Sunday, October 21, 2007


Professionalism....Perhaps this the first word that freshers learn the moment they enter the corporate world. This is true especially in the case of engineers and managament folks. In course of time the word is hackneyed so much , that the very meaning of it is forgotten. Is professionalism all aboout smart dressing or Bond like charisma? Or is it like the good old chivalry of an Victorian gentlemen( and ladies too)?

Or is it something more deeper and concerns the true one self. For one thing I have learnt after joining the corporate world is that a pucca professional is just a cloak to cover our inner self. To rise up to the occasion we all act as professional in the corporate world. You may act like a professional , being polite, versatile and virtuous and so on. But in the inner self there is the jealous , mean and self centered soul, to which we are always vulnerable.

The question arises on what exactly are the do's and don't of professionalism. Have we not utilised office resources for private use? Unnecessary stationery requisitions , travel expenses exaggerations, holiday excuses, setting convenient targets, partying at company's cost or in worst case dirting the common toilet after use? (even in top notch companies I find this sordid state) These may appear trivial but the question that needs to be answered is that whether or not these acts constitute professionalism?

But of course there are other higher vices that are currently not condoned under the blanket of professionalism, like siphoning of funds, misdemeanour with women( and vice versa too)nowadays), constant vituperation and last of all inefficiency. The issue of work harassment is also hogging the limelight recently. The increasingly balanced gender participation(read as women joining) in office environment ,taking place in most of the companies in urban India, is the cause of this uproar. So its high time the issues of gender interactions are visited in the context of office environment. Currently locker rooms jokes, A-stuff SMS and 'voyeurism'*( looking at an wrong angle) is considered a taboo. Maybe in the future these stuff may pass in the list of trivialities permitted under the professionalism.

So being in the corporate world for more than a three months I realise that being a true professional is indeed a chimerical wish list. (in other words it like striving towards Carnot's efficiency in mechanical engineer's parlance) I have entered the professional world with all hopes of being a true professional. But I can sense that it takes a lot more than mere resolution to live up to it. I know not, what kind of a professional I would metamorphose into, but I always remember this chimerical professional.

* This is every man's nightmare..staring at the wrong places and getting caught in the process. Its often not the manifestation of bad character , rather it is the testosterone that is the real culprit. Remember there is an alter ego in all of us.......

Friday, June 29, 2007

Acknowledging the source

Off late Plagiarism has emerged as a contentious issue in the academic circles. The fact that plagiarism is a crime is slowly catching up with the Indian mindset. The question arises whether a blog account, as a vehicle for expression of an individual's ideas, can also scrutinised under the ambit of plagiarism.
So far in all my blog accounts I have never quoted my source upon which the facts have been presented. I tender my profound apologies for that. From now on I have decided to ascribe to a higher ethical standards by quoting all the relevant sources for facts or ideas in my blog accounts too. I shall also index and quote the relevant sources for my previous articles.

P.S: I shall endeavour to do my best to find the sources.If it is not possible I shall place an asterisk mark to highlight anonymous external source. Some of the figures mentioned in blog accounts may be approximate too. Hence i shall indicate it when the need arises.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Indian Railway- My Observations...

Perhaps there is no other organisation in our country that works with perfect synchronisation and zeal as the Railways does. Here professionalism is not measured in the sense of passenger satisfaction or expectations, but in the context of delivering the best out the limited resources that could be mustered.

Railways are not just a legacy of the British Raj, they are the part and parcel of the modern and vibrant India. Handling the Indian Railways is no mean task as the following statistics suggests,
  • Indian Railways are the largest employer in the world employing around 1.2 million people. (bigger than even the Indian Army, but second to combined forces of China's PLA*1!)
  • India has the fourth largest rail network in the world(around 64,000km track length*2)
  • India ranks first in terms of the number of passenger commuting through the rail network

So being the Union Minister for Railways is equivalent of being Minister for Northern Ireland (in UK) or Secretary of Health or Transportation in the US. Indian Railways is unique for the fact that unlike other PSUs, it has table its own budget in the Union Parliament and is part of Union exchequer(under the scrutiny of Public Accounts Committee of the Lok Sabha). In other words railways is government and government is railways. So there is little need for the railways to churn profits to its master.

Railways is also unique for the fact it doesn't publish annual account statement indicating profit or loss computation like most other corporate entities. Instead it assesses its performance on profit-Operating Cost ratio *3(currently around 78.5 i.e For every Rs.100 profit it has to shell out Rs.78.5 towards operations, one lowest in the world) and host of other revenue parameters. Thereby obfuscating the true picture of the Railways.

The truth is that the railways is heading for a bubble burst.This profit boom is not going to be sustainable in the future in the absence of infrastructure addition. Moreover the competition from low cost airlines ( air tickets are sometimes cheaper than First Class AC or Two Tier AC railway tickets*4!!) is bound to cause passenger migration to air travel. Moreover the high operating ratios are obtained by mere extension of existing trains.

For example, in the place of Tiruchirapalli- Bangalore night service, the train now operates between Myladurai-Mysore( my apologies to those who aren't sure of Tamil Nadu's geography). But cui bono? Off course there are passengers from Myladurai who wish travel to Mysore or Bangalore, but does it warrant a entire express of fifteen to twenty coaches to start from that place? I happen to board at Trichy and to my surprise most of the two tier berths were reserved for Trichy passengers. Worst still the First class coach travels empty most of time from Myladurai and gets filled only at Thanjavur or Trichy( this was admitted by a TTE himself). But for the railways it is a convenient arrangement as maintenance cost is reduced, operating margins improve in spite of empty berths and it can honour its social and political commitment of connecting far flung places on the railway maps.

And so we end up having express trains connecting wierd destinations like Nagercoil-Guwhati or Jammu Tawi- Kanyakumari( longest route in the country). One more added advantage of having such circumnavigating routes is that the exorbitant Tatkal fees can be levied. ( Tatkal or instant Tickets are generally booked for the entire length of the journey). In some long distance trains the tatkal fares for AC sleeper coaches for one leg of journey is costlier than even onward and return air journey combined!!

So the crucial question for the railways is to plan and build a network for the future India. The profits churned out during this period must be prudently employed for better passenger amenties, infrastructure addition and safety. One in which the best of service is offered at the least of cost. Railway stations must be modelled on par with air ports with best of rest rooms, cafeteria, shopping malls etc. One wise option is to go for fewer trains with better facilities. Security issues at trains (especially in Naxal prone States), food and hospitality services in trains can be made better for the price we pay. But before doing all these the railways must implement is that the loo in the train must be made a closed one (unlike the open on track loo).

P.S:When I was young I use to read the instruction inside the coach loo which states that "Avoid using the toilets at Stations". It's only later i realise the sad fact is that when using the loo at the stations, it becomes the job of the sanitary workers to clean the tracks and its a sordid spectacle to see the night soil from the platform. Moreover one must also consider the plight of lineman engaged in checking of tracks, connecting/ disconnecting coaches, locomotives etc..

Sources: [1] Anonymous blog accounts...identity yet to be ascertained

[2] Internalised fact ( read it about six years ago in my Std.X Geography text book)

[3] Internalised fact ( published in The Hindu)

[4] For example: Chennai Central- New Delhi Rajdhani Executive Tickets cost around

Rs.4325, while a Deccan Airways flight on the same sector starts from Rs. 3600.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is the Left alright?

The Left parties in our country (namely the CPI(M), CPI, Forward Bloc etc.) are a curious misfits in our country's political arena. Sometimes they act in a supreme statesmanship manner ( protest against parking of pension funds in equity markets, irregularities in NREG programme etc.)while in worst of times they even dharna or boycott for petty issues. ( even issues that are trivial is magnified to their advantage like boycotting the state visit of US President George Bush to India, for his country's capitalist and imperialist attitude, while extending a red carpet welcome to President Hu Jintao of China!!).
The Left in India is a chimerical combination of the Intellectual spirit of the western democracies with the Gandhian spirit of dharna, non-cooperation and hartal, with a tinge of Communist spirit of direct action. The end result is that they are an alien lot stooped in the past and failing to apprehend the imminent future.
While one must appreciate their spirit of earnestness and integrity, their traditional opinions fails to grasp with the ground realities. Generally the democratic principle of political representation demands that the public policies should be formulated based on the general will of the people, not merely based on cannons, beliefs and customs.
There were times when these Left parties opposed the introduction of computers in PSUs like LIC. They even went to the extent of barricading the offices and all night dharna! Imagine what would have been LIC today without computers!! And their argument that jobs would be affected also proved wrong today. This is precisely the public mood that the Left is failing to comprehend even today. One shouldn't oppose just for principle sake, rather a through analysis of the pros and cons is needed, before arriving at a composite judgement.
Its high time that Left shed its traditional Nationalist cloak and get sensitised to the changing societal needs. A deeper understanding of the public opinions and the foresight of things to come must be driving force in policy formulations.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Reflections on Gender Equality

Our constitution envisions a society, where gender equality persists in all spheres of life. Well it remains to be seen how far this statement is true reality though. There is a a huge hue and cry in the Union parliament whenever a Women's reservation bill is introduced. This brings us to a serious issue, whether or not women needed to treated on a different class from men. Why restrict their numbers to mere 33%, when they have the constitutional right to contest any number of seats? What is the rationale behind reserving seats for women alone like that of Mayors or councillors in the local government level? Suppose a gentleman wishes to contest a mayorial seat reserved for a women, he is denied his constitutional right to contest for elections. This would tantamount to extending freedom to one at the cost of another. This is not the equality that our constitution envisioned.

Then how do we set forth to achieve an inclusive gender equality?

Perhaps the first step in ensuring gender equality is to put an end to the differential treatment meted out to the different gender. Believe me, this would work wonders in ensuring progress and integration of the women folks on par with men. In developed western countries this gender demarcation is gradually disappearing. They have university hostels , jail houses and apartments where men and women folks co-habitate(the perverted minds is bound to raise eyebrows) , women occupying the higher ranks in the armed forces( be it in combat or non-combat duties) commanding over men, women truck drivers , garbage cleaners or even astronauts etc. In simple terms they don't give a damn to the gender you belong to.

The second step is to sensitise the needs of the opposite gender. This is very much lacking in our country. For example, a woman civil servant ( of the rank of Secretary) in the Central Secretariat had no access to rest rooms at all in her floor, as it was traditionally used by men folks. Her plea for constructing additional rest rooms was rejected and was advised to use the women's staff rest rooms instead. In stark comparison, the recent British-Iran Navy sailors capture imbroglio, the British Army allowed the husband, of the captured lady soldier, on a paternal leave to take care of their daughter. This is perhaps the finest example of gender sensitization. (People in India would laugh at the story of an Army man on a paternal leave)

The third and final step would be remove the inherent gender bias i.e a man is superior to women. One way to achieve this could be to sequester the family life from that of the professional lives. Egoism must be removed from our mindset for a functional family to sustain.How many of us would like our wives to earn more than us? Or even climb up the hierarchy much faster than us? Would any husband migrate with his wife in case she gets a transfer? The answers are rather negative in majority of the cases. This calls for a serious introspection and change in the mindsets of the men folks.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Limited Universities to Universities Limited

Imagine this scenario in the future. The Union Budget was presented the day before. The university students are up in arms against against the imposition of Fringe Benefit Tax(FBT) on S-SOP( that's right its not ESOP, it is Students' Stock option). The Edusex (BSE index of the corporate universities) has plummeted by over 200 points. The worst hit are IIT Ltd. and IIM ltd. followed by umpty number of limited universities.
The students are fighting for their hard earned University shares to exempted from tax purview. Thats right, in the future University Ltd. wouldn't offer monetary scholarship alone, rather the scholarship is dispensed partly in stock options too.
Now we are not talking about some Hollywood gimmicks here. Corporate University is inevitable in the future to ensure an inclusive education for all. The National Knowledge Commission of India ( headed by Sam Pitroda) has remarked that over 1500 universities are needed In India by 2015 to achieve at least a 35% percent graduate literate population!!
If even for a meagre 35% level, a quantum leap of four folds is needed, imagine what would it to take to achieve a more respectable figure of 75 or 90%. Education is after all, universal. To implement this egalitarian vision, massive opportunities to pursue education must be created at rate matching the growth of population. The problem of limited universities can be tackled by universities limited.
But the fact is the government is cash starved to streamline the education. Even the school education is in dire need of re-structuring. A one percent levy,(announced in the last budget ) on taxes, is specifically meant for higher education.This is expected to yield only around 5000 crores. The majority of funds is disbursed as fees subsidies, staff salaries, infrastructure maintenance ,with little for research and development.
An undergraduate medical student in a Government college pays around a token sum Rs.2000/ as tuition fees or in a Government engineering colleges a student has to shell out
Rs. 5000 as semester fees ! Surely one cannot run a higher education system with such token fees. Subsidies are cash flows to drain with a bottomless depth. To make the government colleges efficient and truly global, the first thing that must be done, is to remove their dependency on the government coffers.
It is high time that the public is roped in to the industry of education. It may sound crass and unethical. but in reality it is the case. Profit motive is the driving force of any private institutions. The age of Guru- Shishia param para, is long gone. It is high time that the society perceives education as a profitable enterprise rather than a charitable endowment. Even hospitals are now corporate owned( e.g. Appollo , Fortis, Escorts etc.), so why not education?
The idea of universities going public, is mainly to generate the necessary capital to sustain the competitive edge and at the same time offer a more inclusive education for an ever increasing population. With the capital secured from equity issue, the company can embark on a modernisation drive.Being a listed entities, ensures that there is more transparency in University governance and regulations. (much better than the archaic and autocratic Trusts and societies that run them.) By going public, the society becomes a stake holder in the growth of the university. This in no way will dilute or debase the education service offered by the university. The only problem may be that the university must serve two regulators instead of one.( SEBI being one, and the other being AICTE/UGC/MCI)
The equity market in India has matured in recent times and more people are willing to invest in the stocks. The risk factors for a university are very low, as education service is an essential commodity in all times. But the questin that arises, is why would one want to invest in university stocks?
The answer to the question lies in the underlying premises that universities are centers of knowledge creation. Knowledge is power in tomorrow's scenario. In this case the consultancy, R and D inovations offered by the university is of great demand to the industry and the public. Professors and students alike can work towards this knowledge creation, and thereby earn more revenue for the university. Likewise the fees structure for students can also be reduced in the long run once the emphasis of university learning shifts from mere teaching to knowledge creation. The higher perks and salaries offered( on par with any competitive corporate entity) to the faculty might even induce the brighter brains to opt for a career in academia. On the part of the students a sense of collective responsibility and ownership might lead to superior performance, just like employee in a company.
I firmly believe going corporate is the best thing for our country educational needs. The government must explore the feasibility of bring this idea into practice. One may laugh at these proposals as being absurd or non-practical( like people did when Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations was published in 1757. Today we consider as Father of Modern Economics ). Perhaps in the future, ideas like these might usher in the radical change that could propel India into a superpower. After all any system that offers more number of seats at an affordable cost and improved quality is worth considering.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Re-Engineering the Engineering Euducation

It is a pathetic fact to note that India, in spite of churning out the largest pool of engineers in the world, is yet to channelise their expertise into nation building excercise. ( a look into our roads, bridges, sewer system, telecom sector,urban planning etc. is enough to certify this paradox.)
It seems we are churning out worthless engineers , who are even incompetent for call center jobs. The situation is worst in Tamil Nadu which has the largest number of engineering colleges in the country. (around 300 of them with the inclusion of one IIT, Government colleges, deemed universities and 'n' number of self financing colleges.) There is joke which says on any given highway in Tamil Nadu there is more probability of coming across an engineering college rather than a fuel station. That is the pathetic state of engineering education in this country.
Nowadays getting an engineering seat has become so easy, that any Tom Dick or Harry could get one, provided he passes the SSLC . (last year around 11000 seats were vacant in TN alone, with a few colleges registering single digit admissions for courses)
The scenario needs some serious intropsection as tremedous breed of talent is off on the drains. This can be utilised for vital. The only solace for this so called engineering boom is the the appetite of IT companies of fresh engineers. But for IT comapnies hardly there would no need for Placement wing in colleges. What is lacking is the diversity in palcement offers. ( In one deemed uinversity at Vellore, around 525 students were placed at TCS!! Just liking sheparding sheeps on to a IT bandwagon.)
To refine and fine tune the system changes must be made from the admission stage itself. A question that lingers in most of engineering students mind (like myself) is that if majority of palcements and job offers are only for IT and ITES sectors, what is relevance of pursuing traditional non-IT branches like Mechanical, Civil, Electrical etc. Institutions must streamline their admission numbers and focus more on diversifying their career oppurtunities. The emphasis must be more on quality and diversity, rather than quantity and universality.
Engineering syllabus must be made to suit the needs of the present day demands and not based on text books written decades ago. Some of the changes I suggest are summed up below.
  • Case study based approach, periodic practical exposure( like the five year sandwitch courses offered by PSG Coimbature), compulsory industrial internship etc. must be incorporated into the mainstream syllabus.
  • The choice of subjects can also be based on individual discretion. ( in the present scenario electives are offered in the final year). With the excercise of self discretion the students volunteer to learn more, rather than confining to the syallbus alone.
  • Mini projects and teaching assiatanships must also be made a part the curriculum.
  • Emphasis on attendance must be done away with. (imgine college students waiting outside Director's office with leave letters or worst with parents for leave sanctions.)
  • College students are responsible adults and it is up to them either to study or not to study. Spoon feeding and coercive tactics is not going to churn out qualified engineers. ( there are colleges in TN where it is a heinious crime for the opposite gender to interact!! They even have seperate staircases for men and women. Reason: It spoils the pristine learning atmosphere in the campus.)
  • Since enginners have all time in the world to kill (out of my personal experience) the education can focus on dual majors. ( with fundamendal science or humanities) This is very musch in practice in US universities, where you can two concentrations say for e.g. John Nash ( dramatised in the movie A Beautiful Mind ) actually majored in Chemical Engineering and Economics. He later went on to win the Nobel prize in Economics!
  • In this way the analytical skills of engineers can be coupled to the fundmendals reasoning of science, or humanist approach of arts. Carrer prospects and diversification is also possible through this.( only BITS offered this dual makor programme in India)
  • The objective of learning must shift from securing grades or percentages to that of understanding the engineering problems. Segmented approach to problems would not help. eg. A lot engineering mechanics problems can be solved by vector claculus approach which is thougt in two different subjects, but never applied together. ( even in the final year I find students traumatised by engineering mathematics, with the idea that maths is no way connected to engineering at all!! They can hardly distinguish between a partial derivative equation and an ordinary differential equations!)
( To be countinued....)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reservation Ruckus (countinues..)

As mentioned in my previous article, the reservation in present form is a futile exercises of social mis-engineering. At the cost of affirmative action, we are creating a dangerously polarised society. In the long run, a resurgent form of reverse discrimination would be created.
Some of my proposals for a more inclusive reservation package is as follows:
  • Incorporate a clause of creamy layer in the process of identifying the backward masses.
  • Give more importance to economic backwardness parameters.
  • Provision of a slew of financial and non-financial incentives to students of backward community pursuing higher education in Universities and colleges.
  • Private institutions and corporates have a major role in enacting this provision. Taxation benefits, recognition etc. must be based on how good the private entities voluntarily implement the principles of affirmative action.
  • Prune up the school education system to meet the standards of the university system. Give preference to students from rural and public schools students.
  • Gender and disability must be taken into account in the reservation package.
  • Avoid granting reservations for post graduations and doctorates. (Once an individual has benefited from reservation, the individual is on a equal footing with other candidates of his batch. There is no point in extending reservation even for Ph.Ds and promotions.)
  • Appoint a statuary commission to oversee the affirmative action programme and its implementation. Sample surveys must be executed periodically to assess the economic and social status of the caste groups.

Now that we have seen the proposals, how do we go about in implementing them? Certainly caste based labelling of backwardness wouldn't augur well for the country in the long run. Instead we can define it on a fuzzy scale of Most Eligible ,Eligible and Casually Eligible for Affirmative Action. (backwardness has a negative connotation.)

Eligibilty points can be computed , say for a score of 100. An example of a spilt up is shown below, ( can be tailor made to suit the needs of the state)

  1. Caste (max 40 points) (40-SC/ST, 30-MBC, 20-OBC)
  2. Type of schooling( 20 points) ( 20- Govt schools, native medium, 15- Govt. Schools- english medium, 10- Rural private schools)
  3. Geographical backwardness ( 10 points) (based on HDI reports)
  4. Social inequalities.( 20 points) (gender, girls given more preference, physically challenged)
  5. Economic Backwardness (10 points)

To be countinued....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Reservation Ruckus

We all witnessed the hue and cry raised in the aftermath of the government decision to implement OBC reservation in Higher education institutions. We often hear only the two extremist sides of the arguements.
Pro-reservation lobby argueing for set coreccting the historical injustices, while theanti-reservation group crying foul over moves to stultify merit.
One can label one group as good or other as bad. The indelible truth is that the problem is ugly. It is a matter of shame that even afer six decades of independence, more people are classified as backward?
In our country like India, how do you define backwardness? In economic or social perspective ,should one be judged as forward or backward? The Mandal Report primarily focussed on social parameters for ennumeration of backward masses. There comes the crux of the problem.
Often birth alone doesn't warrant a need for reservation. We got Presidents and Chief Justices from the downtrodden community ,with the help of course reservation. But what is the rationale of extenting reservation to their wards ? In a way we trying to perpetuate castiest society for the mere sake of enjoying fruits of reservation? In one NDTV television programme, I was shocked to see a Chief Secretary, evidently from a scheduled caste, argue for reservations for his wards and generations to come. His arguement solely rested on the fact merit was purchased by the rich and the upper caste, and that reservation was the only panacea for eradicating the historical social imbalances. If a Chief Secretary of a state feels backward, then who else in this country are forward?
Reservation withouth the exclusion of creamy layer is a futile excercise. It only leads to a kind or reverse discrimination, whrein the oppresed reinfoce their stranglehold over their former oppressors. To make it more inclusive more people must be brought under the ambit of the prescribed quota limits . Economic criterion must be incorporated into the reservation system.Even minority instituions must be made to comply with the reponsibilities of affirmative action. Gradually sample surveys must be carried out periodically to monitor the socio-economic status of the backward masses. If found necesary the paricular caste may be elevated to the forward status.
I shall discuss the steps to be taken on this issue in my next article.

Trivia Part II

Here is another set of trivia.
  • How many Presidents has Tamil Nadu produced?

The answer is three. ( Dr. Radhakrishnan, R. Venkatraman and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. However if the list includes Rajagopalachari, the erst while Governor-General, the answer is four. The highest for any state in India.)

  • Whom did Karunanidhi mockingly reffered to, as the 'Mahavishus of Mount Road'?

The Kasturi family of The Hindu. (apparently they belong to the Iyengar clan).

  • We are quite familiar with the name C N Annadurai? What does the initials stand for?

C is for Conjeevaram, the Anglican name of present day Kanchipuram and N denotes Natarajan, his father. (some other Anglican name includes Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Ooty(which is still in use), Tinellvelly, Ramand and more famous of them of all, Madras).

  • What is common to Sir C V Raman, Dr. Radhakrishnan and C Rajagopalachari?

They were the first recepient of the Bharat Ratna awrds in 1954. ( by coincidence all three had a Tamil origin. It happened once again in 1998, when Abdul Kalam and M Subbulaksmi were given the Bharat Ratna)

  • Who is popularly refered to as the Southern Gandhi?

It is none other than Kamaraj. ( When he died he had less than hundred rupees and a government house to stay).