Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Can't we ever learn from our mistakes? 

Is it the Indian ethos that we always give the job to politicians and not to professionals? Let me begin with the glaring example of Indian cricket: around 1950, maharajas and bureaucrats were entrusted with leading or selecting teams, and I do not believe India ever won a cricket test, leave alone a test series. We have come a long way till we left such serious matters as selection of teams or captains to professionals. The path from the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (or Vizzy, as he was known) to Dhoni and Kohli was possible only after matters of selection were left to people who really played and knew cricket like Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. By adopting this obvious change in methodology, the Indian cricket team was transformed from a laughing stock to world-beaters.

In contrast, you just have to look at our squads for the Olympics. Once every four years, we suffer the embarrassment of being the squad more than 50% of which consists of fat administrators who have probably never played anything; and the `bare'ness of our cupboard of olympic tallies reminds you of Old Mother Hubbard's! The fate of hockey and tennis are also similarly dismal.

Now let me remove the kid gloves and come to the point. The people that this letting off steam is directed at is our various Government bodies `entrusted' with realising the promises made to the PWD (Persons with Disability) about giving them their rights and due.

To put it simply enough for your limited powers of comprehension, here are some instances of how you jokers are pulling a Vizzy on us:

* According to the Wikipedia, The NITI Aayog comprises the following:

Prime Minister of India as the Chairperson

A Governing Council composed of Chief Ministers of all the States and Union territories with Legislatures and lieutenant governor of Andaman and Nicobar.

Regional Councils composed of Chief Ministers of States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories in the region to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region.

Full-time organizational framework composed of a Vice-Chairperson, three full-time members, two part-time members (from leading universities, research organizations and other relevant institutions in an ex-officio capacity), four ex-officio members of the Union Council of Ministers, a Chief Executive Officer (with the rank of Secretary to the Government of India) who looks after administration, and a secretariat.

Experts and specialists in various fields [4]

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Chairperson, the committee consists of

Vice Chairperson: Arvind Panagariya [5]

Ex-Officio Members: Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Suresh Prabhu and Radha Mohan Singh

Special Invitees: Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Zubin Irani and Thawar Chand Gehlot

Full-time Members: Bibek Debroy (Economist),[6] V. K. Saraswat (former DRDO Chief) and Ramesh Chand (Agriculture Expert)[7]

Chief Executive Officer:Amitabh Kant[8]

Governing Council: All Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors of States and Union Territories

Query: How many of these members have a trace of a connection with disability? Will they know one if it hit them in the face?

* There have been no end of pleas on our part that they have some PWD on their planning committees. Nevertheless, we are always presented with a fait accompli with deficiencies that would have immediately been spotted by a PWD. You just have to look at Vaishnavi Jayakumar's documentation of DRA's attempts at making CMRL (Chennai Metro Rail) think about making the metro accessible - and not screw up the last chance of having at least one means of public transport usable by PWD. When we finally did get a chance to take a look of the initial stretch from Alandur to Koyambedu, our worst fears had been realised : gap between train and pavement, toilets being totally inaccessible, ...

* I recently learnt (from one of Vaishnavi's emails, naturally) of something called Pre-Legislative Process (PLP). I am mentioning below a few pertinent links in the hope that people in our Government will involve and take the opinions of the people for whose supposed benefit they are attempting to enact a law. Even if some of the PLP considerations came into being at the behest of the erstwhile UPA Govt, these suggestions make sense. (e.g.., Pre-legislative scrutiny is a first step towards greater transparency in law-making.) Please do not ignore these links out of sheer cussedness!




Saturday, 6 May 2017

Let me lead my life; don't lead it on a one-way road to hell

This morning is the first Saturday morning of my `post-retirement life', and I can already see myself becoming one of those grumpy old scrooges who gets irritated with everything. Something to do with people not letting me lead my life the way I want to, constantly asking me to update my life and then rendering it unrecognisable and unfriendly. Let me do a slow rewind, starting with `the stone-ages' and fast-forwarding to  today's land of highways and information fast lanes.

When I finished a masters degree 44 years ago and went to foreign shores to do my doctoral work, I flew in a plane for the first time from a country where there was no television; where bicycling from home to the place of study (school or institute) was normal and feasible under half an hour; it was not uncommon to find a home with no phone; if you wanted information not available in your text books, then you cycled to a library, you had to find a plausible source of the desired information, possibly in the `reference section', and then copy down the desired information in a note-book - Xerox machines were still a decade away; and if you wanted to communicate with somebody in a different city or country, you had to write a letter, mail it, and await your response which could take some weeks to come. Despite this seemingly unnecessary self-denial, it did teach you to write well in order to communicate clearly and unambiguously. You did not say `how r u' or `lol' or `wtf'; these abbreviations are abrasive, often rude, and lead to entirely unwarranted misunderstandings - especially when they make up the fabric of conversation between people of different generations with different ideas about acceptable norms of behaviour! My first book was written in (an India-USA) collaboration with my (already former) thesis advisor in that era of `snail mail'; but thanks to his being from a generation which constantly honed its correspondence skills, that is probably my only totally error-free book.

With the advent of computers, much less time is spent on real work - what with constant beeps announcing some `notification' or the other that only serve to take your mind off what it was (and should have been) involved with; and the death of the reading habit was slow and inevitable. (How many kids of today even visit libraries; even book shops and libraries are inevitably filling their shelves with electronic items at the cost of books. When mobile phones first made their appearance, I postponed getting (dependent on) one for as long as possible, convinced they only lead to waste of time. When it could be postponed no further, I got one of those old thin and small phones you could hold and operate with one hand, where you used the phone keys for texting with `1' yielding `a',`b' or `c', with the `prediction' option kicking in as you typed more of the word.

This smartness seems to force you to (a) use large phones which do not fit easily into a hand or a pocket, (b) use two hands to receive a phone call, and (c) generally make the act of using a phone when vertical difficult if you have balance problems like I do. Also using the small QWERTY keyboard is tough if you have clumsy fingers like I do, so sending/responding to text messages is a major hassle. Then came smart phones which outsmart you by periodically asking, nay, persistently demanding that you `update' (now/overnight/later) your phone and revealing its new avatar after uploading, with many of the old options replaced by new and sometimes unfriendly ones! You can't keep on opting for `later' because the frequency of these demands increase exponentially, and eventually something does not work because you have an `old version'!

There is a pattern, in all walks of life, to this frantic desire for modernisation. For instance, the government tells you they will improve infrastructure (read `roads' - even though at least two people die every month due to going into the shit-filled sewers of our cities to try and de-clog them). Instead, they will try to widen roads, chewing up any pavement on  those infrequent occasions when they might have existed; then they will build a road separator, which will keep growing taller periodically, thus ensuring people cannot cross the streets; then they will remove all intersections and pedestrian crossings, thus ensuring that senior citizens or people with mobility problems can live in the cities only if they can travel in private cars; then they will threaten to build monster flyovers spanning several miles, whose construction will shamelessly and irreversibly cut down trees everywhere and reduce green cover. Never mind: just turn up the air-conditioner in your car!

What my mood needed to go over the top was this email from my DRA friends about

NITI Aayog's three Year Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities


The document talks about making a section of each class room accessible as per universal design standards in next 3 years. 3 years and just one section in each class room? It also mentions making just 10,000 buildings accessible in the next 3 full years?? Including the plan made under Accessible India Campaign that is been carried out so far?

Secondly no mention about any new programs like personal assistant program or supported decision making units. No attempt for the appointment/deputation of an inclusion focal point within NITI Ayog.

Last but most importantly, the action plan PDF as released by NITI Aayog, which is attached alongside, is not accessible for persons with print disabilities.

Yes Pradhan Mantriji, this report will go a long way in assuring your favourite Divyangjan that there is positive probability that your ministry may manage, by the year 2100, to have one school that is truly accessible and manage to maintain a state-of-the-art Resource Centre, be a repository of research on good governance and best practices in sustainable and equitable development as well as help their dissemination to stake-holders (point no. 10 in the stated `Functions' of this organisation according to Wikipedia).