Thursday, 23 September 2010
Monday, 6 September 2010
Mumbai is the financial capital of the country and public transport its life line. Taxis are an important part of this public transport system. On my return from London, I was nostalgic and hence insisted on using the city’s very own traditional black and yellow cabs that can be hailed on the roads. I refrained from using radio taxis which have better vehicles, safer drivers and air conditioning. My attempt of contributing to the earnings of the hardworking black and yellow cab drivers soon started to become hesitant. The fares quoted were more often than not inflated, the drivers most often refused to go short distances and in fact at the domestic airport they ran a cartel in nexus with the cops there overcharging passengers by even 25% at times. On one occasion I decided to do the right thing by a law abiding citizen and filed a complaint at the airport police booth. That was probably one of the scariest times of my life. In a dark and dingy mobile van sat a cop sipping from a glass just close to midnight. As I entered, ushered by the marshal of the taxi rank, he kept his glass away and asked the marshal to leave. The door closed but the light never came on. I wondered if my decision had been prudent. Nonetheless I pretended to be fearless and filed my complaint. It was noted in a register, my signature duly taken. I was promised that this trip home the cabbie would dare not overcharge. Then suddenly the lights came on, I heaved a sigh of relief and walked out. The marshal escorted me to a taxi and told me that I would pay by the meter. I felt maybe I should have complained earlier and that there was fairness in the system. But I had thought too soon. On reaching home, the driver indeed quoted from the meter but asked for INR 350 for a journey that usually costs INR 230 or INR 280 even in the more expensive radio taxis. It dawned on me; the meter was rigged as were the marshal and the cop! Since then I have sworn off the traditional cabs at least from the airport. I am not the only one. The instances of people turning to radio taxis are increasing. The traditional taxi service of Mumbai, in a few years, is likely to fade in importance, impacting the earnings of all concerned.
Well the radio taxis that I mention are no better in their service. The green Meru cabs are the most populace, yet the most unreliable. Their drivers come late, the call center operators allot cabs for longer distances and many drivers give their numbers to clients not sticking to the call center deployed pick ups. Filing any number of complaints is of no use. With the advent of more radio taxi companies, Meru stands to lose clientele and hence not grow after a point. But is someone bothered? I am not convinced.
India prides itself on its world class telecom policy. And yet, the service provided by its telecom players is just one eighty degrees opposite. Vodafone, one of the largest players in the local market has inefficient customer service. To begin with, their call center staff is not full aware of the services that the provider offers and the charges of the same. If they do, the same is not communicated to customers. When customers are wrongly advised or overcharged, there is no redressing from the company at all. On the contrary, the pushy call center staff calls incessantly to sell unwanted services. Even if politely they are told that it is not a good time for you to talk, they do not take no for an answer. Worse, if you do not answer the call, they keep calling till someone picks up! Airtel, another large service provider is no better. Their call center staff asks you to go to the web site, decide which service you want and then call back later! Tata Indicom is only keen to collect payments, even on a service that is not activated! In the long run there will be more global players with larger pockets. If services do not improve, the local players will lose.
Local banks are already facing stiff competition from the foreign banks, who not only offer more personalized service but also more prompt and accurate information. Take HDFC bank for example. It took them four weeks to open a salary account which had been requested by a company that they deal with regularly. A credit card application, filed about three months ago, has still not resulted in a card being delivered. I am sure that new customer addition is not a priority for HDFC. Maybe they are too busy taking care of their existing customers! But hang on, I am told by existing customers that they are completely appalled by the lack of clarity and promptness in services of the bank. In a country of a billion people, are we really finding it so difficult to recruit and train appropriate staff!
Maybe it is a case of just not wanting to recruit more in an attempt to increase the bottom line. Jaslok hospital, a leading healthcare provider in Mumbai seems to follow this policy. The staff shortage is so acute that ward boys work round the clock for 36 – 54 hours at times. The nurses are so exhausted that they misplace patient files, forget to call doctor when required and then lose their cool with patients’ kin. Ward boys, matrons and nurses; they all express their exhaustion and frustration with the way the system is functioning. However, scared of losing their jobs they say nothing. Life goes on for them with those of the patients in danger!
The services mentioned here are those that impact daily life. I can illustrate examples of airlines, hotels, retail chains and even legal services where I have been stumped by the lack of basic understanding of customer servicing. But if I start it will probably not make the point I intend to but sound like a nitpicking grumbling session. Yes, the point I want to make – We are a capable enough country, equipped with enough intelligence and resources to have a long term vision. We need to inculcate customer satisfaction values in all our services, not just to have a pleasant society but also improve the longevity and profitability of businesses. The one key learning I bring back with me from the developed world is this and I do hope that at least I can deploy it in all my dealings with clients, fellow professionals and friends.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
I was puzzled. How could a volcanic eruption in Iceland wreak havoc in the Czech Republic? There was some impact on air traffic even in 2004 due to the eruption of Grimsvoetn, another Icelandic volcano. So what is it that makes Icelandic volcanoes so potent? I decided to follow the chronology of significant Icelandic volcanic eruptions to figure out the answer.
Iceland sits on top of the mid-Atlantic ridge, the separation between the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates, which runs from north to south of this island nation. Given its geographical positioning, Iceland is a hot bed of volcanoes with approximately 130 volcanic mountains occupying the 100,329km2 land area.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Icelandic volcanoes is the submarine volcanoes that continue to form new land masses even today. Beginning 6th November 1963, scientists started detecting weak tremors at Kirkjubaejarklaustur with a likely epicentre at the southern a submarine volcano, later named Surtsey. Around the 13th /14th November 1963, the sea temperature was noted to be warmer than usual by a marine research vessel while the population of Vik (80km from Surtsey) reported the smell of hydrogen-sulphide in the air. It was on 15th November 1963 that the eruption was first spotted by a trawler on the sea in the form of dark black smoke. There were active explosions for a week, which generated a strong stream of lava that spread in the ocean and formed a land mass which measured c. 1640 ft in length and 147 ft in height. The eruptions ended only in June 1967 and the island formation concluded with the final size of the new land mass being 2.7 km2. Even before the eruptions had subsided, the first forms of life arrived on the island in 1965, in the form of moss and lichen. Then there were plants that followed, however it was not until 1975 that life on Surtsey grew, when insects were found on the island. Around 1985, seagulls began arriving on the island, carrying seeds and microorganisms and further contributing to the growth of life on Surtsey.
On 23rd January 1973 the long thought extinct Eldfell volcano, located to the south of the mainland, erupted without any warning. Close to the volcano (c. 300km away) lay the fishing town of Heimaey with a population of c. 5300. The entire city was evacuated on the first night. To save the town, the volcano fighters devised a network of pipes that were laid over the lava flow and sprayed 400 litres of seawater per second. While the wooden supports for the pipes burnt and the aluminium structures melted, the cold sea water allowed the pipes themselves to survive. Almost two thirds of the town was saved as was the entrance to the harbour. This heroic exercise was the most extensive undertaken ever in a volcanic eruption and cost about USD 1.5million at that time. By the end of the eruption that lasted 5 months, the city of Heimaey had increased 20% in size and was the proud owner of a new and naturally fortified harbour.
The most active volcano of the nation, Grimsvoetn, is covered by a glacier. On 1st November 2004, after a series of intense earthquakes, Grimsvoetn erupted. This eruption was thought to be due to the draining of a glacial lake in the volcano’s caldera. The eruption column height varied from 8-9 km up to 13-14 km. In less than two days of the first eruption, the ash had reached Norway, Finland and Sweden. There was disruption to trans-Atlantic air traffic, with KLM-Air France (then KLM Royal Airlines) suffering the maximum.
Domestic air travel in Iceland also suffered. However, within a week the eruptions subsided and there was no further interference in the aviation industry.
Eyjafjallajokull erupted on 14th April 2010, causing havoc to the global aviation industry. The fact that Eyjafjallajokull and Grimsvoetn hampered air travel but neither Surtsey nor Eldfall did is because the former two are covered by glaciers. As the hot magma spews out of the earth’s crust, it is met with cold ice which pulverizes it into tiny fragments of rock. The high temperature of the magma also causes the ice to melt and form steam. The volcanic ash is then lifted into the sky by the vast plumes of steam that are formed by the melting ice. The first eruption of Eyjafjallajokull was on 21st March 2010. However, that was not from the part of the volcano under the crater and hence there was no volcanic ash that resulted. Since the time of the Vikings, it has been observed that Eyjafjallajokull eruptions are followed by eruptions from its twin angry sister, Katla. Volcanologists warn that the five times larger Katla could spew out much more volcanic ash and increase the existing chaos.
Finding the answer to the mystery has not resulted in laying the issue of the Icelandic volcanoes to rest. My intrigue for the country has only gown. So here are some interesting facts which I thought I would share –
The word “volcano” comes from the island of Vulcano in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily. Vulcano ts the chimney of the forge of Vulcan — the blacksmith of the Roman gods. The hot lava fragments and dust erupting form Vulcano were believed to come from Vulcan’s forge as he beat thunderbolts for Jupiter, king of the gods, and weapons for Mars, the god of war
The volcanic rock pumice is the only rock that can float in water. It is usually grey and full of bubbly holes, that form when hot gases jet furiously out of the cooling rock
Volcanoes make sunsets more colorful. This phenomenon is because the ash particles in the atmosphere scatter the sun's rays
83% of the world's sub glacial eruptions have occurred in Iceland
Volcanic ash is hard, does not dissolve in water, is extremely abrasive and mildly corrosive, and conducts electricity when wet
 The friction and shift between tectonic plates cause earthquakes and volcanoes. The movement of the plates towards each other pushes the liquid magma (molten rock) up and where there are cracks in the earth’s crust (called craters); this magma pours out on the surface in the form of hot liquid lava.
 Interesting account of eruption can be found on http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/heimaey/heimaey.pdf
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
The road less travelled, at the beginning of the journey, lures the excited adventurer with its greenery and beauty. What the traveler does not realize is that just as the spring does not remain forever; neither does the beauty of the road less travelled. Soon autumn sets in and the bare trees surround the weary paths. This is not what the explorer signed on for. Feeling cheated, at the next fork, he takes on the other road.
With crowds along the road, it is understood and acknowledged that beauty will be rare. The previous experience conditions the mind to accept the fall weather and not to look forward to the spring. But then if suddenly, for a mere stretch for a hundred yards, there is a blossoming of flowers; the traveler’s memory goes back to the starting point of the road less travelled. At the next fork, does the traveler change his course? Depends on how adventurous the traveler is. But most us we get accustomed to the fractions of beauty on the barren path. Fearing that we would want more, we leave the thought of revisiting the road less traveled.
It is sad yet it is true – the easier path is always to be with the crowd. There is no certainty that the road less traveled will ever reveal its beautiful spring and summer gardens again. For all one knows, the autumn may be followed by a severe winter; one that chills the bones and forever erodes the memory and desire of spring. So while there may be hope left, it is best to curb expectations. It is best to follow the tried and tested path and stick to the path where you know what you will get. Then if you chance upon a miraculous garden at a fork, maybe you can go ahead and savor the beauty; but remember to return to the ways of the most. There is safety there…
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Why do adults stop believing in dreams? Why is it that we stop looking at the good and highlighting the greys of life? With increasing experience, cynicism and scepticism take precedence over embracing the hope of dreams bursting alive. Every step is taken with abundant caution and every possibility scrutinised to generate every probable negative outcome. The helpless possibility of fireworks lighting our lives is given minimal consideration, if any at all; and so that which could appear in the forefront just withers in the background. The colours recede and the greys abound.
But does it have to be so? Or in van Gogh's words - do we have to wait to the end to grow tired of cynicism and scepticism to be able to live musically! I don't believe so. Life is short. To enrich and beautify this incredible journey we need to believe in ourselves and take a leap of faith - try to embrace love, acknowledge the goodness of other people's hearts and trust that all good things in life are ours to take. All we need to do is to be open, sincere and accepting. If we interpret life with preconceived notions the colours in store will never tumble out, just like a rainbow will never be formed if the travelling light never bends while passing through the mist.
Van Gogh left a wealth of paintings to admire but his life was the masterpiece. It was an honest attempt spent in the quest of learning and love. Because he wanted to experience life he let life happen to him. He did not close himself to any experience or possibility and maintained, "In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing." And so will I, I will go on with my drawing. It can only get better.
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Monday, 18 January 2010
It’s the tides that rise and fall. I make no effort all. It’s their movement; but it appears to be my action. As I finish my swimming lesson and emerge from the sea, I realise that it is a similar case with life. The winds blow and we bend their way. Circumstances, beliefs and experiences make us take the paths that we select.
If I had ever come close to drowning, I would never ever attempt to swim. Had I faced a shark or a whale, even the thought of the seas would scare me away. But the water has always had a claming effect on me. The blue seas have given me the hope of a better tomorrow. The numerous gorgeous sunsets over the oceans have enticed me, goading me on to explore the jungles of the tides. And so I want to learn to swim.
I have embarked on this journey to learn, as I have always lived guided by my gut instinct, and today that instinct tells me that I need to be able to hold my own in the deep seas. I am unsure of how long I will take to learn but I hope to master the craft. I want to understand the water so that I can swim like a fish. In this adventure I want to succeed so that I can swim in the ocean of life and encounter the joys of togetherness…
And as I carry on my lessons and my attempts I hope that nature helps me on the way.
Thursday, 14 January 2010
January is a month of celebrations in the family with most birthdays falling in the first month of the year. So while my niece understands the significance of these occasions, she was left confused with the Lohri celebrations at her grandparents place. To get her questions answered she called me and asked me the significance of Lohri. After I explained the harvest and season change concepts to her, I realised that it is not just in Punjab but it is all over
The first day of the month of Magh in North India, also called Thai in South India, marks the beginning of the northward movement of the sun; indicating that the cold winter days are going to recede with warmer temperatures setting in. The change of the season also brings the harvest time along. For seventy percent of Indians, whose livelihoods are dependent on agriculture, this new season brings prosperity, abundance and new life.
Called Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Lohri in Punjab and Himchal Pradesh, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Sankrant in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and West Bengal ; this over 1000 year old festival is celebrated across the country. It is a rare Indian festival that follows the solar calendar and hence is celebrated every year on the same date of the Gregorian calendar. Most other Indian festivals follow the lunar cycle and hence fall on different days of the Gregorian calendar every year.
There are a number of legends associated with this one day, each of which defines the celebrations in various parts of the country. In North India and West Bengal it is believed that King Bhagirath, who is accredited with bring the holy river Ganges to planet earth from abode of the Gods, on this day stood in the river and offered the holy Ganges water to the Gods requesting salvation for 60,000 of his ancestors who were reduced to ashes by Rishi Kapil. His successful attempt led to the removal of the curse of rebirth and the holy
The western states of
Despite the differences in expressions, the underlying belied across the country remains the same – the day marks the beginning of the most auspicious month in the Hindu calendar and the time of abundance and joy. So here is wishing each one of you all the good things that this occasion is supposed to signify and usher.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
Statistical evidence shows that over 50% of Indian children are victims of Child Sexual Abuse. Yet there are no explicit CSA laws in India.
Indian Constitution, Children and Personal
Before taking a look at the IPC, it is important to note that the Indian constitution, under various articles, implies that it is the responsibility of the State to provide a healthy environment for children and protect their rights. This means that any shortcomings of the IPC, the Indian legal system and the law enforcement agencies are shortcomings of the Constitution and the State in fulfilling its duties towards its citizens.
Article 39: The state shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing:
e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength;
f) that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material
Article 15 (3): Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children
Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty - No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law
IPC and its deficiencies
The Indian Penal Code does not define laws dealing exclusively with child abuse. This is unlike most other countries in the world. To address cases of CSA, the IPC provides following points of law with their own severe limitations -
- Section 293 –
, etc., of obscene objects to young person Sale
This section penalises the circulation and distribution of obscene objects and print material to anyone under the age of twenty. While the constitution defines children as individuals under the age of sixteen, this law talks about young people under the age of twenty. There is a discrepancy in the law with respect to the definition of a child and in the fact that there is no differentiation made between the crime against a child and a young person. Given the different maturity levels, the impact is bound to be different and hence the punishment should be in line with the damage caused
- Section 294 – Obscene acts, songs and expressions in public places
Under section 294 of the IPC, any individual found guilty of obscene acts and/or expressions in public places is liable to be imprisoned to a maximum of six months and/or a fine. However, once again there is no specific mention of children in this provision
- Section 325 - Punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt
The law makes intentional grievous hurt caused to any person punishable with a prison sentence of up to seven years and/or a fine. The law is not clear on what constitutes grievous hurt and hence there is no sufficient protection provided under this law for children.
- Section 354 – Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty
This law is limited to women and hence does not consider men as possible victims. Thus even if this to some extent safeguards the girl child, the male child is left at the mercy of the other IPC sections to find justice.
- Section 375 - Rape
To begin with the definition of rape is very narrow - “intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent”. Not only does this leave male rape outside of the purview of rape law, it does not differentiate between an adult and a child and does not encompass forced oral/anal sex and sodomy as rape or intention to rape. Also the act is silent if the perpetrator is a female as it is assumed that the offender will be a male.
According to Section 375 a man can have a legal wife of fifteen years of age, but the consensual sex age for girls is defined to be sixteen. To complicate things further marriage laws state that the marriageable age for girls is eighteen and for boys it is twenty-one. Child labour laws define an upper age limit of fourteen. Thus there are a number of confusing points of reference in the law itself as a definition of “child”.
- Section 376 – Punishment for Rape
This is an exhaustive section specifying rigorous course of action for those in position of authority and ability to earn the trust of people such as police officers, hospitals etc. However, the section is ambiguous on the topic of teachers, schools, orphanages, crèches, etc. as it talks about children’s institutions and as we have seen there are different ways of defining children in the Indian legal literature.
- Section 417 – Punishment for cheating
Again the law is ambiguous on the definition of cheating; is it cheating in terms of material possessions or cheating an individual emotionally, there is no clarity. How should different acts of cheating be punished deserves a mention as well, however, there is just one simple prison term and/or fine defined for all forms of cheating. At the end of the day, in a common law country like
- Section 452 – House trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restrain
This section qualifies trespassing the home of an individual with the intention of causing harm or assaulting, or using that intention to instil fear in any individual. The nature of hurt and assault are not defined and once again there is no particular differentiation between an adult and a child.
- Section 509 - Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
Akin to Section 354, this point of law is limited to women leaving male child victims wanting.
In addition to these specific sections, there are other sections of the IPC (302, 323, 324, 326, 342, 343, 344, 363, 366, 458, 503, 506, and 511) that have been used by lawyers to prosecute CSA offenders. However, given that there is nothing that speaks exclusively for the crime itself, all these sections are mere support systems. For example in a case where the child is first kidnapped and then sexually abused, the lawyers could easily use Section 363 and have the offender punished for kidnapping. But the other crime, that of CSA remains unpunished. The scales of justice thus rest on a weak balance.
There was an initiative taken by Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry in 2005 to introduce the Offences against Children Act, 2005. This Act addressed CSA in addition to physical abuse, sale of children and trafficking in children. The procedures, remedies and punishment were defined and this was seen to be a voice for 40% of
This is the strangest declaration given the silence of IPC on explicit CSA crime. The only places that talk categorically of child sexual abuse are investigation procedures are defined such as the amendment to section 273, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which states, “Provided that where the evidence of a person below eighteen years who is alleged to have been subjected to sexual assault or any other sexual offence, is to be recorded, the court shall, take appropriate measures to ensure that such person is not confronted by the accused.”
The rate of disposal of crime against children by Indian courts is very poor. The most comprehensive data available in this regard is that from NCRB –
Cases pending trial in 2007
Compounded / Withdrawn
Pending at Year End
Rape (IPC 376)
Murder (IPC 302, 303)
Kidnapping & Abduction (IPC 363 – 369, 371 – 373)
Table 4: Disposal of Cases by Courts of Crimes Committed Against Children During 2007
(Source: National Crime Records Buraeau)
Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of
A government servant was charged of assaulting two girls around 10-12 old. The trial court convicted the accused for wrongful confinement (Section 342) and outraging the modesty (Section 509) of the victims. The offender was sentenced to two-and-a-half years' rigorous imprisonment. On further appeal, the High Court, found the accused guilty under Section 376 and Section 511 as to have attempted to commit rape. The Supreme Court, upheld the High Court conviction, however, altered the sentence to 15 months' rigorous imprisonment for the following reasons-
§ the appellant lost his job in view of the conviction recorded by the High Court;
§ he must have suffered great humiliation in the society;
§ the prospects of getting a suitable match for his own daughter have perhaps been marred in the wake of the finding of guilt recorded against him in the context of such offence; and
§ the incident occurred some seven years back and about six-and-a-half years elapsed since the dismissal of appeal by the High Court
With no prescribed CSA laws, there is no definition of the loss and damage suffered by the victim. This implies that justice does not take consequences into consideration while announcing the sentence. The offender is punished only as deemed fit by the presiding judicial officer.
CSA and International Conventions
Indian Constitution’s proclamation of granting a free, dignified and healthy environment for children has been reinforced by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989.
§ States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
§ Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:
§ The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
Despite having agreed to undertake these obligations over fifteen years ago, the Government of India has made little progress on ensuring legal rights for suffering children.
 This is a sum of cases pending in the last year and the new cases registered in 2007