Tuesday, 31 August 2010

CWG 2010 Mess : Join me initiate some collective action

By now we are all convinced that the Commonwealth Games represents perhaps the most poor organizations in action that we have known. However what is more appalling is the massive proportions of corruption allegations and the sheer wastage and misappropiation of public money that is being revealed.

Mr Bhagat has as a consequence urged citizens to boycott the games. I for once agree with his thoughts and have started my own little attempt at initiating some collective action to this effect.

What follows is the obvious way to start these days. An FB group for I know no other effective community connector of that magnitude.
Please join this group and let us discuss the next steps forward.
I hope you will help spread the word

Sunday, 16 May 2010

PPP model for elementary schools : how effective can it be?

I read in today's Hindustan times that the planning commission has decided to sponsor 25 lakh seats in private schools for poor students. So 2500 schools will be opened throughout the country which will admit 1500 students at the market rate and 1000 poor students will be sponsored by the central government.

Given that school quality of most government schools in India has not improved over time, this appears to be a more plausible step towards integrating the poor into the mainstream. However still many questions confront my mind even when I try to be optimistic about this initiative.

Firstly how they define a 'poor student' is someone whose parents do not pay income tax. Aren't there many rich (non salaried) people in India who fall into that criteria. Secondly, the plan talks about paying for tuition, textbooks and two free uniforms. This is simply not enough aid. Students from middle and higher class families will afford better stationary, bring better food, better sporting equipment and other similar things.

Also will schools treat these children equal to the others. Don't many 'posh' schools already have 'poor sections'? Will the plan ensure that schools don't bunch up these students in a separate section? How? Will teachers be more tolerant of the fact that these children have special learning needs due to the absence of assistance at home?

Finally I ask that how many 'rich' people will prefer to send their children to such schools. If these schools become the least preferred choices for them, then the overall quality may not be very high in the first place to benefit these poor people.

In my opinion plans like these are a good experiment to try, but there is no substitute for improving public school quality.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Commonwealth Games : No boost to sporting culture

Recently have read a couple of interviews of/ columns by Suresh Kalmadi. the chief of the commonwealth games in Delhi. Also have some insight into the process of putting the event together as someone in the family is employed by the games.

Firstly I am extremely skeptical of Mr Kalmadi's claim that the games are revenue neutral. Can sponsorships, ticket sales and TV rights support all the costs incurred, even the direct ones. I contend not. Firstly most of the disciplines are not popular in India, so why do we expect Indians in large numbers to come out and watch the events, that too for a price! Secondly, USA and China (the two major Olympic medal winners)along with many European nations, are not part of the games, so apart from Australia and public service broadcasters in Great Britain and Canada, there may not be much gained from sale of TV rights. With US, China etc out the star power of the games considerably goes down which results in sponsors not finding the games as attractive.

Now if these games do not generate profit, Mr Kalmadi claims that they help inculcate a sporting culture, provide a push to the sports programs of various Olympic sports.I fail to see logic in this claim. If all the development of venues is concentrated to the capital, how are the various national and local sports' associations benefiting. Will the games encourage more Indian parents to encourage children to pursue sport seriously or schools to take sports more seriously, very hard to establish causation.

In my opinion, a country should host events of such magnitude when it is 'organically' ready for them. China hosted the Olympics after it had established as a sporting powerhouse. For instance, hosting the hockey world cup makes sense for India, but not hosting a Rugby world cup.

If all the money spent on these games was spent on training and development of indigenous sports-persons, India could have the right reasons for hosting the games 10 or 20 years from now.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

If we blame the system, do we act responsibly either?

How many times have you found yourself in a discussion that criticizes 'the system'? System for most part is some kind of 'Invisible evil' that is made the root cause of many a problem .Unless this evil monster does not transform to a benevolent monk, things will remain horrible.

Now think of what constitutes the system in such discussions. Well the legislature, executive, judiciary, and at times the Media. We citizens by virtue of being very nice ,we are surely excluded from this malfunctioning 'system'.

So why this diatribe? Here's the story:

Recently a subset of the alumni of a prestigious (top 20) engineering college in India engaged in an online discussion forum. An alumnus inquired if he could potentially smuggle a laptop from USA into India. He got within a few hours replies from 4-5 other alumni that he should be prepared to bribe the custom officer about USD 40 in case they find out that he is carrying the goods. He also got tips on which port of entry would be the safest haven for this endeavor to succeed

It turns out that the legal way to carry an electronic device is to pay a custom's duty which is about 40% of the excess cost of the laptop computer if it costs more than Rs 25,000 ( 500 USD). So for a 800 USD PC the duty is about 120 USD.

This is not too much money for this group, most of whom ( who responded) earn a dollar salary. My question is why couldn't someone say just pay the duty. That is how the government earns revenue. Maybe at 920 USD the machine is still cheaper than it is in India. And if it isn't heck buy it in India. If every Indian arranges to get a laptop computer smuggled from USA because it is cheaper, what happens to the laptop market in India.

The same argument holds when people cringe about paying income taxes. It is the people with most high paying corporate jobs who own houses evade income tax with fake rent receipts. And then blame policies for why the country is poor. Blame the cops for taking bribes.

I am amazed that these 'people like us' who criticize the system at every given opportunity fail to recognize that we are failing it. In other words we want our rights but are not willing to perform our duties to earn these rights.