November 27, 2008

5-0 brownwash for Pietersen and his boys

The 6 wicket defeat inflicted last night by Dhoni and team at Barabati Stadium upon Kevin Pitersen and his boys was sweet, rather extremely sweet. Actually Viru, Sachin, Suresh and Mahi ensured we went without dessert yesterday. A 5-0 win over England in an ODI series, unbelievable doesn't even begin to describe the superlative feeling.

The whole nation went into celebration mode last night. One began wondering aloud if it was destined to be a 7-0 series win and if such a win has ever been recorded by any team against any opponent in a 7 game ODI series. I am sure the statisticians must have spent the night researching historical statistics. The bookies must be calculating what odds to offer on such an outcome.

The whole nation was aghast today morning when they got to know of the Mumbai terror attacks and that brought an abrupt end to the celebrations of last night.

While we would like to celebrate & felicitate Dhoni's boys for a job well done, we must stop and shed a few tears for those who met an untimely death at the hands of a band of misguided youths calling themslves the "Deccan Mujaihideen".

It is about time someone told these guys that no houris await them in heaven after their martyrdom. What awaits them in an unglorious end on the other side of the barrel of highly motivated police and armymen who would ensure no terrorist escapes alive.

That the English team has called off their tour in these circumstances is totally understandable.

Mumbai under siege

The dastardly terrorist attacks on innocent civilians by an organisation that calls itself "Deccan Mujahideen" at 12 or so crowded locations in Mumbai that started last night and continues as I write must be condemned by all right thinking Indians.

This is the time for all political parties to take a non-partisan view and rally behind the Maharashtra and Central Governmental agencies who are engaged in fighting the radicals. A large number of high-profile foreign visitors are hapless victims to this scrouge. The Governments of the countries whose citizens are affected have reposed their trust in our security agencies. As per latest reports from the TV and media, 14 brave policemen have laid down their lives in this valiant battle and more are even at present fighting the battle at grave personal risk.

I continue to hold my belief that guns don't resolve issues and that all weapons must necesarily be in governmental control. Civilians must be emboldened to never need a weapon and our policing and intelligence gathering systems must be strengthened.

We must not fall victim to the usual civil liberties groups who are quiet today but once the heat and dust settle will come out clamouring for the rights of the radicals and their supporters. However the authorities must also make a conscious effort not to give them any reason to, by not picking up and detaining people without and strong evidence etc. This is the time when civil rights can be foresaken in larger public interest. I would be more than willing to foresake mine. What does the average Indian think ? I invite comments.

Official media briefings suggest that nearly 130 people have died in these attacks. May God grant peace to the departed souls and courage to those they leave in mourning to bear the irreparable loss. This loss of precious human lives was totally unjustified and deserves to be condemned. Such reprehensible action can not have sanction of any faith or religion.

I am sure my countrymen would conduct themselves in an orderly fashion and not fall prey to the nefarious designs of the terrorists. I am certain those killed were killed because they were where they were and not because of their faith.
image courtesy :

November 20, 2008

3 up .. 4 to go

Mahi and the boys have shown that if you try hard enough even fate conspires to make you succeed. Fortune truly favors the brave.

At the Green Park in Kanpur today India lost the toss. England elected to bat first, a decision anybody in Pietersen's place would take given that the pitch was expected to help the batsmen. And a big score on the board never fails to put the other team under tremendous stress.

Mahi's boys managed to get the English boys out for a modest score of 240 in a match reduced to 49 overs each side. Dhoni managed to get four dismissals, 2 stumpings and 2 catches. Harbhajan was the best Indian bowler, getting 4 wickets in his quota of 10 overs, bowling 2 maidens and giving away only around 4 runs per over. In the home team's innings Virender Sehwag top scored with 68 while all others who came later also chipped in with useful knocks. When bad light forced play to be suspended after 40 overs, India was placed at 198 for 5. Since play could not be resumed due to bad light the Duckward Lewis rules were brought to bear and India was adjudged the winner. Harbhajan was adjudged the Man of the Match.

So India is 3-0 up and M S Dhoni and the boys must be on cloud nine. But guys don't let up. India needs a 7-0 brownwash for the whites. Give them an Indian Christmas gift they won't forget in their whole life.

November 18, 2008

Yuvraj Singh on fire

After licking the aussies in the recent test series 2-0 to reclaim the Gavaskar-Border trophy, the Indian cricket team is currently playing a seven match ODI series against the English team led by K Pieterson.

The Indian middle order was bolstered by the match winner from Chandigarh, Yuvraj Singh who in the first match at Rajkot on last friday hammered a wonderful 137 off just 78 balls, hitting exactly a 100 runs in boundaries and sixes. And yesterday at Indore he pummelled the English bowling attack to score 122 runs in 117 balls and also claimed 4 wickets. In both the matches he has been adjudged the man of the match.

Yuvi has shown he has not lost it yet. His deft touch was very evident in these two games. He was on fire and one wishes he goes on like this. If he goes on like this we are likely to give a 7-0 drubbing to the visitors. Indian supporters would be delighted with such an outcome which can lift the country's morale in these recessionary times and lift the pall of gloom which hangs across the entire Industrial and corporate landscape of India.

Modern day Vishwakarma deserves a Bharat Ratna

In the pantheon of Hindu gods, Vishwakarma, the celestial engineer holds pride of place. When Lord Brahma, the creator, wanted to create the universe he entrusted the task to Vishwakarma who completed the task to perfection in the stipulated time. It was therefore ordained that a day be set aside to offer special prayers to Vishwakarma and so Vishwakarma Puja is celebrated by all artisans to this day in all parts of the country.

When a resurgent India ushered in an era of liberalization in 1991 under the Prime Minister Sh. Man Mohan Singh, then Finance Minister of India, a modern day Vishwakarma was required to upgrade the inadequate railway infrastructure to one that was state of the art and futuristic on one hand and built in reasonable time and with less than abundant financial resources. The choice was narrowed down to Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, someone who was known to have always lived up to his word and honor the trust reposed in him. He had retired from the Indian Railways a year earlier.

Sreedharan was born on 12 July 1932 in Karukaputhoor in Palakkad district of Kerala. The surname Ellatuvalapil belongs to the famous Tharavad in this part of Kerala. He was a classmate of T. N. Seshan, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in school. He later studied at the Victoria College in Palghat and then graduated as an engineer from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada (now JNTU). After a short tenure as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Kerala Polytechnic in Kozhikode and a year at the Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice, he joined the Indian Railways in its Service of Engineers. This was through a nation-wide selection procedure and his first assignment was in the Southern Railways as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954.

In 1963, a huge tidal wave washed away parts of Pamban bridge that connected Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The Railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan's boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and he restored the bridge in 46 days. The Railway Minister's Award was given to him in recognition of this achievement.

In 1970 - 75, as the deputy chief engineer, he was in charge of implementation, planning and design of Calcutta Metro, the first ever metro in India. Anyone who is familiar with the topography of Calcutta would know how this entirely underground service was constructed without jeopardising any existing structure on the ground though it was terribly delayed due to the land acquisition issues in a communist regime.

There has been another first to his credit. It was during his tenure as Chairman and Managing Director of the country’s premier shipbuilding company Cochin Shipyards that their first ship, RANI PADMINI, was launched. He was General Manager, Western Railways during 1987-89 and was elevated to the post of Member Engineering, Railway Board and ex-officio Secretary to the Government of India. He retired from Indian Railways in 1990.

He was appointed the CMD of Konkan Railway on contract in 1990. Under his stewardship, the company executed its mandate in seven years. The project was unique in many respects. It was the first major project in India to be undertaken on a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) basis; the organisation structure was different from that of a typical Indian Railway set-up; the project had 93 tunnels along a length of 82 km and involved tunneling through soft soil. The total project covered 760 km and had over 150 bridges. Many new technologies were developed to overcome topographical limitations. That a public sector project could be completed without any significant cost or time overrun is no mean achievement.

He was made the Managing Director of Delhi Metro and by mid-2005. He had put in a condition of non-interference by politicians in his administrative decision-making which was granted with a view to meet tight deadlines and minimal disruption of civic life in Delhi. The first phase of the project covering three lines of a total length of about 70 kms was commissioned in 2005. Line 1 (a length of 23 kms over ground), Line 2 (a length of 11 kms underground) and Line 3 (a length of 36 kms over ground) are already operational and carry over 3 million passengers daily. All the scheduled sections were completed before their target date and well within their respective budgets.

Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh while inaugurating the underground section on December 19 2005 appreciated the efforts of the Delhi Metro and observed, "The time has come for all of us to think big and think into the future. The 21st century will be the Century of Asia and without doubt the Century of India but to hasten this journey, we have to create the required social and economic infrastructure." And think big, Sreedharan certainly did. The phase I is expected to generate substantial benefits. Not only would it bring down the number of buses on the roads by 2,600, it would increase the average speed of buses from 0.5 km per hour to 14 km per hour. Two million man-hours per day would be saved due to reduction in journey time. Fuel cost worth Rs 5 billion per year would also be saved.

"We had an able and experienced team leader in Sreedharan. He spelt out the mission statement and the corporate culture clearly to one and all. The idea was to make Delhi Metro a world class Metro, a vehicle to promote dignity and discipline in the city," recalls the chief public relations officer of the DMRC, Anuj Dayal. "Sreedharan’s personality was a crucial factor. He led by example."

The "corporate culture" accordingly lays out that integrity of executives and staff should be beyond doubt; punctuality is the key word; targets are most sacrosanct; organization must be lean but effective; corporation must project an image of efficiency, transparency, courtesy and "we-mean-business" attitude; and construction should not lead to ecological or environmental degradation.

What contributed in no small measure to DMRC’s success was the autonomy given to the managing director. "Sreedharan took up this task on the condition that he should be allowed to choose his own team. Furthermore, he came to enjoy a fair degree of autonomy. Financial powers were vested in the managing director. Also, the managing director was the last authority on tenders," explained Dayal.

Another precondition was the minimum interference of the government. The work culture was so designed as to reduce dependence on subsidies. Soon the message went down the line that there is nothing called a free lunch or freebies. The organization therefore was able to resist pressures from many quarters. Even the Prime Minister bought a ticket for enjoying a ride on the Metro.

What makes the DMRC a case study of management is the insertion of a clause into the contract with companies that they must have an Indian partner. Consequently, the DMRC is procuring the trains from Bharat Earth Movers Limited, Bangalore, and elevators are also being produced indigenously. Another feature is the punctuality with which the DMRC pays its contractors, who are called business associates.

The success of such a venture would have been impossible without divine intervention. Any other project of this magnitude might have got bogged down in litigation, but not so with the Delhi Metro. There are about 400 court cases pending in the courts, no court has given any stay order till date. This meant the Delhi Metro could go on executing its work without worrying too much about cost escalation or delay.

In the past nine years, the Delhi Metro has redefined public relations to a certain extent. It did not employ conventional methods, though. Instead, it chose alternate ways to generate goodwill for the organization. Fortunately, it did not need to look far. In ensuring minimum inconvenience to motorists and pedestrians alike, the Delhi Metro successfully converted a challenge into an opportunity. That paid rich dividends too. All utilities were diverted in advance to ensure that there was no disruption of water, electricity, sewerage and telephone connections during the construction of the area. Barricades were put up and an alternate traffic plan drawn up with the help of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and in collaboration with Delhi Police. Also, new roads were built or the existing roads widened to accommodate traffic.

The Delhi Metro organized community interaction programmes for redressing problems that arose among the local people. Every Monday, heads of department would meet and set new or review targets. "We have also devised a reverse clock," says Dayal.

Not only does Delhi Metro offer a more comfortable and safe travel for the commuters, it would help reduce atmospheric pollution levels by 50 per cent. Commending the Delhi Metro for paying due attention to environmental concerns, the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi recently said, "The construction had been undertaken in an eco-friendly manner and ten trees had been planted for each one felled."

The Delhi Metro has also secured ISO 14001 certification for adhering to environment protection norms and the OSHSAS 18001 certification for meeting world standards in protecting the health of workers and passengers alike. Another hallmark of its operations has been labor standards. It employs 45 persons per kilometer of work. This ratio is one-third of that of the organizations elsewhere.

Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of Metro Man by the media. In 2005, he was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the government of France. He had previously announced that he would like to retire by the end of 2005, but at the behest of Prime Minister Sh. Man Mohan Singh, he agreed to carry on for another three years to oversee the completion of the second phase of Delhi Metro. He has also been approached by Pakistan Government for the development of the Lahore Metro plan, an offer he politely declined.

He has never chased monetary reward. In a country with billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, a man of his abilities could have written his own paycheck but he chose to serve India and inspire teams of brilliant engineers to chase the same dream. That some of his junior team members were picked up by the corporate world at salaries that were 50-60 times higher than what the government jobs were fetching them would indicate what he would have been worth in the job market had he chosen to chase monetary compensation. In mid-2005 in an interview with The Indian Express, an Indian daily he admitted that he was drawing a salary of $ 1000 a month, what others in similar positions in Government jobs were drawing. A similar position in the developed world would have been worth million of dollars per year in bonuses alone. When asked how he managed to retain his team with such low salaries, he said he managed that by giving them a superior work ethic, by instilling pride of achievement and by job satisfaction.

In his illustrious career spanning over 45 years, he has been bestowed numerous awards and honours. The following list is representative and not exhaustive. I am sure many laurels await this great son of India. He has brought honour to these awards as much as they have to him.

· Railway Minister's Award (1963)
· Padma Shri by the Government of India (2001)
· Man of the Year by The Times of India (2002)
· Om Prakash Bhasin Award for professional excellence in engineering (2002)
· Juror's Award for leadership in infrastructure development by CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) (2002-03)
· One of Asia's Heroes by TIME (2003)
· AIMA (All India Management Association) award for Public Service Excellence (2003)
· Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) from IIT Delhi.
· Bharat Shiromani award from the Shiromani Institute, Chandigarh (2005)
· Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France (2005)
· CNN-IBN Indian Of the Year 2007: Public Service (2008)
· Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India (2008)

Sreedharan is also a Fellow of The Institution of Civil Engineers, U.K., The Chartered Institute of Transport, U.K., The Institute of Railway Transport, India and The National Academy of Engineering, India.

It appears that he would be there to oversee the Delhi Metro and many similar projects to completion, may be in a different capacity. He is a Vishwakarma who can not be allowed to rest since India is in a hurry and has a lot of catching up to do. One only prays that God grants him a very long life to leave his imprint on the stable foundations of the modern and fast developing India. The people of India need him to carry on so that they can move ahead fast.

Today's newspapers reported that he has tied with similar-minded senior people in public life to start an NGO to try and usher in systemic changes to eradicate corruption and improve transparency in public affairs and politics. I am sure our worthy PM Sh. Man Mohan Singh would also put his weight behind this endeavour.

It remains to be seen when the Government of India would bow to the wishes of the common man and bestows upon this worthy son of India the honour of Bharat Ratna, the gem of India, that would truly befit his immense contribution to the motherland.

images courtesy Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

November 11, 2008

New Delhi : BRT woes

The adjacent photograph of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system of traffic segregation and management is something the Shiela Dixit led Congress (I) government in Delhi would rightfully claim credit for in the forthcoming state assembly elections scheduled for end-November 2008.

An imported concept from the city of Bagota in Columbia which pioneered this idea, it is no doubt a beautiful visual message to send to the world at large to announce the coming of age of India.

During the construction of phase I of the BRT, a few young lives were lost in accidents due to haphazard construction and poor lighting. Residents of Delhi thought of it as an offering to appease the lords who would offer them some relief and 'Moksha' (salvation) from the eternal mess of road traffic in Delhi. What Delhi got after a patient wait was endless delays when the new traffic signals were instaled with timings that were faulty. To tide over the initial troubles the contractors were asked to provide a certain number of road marshals at every junction. Virtually one half of the traffic policeman descended on the 5 km route in the first 10-15 days when BRT stretch was opened to public.

When confronted with the situation on the ground, Mrs Shiela Dixit, Delhi Chief minister insisted that it was because the Delhites demonstrated poor road discipline. She said once they became accustomed to the BRT the commuting would become pleasant and shorter. She also explained that if the design was found to be faulty the whole BRT would be scrapped.

It has been over six months since I have been travelling on the BRT corridor twice or more per day. The 14 km ride to my office in Connaught Place that earlier took 35 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evenings has become a 60 minute ride in the morning and a 75-80 minute ride in the evenings.

I always thought I was good at analysing problems so I decided to ask myself why BRT was not working as designed and the commutes were taking longer than they ought to. I am no expert at road design but to my mind the following are the major reasons why it is in the current mess:

  • The trouble starts at the Chirag Delhi crossing itself. Now I have to wait for two if not three green lights before I can get on to the BRT. A loop over the flyover would have cost around 35 crores but given an uninterrupted flow-in to the traffic coming from Nehru Place / GK II. This would also make the movement of Shiek Sarai - Moolchand traffic smoother. All the resultant traffic chaos at Nehru Place / Savitri Cinema / Panchsheel side would disappear with the lop over the flyover for traffic wanting to turn right (which incidently would be atleast around 85% of the total traffic).
  • All right turns from the BRT corridor at the Archana Cinema crossing should be scrapped or mandated to go underground to lead to a smooth traffic flow. In future too all right hand turns on BRT must be done away with.
  • The road surface on any BRT corridor should be even and flat not undulating like one sees today. Such convoluted and undulating surfaces take longer to negotiate and also slow down all the vehicles.
  • Even if one person decides to go slow it slows down the entire traffic. Thus minimum speed must be stipulated.
  • Many Govt / Police vehicles are routinely seen flouting BRT discipline and driving in the Bus Lane since these are usually seen to be less crowded. The answer is CCTV cameras on the road, regular Police patrolling and Heavy fines for violators and not lowly paid Road Marshalls. I recommend a Rs. 10,000 rupee fine and a 5-year ban on driving in Delhi by someone violating BRT discipline.

The Congress (I) government of Mrs. Shiela Dixit deserves another term in office to rectify the mistakes made in the design and implementation of the BRT. I am sure the Delhites would show some more patience and oblige.

November 10, 2008

A time to celebrate

The Indian win over Australia in the fourth and final cricket match played at Nagpur, now playing under the dashing Mahendra Singh Dhoni, helped the home team win the 2008 India – Australia Test Cricket series and retrieve the Gavaskar – Border Trophy. More than the trophy this win helped India emerge from the shadows and regain its rightful place in the International cricketing arena.

A well-deserved win for India saw the entire team chip-in with their contributions. The match saw our batsman score runs aplenty. The highlight was the innings of Sachin Tendulkar (109 - his 40th century in tests and 12), Virender Sehwag (66 & 92), V. V. S Laxman (64 & 4), M. S. Dhoni (56 & 55), Saurav Ganguly (85 & 0) and Harbhajan Singh (18 & 52). All lead bowlers like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma were amongst the wickets.

This match also saw Gautam Gambhir sitting out because of a one-match ban and Murali Vijay of Chennai making a well-deserved last-minute appearance and he debuted well with 33 in the first innings and 41 in the second innings. He also affected the run out of Mathew Hayden and Michael Hussey in the Aussie first innings. His ground fielding was a treat to watch.

It was also the last test match for Saurav Ganguly the former India captain who had previously announced his intention to retire from cricket after this series and he did so in some style – scoring 85 in the first innings and a first ball duck in the second – joining the ranks of six former greats who started their careers with a century on debut and a duck in their last matches.

At one stage it appeared as if Ricky Ponting had the match under his belt. India in their second innings was 166 for 6 in the last over of the post-lunch session on the fourth day. For some odd reason, after tea he discontinued using his strike bowlers and brought in the part-time bowlers. That allowed Dhoni & Harbhajan to score 108 runs for the seventh wicket in under two hours. The hosts saw a chance to consolidate their score and the Aussies failed to press home the early advantage. Critics point out that this was to catch up with the over rate since inability to bowl the requisite number of overs would have meant a penalty for the Aussie captain.

History would judge whether a desire to avoid a one-match ban clouded Ricky Ponting’s judgment to such a level that he not only sacrificed the Nagpur test but also any hope of leveling the series and retaining the Gavaskar – Border Trophy.

Some cynics say this is the weakest test team ever to visit India but I feel that is a meaningless pursuit. A win is a win. The series win is celebration time for Dhoni and the team. So guys go out, get drunk and paint the town red. The whole country celebrates with you and waits for an opportune time to fete you.