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.