Why can’t India fix its air or clean Cities!

1. Delhi Air is bad. well not bad, it is at Gas chamber level.
2. Long exposure can kill and present level of pollution is three times more than code red levels.
3. So you expect whole population to be running out of city in order to save their life!!
4. Well, NO, a few are tweeting about it while rest are like goats in slaughterhouse. Calmly waiting for the turn.
5. Little bit annoyance but otherwise business as usual while choking on Air!
6. So who is at fault – AAP (Govt)? BJP (LG/MCD)? Congress (Opposition)? NGT (law enforcer) or Supreme Court (Quasi executive these days)? Or Constitution of India ( the framework designer)?
7. Think hard before jumping to an option or forming an opinion?
8. For a moment think hard as who is accountable/responsible for Delhi Air?
9. Where do bucks stop and which official will lose his/her shirt or get suspended/terminated if things are not working?
10. LG / CM / Pollution control Chiefs / NGT Judges or Supreme Court!!!
11. In fact none of these. All of these have power to meddle but no accountability or no skin in the game! Promotions will continue as well as increments without any relation to the performance! So crisis keep on happened and we turn to most obvious / visible face and jump on it in the moment of crisis.
12. So the moment a crisis happens, we jump to blame the most visible/obvious option – Politicians the law makers.
13. Politicians are lowest hanging fruit to blame for any crisis but remember they are law makers. Given no of laws passed in India, they are working very well. so what is the issue?
14.  Again is Delhi Air only crisis, we the Indians are facing?
15. Look around – each of India city / town or village is crumbling? is it so all across world? Well no. London had crisis 60 years ago.  Barcelona was nightmare 20 years back but beautiful city now.
16. All countries / cities go through crisis but they come out better – in terms of Laws / execution / enforcement & punishment except India. We in India seems to be just going down and down on a bottomless pit in every city. Traffic chaos, law & order chaos, deaths by unsafe building, traffic accident etc just growing. No wonder India ranks on top on each of these ghastly metrics. Like any other country, India also try to solve every crisis by making law.
17. India starts with the law and then everything else becomes hazy. Take Rape cases for ex? how many prosecuted for Rape? how many punishments finally got done? Remember Nirbhaya anyone? Anyone got hanged despite judgement?
18. India administrative structure is a round musical chair where goal was “Rule” not governance.
19. Officials are appointed for short term with no long-term vision or accountability.
20.  And as officials frame rules themselves, they build zero accountability. The simple motto is all privileges but none of the risk or accountability.
21. In Mumbai station stampede, how many officials got arrested or suspended?
22. Look at NTPC boiler bias with 28 ppl dead, any body arrested? If it would have been a private entity, all directors would be in Jail but in case of public sector or Govt, ex gratia from taxpayers!!
23. Zero accountability / short-term tenures and appointment of a generalist with little understanding of the subject, create indifference.  Around us, all we see is simply a function of indifference and team of people busy calculating their next increment or posting rather than delivering real kick-ass service. No wonder Swachha Bharat failed, Delhi is choking and there is traffic chaos on every road.
24. Coming back to Delhi Air, what is happening ? which officials is there on solving air issues? or rather which experts?
25. Majority of heads in the department which monitor pollution/air quality, have no clue or at best, have the same perspective as a newspaper vendor? Delivery of a newspaper doesn’t make you expert on world affair (though lot of Newsreaders wont agree!)
26. Officials will be there for ¾ years and might get next posting in say Ministry of Culture and might have a stint in Ministry of sports before getting in pollution management.
27. Are they best person to take the call and advise top leadership?
28. Can any administrative structure without accountability, knowledge and long-term ownership can think strategic while it pays to be tactical?
29. So think again, worry hard and choke your lungs. Delhi air is not going to get cleaned by this Govt or any Govt
30. They are not designed for it. Expecting govt to solve pollution is akin to solving maths by chewing gum.
31. The problem to pollutions / air quality will be not be solved by any Govt but by private sector / startups using the innovation to bridge this chasm. Time to goMassive on these issues have come.

#Massive

Swachh Bharat, Delhi Air Pollution, Why Govt fails big time?

It is again that time of the year in Delhi. Monsoon is over, Winter (thanks to changing climate) is yet to come, but the air is slightly cold and foggy. Noise related to pollution has again started to appear on social media timelines – Posts on Paddy stub burning, trucks coming, open construction etc. But the fact of the matter is that the winter of 2017 is going to be as much polluted if not less than the winter of 2016 which was as bad as that of 2015. Before the hidden politician amongst us jumps and starts looking at the performance of rhetoric driven AAP Govt, let us look at the performance of another regime which is also trying to another big problem plaguing India and that is cleanliness in India.

PM Modi launched a drive to make India clean on 15th Aug 2014. Work started on a war footing with words backed by large budgets & media campaigns.  Govt has spent/allocated more than 26000 Cr ($3.5 bn) on Swachha Bharat since 2014 but there is hardly any impact seen on the ground. Despite ‘in your face’ campaigns, large money spending, the situation has not improved at all. Take a stroll in any of our marquee cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Varanasi, Agra etc and landscape remains as dirty as ever. Earlier there was just garbage all over now there is garbage with hoardings of Clean India! There are campaigns and big talk of toilets being built everywhere but in reality, everything is as it was prior to 2014 except an addition of storage room aka a dysfunctional toilet in every rural household and this futile exercise has consumed close to $ 3.5 bn in hard cash. Now again before we start looking at the failure of BJP and its inability to move things, we need to ponder and need to look beyond parties. It’s not AAP / BJP / Congress failure but a failure of Govt or rather a failure of the way the Govt thinks.

If one looks carefully and analyze the way govt acts it will come out that Indian government rarely thinks in terms of performance, the end result, or NPS score of target consumers/customers but always think in terms of money being spend/allocated and scheme names. This thought process has led to a scenario where whole government thought process is limited to budget/cess/allocations & vanity matrices like 100% literacy, 100% village electrification (If 10% of houses get electricity, its considered electrified for the purpose of govt record) and naming all such schemes after Nehru Ji, Gandhi Ji and now on Atal ji and DeenDayal ji.

If there is any doubt on this line of Govt thinking, kindly look at advertisements released by various Govt under various regimes. It does not matter if the advertisement was released by Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi, Mayawati or Akhilesh, Manmohan Singh or Modi, the template remains same.  Some scheme name, a big photograph of the leader along with data on the quantum of huge crores being spent,  so many families benefitting, blah blah. Suddenly you wonder if there was really a regime change or the same set of people are still running the government under a different set of masks!

Hence If one looks at Swach Bharat campaign from a government perspective, the whole campaign looks super success full with  26,000 Cr allocated, more than 52 million toilets built, India is on way to becoming super clean. But the reality on the ground is totally different. Was there any issue on the Govt intent? NO, Govt was as determined as it can be but core issue has been thought process where Govt can only think from budget outlays. Nobody focussed on fundamental problems related to toilets/sanitation and challenges related to it.

The fact of the matter is that India is neither ready nor can afford western model of toilets. First, there is no sewage system in any of the villages or towns and on top of it, there is hardly any water. In India, the difference between have-nots and haves is just one simple thing – access to clean running water. Only rich and middle class have access to it while resting of the India battles for few liters of potable water every day. With a focus on having toilets,  a person who was using 300 ml water in open defecation earlier,  now needs 3-liter water at his house and this house has no running water no access to sewer lines and no place to build sewage pits. The house in villages is either interconnected or clustered together having no scope to build open pit system. Even if one builds an open system, what to do during monsoon flooding or filling of tanks in 2 years as there is no manpower working in these areas? So if one looks at the constraint on the ground – no water, no waste disposal system, the idea of “Swachh Bharat” by building toilets was DOA ( dead on arrival) however the whole Govt machinery just went ahead with the plan –  as it knows one thing best which is to create a budget and collect money for it. So whole Govt went ahead with 26,000 Cr in hand even without understanding the basic problem of sanitation and challenges related to water, disposal, treatment etc.

So again before passionate hidden politicians jump and start blaming Modi govt. pause and see what happened in Delhi.

Delhi Govt in all earnestness appointed IIT Kanpur to do a study and find out the cause of pollution in Delhi. The report which has its own serious flaws in methodologies / simplistic observations/conclusions,  was still adopted by Delhi Govt but none of the simplistic solutions was implemented by it. Why? The simple reason is that solutions were like 1000 cuts war on pollution rather than any big bang budget approach and to make matter worse the improvement would have shown by 2022 (the election is in 2020). Since there is no big budget allocation, no ribbon cutting, and no big hoardings, the report and solutions have been conveniently parked in a cold storage.

So what is the solution? The only solution to all such problems is one that is delinking budgets from any action. Govt needs to think in form of solutions/ results rather than in terms of budgets and big bang approach.  For example in the quoted IIT Kanpur report, roadside dirt in summer had very high weight. A small team could have taken a cluster of Delhi and implemented changes to see if vacuuming the road and covering construction is creating any localized impact and what could solve this. A lot of A/B testing in startup parlance but with focus on finding a solution rather than big bang talk with focus on election!. Likewise, for Swachh Bharat, It would have been better if Govt had done trials on some select cities like Agra, Varanasi, Bangalore etc and figured out what is working and what is not working. Or in villages, the focus could have been on building community toilets rather than at individual homes.

Executing small projects is not complicated and there is enough talented manpower with the Govt in addition to the large budgets, but then small projects don’t get allocation or gravitas from the top. Further, these projects can’t be run by politicians as they are tied to the 5-year horizon and neither by bureaucrats with transferable jobs. This project needs people with long-term engagement as well as skin in the game with suitable rewards as well as accountability and punishments. Until the existing system thinks in terms of a long-term model with proper accountability and lifetime postings, India will remain refugee to musical chair policy making and will slowly decline to a hell hole in terms of quality of life in no times as policies designed for slavery don’t work in democracy on a long-term basis!
The end

Diwali Crackers, Pollution and convenient transfer of Guilt

1. Crackers are bad as they cause pollution. The already rotten air of Delhi will be beyond repair if our obsession with bursting crackers continues!

2. While on its own, the idea of not bursting crackers is good but in totality, it is one of the worst ideas to propagate, it lulls everyone to ignore all other major causes of pollution and focus on a non-issue which is bursting of crackers.

3. Delhi air is super bad and reasons are many and cover everyone – from neighbor states, to trucks to some people burning stuff or some festivals and yes population.

4. Interestingly none of us blame ourselves for this mess, our procreation, consumption or a rather excessive over-consumption without a single effort towards rejuvenating nature or reducing consumption.

5. Indian newspapers are running big advertisement campaigns on how to save the world by not bursting crackers while publishing 48 pages newspaper with 3 page of news and 45 pages of hottest Diwali models with or without clothes or some advertisements. Is paper wastage not responsible for forest destruction, useless garbage, and air pollution?

6. Friends talk about pollution by crackers while gorging maggie, drinking cola and finishing snickers for desserts. All neatly packed in plastics and non-biodegradable wrappers which will just lie there in landfills and will create excess garbage!! any guilt no, as they all have already committed to the anti-cracker campaign.

7. Our whole generation can’t even survive a day without air conditioning blowing at 22 degrees and uses car/bike even for local shopping. It burns fossil fuel and consumes electricity without a trace of guilt. And do we feel guilty while switching on AC or driving our car? Probably no as already posted on Facebook about our opposition to crackers!

8. Attending rock shows, guzzling beer, liquor in plastic cups, consuming more plastic, more energy and creating 100x louder decimal noise, do you feel any guilt? arrey baba, already said no to crackers.

9. Continuous use of mobile, laptops, clicking endless selfies, posting endless messages on social media and thus consuming 10x more energy than their unconnected counterparts. Are they feeling the guilt of pollution due to coal burning?? well, they have already said no to crackers, what else do you want!

10. Changing phones to the latest models, religiously upgrading to latest mobile, laptop or another gadget. Are we worried about the toxic waste created by these batteries and silicon toxicity destroying nature? Is there any guilt? well already said no to crackers, what else do you want!! Please don’t irritate further.

11. How many trees have an average citizen planted? Ok, forget trees, how many plants? How many pots? any guilt? well what do you want, I have already said no to crackers

So looks like while we are very committed to saying no to crackers, there is almost zero commitment to save nature or protect the environment. So why such hullabaloo on crackers ?? Because it is easy, it is convenient and there is no loss in advt revenue, no pressure from any lobby group or no paid PR campaigns in newspapers. By not bursting cracker, we feel good about ourselves and at the same time absolve ourselves from the greater crime of polluting earth many times more by our over-consumption.

Saying no to crackers costs nothing, as one looks cool, and can show off without doing an iota of sacrifice. Life goes on without any change in lifestyle,  and businesses continue to pollute without any impact on profitability or top line. Life becomes easy for Courts / Politicians and NGOs as they can show off action without any repercussions for a simple reason that  Cracker industry is small-scale cottage industry with no large PR budget or fancy senior lawyers on the payroll. had Cracker industry being a 10,000 Cr organized industry, same newspaper/ media groups/ politicians/activist would have been arguing in a different tone. Hence banning crackers is the easiest way out as nobody out there to counter the argument.

So before jumping on no to crackers bandwagon, please pause for a moment, plant a sapling or have a decoration plant at home, unsubscribe to that 48 page soft porn junk disguised as newspaper, say no to processed food, plastic packaging, keep AC at 28 degree, drink RO water instead of plastic bottled water, walk/cycle or do carpool and then say no to Crackers!!
It is easy to blame others and difficult to change self! So for a change, this Diwali let us start with self!

Happy Diwali

Politics of pollution!

Air is thick in Delhi, literally and figuratively. The winter fog laden with smoke, heavy particulates and dust has not left any scope to think otherwise. Newspapers/ social media and activists are filled with smog and rage. Yes, Delhi air is literally thick.

Not to be left behind in such moments of crisis, Arvind Kejriwal Govt, like any other responsive govt, has initiated actions which as usual have muddied the waters more than to clear it and we are in the thick of actions figuratively.

Truth is, Delhi is dying and dying fast. Pollution levels are 6 to 8 times higher than permissible limits. Bowing to public demand and driven by smart statements like “drastic times need drastic measures”, AAP Govt has indeed implemented a drastic rule curiously named “Odd and Even”.

The rule thought and executed in Mohammad Bin Tughlaq style started in usual Delhi babudom style where more vehicles have been exempted than covered under it except the symbolic inclusion of the Chief Minister.  As per estimates, the total no of vehicles expected to be off road (in this case private cars) is less than 10% of total no of vehicles on the road. So far the evidence is indicating the fallacy of such a plan where the traffic has indeed become better but there is no drop in pollution at all.

While the jury is still out on the real cause of pollution to whether it is dust, crop burning smoke, diesel vehicles’ emission or overall smoke emitted by cars, there is a unanimous view among the citizens for the need to reduce usage of personal automobiles and encourage public transport.

Every Govt. all across the world is working on reducing the no. of private vehicles on road. However, it is easier said than done as this needs massive rethinking as well as state intervention in terms of city planning, redesign, capacity building along with attitude shifting, and will easily take 18 months to 5 years in proper execution.

However, in this high pitched debate about “Odd / Even”, experts seem to be forgetting that vehicles caught in traffic jams or moving at snail’s pace cause more pollution than a same number of vehicles moving at optimal speed. When traffic is chaotic and is moving at a slow pace, one ends up using 2nd/3rd gear or apply the more clutch/brake and hence release more smoke/unburnt fuel in the air. E.g., 22nd Dec 2015 was No Car Day which saw hours-long massive traffic snarls all across east Delhi due to non-operation of Vikas Marg and that night was the most polluted night in the history of Delhi.

The present implementation of Odd-Even plan did saw an increase in city speed as a considerable number of vehicles were off-road. However, rather than gloating about success, one needs to introspect about the long-term viability of such a plan. At present due to high fine and very high decibel campaign, a lot of travel has been postponed or adjusted in near term as this plan is only for 15 days. Further, this plan has not eliminated demand or made carpooling very popular. Hence in long-term, the demand will come back to a natural meaning same number of vehicles will come back to the road.

While the speed of the city can be impacted by reducing the number of vehicles on road, it can be increased in a more sustainable manner by regulating the speed of the slowest vehicle on the road. And slowest vehicle on road is the politicians’ favorite “Auto Rickshaw” (max 55 kmph) or Goods Carrier (average speed 25 kmph). Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his seminal book “The Goal” demonstrated that the speed of any system is determined by its slowest moving part.

Hence, Delhi moves at the speed of 30 kmph not because of excessive vehicles on the road but because of the speed of auto-rickshaws or goods carriers, which move at speed of 30/35 kmph. Every day one encounters a fully-loaded Bajaj auto struggling to climb a fly-over at a speed of 25 kmph and a long serpentine queue behind it struggling to get to adjoining lane and thus slowing whole traffic.

So the pollution level can be dropped drastically if the speed of Delhi can be increased by 25/30 kmph as it will eliminate all road jams as well as slow speed. So what’s the solution? Ban auto-rickshaw with a bureaucracy mentality and earn the ire of the middle class as well as erode massive vote bank of auto drivers? Yes, actually!

This solution is quite simple if one moves away from the politics of it. The only thing Govt needs to do is to replace slow moving auto-rickshaw with a car. Cars are safer, faster and are all-weather vehicles unlike an auto. Further, cost of an auto is around INR 2 lakh and with permit / convenience fee, etc., auto-rickshaw cost on the road is around 5 lakh. In comparison, Tata Nano CNG car costs close to 2.5 lakh. So rather than issuing new auto permits, Govt shall launch a massive auto upgrade program which with proper structuring / debt plan can enable all auto-owners to shift to Tata Nano. With a total population of 1 lakh auto rickshaws, the whole program can be done at a cost of less than INR 250 Cr one time cost (Complete makeover cost is 2500 Cr).

Such upgrade will save 10x more in terms of savings in fuel costs / health care and will result in much cleaner air, and on top of that get massive votes from auto owners. However, such a move needs political will and desire to solve issues at the core. Unfortunately, pollution in Delhi is more about politics and a game of one-upmanship where all authorities involved in the affair are looking for scapegoats and opportunities to shame the opponent rather than actually saving the lungs of its citizens. So whether it is pollution or governance, the victim is always the Great Indian Citizen. Ever optimistic, forever cheated!