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Meerut Latitude : 29.5 deg N, Longitude : 77.05 deg E.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

Cold, damp and misty and we ( those of us who are not sleeping on the side-walks ) cannot have enough . These are the colors that paint misery elsewhere but we just don't want it to end . It is impossible to believe that this very place gets hot and unbearable.


The days when India stood still

At the beginning of time, I got my first job in Bombay and lived not far from the old Taj. The new one was constructed and inaugurated while I was there. Many decades later just about the only thing I remember of Mumbai is the Taj. It always felt like a safe and beautiful haven where genteel old Parsi ladies could sit in the Sea Lounge and watch the world go by. So you can imagine my disgust on seeing the news in the morning of terrorists invading the Taj ( and other places ). Mumbai is a 'mind your own business' kind of a place. Somehow the Taj is every Mumbaikar's business. We are never going to know why the impact of these happenings made everybody ( in India ) hold their breath. Perhaps because it did not get over in a few short hours. Even the dramatic images of the 9/11 planes flying into WTC towers were over in a few minutes.

We need to walk safe. That is easier said than done. With our pathetic wherewithal it is well near impossible. Even though more money is spent on the army than ALL the tax collected from Mumbai, the run of the mill Army did not have the weapons to tackle just 10 terrorists. That was left to the NSG ( a special sub-division I presume for the benefit of those thugs the media calls VIPS - The Week calls them leaders and rulers :) ).

Rarely does the media radiate this kind of grief for strangers, like the coverage of this catastrophe´ . Personally I did feel a sense of sadness for the armed men in uniform. However it was far more for those defenceless ones who had to confront this calamity unprepared and unarmed.

Predictably the usual cosmetic blah-blah spewed forth from the 'authorities'. The announcement for an 'inquiry commision' seems to have been delayed :). The same news-readers who were pouncing on politicians during the hours of distress, repeated their banal announcements with much vigour and enthusiasm. The need of the hour ? To completely avoid the blame game - terror is no stranger to Pakistan too - NOBODY has a silver bullet for Terrorists. What creates a terrorist is something only social scientists can answer. What about leaders ? The least that can be said is that they need to have much more than good lungs. Perhaps what we need more is good servants right from top to bottom. This is hardly an insulting term people in Public life are called Public servants. It is not that Democracy has failed. Our Democratic systems just have to be tuned to weed out the undesirables.

About Barkha Dutt's Televised discussion at Victoria Terminus .. At last we are getting to the root cause of what ails India, one word - TAX. Those who collect decide what to do with it and they themselves get first preference. That is how idiots become VIPS! It was the lady in white ( the one who is never off-stage ) who pointed this out. Just saying we will not pay tax is just not enough. Income tax is a very small percentage of the total. Excise is what makes the coffers overflow. We can do very little about it except plead with the thieves to reduce it. Case in point: see the hee-haw about reducing the 100% taxation on petrol / diesel. Mumbai wallas are very aware people, most can probably recite the names of the craters on the dark side of the moon, but when it comes to factors which affect their own life they are quite ignorant, I of course have taxation in mind. Shouldn't 'Taxes' and what is done with them be a schoolbook topic. It really does not require any Educational background more than addition and substraction.

How do we filter out undesirable elements from politics? We can if we accept that the rules we function under are not infallible ( they are the gift of the East India Company ) and need to be constantly reviewed. For a country which insists on Police verification even for babies needing a passport that should be no problem. As long as idiots, thieves and murders become ministers not just politics all of Goverment will not be taken seriously.

Subsidised

Petrol and Diesel are subsidised ?

A few days back our respected Prime Minister himself was on TV saying there will be no reduction in Diesel and Petrol prices even though crude oil had come down from $140 to $55 per barrel. Somewhere he managed to insert that fuel was highly subsidised. Maybe he has another dictionary. The one I looked up says this... subsidy :- A grant paid by a Government to an enterprise that benefits the public. Subsidy is an opposite of Taxes - an antonym. In other words they are mutually exclusive. How much was the subsidy on such an important item was not mentioned. Subsidy would mean that fuel is sold at below cost price, which is easy to work out.
EVERYBODY is aware that more than 50% of what we pay at the pump is tax in various garbs ( which means over 100% taxation! ). You can easily do the calculations yourself to find out what should be a logical retail price for Diesel or Petrol.

1 barrel of Crude Oil has a capacity of 42 gallons - this gives 19.7 gallons of gasoline, 10 gallons of diesel fuel and heating oil, 4 gallons of jet fuel ( kerosene). 1.7 gallons of heavy fuel oil . 1.7 gallons of liquefied petroleum gas, and 7.6 gallons of other products. The total adds up to 44 gallons because of a reduction in density and a corresponding increase in volume.

"No such thing as a free lunch" is cliche´ popular in the first world. Even there it is only partly true. In the third world (us) it is an outright lie. Want to check prices in the US? Just search the NET for "gasoline prices".

I know that I have lost everything I thought that I could win,
I guess I should have listened to my friends

- Line from the theme song of a 70s film Kelly's Heroes

That of course refers to the great Stock Market Melt down which is currently on. Nobody knows how low it will go. Those who don't care much about history are still smiling. However those who have read about the Great Depression of 1929 will know how wealth vanishes the same way it appeared. Wonder if anyone still remembers the movie "They shoot horses don't they" ? The world is much more tightly networked now and it does not take months for the effects to be felt around the World.

We are still travelling in uncharted waters here. Now the fate of the Automotive Industry is in the hands of the US Government. Read somewhere on the Net that the recession has already been on for a year and so it is considered a prolonged one. It appears that the ailments of the US Automakers first appeared as a sub-prime malady. The first casualties of repayment of loans were in areas where the Automakers were situated. Is the recession in the US the result of an attitudinal change there. Has the population lost its infatuation for cars? Such questions can only be answered in the US, which has detailed statistics updated regularly about everything.


Tons of Money

Worth having another look at this chart. Meerut tax region probably includes Muzaffarnagar as they mention steel mills. This really is a matter of great pride, considering the unreliable electricity even in Ghaziabad - which is highly Industrialised.

There was news yesterday that the armed forces are not going to implement the pay commission recommendations. They want more.. Who doesn't? But as things stand the Defence budget exceeds the total amount collected from the Mumbai region and that is really saying something.

It gets much more interesting. The allocation for Police is probably one 20th of this. Doesn't make sense ? Must have made perfect sense when the Steel Frame was installed by the East India Company. The 'enemy' was never more than a day's horse ride from wherever you happened to be. And the Police was still a fledgling notion. The times are they a changing ?

Defence was in the news a few days back under "Defence Crisis". It seems they don't have enough submarines!. Shades of the obscenity called World War II. Torpedoing dangerous passenger and supply ships was OK for Submarines on both sides. Do we still need them? The British were VERY proud of their navy, we could certainly do a rethink. Meanwhile it is not difficult to see where such an enormous budget is being squandered. Instead of reducing the actual land area under defence control they are actually increasing it . Thus consequently putting enormous pressure on the financial resources. You can see " This is Defence land tresspassers will be prosecuted" ( some in Bazaar areas ) signs in Cantonments all over India. These signs came up almost 3 decades ( 30 years!) after the British left, and are the direct result of confusion between what is a Cantonment and what is a Garrison. Meerut Cantonment was full of private hotels before Independence - one right on the Mall Road.

The Bangalore Cantonment was in the news a few days back the brave armed guards of a Brigadiers Bungalow shot and killed< an unarmed student who the police was chasing as he had been doing "wheelies" on a public road. He had climbed into the Bungalow. The principal of the school was on TV mourning the loss of a very good student. This has echoes of early 19th Century England ( the laws which are extant in Cantonments are in fact from that time ) where a poor man could be sentenced to death if his sheep damaged the hedges of a 'Lord'.

As things stand the general impression is that the army does a very good job of defending itself. Sandbag protected machine gun pickets can be seen even for out-dated sections like the RVC( once the core of the army and responsible for taking care of the horses of the Cavalry ). But can it defend the people who pay for its upkeep?


The Pursuit of Happiness?*

Not really . Happiness just comes and taps us on our shoulder one steamy night - and it does not happen very often. The last date when we had an entire day of rain and drizzle , the sky overcast with dark clouds and cool winds blowing is shown on the picture.

*The phrase "The Pursuit of Happiness" comes from the US constitution. It was an Earth shaking document when it came out and it still is. Something great is happening in the US yet again.. If you missed Michelle Obama's recent speech you will never have a clue. The brave new world is still brave and over 200 years later still new. The stale old world still does not know what to make of it. "Man reached the moon", "Man made the Silicon chip" ... etc. etc. "Bush attacked Iraq"


This and That

They are cleaning the Abu ka Nala again . Last it was done was in 2001. With Excavators and something called a Porklane machine. The people doing it are not aware that just about 6-7 ft below the water surface is a brick lining. The entire Bombay Bazaar shopkeepers know that a little more than a decade back this brick lining used to be visible. The problem is that with these powerful machines they are digging up the brick lining too, which need not be done. The nala used to be cleaned every week or two. An item in Dainik Jagran says about 3 crores have been sanctioned very magnanimously for some excavators and a Porklane machine. This city pays that much in Excise and local taxes on Diesel and Petrol EVERY day. The cleaning of the entire nala could take 10s of crores , but MUST be done. None of the feeder drains flow into the Nala as the level is much too high, and there is stagnant water all over the city. Hence you can just imagine what a large area ( not merely the cantonment ) is vulnerable to rats, mosquitoes, sickness and disease. And in this region you can see the same thing in Modinagar. Of course, cleanliness and other basic requirements of the populations are conveniently labeled as either ele´ist or popu´list both these words take the Government of the hook from delivering what it is paid for. Elítist has a socialist undertone and populist goes back to monarchical times. One does not expect people in the media to know that democracy by definition is populist. The word also implies that Politicians and Babus know better :). Another word used often in similar vein is 'unauthorised'. Everything which came after 15th August 1947 is 'unauthorised':). We were a nation of 33 crores at that time, we are over 100 crores now. That makes for about 67 crores unauthorised :).

If you run across someone in Government and mention the filth , they always have a good explanation. 'The people are throwing too much polythene in the garbage'. Well take a look at what has been taken out from the Nala , see how much polythene you can find.

However one can see distinct signs that the town is cleaning up, even without dustbins. People still unload garbage at the points where dustbins used to be placed some two decades back. India must be the only place on Earth where they try to keep a town clean without dustbins.

Can the Internet help? Sure it can you can view the entire Abu ka Nala on Wikimapia.com. Most of it is choked and dry. No amount of cosmetic cleaning is going to help.

More ... the grapevine always gets the under the table news. They say Rs. 24 Crores was sanctioned only 2 crores were used and there seems to be no difference to the Nala. 'Illegal' and 'unauthorised' ? How come these words never get applied to Government activity/inactivity ? It is high time they did.


Just another day in Paradise

There are problems in paradise too. You may be aware that the moment you even whisper a number, Paradise vanishes. Recent local papers mentioned that there is a glut of potatoes in all the areas nearby. All cold storages are refusing space. Potatoes were selling at a little over Rs. 5.00 per Kg in the market. The farmer was not getting more than Rs.2.60 for his efforts. This at a time when there is a shortage of wheat and rice. Even so I would rather take pictures of fields and trees rather than multi-storied buildings, flyovers and traffic jams.

To each his own. Most people's heroes are those with an unlimited bank balance, sitting in air-conditioned comfort, flicking specks of dust from their ironed suits. Mine are these people who are in the fields when the temperatures reach 45 deg C ( like now mid-May).


Barring the tractor, this could be a scene painted 300 years earlier ( Potatoes and chillies were brought to India by the Portuguese in the 17th century ). More about the low value of agricultural products. Not far from here in many village shops you can pick up a packet of potato chips at Rs.20/- for 100 gms. or about Rs. 200 per kg. Which is about 40 times the value the farmer gets. Maybe an MBA graduate understands this.. One thing is certain there are major aberrations in the Indian Economic scene.

An electricity pole is also visible in one of the pictures. It is for a tube-well nearby. Our villages are far from electrified. With barely 4 hours of electricity. So even those who first got connections have got them disconnected due to enforced minimum charges.


The passage of time

Same place 2 months later.


The passage of time - contd

Same place - now rice is growing.

Agriculture throws up a lot of combustible material. This could be used to generate a lot of electricity with mini-turbine generators the same way as Sugar mills do. And proper electrification could make Industry zoom due to a surge in demand from electrical products.

Quite unbelievable that it was rural India which paid for Calcutta's opulence( it was the East India Company Capital with head quarters in Fort William ) in the 19th Century. It was ranked just behind London and Paris in the mid-19th century. And even today they are not provided basic Municipal services, leave alone Electricity. The Rajas Maharajas could not collect a tenth as much John Company did. It is not without reason that the Indian Civil Service was called "the finest civil service the world has ever seen" ( that euology was meant for private circulation only). Find this difficult to believe.Then I suggest you find out more about 'Settlement offices'. With a misleading name like that the main source of income of the British Raj got overlooked.


Power generation without Oil, Coal, Wind,Water,Sun or Uranium

This plant is not far from where the above pictures were taken. To the right of the picture you can see a small portion of the hill of agricultural waste delivered to the plant. They have more than a few weeks reserve, and have to refuse trucks which appear without prior appointment. This Power plant is NOT attached to a sugar mill where this method( power from burning husk ) has been the standard procedure for at least 70 years. There is much less air pollution than coal based plants like the C power station in Delhi. In any case Employment should get higher priority than Environment in India.

Imagine this, if plants like this come up in rural areas an enormous boost can be given to the well-intentioned Rural Employment scheme. Quite a few people are required to man the plant . Then rural folk will also be paid for the combustible stuff they bring.. And Electricity just stimulates demand for a hundred other things. Of course fairly intensive feasibility studies are required. Somehow an enormous number of Power schemes just end up in the trash-can as they collide with the thinking box which says 'Electricity can only come from a grid'. In the US even not very remote areas are provided Electricity through co-operatives. The broadest statement of the Indian Paradox has just got to be this - 'So much to be done , so many people to do it . Little gets done and so much unemployment' . Just provision of Electricity, basic sanitation and sewage to the rural areas could create waves of sorely needed employment.

This plant is far from the only one in the region. Like the others it probably operates at one tenth of full capacity. Why can't plants like this provide Electricity to the surrounding area ? Wish I knew the answer. It probably is this . " The people be damned - there will be a loss of revenue". And we all know to whom we should be grateful for that stance.