Thursday, June 21, 2012


Water mafia will soon become an organised business!

Just as searing summer temperatures have taken toll on millions across the nation and household taps are almost running dry, the conniving water mafias are all set to make some quick bucks at the expense of the hapless consumers. The water starved cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are worst hit that are facing this pressing problem, the most.

The Delhi Jal Board water supplies are meant to reach the end users, free of cost, yet water theft and non-supply from DJB is the unfortunate reality. The supposedly free water, which is a basic of any civilized society across the world, is sold at a price tag between Rs.400 and Rs.1, 000 for 1,000 litres. The price can reach up to Rs. 4000 on peak days. The connivance between DJB officials and private mafias set the negative tone for the water starved Delhites. The problem is particularly grave in South and South-west Delhi, with no easing of haggling with the water mafias, as they continue unabated extraction of water, which is illegal in the city, and magnify the agony of the residents as DJB pumps dry up! Delhi’s woes seem minuscule compared to Gurgaon, which is living amidst the terror of water mafias. The water there is selling at Rs.1,500-2,000 per tanker as the mafias on an average are spinning a staggering Rs.90 lakhs a day!

In Bangalore, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has floated tenders thrice in last 3 months for water tanker operators to meet with an impossible outcome viz. the stark statistics of zero response! A water supplier at Koramangala area earns approximately Rs. 4,000 per tanker, which is much profitable commerce compared to the government’s offer. BWSSB’s flat rate is Rs.1,650 per day per tanker – way below the private operator’s rate, who at times are found to charge anywhere between Rs.6,000 to Rs.8,000 per day. The demand-supply gap in the city is so wide that it can't be mended by government fleet of just 42 tankers – not a match with private operators possessing 10,000 vehicles.

Mumbai is probably the worst hit with water mafias' fortune rising as they are compelling the consumers to shell out Rs.2,500 to Rs.3,000 per tanker in South Mumbai, Rs.1,600 to Rs.1,800 in Central Mumbai and Rs.1,300 to Rs.1,500 in the suburbs. The excess of it all is spreading its wings to villages and small towns like Satara, Sangli and Solapur and other parts of Maharashtra as well. Pune is the next victim. The potable water is selling there at the rate of Rs.1,500 for 10,000 litres and non-potable water at Rs.800. This is going on in spite of the fact that Pune Municipal Corporation has fixed the rate at Rs.600 for 10,000 litres, Rs.700 for 10,000 – 15,000 litres and Rs.800 above 15,000 litres.

This is a vicious cycle going on in most of the major Indian cities and people are caught in the understanding (and not without reason) that there is no remedy to it. There is a nexus playing among the municipal officials, the police and the water tanker mafias; which underscores any attempt by regulatory authorities to pin down the problem. The question that lingers is how come these water tankers get to fill their tanks in spite of the DJB and likes facing water shortage? How come the police and traffic police allow these tankers to zip through the roads without checking their credibility? It’s imperative for the government to start their own authorized tanker services who are allotted licenses via a transparent mode. Or else, soon even in monsoon, taps would run dry!


Thursday, June 14, 2012


BPL cards have reduced to being mere political gimmicks

The issue of access to food supplies at subsidised prices for people below the poverty line is being addressed by India’s federal government through their much touted Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. In the same light, Food Minister KV Thomas attempted a turnaround last year by introducing a key National Food Security Bill to be enshrined as law. Apart from food grains, BPL cards promise to provide subsidised kerosene through 500,000 fair prices or ration shops across the country. The food subsidies have carved a massive 10 per cent of total government expenditure (Union Budget 2011-12) – a gigantic increase from 2 per cent in 1990s, which is linked with BPL cards.

Even after sinking in so much money for BPL card holders, its issuance and implementation is plagued with undeniable discrepancies. According to NCAER in 2007, there was an excess of 23 million BPL cards in terms of number of BPL families in India and the number of BPL cards issued! Another survey by Transparency International along with Center for Media Studies (CMS) in India revealed that merely two-third of the BPL households possess BPL cards. In 2004-05, a humongous 50 per cent of BPL category segment was not provided with BPL cards, according to three surveys conducted at that time viz. National Sample Survey, National Family Health Survey and India Human Development Survey.

For all its efforts, the government has initiated its flagship programme called Targeted Public Distribution Scheme where BPL cardholders will get subsidised food and other eatables from the ration shops. In this context, our finance minister himself has lambasted the programme, “About 58 per cent of subsidised grains do not reach the target group, of which a little over 36 per cent is siphoned off the supply chain...” The anomalies in BPL cards distribution are many. In Gujarat for instance, Congress has voiced its protest against the incumbent BJP government of channelising thousands of bogus BPL cards and incurring losses running into thousands of crores. In Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, several BPL cards have been issued to people earning between Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 a year, sparking controversy! Most astonishingly, a man who has paid Rs 3.46 crores to obtain liquor license has been issued one BPL card! In Karnataka, out of 1.2 crore families present in the state, 98 lakhs families have been recognised by the government as living below poverty line! That means about 80 per cent of the population in the state are eligible for BPL cards, especially in a state that is deemed as one of the most progressive state in the country!

The onus of such corruption and mismanagement surely lies with the governments, both at the centre and the state. If subsidies can be extended directly to the BPL families and not routed through PDS shop owners – this could ebb the current problem to a large extent. BPL families can be provided with food coupons with which they can use to buy the essentials, whereas the shop owners can encash the coupons from the nearby banks. And further, the incentive to adulterate the commodities will be reduced on account of competition as the BPL card holders can then go to any shop as per their convenience. Today, BPL cards have become a tool to gain personal political mileage, with no care to check whether it actually goes to the right target audience!


Thursday, June 7, 2012


Tuition market is running parallel to formal education

Come new academic session, students across the nation would be found beelining outside famous tuition centres (who declared to have coached the board toppers) for admission. And even before the schools start their session, these coaching centres would not only be full, but would also have completed the a few modules with the kids!

Formal schooling and coaching centres (a.k.a tuition centres) have become synonymous to each other. Today, schooling is deemed to be incomplete without those extra hours in tuition centres. Be it at secondary education level or be it for any competitive entrance examination, securing high marks and grades today is ought to be virtually impossible without attending a couple of tuition classes. I rarely come across students who bag success without the baggage of extra coaching. Recently, what caught my fancy was a news that was published in one of the leading dailies, about how a group of students from Ahmedabad cleared not only school examination but also state’s board examination, with decent grades, without attending any extra tuition classes.

There is no denial that supplementary education has its own merits, but then it also questions the very verity of formal education. These coaching centres not only highlight the discriminatory education system of the nation but also distort mainstream education. However, it is also true that this sector is providing employment and mode of earning for many who fail to make it through the conventional education system, due to red-tapism, regulations and not so attractive salary structure. So, on the hindsight, it seems a win-win situation for both teachers (as they can earn extra bucks!) and for those who cannot make it through the mainstream school system! But, on a deeper analysis, the picture would not seem so very attractive. In the veil of coaching centres, teachers (school teachers) are virtually forcing kids to attend their own private classes post-school hours. Thus, using the school children as their captive market and teaching-hours for their personal business development activities. No wonder tuition centres suddenly have become a full-fledged market, more so, in the absence of controls and lack of any regulation. Republic of Korea has prohibited any kind of private tutoring. Likewise the Government of Mauritius and Hong Kong has regulations in place to limit the negativity of the business.

Going by ASSOCHAM studies, most of the middle-class families generally end up spending a staggering 30 per cent of their total income on the private tuitions of their children. The tuition industry is worth Rs.16,500 crore with parents spending as much as Rs.4 lakh on private tuition in a year. Of course, the upper strata of the society won’t mind paying some extra cash for such services but it is the middle class who has to whimper under the burden. There needs to be a system in place that prohibits school teachers from running commercial tuition. Though some states have taken such steps but they are still not able to completely root it out. Schools need to be accountable and keep a check on productivity during school hours and should provide additional tutorials if needed. Even an hour extra of tuition post-school robs a child off his extra-curricular growth and eventually deforms him/her from natural growth. And for what, after all, it is the coaching centres that take away the credit at the end, and thrive on it!