Saturday, September 14, 2013

Food Security Bill - Decoded By a Dummy for Dummies

This blogpost arises out of an emotional discussion on the need for food security ; and the political compulsions in it being enacted just before the next wave of elections. Obviously, the quality of the debate was inversely proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed and the decibel level of the participants. Typically, the debate centered around how the development of the many is at the cost of the growth of the few. 

At the outset, this post is not a political one. I do not hold a candle for the the UPA or the BJP or whomsoever...! Food Security is being provided successfully by non Congress State Governments over the past decade already, and typically some of the more successful ones are in states run by the BJP.

(1) India is ranked No 65 of 79 countries on the Global Hunger Index (Sri Lanka is 37 and Pakistan 57). Does it behove a country part of the BRICs economies and the G20..?

(2) It will cover 75% of the rural poor, and 50% of the urban poor. It is NOT Universal. It is meant to cover Priority Household and Antyodaya Households referred to as Eligible Households. The identification of Eligible Households is left to State Governments. (And if I may add, the BJP in the Parliament moved amendments to make it UNIVERSAL, applicable to all).

(3) It is meant, as well,  to cover children in age group of 6 mths - 16 years, age appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi. Additionally every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local anganwadi during pregnancy as well as maternity benefits.

(4) The Current Food Subsidy is already in the range of INR 90000 crores, which will increase by another INR 30000 crores to about INR 120000 crores. This makes the TOTAL Food Subsidy at 1.2% of the GDP. To put this additional burden of INR 30000 crores in perspective:
  •  The Annual Diesel Fuel Subsidy (which affects people like you and me who drive BMWs and AUDIs) is INR 90000 crores.
  •  The Subsidy (Tax Reveneu Foregone)  given to the Gold and Diamond Industry is INR 65000 crores.
  •  The Fertilizer Subsidy, which BENEFITS the farmers and enriches the FERTILIZER companies, is INR 70000 crores
  •  India annually imports Mobile Handsets worth INR 30000 crores.
For more details refer



(5) The Food Security Bill does not provide for Free Food. Foodgrain is to be provided at PDS issue prices, which will be revised every 3 years.

(6) The recent fall in the value of the Rupee is not because of the Food Security Bill. It is in part due to the external situation (US Fed easing, the situation in Syria)...but mostly due to a burgeoning CAD, which arises out of excessive imports (Oil, Gold and Coal).

(7) The recent fall in the stock market is primarily because of the flight of capital because of perceived capital controls which resulted in the fall of the rupee. Notice that both the Rupee and the Stock Market have corrected in the recent week.

(8) NREGA and NFSB will raise the cost of domestic services ; as has NREGA led to scarcity of labour in urban areas, be it for construction industry or otherwise. Does a poor man not have aspirations...and is he not entitled to fulfill those by demanding what the market is willing to pay?  This is after all a market driven economy, and the demand - supply equation will provide the equilibrium. And remember, these very people at the bottom of the pyramid, will be the ones who will aspire to spend their expendable surplus on goods manufactured by FMCGs pushing up sales and profits, and share valuations too.


Let us not forget, a responsive and responsible society is built on the empathy it has for the have-nots. India needs to implement a social security mechanism which provides basic necessities to each and every citizen as most of the developed world already has.

Let not the problems of leakage in the PDS take away the importance of the NFSB. Utilize the tools at our disposal such as the RTI and the PIL to ensure the government is alert to the task and not fritter away hard earned tax paid money.

Pressurize the powers that be across the political spectrum to show the same alacrity they have shown in passing the NFSB, the Land Acquisition Bill, FDI in Retail, and other legislations ; to making into law the Lokayukta Act and put in place an anti corruption mechanism to address those very leakages we complain about.








Monday, September 2, 2013

Letter from Mr. Shekhar Kapur to Mr. Narendra Modi.

Dear Mr. Modi
In another few months, the country goes in for a watershed General Elections which will be as much about you as they will be about the next five years of India. That someone could come in from outside the Delhi apparatchik of various political parties and occupy centre-stage in the country is nothing if not spectacular. It was no surprise, therefore, that you had to face bitter opposition not just from outside your party but also from within. Irrespective of the outcome in 2014, history will record you as the leader who electrified the middle-class into a virtual national vote-bank. This is no mean achievement. I am not a member of your fan club and say this only as a compliment.
I am reminded of the heady days of 1977.
I was in college then, young enough to believe in revolutions. The fight against the Emergency and Mrs Gandhi was led by no less than Jayaprakash Narayan and a galaxy of political stars including Vajpayee and Advani. Such was the enthusiasm that thousands actually took the plunge into active politics, including you, Jaitley, Swaraj and virtually the entire top leadership in all parties today. Fast forward to 1989. Through a high-pitched street campaign, VP Singh managed to create a similar hysteria around the Bofors deal. This was the coming of age of investigative media and some of us were aghast at all that we read. With the promise of eradication of corruption, we believed that the political system was on the cusp of a revolution.
In both cases the Congress lost.
t1977 and 1989 were the toughest political battles India has ever seen. Not very different from the way 2014 seems to be developing. But in both cases, the weight of expectations proved to be too heavy a burden to carry. The Janata government of 1977 lasted less than three years and the VP Singh government perished before its second anniversary. There was a third moment in history that was equally dramatic though in a quieter sort of way. The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in 1996 but despite having Vajpayee at its helm, it was unable to build a coalition. The government collapsed in 13 days without ever facing Parliament.
The fact is that once the excitement of the elections is over and the sexy headlines give way to questions, there is still the boring business of running a country with 30 states, over 70 national parties and hundreds of regional parties with divergent self and public interest. The expertise that is required to govern is not the same as required to win an election. As a voter I believe it is my duty to convince myself about each party before casting my vote.
Evaluating the incumbent is relatively easy; it is a matter of tracking their record of their years in power. The electronic and print media, social media and we as individuals do it all the time. Evaluating the challenger is tougher and necessarily involves asking questions and expecting answers. Unfortunately your reluctance to answer questions is well documented. Your idea of communication is a monologue, never a dialogue. Public speeches are like highly touched-up pictures. You show what you wish to and in the context that you wish. They may be good to rouse momentary passion but never to actually explain. For that you have to be open to free and frank discussion. On this issue, your record is worse than MMS.
To the best of my recollection you have had only three one-to-one interviews with English channels, one each with Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami. These ended with you walking away (with Karan Thapar), just ignoring questions and humiliating the anchor(with Rajdeep) and becoming insufferably rude (with Arnab).
Your supporters compare your style with that of the American system. Nothing can be farther from truth. Presidential candidates in the US spend hours conversing with the media, taking tough questions, diligently explaining every aspect. The detail to which they are queried and the patience with which they answer is the stuff of legends.
Let me now enumerate my main concerns. I am on purpose not touching on the happenings in 2002. I do not believe those who say you had planned the pogrom. I cannot imagine anyone in public life actually doing anything so diabolic and am happy to give you the benefit of the doubt. Having lived through 1984, I know that we live in a tinder-box and given provocation violence can just happen. And once it happens, things can and do get out of control.
However I do think there is much you need to answer for events in the aftermath of the killings but will leave that to you, your gods and the Courts.
1.What is your Big Idea for India?
Indira Gandhi’s Big Idea was socialism, Rajiv Gandhi’s was modernization, Narasimha Rao’s was reforms, Vajpayee’s was globalizing, Sonia Gandhi’s is inclusive growth and so on. It is not necessary to have a big idea but desirable. It’s a bit like the Directive Principles; they cannot be enforced but constantly show you a direction. What is yours?
Please do not say good governance. That is no big idea; that is what you are paid to do.
2. All questions about your strategy for India inevitably lead to the ubiquitous ‘Gujarat Model’. What is the Gujarat model?
If it means making the state an ideal place for big ticket investment which will lead to job-creation and skill up-gradation and lead to prosperity, I buy the idea instantly. My concern however is that while it can work for Gujarat, will it work for all of India? How will it translate for states with poor infrastructure like UP, Bihar, Bengal and others? Many states are at a different stage of development from Gujarat and it will take a long time for them to be able to attract investments the way Gujarat can. What is your suggestion for them? The less affluent states also have issues of social stratification that are totally different from your experiences in Gujarat. Do you have a plan for such states? What is it? Should you not share it with the country?
3. For someone who is in favor of making it easier to do business in India, your stand on GST sounds incongruous.

A company setting up shop to conduct business nationally has to contend with 37 different tax structures as each state and UT has its own rules. With the added problems of products often smuggled in and out of states to save on tax. Does this make for a sensible easy-to-administer tax regime for business? You have rejected the GST regime without ever giving a convincing reason for it. Since there is no plausible reason to reject GST, should one assume that the refusal was nothing more than political obstruction? Would you like to clarify now?
By the way, GST was first suggested by your party.
4. What is your stand on obstruction of Parliamentary proceedings?
The Hindu reports that up to the end of the Budget session, the current Lok Sabha had wasted over 37% of its time in forced adjournments and disruptions almost entirely master-minded by your party. This ratio would only have gone up in the Monsoon session. And while delays happen, over 100 bills await approval.
Since you are not a member of the Parliament you have never been queried on this. Nor have you ever chosen to comment on this in any of your speeches. It’s a reality of India’s Parliamentary system that seems to have missed your attention entirely. As a citizen, I am keen to know your perspective on obstruction of Parliament as a legitimate means to focus public attention.
5. Where do you stand on the Lok Ayukta for Gujarat?
Your party’s keenness to have the Lokpal is well documented. In fact an entire session of the house was kept in suspension because of the BJP’s insistence on the LokPal. One would have imagined that you would show similar eagerness to appoint a LokAyukta for your state. But strangely, you fought tooth-and-nail for almost a decade to somehow avoid or delay the appointment of the Lok Ayukta in Gujarat. When finally the Lok Ayukta was forced on you, you first approached the High court, then the Supreme Court, then a review petition and finally a curative petition. All this to avoid probity? Is this what you stand for?
Justice Mehta, who was appointed but finally refused to take up the appointment after noticing how shabbily he was being treated by you, says you actually spent 45 cr of tax payer in legal fee to keep delaying the obvious. Why? There could only be two reasons. The first to which many subscribe is that you have something to hide. That by itself is no big deal; all governments like to hide their dirty linen.
But the second reason is cause for concern. It seems that emotionally you are unable to compromise your instinct even if it happens to be unconstitutional. This level of rigidity or stubbornness is worrying. 38 years ago it was exactly this type of thinking that led to the emergency.
6. Do you have a solution or anything even remotely like a half-solution on the Ram Janma Bhoomi?
Though I am someone you would call pseudo-secular, I really do think that it is a shame that there is no temple/memorial at the place where a vast majority of Hindus believe Lord Ram was born. However I also believe that the time for simplistic charitable solutions was over the day the structure was demolished.
The current government has no new out-of-the-box solution. As a new entrant into the ring, do you have a trump card? If so, should you not tell us?
7. And finally, something that may hurt you but needs to be said. Are you really that good? Has your performance been that outstanding?
Long before you emerged on the scene, Gujaratis were among the wealthiest communities not only in India but globally. Till the sixties, Gujarat was a part of Bombay; much of Bombay’s wealth was also in Gujarati hands. This has not changed too much even today though it is likely that the wealth in Gujarati hands has only increased. Gujarat’s problem traditionally was that it had few uber-rich and many very poor.
Here’s my question. With over 11 years of governance by you, is this the best Gujarat could have been?
Parameter after parameter, whichever way one looks at it, Gujarat is only one among the top few; it is almost never the leader of the pack by a long margin.
On social indicators though there has been clever misreporting to show Gujarat worse off than it is, the fact is that one has to struggle with statistics to even show improvement in the last decade of your rule. With similar struggle, most states could lay claim to being exceptional from one perspective or the other. Unsurprisingly social indicators is a subject you never talk about. This is very different from the image that your PR teams have created of Gujarat as a touch of the First World country in a Third World India.
Wishing you good luck but awaiting your response.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yes Prime Minister...Sab Theek Hai !

(with due apologies to Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby)

21.12.2012 has come and gone ! Yes, Dear Prime Minister.......Sab Theek Hai !

Shit Happens, Mr Prime Minister........but Sab Theek Hai !

Legislation for FDI in Retail and other sectors, Banking Reforms were passed despite strong opposition in a single session ;  Reflects the priorities of our political class ;  Mr Prime Minister, Sab Theek Hai !

And yet the Lok Pal Bill seems stuck in limbo despite parliamentary consensus and your promise to the nation 16 months ago ! Remember the Sense of the House Resolution....Nonsense !    But Yes Prime Minister....Sab Theek Hai !

A Union Cabinet Minister, who resigns due to corruption charges, is now set to be Chief Minister......Dear  Prime Minister, Sab Theek hai !

2G, CoalGate, CAG, CWG, Mera Bharat Mahaan........Jee Prime Minister, Sab Theek Hai !

It takes you a week to address the merciless rape of Amanat, right in your neighbourhood. To mention the rape of a girl every 20 minutes in the rest of India, I imagine, would be pointless ;  yet Mr Prime Minister, Sab Theek Hai !

Fast Track Courts for Rapists and Terrorists ! But No Fast Track Courts for Corrupt Polluticians......or Law Makers who break the Law ?..........But Dear Prime Minister, Sab Theek hee to Hai !

Ratan Tata retires at 75, Sachin Tendulkar retires at 39......yet Mr Advani nurses ambitions to occupy your chair at 80 (of course you are only 79).............Yes Prime Minister, Sab Theek Hee Hai !

Allegations against Mr Vadera...........and Union Cabinet Ministers defend him. Independent Media conveniently forgets the story within 3 days ! Incredibly Independent Media .....Yes Prime Minister, Sab Theek to Hai !

IOA re-elects office bearers and gets suspended from IOC ; Sports Code not yet implemented, and some of them are esteemed members of your Cabinet ! Sporting Politicians, bah ! .................but Yes Prime Minister, Sab Theek hai !

48% of Gujarat voters re-elect Mr Narendra Modi (52% voted against him) ! Next Prime Minister ?.......Yes Prime Minister, of course, Sab Theek Hai !

The World Cup Winners of 2011 lose to England at home even after they got pitches of their choice.....Jee Haan Prime Minister, Sab Theek Hai !

And Sir, You are the Prime Minister.....so Sab Theek Hai ???

We are a Facebook Nation Now ! Our attention span to issues is only limited to the titillation in the headlines and the voyeur in our mind ;  

My Dear Prime Minister..........Kuch Theek Nahin Hai !



Monday, April 23, 2012

The Great Dictator

Ever since I can remember, I have always had this fascination about the period between the two World Wars...and how the happenings in that period have shaped the world as we know it today. Restating the obvious, Mr Hitler and Mr Churchill were the two characters who influenced this period in more ways than one. I am still nonplussed at my own fascination about Mr Hitler ;  An Austrian corporal, rejected from pursuing a career in painting in Vienna, went on to become a pivotal figure in history ; and a reviled one at that ! A master communicator, who early on utilized the medium of mass communication (radio and film medium) to reach across to his fellow Deutscher ; who understood and exploited symbolism as the key to influencing the masses be it the uniformed military parades or the Architectural splendour of the Third Reich ; who was democratically elected to his post but slowly (not really) but quickly sidelined all the democratic institutions and assumed the dictatorship of Germany. It makes interesting reading to analyze how the German aristocracy, the industrialists and the intelligentsia took to Mr Hitler, and in fact deified him ; though it is a matter of conjecture how much the german population actually knew of the "Final Solution" at the time. Centralized decision maker, larger than life image, megalomanic....and yet he was able to hold sway over the scientific and displined  Deutscher for close to 15 years. A Great Dictator, if ever there was one ?

I wonder, are there  leadership lessons to be learnt from him....? Both for Business and Politics ? Is there really something close to a leader, Hitlerian in approach ; but without the baggage that Hitler had ? Does a Benevolent Dictator exist somewhere ? Can our democratic polity provide us with one ......or do we already have one ;  in Kolkatta, or maybe Chennai, or for that matter, Gandhinagar ?

As I write this, I look to our leadership in New Delhi. Did I say Leadership ?? Apologies, The UPA2 is a leaderless alliance. One would figure that a country with the energy and creativity we profess to have, we would have leaders of  who would, well.....Lead ! When you look back at the last decade, we have institutions encroaching on spaces created and left vacant by weak governance ; be It  the Supreme Court, the CAG or the Armed Forces. Witness the Supreme Court admonishments to Governments, be it on policy making or corruption ; The CAG appointed to probe leakages and audit government, itself suffers from a perpetual malady of  "wikileaks" ; and the recent saga on the Chief of the Army Staff. For that matter, even Civil Society was institutionalized by the formation of the National Advisory Council ; thereby creating an extra constitutional body which takes on itself what Parliament is supposed to do. Is Parliament not representative of the citizens of India that we need the NAC to proffer advise ? 

The Chaos that is India....! Seems reminescent of the post WW1 Germany, in disarray, with institutions buckling under pressure, and seemingly under decay ; coupled with the Great Depression of 1929.  Are we drifting to a situation wherein we expect deliverance from the Benevolent Dictator ?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Stockholm Syndrome

The Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captor, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.


The incidents leading to the Babri Masjid incident of 1992 finally culminated in the catharsis of the 2002 Gujarat riots. The political experiment of the BJP in polarizing society based on religion peaked in 2002 and nowhere  has this experiment succeeded more than in Gujarat. So what is it about Mr Modi, ....and what is it about Gujarat and Gujaratis who have bought into this experiment so whole heartedly ?  Is it the "Stockholm Syndrome " at work ? 

A few weeks ago, we completed 10 years of the shame that was the Godhra Train Incident and the aftermath that followed ! It was ironically missed out that this was also the completion of a decade of the homecoming of Mr Modi. And what a homecoming it was..! 

I still remember the period leading to the state assembly elections in 2007. Gujarat was a State of Siege. All that you read about was the 2002 incidents, how industrialists were avoiding Gujarat, the encounter episodes, and so on and so forth.There was this sense of being caught between a rock and a hard place. However the last 18 months before the 2007 elections, there was a sudden "feel good" factor. Gujarat suddenly became Vibrant....! Though the Vibrant Gujarat Summit had had two previous editions (2003 and 2005), the scale and grandeur of 2007 was undoubtedly different. The branding exercise had culminated in grand style. The focus shifted from religion to development. Real Estate prices appreciated, farm land was coveted and industrialists were welcomed with a red carpet. The image makeover worked, Mr Modi was even branded as the most successful marketing manager (I think it was Business India).  This rebranding coupled with the TINA factor (the congress is in a shambles in Gujarat) worked,..........well, even I voted  BJP in 2007 !!  The astute use of electronic media, print media & the internet has successfully created a personality cult, which makes a rebuke of Modi, a rebuke of Gujarat and Gujaratis ! So if a Time Magazine puts Narendra Modi on the cover, we have hoardings up and about the next day in all cities of Gujarat.....but the same Time Magazine poll on which leaders should "NOT" be on the 100 most influential list also has Mr Modi topping !!

Was Gujarat not always a prosperous state ? Were Gujaratis not always entrepreneurial in nature ? Was "Kaam Thai Jase" not always on everyones lips in Gujarat ? Were Gujarat roads not always the best in the country ? Were not all Gujaratis always law abiding citizens ? Was lawlessness and crime ever an issue in Gujarat ?

Obvious rhetoric...right ?

(1) Which State does not have a Lokayukta since 2003...........and do we really believe corruption is any less in Gujarat than in any other state of its kind ? Sure if Jharkhand is our benchmark...

(2) Which State Human Rights Commission has the post of Chairman vacant since.......?
http://www.ias100.in/news_details.php?id=623
(the current status however does show Justice Bhatt as Chairperson)

(3) Which State has one of the poorest records in implementing the RTI Act ?
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-10-13/ahmedabad/30275122_1_rti-awareness-rti-applicants-rti-activists

(4) Which State is one of the most dangerous for RTI activists ?
http://www.dnaindia.com/india/comment_rti-activists-have-always-been-targetted-in-gujarat_1608315

(5) Which State has serving IAS / IPS officers RB Sreekumar, Kuldip Sharma, Rahul Sharma, Pradeep Sharma, Sanjiv Bhatt, Rajnish Rai......deposing against a serving government for irregularities in 2002 ? What is the morale of the law and order forces in this state ?
http://kafila.org/2012/03/19/on-the-low-morale-of-gujarat-police-rb-sreekumar/

(6) Which State was censured by the NCPR  and urged to have a State Child Rights Commission (which incidentally is still not formed) ?
http://counterview.org/2011/08/03/dalit-body-asks-gujarat-governor-to-form-separate-state-child-rights-commission/

(7) Which State is the only developed state in the country where the percentage of malnourished children is higher than the national average ?
http://telegraphindia.com/1111022/jsp/nation/story_14654747.jsp

(8) Which State is continuously reporting a lowering Sex Ratio...?
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sex-ratio-dips-to-a-new-low-in-vibrant-gujarat-in-10-years/926337/2

(9) Which State continues to use the Prohibition Act as an instrument of corruption, creating a nexus between the law makers, law enforcers and the law breakers ?

(10) In Which state is the ruling party MLA and the ruling party's farmer wings  agitating for the rights of farmers against landgrab by industry ?
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-03-03/rajkot/28650073_1_nirma-cement-plant-padhiyarka-mahuva

(11) Why does the government not agree to release details of the agreements with Business Houses ? Why do citizens have to resort to RTI for the same ?

Yes, Gujarat is on the highway to Growth ; Modi  means Business, even Time Magazine says so....! But Can Business and Growth ever be a substitute for Development ? Sure growth drives development...but "Time" will show us the legacy.....................! Sure, there is no doubt that he has a vision (and one can agree or disagree with the vision, per se), but is there a rational debate on his economic policies and methods ? 

One of the most insightful articles I have come across on the "Man of the Time" is appended below...
http://www.caravanmagazine.in/Story.aspx?StoryID=1315&Page=1




Sunday, November 6, 2011

Travel Musings - Lanka

Travels,,,,and Travails ! My first attempt at a travel blog, and what better place to start with than Sri Lanka. Travelling with a family group of 12, ages ranging from  6 to 66, poses challenges on what and how much one can do ; but all in all, a wonderful place to holiday in.

(1) Visa on Arrival, very smooth and seamless. 

(2) Suprisingly, and pleasantly ; and what hits you most right from the time you step out at Colombo ; is the cleanliness. And this is evident not just at the airport, but right through our trip from Colombo, to Kandy, to Dambulla, to Anuradhapura and down south to Galle. Public hygiene and cleanliness, and one would tend to agree with Mr Lalit Bhanot, Sri Lankans sense of the same is definitely different from us Indians ; even if, as a Sri Lankan friend puts it, it is a recent phenomenon.

(3) Sri Lanka is a poor country, torn by internal strife, for more than the past two decades. But one does not see street beggars or slums. And lo behold, the traffic, be it autos (tuktuks) or buses, they stop for pedestrians. They actually stop their vehicles, and wait for you to cross the road. !!!!!

(4) Colombo, in itself, seems to have got stuck in a time warp. Whether it owes its name to Christopher Columbus or to Sinhalese equivalent of "Harbour with leafy Mango Tree" (and there are plenty of mangoes in Sri Lanka), it still retains the old world charm with a mix of the Portugese, Dutch and British influence on its architechture. Stay at the Galle Face Hotel, and feel it for yourself. Visit Galleria, the cafe housed in Jeffrey Bawas office ;the Cricket Cafe and  Paradise Road outlets and get a feel that eclectic experience that Colombo provides.

(5) As with most developed countries, the road network is third world ; but well maintained. Highways are two lane, and do not expect to clock more than 40 kmph on the highways. For travellers from India, highway etiquette is similar to India, where size rules ....and "the side I drive on is the right side" rules apply.

(6) Kandy and Dambulla are important parts of the Buddhist tourist circuit. Attire, no showing of arms (sleeveless) and legs allowed. So dress accordingly when visiting many of the Buddhist temples enroute. And if you do forget this rule, be assured someone will be on hand to help out with shawls or sarongs.

(7) Dambulla is central to the cultural triangle of ancient Sacred cities of Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, and part of the World Heritage cultural sites. A common entrance ticket is available which covers most of the sites, and for SAARC country residents is available at a discounted rate. But some of the people manning the ticket offices do not or pretend not to know about this special rate, as we found out to our annoyance at the Museum ticket counter at Anuradhapura. Ticket prices and specials need to be displayed prominently would be my suggestion, if anyone from the Sri Lankan tourist office is reading. And strangely, SAARC country children are charged the same rates as adults ; and Non SAARC country children are charged 50% of the adult fare.

(8) On a whim, I decided to take the train from Kandy to Colombo. Reached the ticket counter 5 minutes before the train was to depart,  was informed No Tickets.....but a bit of persistence with the the platform ticket collector paid off ; and got the seats on the A/C Coach. The A/c Coach is managed by a private contractor, who issued us an online ticket on the internet, sitting on the train itself. He even refunded the amount for the snack he was not able to provide since it was a last minute booking...but he made up for it with endless helpings of  the Sri Lankan Dilmah. Unfortunately, the train does not stop enroute ; so no pictures to tell the tale. That the train left 15 minutes late, and arrived an hour late in Colombo just added to the charm. I was in no hurry to catch a train....as it were.

(9) I had to rejoin my party in Galle, and originally had thought would take the train from Colombo to Galle. But the train tracks to Galle were washed away by the Tsunami...so took the A/c bus (more a minibus) from Colombo to Galle. The tuktuk from the hotel to the Peta bus terminal cost me SLR 300.(distance 2 km)...and the bus ticket (distance 120 kms)  put me back SLR 200. The 3 hour journey took 120 kms...(yeah, just making sure you are really reading this)......with the bus stopping every 5 minutes to pickup and drop passengers. At the end, I do not think there was a sq. inch left on the bus which was not occupied.

(10) The drive to Galle is along the coast.....and as you get closer to Galle, you cannot help but notice the frequent gravestones and cemeteries on either side of the road. A grave reminder (as it were) to the devastation caused by the Tsunami. This stretch was the worst hit by the Tsunami of 2004. 

(11) Galle, a port city, fortified by the Portugese and the Dutch, home to the Galle cricket stadium,  which you get a handsome view of from the Galle Fort, a World Hetritage Site. Very quaint, walk about the fort, and frequent the restaurants and hotels inside the fort area....and yes, the jewellers. 

(12) Beautiful Beaches, this entire stretch from Colombo to Galle....but the sea can be pretty rough. Waves are high, breaking on the reefs and rocks on the shore,,,,,leaving a permanent mist along the coast line. The setting sun can be quite mesmerizing, if the rain gods allow it. That was about the only regret,,,,got to see just one sunset in the 13 days we were in Sri Lanka.

(13) Being a family of 12, we had rented a villa to ourselves for our 6 day stay there. I am not sure if there is a category above 7 star,,,but if there were....it was available here. The service was quite outstanding, and can recommend this place without a second thought (www.auraliya.com).

(14) Saving the best for the last, the hospitable and friendly and fantastic Sri Lankans....the icing on the proverbial cake. Ever smiling, gentle and genial......makes we wonder about the ethnic strife the country witnessed these past couple of decades.  

A wonderful place to visit, and revisit....offers great value for money and if they can improve the flight connections and timings....a great alternative, as it were, to Goa.

Ceylon Images




Sunday, October 9, 2011

Arab Spring, Capitalism Fall & Democratic Winter of Discontent ?

Back after a bit, been travelling in the bastion of Adam Smith & Capitalism. Coming off the Anna movement in India, the Occupy Wall Street provides a strange followup to what we saw in India. Reading and watching the Republicans and Democrats squabble in both the Congress and the Senate makes me wonder if our politicians in India are playing copycat ; the position of the Opposition is to Oppose, even though we might agree on most of the actions needed to pull back from the precipice.

It has been a strange two years. One ostensibly should have learnt the lessons of Lehman Brothers and 2009 ; but it does seem the lessons are badly learnt. What happened to the banking system, is now happening to the Eurozone. Will Greece become the Lehman Brothers of 2011 ; and will this domino effect bring about the dismantling of the Euro Zone ? And another financial catastrophe ?? Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal ; the PIGS are about to bring about another bout of swine flu on the financial systems of the World.....!

Which brings me to the fundamental question.....Is this heady and deadly mix of capitalism and democracy unsuited to a Global World Order ? In the interconnected world that we have today, are our current systems of governance and commerce capable of delivering an equitable share of the proverbial pie ?  The European zone is paying for its excesses of the socialist welfare state they have created. How do the "leaders" of these countries now balance the need of their own against the need of the rest of the world ? Balancing the budget is imperative ; as are taking the harsh austerity measure which affect the populace of Greece or Spain.

How does the democratic model which depends on the popular vote balance these needs of their "own" who elect them against the "many" who finance them ? 

The anticorruption movement in India, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the strikes in Greece and Spain, are all the symptoms that the Model of Democracy is straining.....People are revolting against the authority that they themselves give to the Few by the power of the Vote. Can this system "of the people, for the people and by the people" provide a solution to the travails of the people ? Our leaders are elected by the popular vote.....Can populism lend itself to taking the hard decisions a country, a government needs to take preserve world economic order.

To this mix, we have the Arab Spring. ? Is the Islamic World ready for democracy ? One only has to look at Pakistan and Afghanistan to sense the answers.

So, what is the winter going to be like...........................................?

A footnote....

(Mr Obama is pursuing the Jobs Bill to generate employment and provide an impetus to the economy ; The Republicans will oppose because Jobs (Steve) was a democratic fundraiser and supporter !.....Shit Happens !)