Monday, October 28, 2013

Back to the Green Commute (or How to Potentially Save Around $ 200 Million in Import Bill Annually)

Its the time of the year when I help my bicycle work off the rust it has gathered during the summer & monsoon months. I began this exercise last year & have resumed it for this year too.

For most of the rest of the year, the only exercise I claim to do during the day is waking up! But during the months when temperature drops to bearable levels (mid-Oct to mid-Feb), cycling is one physical activity that I can sustain. I have tried the morning/evening walks & jogs, but I am too lazy to carry it beyond a few days. Not cycling, though. It helps that I take it to work (some 12 kms twice a day), so that I am forced to pedal twice a day. And this really works!!
Apart from the health benefits (see adjoining figure, also trending on Facebook) associated with cycling, that have been well documented, there are other benefits (tangible & intangible) too that you can consider as the catalysts to take up this clean, green & healthy habit:
  • You get a high when you sweat during the coldest Dec/Jan mornings, while all around are you are draped in their woolens.
  • Even after putting in full day's worth at the office, you don't feel tired & drained when you get back after the long ride home. You realize this when you not only finish reading the day's newspaper and also get to see some late night television, but are out of bed the next morning feeling totally refreshed!
  • When other users do not compete with you to occupy road space & when they (and you too) are not bothered about who gets ahead & stays ahead, it makes the commute very pleasing.
  • Bothered by a Traffic Jam? Simply pick up your bike & coolly move ahead leaving behind the envious 2- & 4-wheelers!
  • You get enough time to see things around you without worrying about crashing into someone or running over something, thus getting a real-time update about the changes taking place in the cityscape.
  • The satisfaction of not increasing the din in the already noisy streets is experienced exclusively by the cyclists.
  • You become the role model for your colleagues, friends & neighbours. If this is not exhilarating enough, consider the fact that most of them wish to emulate you but are unable to do so!
  • The perverse pleasure you get when you park your vehicle besides a super premium car inside hotel parking. During an offsite programme, I placed my bicycle besides an Audi SUV. End of the day, colleagues from other locations swarmed around my vehicle clearly ignoring the exorbitantly priced, fuel guzzler parked besides it. The owner would have definitely suffered from a severe attack of inferiority complex had he been around to witness it!!
  • My daughter picked up this dialogue from Chennai Express - "Don't underestimate the power of the common man". Unlike SRK, I feel this everyday when I am on my bicycle & my fellow occupants of the road give me enough space to move at my pace. Some are even gracious enough to wait for me to overtake a slow rick or a parked vehicle or cross a busy traffic intersection. (Wearing a helmet gives one additional privileges as a cyclist)
 As they say, every silver lining has a cloud attached. Here are some of the turn-off's that may prevent you from a healthy act:
  • Some portions of the roads are real bad & you have to seek a path through the lanes & by-lanes to have a smooth ride.
  • The roads are not cyclist-friendly. There need to be separate bicycle tracks or cyclist only stretches where other vehicles are not allowed. Unfortunately, most of the cyclists on the road do not carry enough political or economic weight for this to happen.
  • Some of the drivers are totally lacking in basic traffic courtesy & need to be educated on the do's & don'ts of driving. Perhaps, the RTO may wake up some day & do the needful.
  • The noise. Its only when one is out of the closed windows of the car that one realizes the amount sound pollution the vehicles create in addition to the air pollution.
  • Its difficult to turn right on a wide road when every driver is trying to reach the max point on his speedometer.
Now, if the silver in the lining is sufficiently bright, it will definitely illuminate the cloud so that one is no longer worried about it. So, here are some hard facts to help you take the plunge:
  • Save money. GAIL sells us CNG at the lowest price in Gujarat & I shall save at least Rs. 5000 this season. Someone driving a petrol or diesel car would have saved Rs. 9000 or Rs. 5800 respectively. You get back your investment in the bicycle in less than 2-3 months. Isn't this a great deal (especially during a depressed economy)? Mind you, these nos. are based on the current fuel costs, which are rising every fortnight, so the real nos. would be even rosier.
  • I would be reducing my carbon footprint & contributing in my own individual, howsoever small, capacity to a cleaner environment. Some back of the envelope calculations show me that I would be reducing around 240 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere this season! For someone driving a petrol or diesel car, this no. would be even higher - 350 tonnes & 300 tonnes.
  • Help save foreign exchange requirement of the country. I would be reducing the forex requirement on LNG by USD 70 this season. Corresponding figures for petrol or diesel users are USD 190 & USD 290. The amount looks small, but if multiplied by potential cyclists, Mr. Rajan would be able to sleep a little peacefully.
  • This is the clincher - The price we pay for fuels has a huge tax component (both state & central) built in. If we switch to cycling, this would mean reduction in government revenues. This would force them into a real economy drive to balance their budgets. This is our chance to get back at the political class. Why should only you be tight-fisted?

The  nos. above appear small, but when multiplied these can be substantial. Let me illustrate:

Considering that the urban population in India is around 400 million & 5% Indian households own a car, let's assume average urban family size to be 5. This means there are 4 million cars in urban India. Let's assume, these consist of 2.4 million petrol cars, 1.4 million diesel cars & 200,000 CNG cars.

If 20% of these car users (or those below 40 years & driving small cars) switch to cycling for 4 months in a year, we can collectively reduce CO2 emissions by around 260 million tons each year & save forex on crude imports by around 200 million dollars!!
Are you game?
My Hero No. 1
Note: The benefits quantified above are based on my activity level, i.e. 20 days of cycling in a month.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In the dock for 90 Lakhs

Don't worry, this is simply a cartoonists imagination and not likely to be a reality any time soon. 

But  disturbing is the fact that the sum being talked about is so small - only Rs. 10 Crores!! What has happened to our leaders? And to the investigative capacity of CBI? These past few years, we have been listening about thousands of crores worth of scams,  even after adjusting for the CAG exaggeration.
Even Sukhram (remember, PV Narsimha Rao's telecom minister?) was caught with Rs. 3.6 Crores, way back in 1996. After over 15 years, CBI arrests a person for only Rs. 90 Lakhs! 

If you ask me, this is a Congress conspiracy, with the support of political friends & foes. For far too long a time, the figures involved in various scams have been huge, really huge. The magnitude was such that a former bureaucrat, and a common man, started living his political dreams. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may not win many seats (perhaps, none at all), but it dared to challenge the political establishment. Now which political party would take this kindly? But Arvind Kejriwal, being an ex-babu, knew how to put his point across in a manner that he could not be touched. 

By reducing the scam amount to Rs. 10 Crores, Kejriwal would now have to uncover scams upwards of this figure, which is not a difficult task. With this master stroke, Kejriwal has been presented with the prospect of a press conference every hour for each new scam he unearths! Would Kejriwal jump at this opportunity? No, he cannot & should not. Not that there are not enough such scams. On the contrary, this minuscule transaction happens all over, regularly. Kejriwal would not get time to even photocopy documents, if he has to publicly announce each small (by today's standards) scam. 

Now we come to the foes. Wonder why Mamata Banerjee is so depressed? One of the reasons is that the railway portfolio was previously held by her & her nominees. With one arrest, Didi has been silenced (for a few weeks at least) as she would be scared, lest the misdeeds during her & her nominees' tenure emerge. Also, Mahesh Kumar was apparently close to Mamata Banerjee and was working towards becoming the Chairman of the Railway Board. This scam does not actually target PK Bansal's nephew (and PKB indirectly), but one of Didi's accolytes (and Didi indirectly). Hats off to Congress  for silencing Mamata Banerjee. This was one hell of a job & the sacrifice of PK Bansal (if that happens) would be a small price to pay!
As if on cue, the principal (though not principled) opposition party, BJP, demanded PK Bansal's resignation. As it demanded the resignation of each minister involved in the past scams. How many of them resigned? This demand is just an eyewash (like most of the previous ones), something the BJP needs to do to keep its political constituency intact. This was BJP's part of the bargain while handing over Karnataka to Congress. Such give-and-take is a matter of daily routine in our political set-up. 

All those who think that this was a brainchild of the Congress, or feel I think so, are mistaken. For one, the current crop of Congress leaders, or its backroom political managers, lack enough brains to even think of such a brilliant tactical maneuver. Moreover, there are clear signs of the brains behind this - the brainiest of the political class in India today. Isn't the nephew connection obvious? This is not the first nephew-gate, though this will definitely be the last. Guess who...
More than disturbed, I am worried. Till now it was only the leaders or their offsprings who figured in such scams (barring one where a driver was involved). Not being offsprings of netas, most of us were outside the purview of suspicion & thus could enjoy such scams. By bringing the nephews & nieces too in the ambit, many more of us mango people could be under the scanner. Thus, the CBI could simply pick you up if some distant relative of yours holds a public office. Just like the police encounters, this would enable legal encounters. And just like police encounters, most of these legal encounters would also be fake. While police encounters need a lot of planning, legal encounters do not. In a clannish social structure of India & an oversized government machinery, this means practically every one of us is a potential scamster!!
But more worrying is the fact that the nephews have been dragged into the political battleground. Till now, it was just the sons, daughters & a particular son-in-law who were the soft targets. Thus, single politicians had the advantage of claiming to be clean (as some of them do). The signal being sent out is that now even these politicians can be trapped. The message is, "married or not, your prime ministerial ambitions need to be toned down". This is why I believe, BJP protests (at least in Delhi) are an eyewash & there is only one brain which can conceive of such a brilliant move to bring Congress & BJP on one side while also prevent another nephew-gate. 

Kaka ne sabko mamu bana diya!

Picture Credits:

Arvind Kejriwal & Prashant Bhushan:
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