Blog Archives

Thiruvananthapuram city roads improvement project- An appraisal

Disclaimer: This article is written as an academic opinion piece as a part of a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) offered by the World Bank on PPP through Coursera.org. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and does not represent the views of the Government.

Thiruvananthapuram is the capital city of the state of Kerala situated in the southern part of India. The urban area has a population of 752,490 and is a Tier-2 city in the country. As expected in a city in a developing nation, development was haphazard and the roads bore witness to this by having the following problems:

Completed 4 lane road. Source: www.rickshawchallenge.com

Completed 4 lane road. Source: http://www.rickshawchallenge.com

  • Narrow
  • Severe log jams at various critical junctions
  • Lack of footpaths and scientific pedestrian crossings
  • Lack of aesthetics for a capital city.

The rationale of the project: The rationale is self-explanatory. The roads in the capital should be of flagship quality and is considered to be reflective of the Government’s performance.

Why PPP? A detailed study of the requirements was made and it suggested a complete overhaul of the road network by constructing wider roads, footpaths, bridges and roundabouts at critical junctions. Earlier experience had proven that maintenance was the most critical issue. As city roads had to be maintained in top quality, a decision was made to execute it in a PPP (Build Operate Transfer) mode. The contract was finally for construction and maintenance of the roads for 15 years

Toll or Annuity: The idea of collecting user fees was out of the question as the road in question is city roads and it would have been practically and politically impossible to collect user fees. Besides, city roads are usually considered as basic infrastructure and thus Government’s responsibility. Hence the payment was decided to be based on annual Government payments. The state of Kerala had set up a Kerala Road Fund Board composed of specific grants, loans and fees to provide out of budget support to road projects. The payment for this project was decided to be from this fund.

Project Outline:

  • Cost: Rs. 1400 million
  • Kms covered: 42 kms in 3 phases
  • Construction time: 30 months
  • Period of contract: 15 years from completion.
  • Payment: Semi annual payment of Rs. 177.5 million for 15 years (Against performance standards monitored by an independent agency.

Risk Allocation:

Sl.no Nature of Risk Allocation
1. Land acquisition Public
2. Construction Private
3. User Demand Public
4. Maintenance Private
5. Performance Private

Performance: The project was awarded in March 2004. The entire land was supposed to be handed over by December 2004. Land acquisition turned out to be a difficult process in a congested city. Such a large land acquisition in a city was new in the state and this also added to the delay. A 3-year delay happened and the government had to pay Rs. 1250 million as damages through arbitration. The government should have anticipated opposition and provided adequate buffer for this in the contract. It also failed to show iron will once the acquisition started.

Current status: As on today, most of the work has been completed except for few sections where land acquisition got held up. Annuity payments started from January 2008 as per the resumption agreement with the govt. The roads are maintained at good quality and satisfaction levels among users are quite high.

Table

Verdict: The project was a pioneer PPP project in city roads improvement. As it was one of the first major PPP project to be taken up by the state, lacunae in contract preparation has caused cost and time over runs. The lessons learned can be used to create a better contract framework and time lines for future works. A positive environment for PPPs has been created due to the quality of the work. But general opposition to user fees for public services still remain in the state.

Advertisements

Confessions of a battered suitcase

This is an extract of the privileged communication i had with my faithful VIP suitcase which carried my heavy luggage during our mandatory Winter study tour as a part of our professional training to become able administrators…

I was born in a hot, crowded and happening factory somewhere in the outskirts of Nagpur. Even before I could figure out what was happening, I was transported to a small, sleepy town called Palakkad where I waited with my siblings for someone to come and adopt me. I am a VIP suitcase and I am going to tell you my adventures in the last two months when my owner took me on a journey of a lifetime.

I waited for days and months on end but no one chose me. “This suitcase is too big”, most of them would declare. My long wait ended when this boyish looking guy came with his dad to get a big suitcase. My owner was a new recruit to the Indian Administrative Service named Gokul. Others said. ‘He will take you around the world during his official tours’, my peers said with a tinge of envy. I was happy beyond words. But he had other plans for me. As soon as I landed up in Mussoorie carrying almost 40kg of his things, he locked me up in a corner of his cupboard. He went for treks, village visits and other outings. He took my friends, the black American Tourister bag or the Reebok backpack on these journeys. I lay in one corner, unnoticed. On December 16, I was taken out and once again stuffed with things. I weighed around 30 with that. I thought Gokul was going home. It was when I was taken up to the academic area on that night that I knew that I was going for a two month study tour across the nation.

While there were only 16 Officer Trainees in our group, there were around 50 of my compatriots for the two month adventure. These included the ‘twice born’ laptop bags also. They were never kept on the floor and always enjoyed the coziness of their owners lap. Let me introduce some quirky characters in our group. One is the fake Jaguar bag which Anugraha madam picked up from somewhere in the busy corner of Karol Bagh. Being a fakie, he was mistreated so badly that he can’t even stand properly on his feet now. My peers were the American Tourister and Samsonite bags which belonged to Dr. Vijaykumar and Aravind. We were the biggest in the group and always supported the rest of the group when we were fitted into the luggage compartment during our tours. There was this bag that belonged to Sourabh Raj that was just 3/4th of my size but carried at least 5 kilos extra.  Some of them always ended up on the heads of porters in the railway station but I was always carried around by my owner.

My first adventure came with the army attachment with the Gorkha rifles in the northern part of Sikkim. I was put on a 2.5 tonner truck along with my heavier compatriots. We were escorted by the soldiers of the Madras Regiment on the journey. The full day journey from New Jalpaiguri to Lachung was tiring but the company of the soldiers who kept on telling about their adventures in Kashmir kept all of us entertained. They told us that in case of an emergency this was the same route that would be taken by our soldiers to reach the borders while the Chinese soldiers can reach the border in half the time from Lhasa. Our owners seemed to have forgotten us and sped away in Innovas. So we took our sweet time and stopped to enjoy the beauty of the Teesta valley as we progressed along its banks.

I hate air travel. You will be unattended for a long time and the staff throws you around like anything. On top of all these you will be thrashed for being overweight. Fortunately most of our travel was by train. Gokul would bind me to the rail berth to prevent some unsuspecting souls to explore what secrets I am holding. The few air journeys turned out to be eventful. The first one was the journey between Guwahati and Aizawl.  My owner frantically took out stuff from me and filled it in his Reebok backpack. The Reebok was bloating with things sticking out on all sides and reduced my weight to 20 kg. But on reaching the airport, it was found that the free limit was 15 kg. This prompted more frantic rearrangement and I was looking sleek at 16kg. The aircraft was a sight to behold. It was a small ATR 42-300, a trifle larger than a mini-bus. The cargo cabin was like that of a Volvo bus. It felt more like a chartered flight as the cargo cabin contained just 2-3 bags other than 25 of us. One of the rare occasion in which we were treated good in a flight. I hope our owners in the flight cabin were also treated well. After all, Air India is in serious financial crisis as per newspaper reports and you can’t expect they airhostesses to be pleasing when they have not been paid their salaries for the last 2 months.

Another interesting thing happened during the flight from Port Blair to Chennai. This time the trainees decided to pool in their luggage and do group check in. I tried warning them of the possible free rider problem that may crop up due to this. I overheard this while they were doing combined studies for the FC exam. The final weight tally came to around 40 Kgs in excess of the free limit and they were made to pay Rs.10,000 for that. While people were vey careful in the previous journeys and carried 2-3 hand baggage, many were simply strolling into the aircraft this time carrying just a book. I think they deserve the amount lost for the carelessness.

Getting all us out at railway stations was a major task and let me tell you that within 1-2 stations, the trainees had devised a fool proof and efficient way to do this. The task became more difficult when the stoppage time in the station is 1-2 minutes and we had to give way for passengers to board also. This was put to test in Chandrapur station in Maharashtra where the stop was only for a minute. We were split into two groups and were taken out through the two exits of the compartment. One trainee would hand a bag down to another standing down. He will hand it to the next one who will keep it away from the train. I timed the whole process once and they were able to completely take out around 50 bags and 16 people in 55 seconds. Necessity surely takes efficiency to newer heights.

Uttar Pradesh sprang up a different surprise. There were around 10 policemen to receive us at the railway station, some of them armed. In a land where lawlessness is the law and people get killed in open daylight, I wondered why such a huge contingent was needed just to escort ‘not even confirmed’ trainees holding no independent responsibility to their hotels. We had lesser number of people guarding our backs in the naxal affected Gadchiroli. But of course, IAS officers know their job and U.P is supposedly the best cadre. So I guess I will find out the reason sometime later during my long association with my owner.

I got back to Mussoorie after a short visit home on 19th February, 2012 with just a few minor scratches and discolorations here and there. It was an incredible 2 month journey when I travelled over the mountains and the seas and saw people and places I may never see again. I hope my owner takes me out for more such adventures as he is getting ready to lock up in a similar cupboard two floors above my old room. Till then, Adios…

Book review: India Development and Participation by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze

The book cover

The amazing growth story of India in the new millennium and the countless problems that we face have spawned a cottage industry of books about the opportunities and the challenges faced by the nation. It has become very difficult to get the right book that identifies the challenges in the right perspective and suggests constructive solutions.

One way to choose is by looking at the profile of the author(s). Hence the work by the renowned economists Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, who also have a good field experience in India was an obvious choice when I came across it in a book fair. The book India: Development and Participation is one of the most comprehensive work on the challenges faced by the nation in the socio-economic front.

Citing statistics and making comparisons with other parts of the world, it talks about the challenges in education, healthcare, women emancipation, liberalisation and decentralisation. The authors expose the myth of the inclusiveness of our growth story by showing that we lag behind sub-Saharan Africa in most of the  health and nutritional indicators. The inter-state disparities is also brought into picture. Each chapter ends with a case study of the state in India that has been able to make definite progress on the subject when compared to the other states. A comparison with China, which has similar problems like us also help us in putting things in perspective.

Are we on the right track?

Even as they applaud China for its success in the socio-economic front, the authors are unambiguous in their disapproval for the authoritarian methods used by then to achieve the ends. By noting the achievements of Kerala which has better indicators than China, they call for local, community based approaches to the major issues.

The chapter on women emancipation talks about an issue that is conspicuous by its absence in other similar discourses: the problem posed by widowhood and prospective widowhood that leads to choices like male-child preference. As the life expectancy of females are higher than males and because of our patriarchal norm of large age gap between the wife and the husband, this is a very serious issue in India.

The current edition was published in 2001. Hence the statistics are old. Interested ones can dig up the latest statistics from the original source that is given under every table. Also having written in 2001, it doesn’t talk about Naxalism which has become a serious problem off late. Being a result of the socio-economic and governance problems in the rural hinterland, an additional chapter on Naxalism can be added in future editions.

Hence as a whole, this book is one of the best written books on the socio-economic challenges faced by India. Written by eminent authors with good field experience, backed by authentic statistics and put in the right perspective, the book is a must read not only for people interested in public service but for every Indian so that we are not blinded by the glitz of our ‘growth’ story and lose sight of the humongous challenges we face.

Identity politics in India

I wrote this for the college magazine. Its my views of identity politics which though highly dangerous are universal

Fear is one of the most powerful weapons to control humans. Of all the countless fears and phobias that humans are susceptible to, the most powerful are the ones that can be classified under the category ‘fear of the other’. It has its genesis from the survival instinct of humans to form groups or clans among people with similar interests. The earliest of the groups were formed for improving efficiency in hunting. The groups gave them safety in the highly hostile surroundings in which they lived then. Any potential disruption to these groupings was viewed with scepticism and later with outright hostility. Thus the sense of identity and hostility towards the other is as old as humans themselves. But we have come a long way from the hunter/gatherers we were. Moving out of Africa, the modern man moved far and out and in the process developed new traits, survival skills and looks. Only the hidden messages coded in our genetic makeup links all of us to the small group in Africa that diversified to become what we are now. From that initial identity, we created new identities: on the way we talked, the way social norms were set, the way we bowed in front of the all powerful, the way we dressed etc. These identities, some as old as humans themselves or some just a few decades old have become major rallying points for politicians to pursue their ends.

The Indian Identity

As a civilization we have never ceased to grow. Whether it be invaders or refugees fleeing persecution in far off lands, we have always made it a point absorb the good things they brought in and thus renew our cultural gene pool. The result was the creation of multifarious identities of being Indian. The question ‘what makes you an indian’ will get you answers numerous as pollens in an orchard and as varied as flowers in a garden.  So what exactly makes us Indians? Rather than answering that question, It will be easier to jot down points as to what does not completely define us as a nation.

We are not a single geographical entity. The geograpjical entity is the Indian sub-continent. But large parts of it are currently not part of our country and some others never were. Even when Burma was integrated as a part of British India in 1886, it held on to its individual identity. The Indian National Congress in its Poorna Swaraj declaration in 1929 had made it clear that Burma will not be part of free India. Afghanistan maintained its tribal identity throughout history and is still living up to its image as ‘the graveyard of empires’.

Contrary to popular belief, we have never completely come under a single administration either. The Guptas, Mauryas and the Mughals integrated and ruled over large swathes of territory that would become India later. But none of them could rule over the entire land. Large parts of south and north east India remained outside their rule. Even when India was politically unified under the raj, the British only ruled less than 60% of the land. The remaining was ruled by princes under the suzerainty of the British crown. When we won independence in 1947, we didn’t inherit a single india, but 14 provinces which were directly ruled by the British and 535 princely states. Also contrary to popular beliefs, the national movement didn’t give us a single identity either. The Indian national Congress was active in the provinces alone. Although the congress had some of the most illustrious leaders like U.N Dhebar and others coming from princely states, it was the congress policy until 1939 not to organize any mass movements in the princely states. But they took memberships from the princely states who were active in movements throughout the country. These people spread the modern ideas of freedom and equality in the princely states. The beacon of reform and freedom was carried by regional parties that were independent of the major national parties.

Given the way in which India was inherited from the british, a reorganization for admistrative convenience was one of the foremost priorities. After a lot of debates and commissions, it was decided in 1956 to reorganize the nation on linguistic basis. So can language compartmentalize us into rigid identities? We had 14 states based on 14 official languages then. But the number of languages that are in the eight schedule of the constitution now is 22. Besides these 22, there are innumerable languages spoken on regional basis. Even in areas in which the same language is spoken, the regional diversities can be mind boggling. The pace, the style and the vocabulary can be so varied that one may fail to comprehend a person from the same linguistic region but speaking a different regional variety. But on a broader scale these thousands of languages can be classified into 5 root categories.

Identity politics in India

Given these factors, identity is a fluid concept in India. There are no clear cut definitions or boundaries. Every person belongs to a minority in his own way. Still inspite of the fact that we have so many identities and inspite of the fact that theses identities are not always water tight, politics of identity have found its roots in the country and flourished, sometimes leading to disastrous consequences. Even the momentous event of the birth of free India was marred by violence and a refugee crisis that has few parallels in recorded human history.  Thousands of riots small and big has happened in our country ever since. There are even political parties thriving exclusively on the concept of a particular identity.

On close perusal it can be seen that all these political parties follow similar strategies to gain foothold. In the first stage, the identity is glorified citing examples from our rich history and our heritage. Together with this, mild skirmishes are made at other parallel identities to reinforce the supremacy of the particular identity. The next phase is the fear psychosis part when people are constantly reminded that all parallel identities pose a continuous challenge to our identity and hence must be resisted. Both the Hindu Maha Sabha(1915) and Muslim league(1906) gave possible hostile takeover by the other religion as the reason for their formation and existence. The final phase is the phase of outright hostility in which the party consolidates its base and calls for the complete extermination of the ‘other’.

Its not so difficult to find the hollowness in the arguments of the political parties. Its more so true in the case of India. But that doesn’t give us any room to lower our defenses. The fact that mass hysteria can be imposed even in a modern developed society was brutally demonstrated in the case of Nazi Germany. With further cultural assimilation and ‘flattening’ of the world, questions of identity can easily be converted into powerful weapons. The first step towards preventing identity blowing out into serious scales is to understand our unique history and accept our differences.

The diversity of the country is a constant reminder of the richness of our civilization. It is undoubtedly our greatest strength. Sixty years of democracy have taken us to a point from which regaining past glory and richness is a goal that is within our reach. In the process, our greatest strength will be the collective energies of our people. The lessons learnt from the pitfalls and blemishes should never be forgotten. India is more than the sum of its parts. We should accept and celebrate the multifarious identities that we simultaneously possess and the unique thread of being Indian running through those seemingly conflicting identities. If we can show the resolve to do this, the future is undoubtedly ours.