which I have always opposed), to remake my house from 2 Semi-Pakka room sets to three floors for self and tenants, with my own personalised room now; it has also gifted me a 3% spine disability (office cab accident that was never compensated).

COMING BACK

To everyone who knew us, I was growing exceptionally, well above my family standards and was only committed to social change: speaking in English, knowledge of computer, confident in public speaking, talking about social issues all the time. Thus, perhaps the Aunt could not digest me working at a Call Centre. But, where was her advice when I was helplessly conflicting between my responsibilities and aspirations? Why couldn’t she provide me an equal alternative during these six years? Because, there was none! Or she got scared on foreseeing me as another Nirbhaya (Delhi 2012 Rape victim, who too worked in a Call Centre to support her family while she studied physiotherapy)?

Although, I could myself see some traces of ‘exploitation of labour’ (Marx) in Call Centres, but it remains a refuge for a major Indian youth population. Call Centres in India are the assured employment options for all the English speakers (even average):

  • who graduate from schools and colleges with average marks,
  • who cannot afford further education,
  • who cannot afford to live in a city in pay-outs of other jobs meeting their skills,
  • who support big families,
  • for civil service aspirants who try to meet their financial need while preparing,
  • for the many engineers, the MNCs and technology companies cannot accommodate, yet have to repay the student loans
  • for all those to whom the government cannot promise a secure future… and so forth.

Even interns at Call Centres get a minimum wage unlike in development sector, who would only explore advocacy mechanisms for labour rights.

Now, I have left the Call Centre industry to work in social sector. But, this sector too keeps reiterating the same tenets that of a BPO to me; somehow not letting me feel any different. Be it ‘empathy’ for the customers versus victims, or ‘root cause analyses’ for low customer satisfaction versus the social problems. By the way, ‘positive phraseology’ taught at both the sectors condemn the use of problem, but ‘issue’, since the latter is attached with a solution. Further, an ‘action plan’ is designed in both the sectors and ‘success rate’ is measured at definite time intervals – with different tools though. Call Centres have taught me to ‘analyse and prioritise’ in multiple-issue cases, to ‘change approach’ when Plan A fails to work, to seek ‘feedback’ throughout, to ‘look at micro issues at a macro level’ yet drive change at micro level only (local-regional-national); and, most importantly: ‘to TALK’. All of which I am going to use now at the social sector. So, why would two sectors working primarily on the same principals, have such pole-apart acknowledgements? One should think before vaguely stereotyping – this ‘waste of time’, ‘time pass’ or ‘Chheee Chheee industry’ is fuelling many gas stoves and restoring many smiles, which many highly reputed sectors also cannot  very well do.