March 22, 2007

Rainwater harvest in Mysore

The city corporation commissioner, Mr K N Chandrashekar, has announced that no new building would be given completion report (CR) until it has a rainwater harvest system in place. I remember they brought a regulation in Tamilnadu some years back, making it mandatory for all houses, not just the new ones, to set up rainwater harvest system.

Had this been implemented in letter and spirit cities and municipal towns in Tamilnadu today would have no reason to crib about water shortage. Snag was in implementation. The regulation on rainwater harvest system in Tamilnadu was not backed up with guidelines in respect of design and space specifications for compliance.

This often meant shoddy enforcement by technically uninformed municipal staff that carried out a cursory inspection of houses, in a half-hearted manner. Many houses got through the staff inspection by installing, if at all, a make-shift rainwater collection arrangement for the sake of official records. They all complied with the municipal regulation, but without appreciable exploitation of rainwater resources.

Question is: does our civic body have the clout and determination to secure compliance of municipal rules and regulations? If builders and house-owners fail to comply within a specified period the municipal corporation should have the resources and be empowered to install appropriate rainwater system at the house-owners’ cost. The civic body could seek technical guidance and co-operation in this regard from CART at the National Institute of Engineering, Mysore, and private sector service providers in evolving an operating system for compliance of rainwater harvest requirements.

The municipal commissioner should also consider factoring in following requirements, other than rainwater harvest, right from the stage when builders seek building plan approval from the town planning and civic authorities. It should be made mandatory for builders to have:
1) roof-top solar panels
2) Energy-saving electrical wiring and lighting and other fittings in the common area.
3) Tree-planting in open space
4) Provision for collecting and disposal of recyclable waste.

Read: FAQ on rainwater harvest
Urban model projects

March 21, 2007

A question of signature

How did Sir Mirza sign his name? Dr Javeed Nayeem who knows more than most of us about Mysore’s local history could put us wise on the finer points. But we don’t need a Dr Nayeem tell us that the former Dewan of Mysore didn’t definitely sign his name as ‘Sir Mirza Ismail’.

An amateur piece of forgery came to light during a Lokayukta probe into land scam in Bangalore. That the document bearing a forged signature was on official records undetected for years does not speak much for the procedure they adopt for scrutiny of records at the registration office.

Those involved in the scam had apparently faked a document, gifting away 500 acres of forest land belonging to the erstwhile Mysore state. The ‘document’ dated Jan.25, 1941 reportedly carried the then Dewan’s signature as ‘Sir Mirza Ismail’. Those with a touch of class won’t ‘sir’ themselves. And the scammers lacked common sense to know this.

Suing a spammer, a Gordon path

Have you read about the man who took a spammer to court, and, what’s more, won damages of 750 pounds? Telegraph, London, carries the story about a civil case won by 30-year-old Gordon Dick at Scotland’s Edinburgh sheriff court against an Internet company that sent him an unwanted mail.

It is a kind of thing most us wouldn’t do (for fear of being ridiculed by others), but wish someone else did. Spam, they say, accounts for three-quarters all e-mails sent in Britian.

Mr Dick would like to see very many others take spammers to court. He has set up a website to guide us how. The website refers to one other case settled out of court in Colchester county, UK. Gordon's prescription is addressed mainly to folks in the EU. One can’t see this resulting in a spate of court cases against spammers, even in the EU countries.

Spamming wouldn’t go away, because far too many of us rely on ‘delete’ button to cope with spam. What, if they get rid of the d-tab from the keyboard? That is when we would all hit the Gordon path.

March 19, 2007

Time-Newsweek tussle

"I don't want to sound mindlessly Darwinian about this," (the Newsweek-Time rivalry). "We had a Cold War mentality; now we're competing with everyone [online]."
Without mentioning Time by name, he added: "I don't think we have to make philosophical pronouncements. The readers don't care about broad statements of mission. They care about what they get on every page of the magazine and every day online."
- Jon Meacham, Editor, Newsweek. From MarketWatch

March 18, 2007

Our poor MLAs

Following my previous post – An MLC’s privilege – I did a Google search to see if I can get anything on the pay and perks of our elected representatives.Reproduced here are excerpts from NDTV Message Board (Jan.13, 2007)

The salaries and allowances of MLAs/MLCs were revised on August 24, 2005, with the basic pay raised to Rs.8,000 – a 100% hike. However, not all are happy. Says a legislator, “These salaries are a mockery. In private companies, the decision-makers draw huge packets. We are policy-makers and the salaries should be commensurate to that.’’

MLA/MLC pay & perks:
Basic: Rs 8,000 per month
Allowances: Rs 14,000 per month (includes telephone allowance for a landline, salary to a personal assistant and driver)
Constituency allowance (moving in the constituency): Rs 5,000 per month
Train fare of Rs 50,000 per year. No travel documents are required
Free KSRTC bus pass which entitles the member and one attendant to travel across the country, any number of times, where KSRTC service is there
TA: Rs.10 per km, when they travel to Bangalore for the session or legislature committee meetings.
Sitting allowance during the legislature session: Rs 600 per day
When the legislature committee meetings are there DA of Rs 600 per day for five days — two days before, after and on the meeting day. Rs 750 per day outside Karnataka.
Two LPG connections on priority basis.
Car Advance of Rs 5 lakh at interest rate 7% per annum. This is waived off in the event of a member’s death.
Entitled to purchase 2 discarded army Jeeps and 1 motor cycle allotted by ministry of defence.

March 17, 2007

An MLC’s privilege

I didn’t know, did you, that a member of the Karnataka legislative council could use official vehicle for private purposes on payment of ‘user charges’. A privilege conscious MLC chose to make an issue of his failure to get official vehicle for private use. On his complaint the council chairman reportedly recommended suspension of two officials on the charge of dereliction of duty. See The Hindu story.

The complaint:the MLC was denied the privilege of using sarkari vehicle for a family pilgrimage to Tamilnadu, though the requisition was made 20 days in advance. The official explanation said the designated vehicle had been under repair. If we go by the media report, the MLC concerned was informed about this.

Question is: Shouldn’t the officials have made alternate transport arrangement to meet the MLC’s vehicle requisition? The answer would depend on whether an MLC can claim private use of official vehicle as his right, rather than a facility subject to availability of the vehicle.

I have a few more questions:
1)Is the rule on government vehicles unambiguous about their private use beyond Karnataka?
2)Should a people’s representative be so assertive in his claim to such privilege, merely because it is there in the book?
3)Wouldn’t we, the lesser mortals, like to know if there are other such privileges our representatives in the state legislature enjoy in the service of democracy ?

A media story on MLCs’ privileges would be timely, and educative. Meanwhile would anyone know what ‘user charges’ add up to, and the year when the rates were fixed?

March 15, 2007

Unquestioning media report

Software exports from Mysore-based IT units is expected to cross Rs.600 crores in 2006-07, according to a STPI (software technology parks in India) official quoted in The Hindu. The same newspaper, citing another official, had put the figure at Rs.1000 crores three months earlier.

Going by today’s (March 15) report in The Hindu, STPI, Bangalore, director, Mr Parthasarathy pegs the figure at Rs.650 crores,(give or take away Rs.50 crores) when the final tally is announced in mid-April. He reckons Mysore’s future in the software sector to be “very bright”; and would have us believe that in terms of IT growth path the city was “on track”.

But there seems to have been some official back-tracking in their projection of exports figure for the current fiscal year. In December last we had the same newspaper publish a report that the software exports from the city was expected to touch Rs.1000 crores in 2006-07 (that is, by March 31, 2007). The earlier Hindu report, quoting STPI director, Bangalore-Hyderabad, Mr B V Naidu, had said Mysore was poised to maintain a 100 percent growth rate for the next few years.

So the projection made in December got scaled down by as much as 40 percent in a matter of three months, and still it is maintained by our officials that Mysore’s future is ‘very bright’ and its IT sector growth is right ‘on track’. Maybe officials are entitled to make statements; and the media, obliged to report them faithfully.

March 13, 2007

B2B with Kini: Purely Personal

A touch of mutual back-scratching may have crept in, in my B2B with Kini. Readers who don’t get put off by the first few lines of Kini’s latest – Manna from Heaven – would get to read,in his transit through mountainous Turkey, a stranger-than-fiction experience.

This B2B has, among other things, enabled me to discover a Kini that is different from the bloke I knew and moved with in London – soft-spoken, a little edgy, scholarly spectacled, in blue velvet corduroy, and always dressed for Carnaby St. People who know me think I give credit where it is due, but often grudgingly.

I am not immune to a touch of flattery. But kini and I are not given to flattering each other. We both know we are not the easiest guys to get along with. And, I am sure Kini would agree with me, we were not the best of friends while we moved together in mid-sixties.

We didn't know nor cared about each other's background. Our interests were different. So were our social circles. We were at work, together but on different beats. Which, I guess, accounts for a certain diversity in the narrative content of our B2B. My end of this blog nostalgia recounts episodes and events with no coherance or chronology. His blog runs like a TV serial, as exciting as Lonely Planet for a travel addict. Both of us were then more immature, unwise, and outlandish – I, in my dreams, and Kini, in experience.

Memo to my columnist friends

I would like my friends in the media to read Steve Outing’s Stop the Presses column in E&P. Writing about newspapering in an unbundled world he says those writing in the print media would do well to get their stories and columns published by others – in their websites and blogs – and thereby reach a wider audience.

I have been trying to persuade my Mysore friends Mr Krishna Vattam and Dr Javeed Nayeem to cross-file their newspaper columns in their blogs, from which they could be picked up by some others. Both deserve to be read beyond the area of circulation of their respective papers. Dr Nayeem’s Friday column does appear in Star of Mysore website. Snag is contents in this site are archived only for a week, after which they are irretrievably lost. What Dr Nayeem writes in Star of Mysore does not even have the shelf-life of carrot or potato.

The Kannada daily in which Mr Vattam’s weekly column appears doesn’t have a website. Anyway, he could file a shortened version of his column in English for the benefit of those who can't read Kannada or get his newspaper in their town.

March 12, 2007

Media and Mr Ashwath’s illness

We get to read in the papers about Mr K S Ashwath’s ill health whenever a visiting film artiste or Kannada cinema notable calls on the 270-film veteran at his Saraswathipuram residence. As someone who has worked in the media I can understand that the fact of Mr Ashwath’s ailment, which has been reported many times earlier, no longer makes news. And we shouldn’t grudge our film folk getting a few lines in the media by calling on an ailing actor with an envelope and a photographer in tow.

What I don’t understand, however, is a three-column story – Help pours in for Ashwath – in The Hindu that is mostly a puff job for a visiting film artist. We have a quote from this cine artist saying, “He (Mr Ashwath) is an exclusive chapter in the history of Kannada cinema and his contribution to the industry cannot be undermined”. That should be read ‘underestimated’, I guess.

As a reader wouldn’t you want the newspaper to tell you what Vertebro Basilar Insufficency (VBI) is ? That is what ails Mr Ashwath. Readers would have been better served, I reckon, if The Hindu story had given a two-para background on its possible symptoms, and the required line of treatment. The reporter need not have gone any farther than making a quick Google search for the relevant info.

The newspaper, which says Mr Ashwath is undergoing treatment in Mysore, doesn’t put us any wiser on the hospital where the relevant treatment is offered. A quote from his doctor would have more relevance to the story.

March 11, 2007

Mysore: A commuters' terminal for Bangalore

Uncritical acceptance of the drumbeat that Mysore is poised to becoming a hotspot for industrial investment could lead to some serious miscalculations. Mysore has witnessed sharp rise in land prices and hyper building activity in anticipation of a ‘feel-good’ growth projection. The latest to flog such perception is the so-called Vision Document by the local Institution of Engineers (IE). See The Hindu story.

A recent PowerPoint presentation by experts told district officials pretty much what they wanted to hear. I wonder if IEVD (Institution of Engineers’ Vision Document), while talking of the city’s potential for rapid growth, notably in the IT and BT sectors, has made any reference to our knack for losing out projects to Hyderabad, Pune and Tier-2 towns elsewhere in the country.

Could anyone cite an instance where our elected reps./district admn./chamber of commerce have persuaded any specific investor to come to Mysore in recent times? It is time we stopped making much of the Infosys presence to make a point of Mysore’s IT development potential. Expression of intent by some other IT biggies makes us all feel good, but does little else.

No vision document drafted by anyone has failed to stress the obvious benefits of upgrading airport and having a double-track rail link between Mysore and Bangalore. These projects have been talked about for long and the tardy pace of their progress does not speak much for our official/political credibility when it comes to executing projects.I don’t know if IEVD refers to once-hyped, now officially disfavoured six-lane Expressway project. Its non-progress and hassles faced by the company executing the project doesn't inspire investors confidence, but gives us a sense of the politics of infrastructure development.

A very visible aspect of Mysore’s growth is mushrooming construction activity, mainly apartment buildings. Is it an indication of a step-up in industrial investment, or could the buildings spurt be the upshot of large scale speculative investment in real-estate development. Shouldn't the town-planners be wanting to get a picture of the extent of encroachment of government land ?

I do reckon Mysore has a future; as a commuters terminals for Bangalore. With rail travel time getting shortened to 90 minutes or less,one could expect influx people working in Bangalore moving their residence to Mysore.

March 7, 2007

How Krishna Vattam took to blogging

Veteran journalist Krishna Vattam thought he had a time management problem. As Mysore’s senior-most working journalist (pushing 75, I reckon) Mr Vattam attends to the daily grind of running an understaffed, cash-strapped Mysore Mail; spends time catching up with developing news to do his regular column for a Kannada daily. And as a local celebrity he gets invited to preside over school functions, university journalism workshops, seminars, meetings of local heritage committee. As a very visible senior citizen Mr Vattam is occasionally asked to join civic deputations to press for clean water supply, cleaner environment or protest against unauthorized street-side hoardings that ruin the city’s heritage look.

Home at usually late in the evening he takes in a TV serial, of which Mr Vattam is a self-confessed addict. How could he do all this, and still find time for blogging? This was his contention when I first talked to him about it an year ago. I felt he had much to blog about his long innings as Deccan Herald correspondent and the subsequent public life he has been leading.

But then Mr Vattam, till the time I talked to him, didn’t know what a blog was and how it worked; nor did he seem to care. Presumably, he shared the preconception of middle-aged Mysoreans, who thought of blogging as a teenage thing. Senior citizens in my city see a computer as an in-house post office, where they could check/send mail. The more informed among computer users Skyped their children living abroad.

Mr Vattam wouldn’t have probably gone in for a computer had his daughter not presented him with a PC. And then, his school-going grandson, spending summer vacation at grandpa’s place, put Mr Vattam through a crash course on how to work the mouse, cursor, and the keyboard. That was when I started exchanging e-mail with Mr Vattam and sending him links to my blog posts and web articles on issues of mutual interests.

If Mr Vattam has anything going for him, it is keenness to learn and a willingness to learn it from younger generation, particularly, grand-children, of whose caliber he is justifiably proud. The idea that a blog would enable him to network with the likeminded and facilitate sharing of ideas and life’s experiences with others appealed to him. That was how Mr Vattam set up a blog. For some reason, probably the time-management issue, the blog remained blank for a while, with his friends leaving comments asking how long do they have to endure an empty blog. This prompted Mr Vattam to file a few posts.

He then lapsed into silence (couldn’t, presumably, come to grips with the time-management issue) till the other day when he sought my help in reviving his blog, of which he had forgotten even the URL. We fixed the problem through a Google search. But I couldn’t help wondering why his sudden interest in revival of the blog. During a recent Bangalore visit to his daughter’s place Mr Vattam learned that his 15-year old grand-daughter, with flair for writing, maintained a personal journal that made interesting reading. That was when he decided to revive his blog-in-coma. “I wish I had kept a journal in my younger days,” said Mr Vattam.

March 6, 2007

The crazy book prices

I don’t understand publishers’ economics. A coffee-table book on Bollywood is priced Rs.1995. Sounds like Bata shoes price tab, doesn’t it, – A pair there is marked Rs.999, never a thousand? I know the coffee-table genre are bought for drawing-room furnishing, rather than for reading pleasure.

The book is titled – Lights, Camera, Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai – text by Naman Ramachandran with photos, by Sheena Sippy. It is unputdownable for a good half hour, says The Hindu Literary Review columnist Pradeep Sebastian. He sounds a note of caution for those who may think of buying it. You look at the marked price, which makes you think again. So, what do you do? “Settle in more comfortably to browse through the book for another half hour before you put it down and leave the store”, writes Mr Sebastian. Lights, Camera, Masala… published by India Book House (IBH)

Its poor publishing cousin, National Book Trust (NBT), offers K S Duggal’s autobiography – Whom To Tell My Tale – for Rs.65 (yes, I have checked the price list). Reviewer Anita Joshua says the book may get ignored for its shoddy editing. I can think of another reason – its price. We are so conditioned to seeing a three-figure price tag even on pedestrian stuff that we instinctively reject, thinking that a book priced so low as Rs.65 can’t be good. Whatever the reason, ignoring Duggal’s book, says the reviewer, would be ‘akin to sending an innocent man to the gallows’. It would not take long for even a reader unfamiliar with Duggal’s writings to realize the power of his word.

Cost of a book is in no way related to the quality of its content. Maybe I shouldn’t be comparing NBT books with those of IBH or other private publishers. Their economics are different. National Book Trust, being a state-run outfit, can afford to ignore economics. But then we credit many in the publishing business with motives that are not primarily profit-driven. Ask publishers, and they say they lose money on most of their titles. I suppose it is the economy of cross-subsidy that keeps them afloat – pricing high-selling books high enough to ‘carry’ other titles. At the same time they don’t mark the price of a book any lower simply because it doesn’t sell.

March 1, 2007

B2B with K: Where we were the day Nehru died

In Tehran, homeless, penniless and hungry, says Kini. He wound up his latest post - End of an era... - with these words: this was the 27th of May, 1964 –“a tryst with destiny”, a significant day in Indian history as an era was coming to a close and the breaking news of this event made us the centre of attention for the rest of our journey...

On that day in May I was on a ship, crossing the Suez. The ships moved in a convoy led by a pilot boat through a narrow strip of sea wide enough for single-lane traffic. Ours was a one-class tourist vessel – m v Asia – a Lloyd Triestino boat on the Hong Kong – Trieste run.

it was mid-morning (May 27, 1964); most passengers were out on the promenade deck when news of Nehru’s death was announced through the ship public address system. Suddenly I found myself focus of attention. Wherever I went, on the deck, the library, or the dining hall,co-passengers sought me out convey their composite sympathy, and to say how sorry they were to hear the news. Ours was a small one-class tourists liner, in which almost everyone was a familiar face. Never realized Nehru was so known, and endeared.

They wanted to know what the man was like; whether I had met him. Nehru was, in fact, a tourist attraction in New Delhi. He set aside some 15 minutes daily to meet and pose for photos with common people who came to his residence, Teen Murti House. An official photographer from the Press Information Bureau (PIB) was deputed to take pictures that were catalogued and kept for public browsing in the PIB photo library. I knew this because I had worked there for a while.

Visitors to Teen Murti House who wanted to order copies of their photographs with Nehru were directed to PIB photo library, Parliament Street. They came from all countries, cultures, and walks of life. A former Ms Australia dropped in once at the photo library, to get copies of her pictures with Nehru taken at Teen Murti House that morning. My boss was so taken in that he took her out to lunch (while the photos were being developed and printed) at the Chelmsford Club.

It was during his Teen Murti House darshan time I met Nehru a few months before his death. I had escorted a freelance journalist from the US, Jackie Hudgins, who was on a world trip. Jackie had worked half-way round the world, from Richmond, Virginia (US), freelancing for foreign magazines. In New Delhi she had done a couple of talks on her India experience for Australian radio.

It was a journalistic assignment that brought her to the PIB photo library. It was well stocked with news and feature pictures taken by a platoon of official photographers. And journalists in New Delhi, paricularly the foreign print media, relied on the PIB library for their photographic needs. Jackie Hudgins came there looking for pictures of horse-drawn carriages, to go with her magazine story of a tongawallah in Jumma Mazjid. When she chanced on an album of Teen Murti House photos, of visitors with Nehru, the globe-trotting freelancer expressed interest in meeting the man and having her pictures taken with Nehru. I arranged for her visit to Teen Murti House, and also agreed to accompany her.

We joined other visitors waiting in small companionable groups in a spacious hall in Teen Murti House. It was customary for the PM to meet visitors after breakfast, before he left for office at the South Block or Parliament House. Nehru stepped down from his first-floor living quarters to the waiting hall, and worked his way through the visitors standing in knots of two or three. He spent a few minutes with each group, with the photographer in tow taking pictures.

Nehru walked up to us for a chat with Jackie. He evinced interest in her globe-trotting, as Jackie told him how she had worked her way, freelancing, through Japan, the far-east, Indonesia and Singapore. Her next stop, she said, was Pakistan. “Do write about it,” said Nehru before moving on to the next group.I wasn’t sure how he meant it. Maybe he wanted Jackie to do a book on her travels. Surely, he would not have meant that she wrote to him. I don’t know if she did. But I got a letter from Taxila,in Pakistan, on her travel in a caboose (with the guard of a freight train).

So much our meeting with Nehru. Must admit I felt utterly ignored in the proceedings. Would conclude this post, Kini, with my disembarkation at Genoa, after a ten-day boat trip from Bombay. Immigration and customs officials at the port were particularly kind, as they examined my Indian passport. The immigration official uttered the word 'Nehru' noddingly, and stamped me through.I was waved through the customs formalities, with no baggage checks. Which was helpful. Because I had in my baggage an item that did not belong to me. I was taking ashore an ivory chess board on behalf of a crew member.

Shortly before the ship docked at Genoa a crew member came with a request to our cabin, which I shared with three other Indians. None of us thought much of carrying a small parcel for him, to be collect after we cleared the customs. The plea was addressed to us as a group. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to any of us to turn down his request. We knew it was not quite the right thing. But then the crew member working in the dining hall had become a friend during the voyage.Unknown to us, the chap was, presumably, cultivating us. Smuggling small items through the customs was not seen as a crime then. Most people would have done it, without a thought, even for total stangers. Would not be seen as a smart thing to do nowadays.