Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stop counting...

In the dark underbelly of Dubai, millions of Indian workers go to seek their fortunes (along with other folks from the subcontinent). Last year alone, 971 Indian nationals died in Dubai, as registered by the Indian consulate. This is a shocking statistic because people travel outside their home countries for economic betterment, not to die. Of course, most of these deaths are caused by either poor working and living conditions; either directly or by the indirect means of suicide. You'd imagine that the Indian government would ensure that people are not tricked into these jobs of such dubious nature by the false promises handed out by unscrupulous touts and middlemen. A relatively simple thing, you'd imagine, yeah? So, how does the Indian Consulate in Dubai react? They stopped counting.
Money makes the world go around. (Sung to the tunes of a song by the same name which is sometimes used as the backing music for the spectacular musical water fountain outside the Wynn Casino in Macao).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Who are the brain police?

Read this yesterday. And you would not let me contest. Shame on the Indian election system.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Traffic Ramaswamy

I wish I have the time, dedication and courage to follow in the footsteps of Traffic Ramaswamy. Kudos, Mr. Ramaswamy.

For those of you who have not heard of him, there are a couple of stub articles about him, here and here.

Justice on the cheap

A brilliant observation from Pratap Bhanu Mehta's op-ed in the Indian Express.

Quotas are our justice on the cheap; as happened with SCs, once we gave them, we absolved ourselves of larger and more difficult ethical questions about discrimination and so forth. Formal representational equality makes it politically harder, not easier, to articulate the case for substantive equality.
Quite right. We've had a SC president, an SC Chief Justice. But at grassroots level, SCs are still discriminated againt. This is the fallout of our attempt at social engineering.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's official! I need boobs (and a vagina)

No, I am not talking about fulfilling my sexual desires. Or any kinky tranny fantasies.

I considered (note past tense already) contesting the soon to be held BBMP Elections in Bangalore. I wanted to do some research on my home council and my chances of winning (given that I speak very little Kannada and that my target voters are English understanding, educated middle-class). I trawled the State Election Commission website to get details about where my ward/council is located. It is 195 - Konnankunte.

This is located in South Bangalore. Some initial analysis gave me some promising numbers. 31 parts, a total of 38608 registered voters (20381 male, 18227 female). Assuming that turnout is about 65% and of that if 40% votes are needed for victory, one would need about 10,000 votes to win. Not impossible, considering that there are 2-3 large apartment complexes in the ward which would be my target voter base. I chalked out a strategy as well. Print 15,000 flyers promoting myself. A couple of YouTube videos, which would hopefully go viral. A television / print interview if I am very lucky. I started having the right ideas.

But wait! Can I actually contest? So, I checked the rules list. There lay the sucker punch.

1. Every person whose name is in the list of voters for any of the wards of the municipal area shall, unless disqualified under this Act or any other law for the time being in force, be qualified to be elected at the election for that ward or any other ward of the minicipal area and every person whose name is not in such list shall not be qualified to be elected, at the election for any ward of the minicipal area:
Provided that a person shall not be qualified to be elected-
(a) To a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes unless he is amemeber of any of those castes or tribes;
(aa) to a seat reserved for Backward Classes, unless he is a member of such classes.
(b) to a seat reserved for women unless such person is a woman.
Umm...quick check. Is my seat reserved for SC/ST/BC/Woman? Let's have a quick look.Oh, wait, I cannot read Kannada (sorta dashes my hopes to win anyway). Scroll to 195...that's it...General...yes..but wait..what's that? General (Women). Ah fark.

So, by virtue of affirmative action policy, today I am unable to contest in council elections. I've also been denied the chance to study medicine. Or even think about pursuing a career in the civil services. For all practical purposes, I am among the millions who face reverse discrimination everyday in India. Thank you, India.

If only I had boobs.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Preamble

The Preamble of the Constitution of India reads:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];


Few read the disclaimer.

Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

Hurrah. We're all equal as Indian citizens. Unless of course you're a Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, 'Other Backward Caste' (as opposed to?), or pretty soon; a woman. In that case, you're more equal than others. About 50% more equal, actually.

According to our government, an economically deprived Brahmin is of course more 'socially advanced' than his 'I'm-not-really-qualified-to-be-here-except-for-being-a-lower-caste' counterpart who's is on the third generation of the reservation dole.

Do you keep wondering, Dr. Singh, why we leave India and enrich the USA and others? I'll take my chances in a free society, thank you very much.

What a farce.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A list of things to make India better - Part 1

Now, I am not a professor of economics nor a person of the masses. But, I am a working citizen and a taxpayer. This is a list of ideas that I think should be implemented to make India better.

1) Removal of farm subsidies on fertilizer and electricity: This pushes the farming sector to ensure better better farming practices and become more energy efficient. It will aslo mean that lesser number of people will be involved in farming as only those with enough farm lands will survive the game. Political suicide, yes; supremely practical, yes. When people are removed from farming, they switch to other industries, which could do with skilled workers. Ideally, not more than 10% of our people should be farming. Imagine what we could do with those extra skilled workers.

2) Make high-speed broadband a reality and a fundamental right: The information age is the one which has propelled India into a high-growth economy. Yet, internet access at a non-commercial level has low prevelance, is expensive and absurdly slow. We need to make internet access a fundamental right and increase penetration. Government policy should allow for low cost, high speed broadband a reality for all Indians. If Australia, a country with two and a half times the landmass as India can do it, why can't we? India has only about 11% of the population using the internet, compared to about 48% for China. While mobile telephony rates are very low, internet access rates at extremely high. South Korea has the world's cheapest broadband internet. After adjusting for USD purchasing power parity, it comes to US85 cents a month per megabit. A simple calculation for USD PPP in India tells us that the purchasing power of 1 USD in India is about 17 rupees. (Nominal India GDP = USD 1,206,684, PPP adjusted GDP = 3,288,345, 1 USD ~= 45 INR). By comparison, an 8Mbps broadband connection in India  costs INR 2999 per month (navigate to link here), which means, the advertised monthly per Mbps is ~INR 375, or a whopping 19 times more expensive than in S.Korea.

3) Improve the postal system: India has an extensive and well developed postal system. It is also fairly efficient and cheap. But sadly, our postal system has fallen behind the curve and in the information age is not competitive. Proof lies in the mushrooming of numerous private courier services. Post offices are far and few between, unfriendly and time-consuming. It is time we used a model like that of Australia Post. It is fantastically efficient and highly competitive. Few simple things to make India Post better are:
  • Increase the number of post offices. There need not be full service offices, but should include essential services like ordinary, registered and speed post. Ideally, there should be a post office outlet within every 1 km radius at an urban center.
  • Bring technology to the post system. We must have the ability to buy and print postage online.
  • Make post office outlets multi-functional. They should sell stationery, packaging material, etc. How often is it that you've wanted to send a parcel and have fumbled for packaging? CDs, batteries, bestseller books; all stuff that one should be able to browse and buy at a post-office.
  • Tie-ups with corporates are essential. Most of the postal revenue is from non-personal mail. The post office should tie up with corporates and other offices to provide pickup services at the door. If I am say, a phone company, and need to send out 1 million phone bills, I'd happily use India Post if it can agree to provide me the option to pick up stuff at my office, instead of me having to go to the post office. This can scale from small to large volumes, guaranteed by the fact that businesses always have mail to send.
  • Rework the postal code. The postal codes are no longer as efficient. We need to have the ability to pinpoint to a single street in entire India using the postcode alone. A system similar to the UK, using alphanumeric postcodes or as in the US, using 'extension codes' are a good way to go.
Improving the postal system and providing increased broadband coverage would go a long way in improving online retail. If both are a reality, then online shopping can become real in India like it is in the US.

4) Roads and traffic: My pet subject. Make driving license tests stricter. Increase traffic fines. There is no sense if the speeding fine is only INR 300 when it costs about INR 150 for a single day in fuel costs. Ensure a 'points' system like the UK is followed. Automatic award of points for any and all traffice offences. Strict suspension or revocation if one gets too many points. Revenue sharing of fines between state government and police force, down to the last traffic cop. More on this in a separate post.

5) De-urbanization: Sounds contradictory to (1), doesn't it? But it actually means reducing the urban congestion at developed centers and developing alternate urban facilities. Tax-breaks, tax-holidays, deferred taxation are incentives that government can provide to promote business in lesser developed areas. Add road/rail/air connectivity, provide basic urban infrastructure of electricity, water and roads, provide tax-discounts to citizens moving there and you've done a lot to spreading the wealth and reducing your infrastructure issues.

Google gets it right again

Filed under entertainment. How appropriate.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Energy security and urban infrastructure - Part 2

Many days have passed since my last blog post. Unfortunately, my blogging seems to be sporadic at best. I've got a sinking feeling that this latest effort of mine will end up like previous efforts. In slow death!
Well, I've been busy with household chores, working out at the gym (yeah!) and figuring out how to sue the Government (uh-huh!).

Since my last post, Pranab-da, the darling of the Congress party has presented the Finance Bill in the Parliament for FY 2010-2011. A full speech transcript is available here. Hurrah for reducing my tax burden, Pranab-da. Job well done!

Apart from the changes in the direct taxes structure, there were 2-3 things that caught my eye as promising in the budget. Firstly, it was the increase in petrol prices. Secondly, the modification of fertilizer subsidy mechanism (strictly speaking, done before the budget). And most importantly, it was the plan outlay for infrastructure which is now a whopping 46% of the total plan.

Predictably, there is much outrage on the fuel price hike. There is much breast-beating going on with many Congress allies, especially the DMK and the Trinamool Congress demanding a rollback of the hike as it affects 'the common man'. The rationale is not difficult to follow: an increased fuel price means increased transportation costs, which means an increase in the prices of goods, especially foodstuffs; which really strains the food budget for any household, considering that food inflation has been at double-digits for a very long time now. Of course, they are quite prepared to ignore the massive fiscal deficit that the petroleum subsidy causes, and unwilling to discuss how they will overcome that. More importantly, they are unable to provide any concrete mechanisms for improving the transport infrastructure that will bring down transportation costs.

Let's discuss how transportation affects food prices. Not all food is produced where it is consumed and vice-versa. For food stuff produced in one location, it needs to be transported to its ultimate destination. Depending on the the perishability of food, the mode of transportation is chosen which affects the final cost. The fastest and most expensive transport mechanism is by air, followed by road, then rail and finally by sea or river freight. Foods which are not easily perishable, typically staples like rice, wheat and corn and best suited for cheap haulage by sea and rail. Fresh produce like meat, dairy, seafood and vegetables are best suited to be transported by road and to a good extent by rail as well. However, all food transportation will involve a certain percentage of road transportation which provides the 'last mile connectivity' to the supermarket shelves.

The final cost of a food product on a supermarket shelf is a sum of its component prices which include price at first sale, transportation costs, wholesaler and retailer margins, profit margins (for branded foods) and most importantly; costs incurred due to wastage. Wastage of food can occur either during storage (before and after harvest) or during transit. Let's consider a few food categories.

For a staple like rice, which has low perishability, wastage typically occurs at storage. Due to the policy of needing to maintain 'buffer stocks', millions of tonnes of rice are wasted annually while rotting at godowns of the Food Corporation of India. They serve no purpose (except to fatten rats) and cost millions of rupees which gets added to the final price of rice at the supermarket.

What about a more perishable food like bananas? We've all but forgotten about seasonal foods. Seemingly, all types of fruits and veggies are available year around? Miracle in agriculture or miracle of cold storage? I reckon it is the second. Because farmers are not encouraged to grow seasonal fruits and veggies, prices of fruits and veggies are increased due to the increased costs of storage. Further, cold storage facilities in India are highly suspect and deficient (blame it again on high capital and energy costs). This results in large scale wastage and again pushes up the costs. Not to forget that we're still lagging in the business of food processing which will turn perishable food into processed food instead of waste.

Lastly, highly perishable foods like meat, seafood and dairy. Luckily, the dairy revolution in India has meant that dairy prices are seemingly reasonable and within the grasp of the average Indian. Much needs to be done in the meat and seafoods. As our demand for meat and seafood increases, we need to better streamline the supply chain to reduce prices.

Sadly, an estimate of the cost of food wastage in India is pegged at Rs. 58,000 crores or about USD12.6 billion! This is a shocking figure in a country which is the poster child for a hungry nation.

Now, onto how transportation costs affect food prices. As we've already discovered, the cost of food must include the cost of transportation. So, in order to reduce the price of food, we must need to reduce the cost of transportation and also increase its efficiency. A more efficient transportation system will ensure lesser wastage which in turn decreases food prices. Tranportation costs are calculated as a function of weight and distance. In other words, how much does it cost to transport 2 tonnes of bananas over 1000km? Now, the reason sea and rail transport are cheaper is because of their ability to transport large quanities over large distances within specified transit times. A train needs to stick to its schedule and is usually not bogged down by hassles like traffic and border checkposts. So, in order for road transport to become cheaper and more efficient, we need to reduce the transportation cost/tonne and the time taken for transportation. Let's look at ways to do this.

The easiest way to reduce the cost of transportation per tonne is to increase the tonnage capacity of road vehicles which perform long distance haulage of food. Note that this also applies to non-food stuff. It is evident that higher capacity vehicles are more efficient at haulage simply because the capacity to cost relation is not linear. A 6 wheel, 10 ton truck is cheaper to run than a 18 wheel, 26 ton truck. But if you divide the running cost by the tonnage hauled, then the 18 wheel truck is more efficient by far. So, how do we promote the use of larger trucks for haulage. Simple answer: improve the highways and urban infrastructure. By providing highways that are capable of handling 18-wheeler trucks, you're providing the first steps to encourage people to convert to these vehicles. Most of today's National Highways are quite capable to handling 18-wheeler trucks, but not all. However, this must apply to every single km of national and state highways. There is no point of constructing a 100 km highway that can support an 18-wheeler if in the last 2 kms it becomes a one-lane highway suitable only for a 10-ton truck! Sadly, that is the case today. In developed western countries, it is not uncommon to see 18-wheeler trucks traveling downtown, because roads are constructed such that the maximum possible transport is done using these efficient vehicles. Is it any wonder then that prices of retail products in America and often cheaper than in India (after adjusting for purchasing power)? But that's only one piece of the puzzle. More important is to ensure that 18-wheeler drivers are comfortable driving on India's highways. Imagine driving a truck costing 1 crore rupees on the highway at a 110 kmph only to be slowed down by a cyclist coming down the wrong side. More on that later, though!

The other aspect is of course speed. Speed of transportation is critical for 2 reasons. Firstly, it reduces transit time which reduces the possibility of wastage due to spoilaeg, an important factor in food stuffs. Seondly, it allows a fleet operator to achieve quicker turnaround times thereby providing them with more trips in a time period. This allows them to reduce the margin charged on transportation costs and make it up by volume. It is not unsurprising to see hundreds of trucks to be stuck at border checkposts waiting to get the appropriate clearance. A quick and paperless way of flagging trucks through state borders is essential to achieve this. By creating a system akin to a flight plan, it is possible to reduce and eliminate unnecessary and time consuming border checks. For e.g.; a trucker needs to provide a 'flight plan' for the transport: typical stuff like origin, destination, weight, nature of cargo, etc. prior to the start of the journey. This can be done by the trucking company itself, without having to visit the notorious inspection office. This gets uploaded to a centralized system. Every border patrol office then has access to this data. In order to further streamline this, each truck which has filed a valid 'flight plan' is then tagged using a smart device (RFID?) which can then be read by remote devices at border patrol stations. This reader can then compare it against the previously uploaded 'flight plan' and determine if the truck is to be stopped or waved through. A cursory check to ensure that the contents are as yet sealed would ensure a simple and tamper-proof mechanism to prevent fraud and smuggling. Oh well, just an idea. Pipe dreams in India.

Finally, the most important takeaway from implementing the above 2 ideas. The improvement in road transportation will reduce our total consumption of fossil fuels. By reducing the fuel wastage due to vehicle inefficiency and wait times, the potential savings of fossil fuels is enormous.

Let's see where these ideas all go. Will I ever become energy and transport minister?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Energy security and urban infrastructure - Part 1

As India inches her way towards becoming an industrialized nation, her energy demands keep growing by the day. Fuelling this demand for energy is the move from an agricultural economy to an economy more dependent on revenue from services and industries. Rapid industrialization has led to economic boom, with our GDP growing at a steady clip of more than 6-7% every year. While this has had the mostly pleasant after effect of increasing the lot of the middle class, it has also led to a fantastic increase of our energy demands - be it for our cars, the air-conditioners at work or that fancy slow cooker you bought last week. Government as usual is two steps behind (with due apologies to Def Leppard) in ensuring that our energy needs are met reliably and cheaply.

Fulfilling our near insatiable demand for energy is a massive challenge for the government (and they seem to be doing a crappy job of it, as usual). I am going to try and articulate in this series how shortsighted governments have created an atmosphere of stop-gap ad-hoc arrangements that are leading us towards energy insecurity. Being net importers of oil and with very little domestic production, we are extremely vulnerable to oil price shocks. The rise of oil prices to above US$145 in the weeks prior to the global financial crisis taking center-stage was a good reminder of just how little power we have on controlling our exposure to oil prices. The need of the hour is for us to reduce our exposure and dependence on imported energy sources and try and tap into domestically available energy resources.

Most of our domestic oil consumption is towards meeting our transportation needs, be it for air, rail, road or water transport. (Fortunately, we are a tropical country with very little energy requirement for indoor heating.)
Urban infrastructure is an amateur passion that I have and in this mini-series, I hope to write about how improving our urban transportation systems will reduce our dependency on imported energy sources, improve our economy, and most importantly; improve our quality of life. I do hope you will come back and keep reading.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sexual revolution in India? Epic Fail.

From the land that gave the world the Kama Sutra. Fail.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Save our cities (with due apologies to Jim)

Quality of life
What is it that makes urban India such a terrible place to live in? What marks that great urge for young, educated and successful Indians to emigrate to foreign shores in great numbers? What is the allure of the west that we are happy to leave the land of our forefathers and focus our energies upon the cultivation of prosperity elsewhere?

A simple (simplistic?) answer to the large scale migration of Indians elsewhere is the quality of life afforded elsewhere. As a hard-working and qualified professional in London, New York Tokyo or Sydney, one is able to secure a comfortable lifestyle. The suburban home, the Toyota Camry, the education of children, social security and simple urban comforts like having continuous electricity and running water are soon within reach. Why abandon that for the hell-hole of a city like Bangalore?

Dr. Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister recently called upon expatriate Indians to return home. A cursory look at the angry responses by expatriate Indians on the comments section of the article leaves little doubt as to why our talented and energetic youth prefer the West to India. Put simply, it boils down to three basic issues: urban infrastructure, reduction of bureaucratic red-tape and a culture of equal rights for all. In urban India, all 3 are a utopian dream. Yet, is it really that hard for directly elected governments in India to deliver something so basic? Tell me, Dr. Singh, if after 60 years of Independent India, after continuous economic boom for the past 15 odd years, why is it that elected governments have made little or no progress in bringing India's urban centres to comparable Western standards? Where is our version of New York, London or Tokyo?

There are many folks in middle class India who are asking the same question today. As usual, the rich in India continue to be unaffected by such problems as they can afford to pay for private services that the government so miserably fails to provide. As for the poor, they are too busy putting food on the table to be concerned with issues like reduced commute time or the reduction of carbon emissions. Which leaves a doughnut hole in the population that needs these government services but whose voices are not heard.

Electoral classes
Backtrack to why middle class India is politically under-represented. In spite of India's economic miracle over the last couple of decades, our approach to economic development is essentially top-down. We implement policies that economically benefit the rich and middle-class and hope that it will trickle down to the poor. For example, for every software job in Bangalore, there are a variety of other jobs created - the security guard, the maid servant, the car wash guy, the cab driver. It is a policy that has worked, but is far from being ideal. The cabbie will never be able to become an accountant. The policy of providing an equal platform for all from which to springboard to careers that are available based on merit does not yet exist.

The resultant output of such policies is that we still have a huge number of people who are indescribably poor, barely surviving on low-tech, low-income jobs like sharecropping. Rightly or wrongly, the political class is ostensibly most concerned about the welfare of the poor (apart from their own, of course). When the most basic of necessities - food, water, shelter and healthcare are uppermost in your mind - you listen to those who promise to provide succour. Considering that the latest figures suggest about 1/3 Indians living below the poverty line and that over 60% are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture related income, it is hardly surprising that they form the largest voting block in our country.

For the manor born, it is a different world altogether. Unconcerned as they are with basic necessities, their focus is more on areas of government influence such as direct taxes levied, business policies, etc. Aware as they are of the government's hopeless inability to provide basic infrastructure they build their own. From private armies to personal power generating stations, they have the financial muscle to afford it all. To this class the government does cater, but in a fashion that is of mutual cooperation and is largely undetermined by electoral outcomes. In other words, regardless of who the political master is, this section of society is largely unaffected. After all, they are the smallest voting bloc but exert enormous influence by virtue of their capacity to contribute to economic progress. It is in every politician's interest to keep them happy.

This leaves the middle class, or as I like to call it - the doughnut hole people. Essential for a doughnut to be a doughnut, but serving no practical purpose. Similarly, they are essential to the country's economics but as far as the politicians are concerned they do not matter. The white collar job worker in private sector and the government. The small businessman. The tradesman. They are the burgeoning segment which contributes to a fairly large proportion of the number of direct tax assesses. Based on their consumption pattern, they are also responsible for a large proportion of indirect tax revenue collected. In an ideal world, it is their voice that should be heard the most. Yet, in India, they are the most ignored of the electorate. I'm going to try and understand as to why this is.

Statistically speaking
I am going to try and provide some statistics about the demographics of the middle class and the direct tax payers.

The middle class in India is essentially urban, living in her towns and cities. In spite of rapid urbanization, the number of people living in India's urban centres is only about a third of her total population. Of this a huge chunk of people are rural migrants in search of a better life. This means that we’ve only got about 20% or so of a population that’s really middle class.

Although the urban population is at about 30% across India the actual number of middle-class folks, those who fall under the direct tax paying bracket is 31.5 million (per an RTI application to FinMin, couldn't find the information on the FinMin website directly). 31.5 million, in a country of 1100 million. Which means, barely 3% of our population is in the direct tax bracket.

Both figures are good indicators of what population to define as middle class. If we consider the former, then taking into account the rural migrants that are 'drifters', we probably have only about 20% of the population as middle class. But with state governments holding power in a centralized fashion, the percentage of middle-class voters in a state election is only about 10%.

Consider Karnataka, a state with a population of 52 million. The number of registered voters in Karnataka is 41 million. However, the state's most important urban centre, Bangalore (also India's 3rd largest city by population) has only 10% strength of that as registered voters. (Of which less than half actually bothered to vote last time.) This means that the typical middle class demographic is not really a major ‘vote bank’.

Cut to direct tax payers, who in my opinion are a more upwardly mobile in the cities and hence more desirous of a better quality of life. 3%. Think of that figure. Only 3% of this country of a billion+ and counting actually pay direct taxes. If you translate that into a vote-bank, the number is hardly worth considering.

So what I am trying to say is this: the urban middle class in India are an electorate that is statistically less significant than the rural folks. As a result, we do not have politicians who pander to this category of voters. Typically, even the middle class voter is too apathetic to do anything about it anyway! They could not even be bothered to vote. Ha.

Now, given the fact that urban voters are insignificant to the politicians (except as a source of revenue), is it any wonder that our cities hardly function like any world class city should? Urban infrastructure is terrible; planning for new infrastructure is short-sighted and poorly executed; bureaucratic red-tape kills innovation and entrepreneurship. To get anything done, you need to 'know someone'. Coupled with a country-wide policy of affirmative action for 'underprivileged classes', is it such a wonder why people choose to seek their betterment elsewhere?

Of course, many armchair activists like I have discussed these issues before and have come to similar conclusions. This blog entry is hardly original and hardly revolutionary in its conclusion. Other than having provided a forum for me to vent my frustration in what I hope is a logical and eloquent fashion, what purpose has it served? I'd like to provide solutions on the ground, but for that I need to be an elected official. I considered contesting the local ward elections in Bangalore, but my ward is reserved for Scheduled Caste folks. WTF? So it has ruled me out anyway. I'd like to share my thoughts about what I see as a plan for improving our urban centres in India.

Revenue spend pattern
It is true that major urban centres in India like the metropolitan cities, Bangalore, Pune, etc. are huge engines or economic growth and by correlation as huge revenue centres. Unfortunately, they lie within the realm of the state government (except for Delhi). Due to the centralized nature of governance, it follows that there are no focused efforts for development of an urban centre. I'll try to use Bangalore as an example.

Karnataka contributes to a little over 5.3% of India's total GDP. Bangalore is by far Karnataka's largest revenue earner. The income realized by the state and central governments from Bangalore is more than any other region of the state. I am hard pressed to get exact data, but a conservative estimate indicates that Bangalore contributes to about 25% of Karnataka's economy. This means, 10% of the state’s population is responsible for 25% of its income. However, it is fair to say that not all of the revenue earned by Bangalore is re-invested in Bangalore. I’d love to get exact figures from somewhere, but I am unable to research it on the internet. An RTI query is something that I am working on to get these details. While I understand that the revenue collected by an urban centre needs to be diverted to other regions of the state, what I am trying to figure out is the proportion of that diversion. What would be a good percentage of urban income that needs to be reinvested in the source city/town and what percentage should be diverted to other purposes? If budgeted spend on improving urban infrastructure and improving the quality of life is an index of development, then we’ve obviously failed miserably. In India’s urban centres, I suspect that we spend too little and also spend it poorly; corruption is hardly one of the culprits here.

India prides itself on being one of the world’s top IT superpowers today. Unfortunately it is a fallacy that many politicians and (sadly) IT professionals are wallowing in. We’re mainly a source of cheap labour. High-end IT business is still a very small fraction of our total IT based revenue. We do not have the capability or the vision to transform ourself into the Silicon Valley of California. We will never have our own Google or Intel.

It is the same problem that has beset our political class. Apart from being uniformly corrupt (with the rare exception) and driven by caste-based, partisan politics; we do not see any visionaries who are implementing anything good. Of course, some exceptions are there to the rule. Narendra Modi springs to mind as the Gujarat CM, but he is not without his faults.

Cut to urban development. When was the last time we saw a political leader transforming a city? Ever! All it requires is for someone of political power and vision to transform the shit hole of Bangalore into a world class city. Unfortunately, political considerations do not allow it. Or simply a lack of vision. The citizens of Bangalore have started ABIDe, an initiative that will call for a revamp of Bangalore’s development. Although concerned and earnest citizens have contributed a lot to it, in typical political fashion, it has failed to take off. Why, you ask? Because one of the core draft recommendations was to have an independently elected mayor for the city of Bangalore. The mayor would be responsible for managing development of the city, which means that power would be divested from the ruling party. Can you imagine trying to push that through in the murky world of India’s politics? The current CM of Karnataka is hardly a visionary who will overcome partisan politics to let something like this sail through. At least the convenor of ABIDe has taken the moral high ground and quit as the proposal has stalled in the Assembly.

Decentralized governance
Allow me to continue to use Bangalore as an example of how decentralized governance is the need of the hour to transform urban development in today’s India. Bangalore is India’s IT hub, by far the largest IT investment destination and revenue earner in India. (As an aside, you’d be interested to know that IT in India has succeeded mainly because government has had a hands-off approach to it. Can you imagine what would have happened if a government babu had been appointed to ensure ‘growth’ of IT in India?) Bangalore is the city that has put India on the investment radar of every CIO from Moscow to Madagascar. It should be the city that has engineered its own social development because of its economic success. Sadly though, Bangalore is a hell hole for its citizens. It is beset by urban problems that make living there a nightmare. Unaffordable housing, poor quality public transport, nightmarish commute to work, lack of security, a sad social scene and rising communal disharmony make Bangalore a city where one prostitutes their quality of life for their few pieces of silver.

Now, you’d imagine that Bangalore would have enough money to make these problems go away, yeah? And so it does. But what it lacks is political will to make it happen. There is no ‘Minister for Bangalore’, no directly elected mayor. Compare this with cities like London and New York who have directly elected mayors and function with far more efficiency as compared to Bangalore in spite of having a larger population to cater to. (Don’t hide behind the old ‘population is huge’ mantra, my beloved elected official.) What these cities have is someone at the helm who is solely interested in looking after their city’s interests. They are empowered to enact city-specific laws, collect city-specific taxes, undertake city-specific development programs, and the like. But in Bangalore, the CM of Karnataka has no such power nor has shown the interest to divest it to someone. For example, there is not a single public works’ body that is responsible for the city’s infrastructure and development. So, in typical Indian fashion, a week after the roads’ body has finished laying roads, the sewerage body comes and digs it up. Accountability does not exist as far as contracted works are concerned.

Now, let me imagine for a minute that we have a directly elected mayor of Bangalore. What could he or she do? Remember, this person is accountable to no one but the citizens of Bangalore. The state of Karnataka will have no bearing on his or her ability to function, except in case of joint stakeholder interests like that of Center and State, or State and City.

Being accountable to only its own citizens, the mayor of Bangalore’s scorecard would depend on how much better they make the city of Bangalore, from all aspects. A simple, effective and long-term solution to its transport woes itself would be something worthy of a Bharat Ratna (although I personally feel that that award has been demeaned in the recent past).

Imagine something more radical. How would it be if it were declared that all cities in India with a population of say, 3 million or more, would become a city independent from its parent state. It would function like a state on its own, without the additional governmental overhead. How cool would that be? Folks like Raj Thackeray wouldn’t be pleased, but imagine the impetus for growth there.

Jim Morrison must have been unnatural prescient to have sung this so many years ago.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back from vacation

I've just gotten back from a 2 week vacation in Southern India (which should explain my hiatus from blogging to my legion of readers). Did visit a fair few places. Goa, Gokarna, Udupi, Wayanad district and Ooty.

Gokarna was easily the best of all places - comparatively unspoilt by tourists as opposed to the Russian invasion of Goa. I do recommend folks to visit Gokarna - but only if your idea of fun is to laze at the beach all day. (Picture on left is sunset at Om Beach, Gokarna). And unless you have loads of cash, accommodation is pretty basic. This isn't a travel blog by any stretch, but will try and include some relevant details in another post.

The #fail thing that happened on this trip was my very first lesson on how white tourists get mobbed by random Indians. I thought it was highly embarrassing and a tad shameful as well. I'd never seen the phenomenon before and seeing it first hand was a real shocker. The play is this. Indian tourists of all shapes and colours (more likely young than old) walk up to random white tourists and in typically Indian style, ask, 'Photo'? Of course, our usually well-mannered westerner assumes (only during the first time) that s/he wants the white tourist to take a picture and him/her and is happy to oblige. But they've only understood half of it. The Indian wants his/her picture taken, but with the white person in it. Preferably if they are from the opposite sex. So what happens is although the white tourist reaches for the camera to oblige the Indian, all of a sudden there is a mysterious photographer who crops up and the white tourist suddenly becomes part of the picture. Not wishing to seem impolite in a foreign country, our white friend reluctantly obliges. As the crucial shutter release moment approaches, more and more Indians seems to materialize from thin air (and you wonder how a billion of us got here). Pretty soon, arms are laid on shoulders, hands are held and the more adventurous ones will even get an arm around the waist. Then only is the photo actually taken. Of course, our poor photographer does not want to be left out, so there is usually another round of the same. Sometimes it goes on for a few minutes till the white tourist gets the drift and has to call a stop to it. Epic fail.

I recall an incident where Jason (British / white) got into a similar situation. A group of 10-12 Indian youths crowding around him for a photo, hands on his naked torso (it was the beach, don't get any ideas). A guy then remarks, 'You look like an Indian cricket player.'. To which our bemused Jason is forced to reply - 'But I am white!'. ROFLMAO.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Medium rare, please

The attitude of most Indians towards beef (yes, I mean the meat, not some vague metaphor) in today's world continues to astound me to no end.

Cows are considered sacred in India. Consider the recent controversy surrounding Mr. Shashi Tharoor's tweet. He tweeted about how he was being asked to adopt 'austere measures' and so from now on he would
"travel in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!"
Of course, Indian politicians are rarely known for their sense of humor (and usually even lesser for their sense of public service). Even Tharoor lamented about how he has learnt a very harsh lesson on why humour is a dangerous subject for politicians in India. Apparently, the diversity in India means that you can offend anyone with your 'free speech'. (Do read Amit Varma's recent post on the free speech cop-out.)

But back to cows. The exact reason why cows are sacred in India is probably lost to most practising Hindus. My reasearch, based on simple Google searches, indicates that the reason varies from;

  • a carry over from Babylonian civilization that has come to India
  • practical reasons - a (milch) cow throughout its life is more productive than as a source of beef. Milch cows provide dairy products, which are a continuous and valuable source of protein and fat.
Probably what many Indians do not realize are that there are two types of cows bred in the world. One is the 'milch' variety, reared almost exclusively for dairy, while the other is the 'beef' variety, reared as a source of meat. The variety of cattle raised for their meat are not really valuable as a milch cow and hence do not serve any economic value during their lifetime.

The economics of the cow

Here's my take on how it evolved that cows are sacred in India. As India slid from being a land of 'milk and honey' and of untold riches where everyone lived in relative peace and prosperity; the economics of putting food on the table became of paramount importance. It must be noted that none of the ancient Indian texts actually prohibit meat-eating (as some misguided, self-righteous 'Hindu vegetarians' would like us to believe). In fact, there are instances of meat-eating by Brahmins in the Mahabharata. Yes, vegetarianism is recommended, but meat-eating is not explicitly condemned. So, that effectively settles the argument about how ancient Hindu texts forbid meat-eating. Next, does it say anything specifically about beef? I do not claim to be a scholar on ancient Hindu texts, but my basic research suggests: No. So, it is probably fair to assume that slaughter of cows and consumption of beef was a done practice in ancient India.

Now, let's cut to the recent history, say around the time the Mughals invaded and afterwards. Economically, rural Indians were not exactly feasting. As a result, some bright folks probably realized that as far as milch cows were concerned, they were more viable alive than dead. Now, armed with this knowledge that cows were more valuable alive than dead, the 'community advisers', typically learned Brahmins, would have tried to find a way to make it morally reprehensible for simple folk to slaughter cows. Simple solution: Make it a religious sin! There are several instances across the world where economic and scientific principles are couched in religious laws to ensure a strict adherence. (Refer below for some instances). As a result, people slowly became religiously conditioned to not eat beef. Note the hypocrisy with how this does not extend to goats (very little milch value) and chickens and the like. 

Of course, there is another train of thought that cows are sacred because they are used to till the land and the like. Because of the service they provide to the farmer, they are considered as sacred. The economic inviability of slaughtering bullocks in this case is obvious. Again, they are not exactly beef cattle either.

This train of thought leads me to believe that the Hindu religious notion of cows being sacred are not religious truths but in fact economic principles in the guise of religious truths.

The politics of the cow

Cut to the present day. Cows are a potent political symbol. The stated intention of certain political factions to protect the cow acts as the perfect ruse to disguise the lack of concrete social and economic measures that they need to undertake. As usual, the memory of the man on the street is short and his vision is near-sighted. Explosively discordant religious messages are better attention grabbers than a concrete vision for social upliftment. Caught in this atmosphere, the average Hindu fails to question fundamental truths as to why s/he does not consume beef but in a behavior uncannily resembling that of a cow just toes the line.

The final hypocrisy

Regardless of the economics and the politics, what however is utterly incomprehensible is the complete hypocrisy that Hindus show when it comes to their 'mother', the cow. Millions of cows roam Indian roads, left to fend for themselves. They pose a real threat to road safety and also litter the roads with unwanted dung. They have no better place to go, so are often seen munching on the patchy vegetation that is present on the road shoulders. Tell me, O Devout Hindu, if the cow is your mother, if the cow is your God, is this how you treat her? Would you let your own biological mother fend for herself on the streets? Would you rather she succumb to stomach cancer caused by consumption of plastics? Can't you see the hypocrisy of your thoughts and actions?


The poor breed of cows in India
It's probably also worth mentioning that cows in India are among the worst strains of milch cattle; meaning they produce very little milk. Which probably means that they might be a genetic breed of cattle which was earlier not exclusively of the milch variety. My guess is that they might have been extensively interbred with beef cattle which reduced their milk producing capacities.


The economics of meat eating today
Meat eating is very fashionable today. With the booming economies of China and India, meat is now found more often on the menu in families across these two countries. Considering that they harbour about 40% of the world's population, the increased demand for meat produces severe strain on grain cultivation. This is not to say that Indians and Chinese must refrain while the Western world continues to battle obesity. It merely highlights how economic prosperity changes our food habits. That said, we consume far more animal protein than we need, and we waste even more. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. In light of the fact that we still have millions of people starving across the world, is this the right dietary choice to make?


The dangers of meat today
IMHO, the best beef in the world comes from Australia. These cows are typically grass-fed and free range. The quality of the beef is great, the associated animal cruelty is minimal. Consider this against the beef produced in 'CAFO' style operations, where the associated health and environmental issues are severe. Read more about that here and here.

Science & Economics vs. Religion
A couple of cases where religion dictated the adoption of scientific principles. This is my own guess, and not proven research!

1) Hindus have (had) a habit of washing their feet before entering a residence. One can note how many houses still have a water tap outside to enable folks to wash their feet before entering the house. The belief is that 'Shani' or Saturn clings to the dust in one's feet, and so must be washed away before entering a house. The simpler scientific explanation is probably that in ancient times footwear wasn't as common as today. Further, roads and pathways were dirty (probably sparkling clean in comparison to the roads in India today) and littered with animal feces. It must have been realized that the simple act of washing one's feet before entering a household prevented many diseases. Unable to; or unwilling to provide a scientific explanation for the same, it was couched in religious mumbo-jumbo and passed on as religious fact.

2) Why Muslims and Jews don't eat pork? These religions originated in the middle-eastern regions, where slaughtered meat, especially pork, does not keep well (unlike Europe). As a result, it was noticed that people fell sick eating pork and hence the religious doctrine of why not to eat pork. 

Friday, January 8, 2010

The media circus surrounding the Ruchika Girhotra case

If you've been following the news in India, you must be aware of the media circus surrounding the Ruchika Girhotra case.
Of course, some people might take offence at the use of the term media circus in this post. Yet, that is precisely what it is. I do not condone the actions of Mr. Rathore, in fact, I condemn it highly. Read on.

Mrs. Abha Rathore, wife of Mr. Rathore has complained that Mr. Rathore is being tried by the media. Tell me, Mrs. Rathore, if it were not for the media, do you think that Mr. Rathore would have been convicted today? If it were not for the media, would you find that an entire nation has been outraged by the action of your husband? The outrage of what happened to Ms. Ruchika and the simmering rage that we all hapless citizens bear because at one time or the other we've also been victims of abuse of power. A man who was supposed to protect her fundamental rights violated it and you're crying hoarse about the media circus? When did the law and justice become mutually exclusive?

A note to Mr. K.P.S. Gill

Mr. K.P.S. Gill is best remembered for 3 things.
1) Flushing out militants in Punjab and restoring normalcy there.
2) Flushing taxpayers' money down the toilet and contributing to the decline of Indian hockey.
3) Flushing respectability of career policeman down the toilet by slapping a woman's 'posterior' at a party.

Now, Mr. Gill is offended that his brother-in-arms, Mr. Rathore, is being 'tried by the media' and is having his police medal stripped from him. His contention is,
"Medals should be taken away only in cases of treason by police officers. In other countries, they strip an officer of medals only if he commits treason or is in involved in suspicious international activities."
Firstly, as you've pointed out, that is elsewhere, and not in India. Don't even get me started on comparing India to functioning democracies elsewhere. That's one battle you will not win.

The Central Police Awards committee recommends withdrawing police medals for officers who have been convicted of moral turpitude. Surely, bottom slapping is moral turpitude? So, I understand that you're anxious about losing your own police medal and are now publicly coming to the rescue of your convicted colleague.

Where is your shame, Mr. Gill?

A note to Mrs. Rathore

Dear Mrs. Rathore,
You've started something called a 'character assassination', a ploy that is used and used well by the peculiar breed of sub-humans called lawyers. Your contention is that Ruchika's father is 'morally corrupt'. Tell me, why are you so interested in what consenting adults do behind closed doors? What business is it of yours? I am not even going to discuss whether this is true or not as it does not concern me, and shouldn't concern anyone except Mr. Girhotra and a Mrs. Girhotra, if she exists.

Secondly, by extrapolation of your comments, do you mean to say that if the father is 'morally corrupt' by your own silly standards of ethics, the child should suffer the advances and molestation of a sexual predator disguised as a protector? Should Ruchika's parents and sibling suffer because of what you think is morally reprehensible?

Finally, let me put you through a scenario. Your husband has now been convicted of a crime. The key word here is convicted. That crime is molesting a minor. There are few crimes actually are as morally reprehensible as that. Obviously, even by your definition, your husband's character is flawed. So, going by the intentions of your smear campaign, if somebody nows molests your daughter, you'll give up seeking legal recourse because, 'My husband's character is unquestionably bad'?

Get off your high horse, Mrs. Rathore. Don't you have any shame?

The Pill

Call me a champion of woman's rights or a closet chauvinist, I don't really care. But I strongly believe that the single most important invention in recent times that has really empowered women is The Pill. The pill gives women the chance to have sex without the bother of pregnancy. It really was the spark that lit the flame of the sexual revolution in the western world in the sixties. Of course, the pill does not prevent STDs, but at least takes away the complication of unwanted pregnancies.
The best indicator of social empowerment of women lies in the sales graph of the pill. The more pills sold would mean a more progressive society, especially for women. There are numerous studies that have proved how society has been transformed by the pill and for the better.

The other great indicator of women's empowerment in India is the rapidly rising divorce rates, especially in cities like New Delhi and Bangalore. This is not a cause for concern, methinks, but a reason for celebration. It means that women have now been empowered financially and socially, and so are now more confident of walking out of unhappy marriages. Compare this to the previous generation (and before that), where women had no choice but to endure a unhappy, abusive and sexually frustrating marriages. All becuase the husband controlled the purse strings.

The next great revolution for women's empowerment in India will come with the introduction and implementation of child protection services. I believe marriages are an unnecessary societal farce and that having children in today's world is nothing short of a criminal misdemeanor but the truth is that marriage and children are a part of society. Often, it is the children who are the worst affected in a marriage. As a result, even in families where the wife has the economic freedom to walk out, divorce is not an option because of the stigma attached to a failed marriage (for the kids) and the lack of proper child protection services. Although, I am inclined to think that this could be a reason for men also not walking out of unhappy marriages.

If you're a woman and have walked out of an unhappy marriage, I tip my hat to you. Power to the people.

Hot tip # 1

When convicted of a socially abhorrent crime and sentenced to light punishment, do not smirk for the cameras. See what NOT to do below.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

That's me money # 1

The Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is a man I generally hold in high regard, regardless of what I think of the effectiveness of his government or of his party's ideology. But a rash and stupid statement by him today has made me really rethink about my views and made me ponder if I should call him Dr. Manmoron Singh instead, as I've read in some other blogs.

Read about how Dr. Singh is offering to 'fly in doctors' to treat a 95 year old man who is probably single handedly responsible for transforming West Bengal from a highly effective, competitive and industrialized state to an economically and socially 'sick' state today. Tell me, Dr. Singh, who will pay for this treatment? Don't you think it is a bit rash on your side to commit millions of taxpayers' money for what is near certainly a lost cause? If you feel that strongly about it, why not spend your own money? Maybe some of the prize money that your daughter won will help to contribute to Jyoti Basu's wellbeing.

Have you no shame, Dr. Singh?

Polam rei...

It's the war cry that nearly every citizen of the fair city of Chennai who's ever had the misfortune of traveling in the city's buses is well aware of. Varying in pitch and intensity from a Nordic growl to a Singaporean pip-squeak, it is the cry that conductors spend hours practicing. And the finely tuned ears of Chennai's bus drivers have honed their aural skills to a fine pitch, waiting for this specific battle cry which signifies the moment to slam down hard on the accelerator with their rubber/leather thong sandals and start flexing their muscles to coax the stick shift into what is nearly always second gear.Yet, bus drivers in Chennai are just another class of poor drivers on the road.

What irks me though is how the poor bus drivers of Chennai seem to have their brethren elsewhere in the state of Tamilnadu as well. Especially on her highways. On my recent road-trip to Chennai and back, what I did notice, or rather what struck me as the poster child for poor driving were the state transport buses in Tamilnadu. The red or blue ones, with almost everyone of them registered in TN29 or TN30 plates. What makes them the worst highway drivers ever, you ask?

For starters, although the roads in the cities of India are death traps in the guise of pathways, where danger lurks in every corner and safe or good driving is an Utopian dream, the GQ highways are another matter. At least here the vehicles follow the lane system (actually, lane marking exist here). And the slower trucks move on the left. Except of course for our friends from Tamilnadu. They drive their buses at 60kms per hour on the right lane where everyone is traveling at 100kms per hour. And they have no compunction for doing so. Everbody else be damned, I will drive as I please. On the fast lane, at 60 kmph. Come the next town for a bus stop, and they swerve to the left lane; pick up passengers and promptly head back to the right lane. Why don't you guys have any common sense?

Of course the worst situation is when you have a truck on the left lane and a Tamilnadu state transport bus on the right. Both moving at the same speed, both hogging the entire road. Of course, the truck has nowhere to go. Pissed off that other vehicles can actually go faster than he can, the bus driver from Tamilnadu refuses to back down and switch to the left lane. So you're stuck waiting for a sliver of space to open up while one vehicle is a few meters behind the other and then you make your move. You do have one truck at 42 kmph trying to overtake another at 40 kmph, but at least they move out of the way when they're done. Not a pleasant experience when you have to slow from a 100 kmph speed to 40 kmph, but better than the kind of shite that you have to endure with TN bus drivers. What a load of bozos.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Madras Musings - When Chennai was still Madras

On Wednesday afternoon I was strolling down the footpath on North Usman Road in T.Nagar. I'd just finished lunch at Ganga hotel (of Ganga color xerox fame). I was amused by the fact that there were a couple of folks from 'North India' seated behind me and having lunch with their Tamil colleagues. I couldn't help but overhear. One of the guys was telling his Tamil colleague that 'Chennai hotels have different types of rice'. Much to my and the colleague's confusion. Then he explained, 'Sambar rice, Lemon rice, Curd rice.'. Oh. Like that.

Anyways, lunch completed, I was strolling back in the relatively mild December sun of Chennai, contemplating the ugly monstrosity of a 'mini-flyover' that has been built to bridge N.Usman road with Mahalingapuram. Bloody shame, I felt. At least some places were as before. Like Ganga hotel. And as I was walking along the pavement, I was thinking that there was a time when that part of Madras did not even have pavements, let alone ugly flyovers. My earliest memory of a pavement harks back to school days. My friends and I used to save the 50p, later revised to 70p bus fare and walk the 3-4 kms home. And there were no footpaths from Habibullah Road till Meenakshi college, save for the walking path on Kodambakkam bridge. And then one day in 93-94, we saw trucks emptying cement slabs on the existing 'footpath'. And lo and behold, in about 3-4 months lots of places in Chennai were proudly sporting paved footpaths. And one of my recollections of that period was how the cement slabs had the year of manufacture stamped on it. I was curious to see if the ones in N.Usman road were from that lot. Sure enough, I found one slab with MC 94 within a ellipse stamped on it. 94 for the year. C for Corporation. M for when Chennai was still called Madras.

Cheers. And have a happy new year.

P.S.: I couldn't think of a better title for this post. Sorry to rip it off so shamelessly from what is (was?) undoubtedly one of the best columns on Madras carried by the venerable 'The Hindu' newspaper.

P.P.S: Just got back from a 4 day trip (down memory lane) to Madras. I had 2 days of employer leave to be availed this calendar year, and I felt that spending it in Madras, catching up with old friends would be a nice way to end 2009 and ring in 2010. I drove down from 'Namma Bengaluru' on Wednesday (30 Dec). Fairly quick drive; left at about 7 am and reached Porur around noon. Guess it was lucky as well, considering the chaos that Bangalore was thrown into by the death of a local movie star. Again, return trip was fairly uneventful. Started around 11 AM from Madras, reached home by 4:30 PM. Did use the GQ NH4/NH46/NH7 route both ways.