Attending a customer complaint in Kirkuk, an oil city that was well guarded and untouched by the ravages of war. The 11th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business in Asia in the seventies and eighties
Thanks to Abbas, who had held on the hotel room, after our tiring journey and escape from being bombed to pieces in the hotel in Basra that refused our accommodation, we enjoyed a good sleep in Baghdad. We still had some eggs, khubbas and cheese in our stock and enjoyed our breakfast, before we set our site for a long haul to Kirkuk.
I cannot recall now, but I think it took us some four to five hours to reach the oil city of Kirkuk in the north. Though we did see some military vehicles on the move, these were rare and far between; people were moving about in mule-driven country carts or in small pick-up vans. Life was normal.
By mid-day, we stopped to have something to eat and Stephen insisted that he drive though both of us offered to give him some rest. We reached our site location with some difficulty, assisted at a military check point. It now became apparent that this oil city was well guarded and untouched by the ravages of war that was so evident in the south, particularly in and around Basra.
We were met by a number of people at the inspection site and were introduced to the engineer in charge, who happened to be a lady. She spoke English, though she had also an interpreter to assist her in our discussions.
The testing area was simple and laid across a compounded area. “The pipes supplied by you are ‘leaking’ and ‘not acceptable’ and we need ‘immediate replacement’, that was as simple a demand as she could make. Her assistant gently reminded us as to what happened to an European engineer when the roads they were building simply collapsed, like a landslide; he was jailed until the contractor took the assistance of a local contractor team to repair the damage!
On the surface, we realised that there was an apparent leakage; and these pipes had been laid underground like a maze and pressure was applied for the water to pass through. The pipes that we had supplied, a small quantity in number, were non-pressure rain water pipes and were not designed for use under the ground; and main supplies were manholes and they had not found any problem anywhere in using them, which is why they were rather surprised that our pipes turned out to be ‘defective’.
The lady first insisted that the engineers should discuss the issue themselves; this effectively removed both Stephen and myself away from the scene and gave us the opportunity to move about in the area. Stephen was, after all, a veteran in dealing with Iraqis; and that too government officials. He also knew the poor supply conditions during the war. Even otherwise, Iraqis always gave preferential treatment to Indian tea. He had couple of boxes of tea bags, both bagged and loose and we had also carried one that we were using in our trip.
As the discussion, began, he suggested that it should nicely start with a warm good cup of Indian tea and magically produced his box; we then excused ourselves from the scene, once he left a packet of biscuits to go with it.
We wandered around the area; there were stacks of our manholes in crates; galvanized pipes and gunny bags of fittings, and also cast iron pipes and fittings. Most of these did not have brand names; ours always carries the Kajeco embossed on them, like we found one or two crates.
We were called back to join them for tea, as it was ready by then; the engineers decided that the best way would be to dig up a couple of pipes, at random, and see how and where the leaks have occurred, so that we can resolve the issues. We requested the engineer to pick and choose the pipes, so that they can be dug out; when they did, they were, of course, dirty, and had cracks; we came to the immediate conclusion that cracks must have occurred in unloading or in their long truck journey from Basra, because damaged materials are not allowed into the vessel by the port or shipping company's supervisors. Yet, this was possible when crates are unloaded into the vessel. The brand mark was not there; we picked up few more pipes, and the situation was same. We had taken photocopies of British Standards Specification with us, and handed them over for their use.
We reminded them that as these pipes are meant for rain water drainage, mostly on the walls from the terrace to flow down and if any of them had a pin hole or crack, these would be covered by rust in a few days. But, as the pipes were not of our make and our manholes had not given them any trouble whatsoever, we departed in great spirits. Our dispute was resolved, thanks to the visit we undertook and travelled all the way to Kirkuk.
Our return journey was relaxed and we did not confront any military convoys or had to stop at any check-posts. I think we reached rather late, possibly around midnight.
With the main object of resolving the complaint, we went to sleep, with Stephen suggesting that we leave for Basra the next day.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
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The CAG report on coal were observations which are under discussion at a very preliminary stage, do not even constitute ‘pre-final draft’ and hence are exceedingly misleading, the CAG said in a letter to the PM
Amid uproar in Parliament over the reports of the alleged coal scam of Rs10.7 lakh crore, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said the report from Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is only a draft. “It (CAG’s report on coal allocation) is not yet CAG report. It is a draft report,” he told reporters.
Separately, the Prime Minister’s Office said it has received a letter from the CAG at 1.30pm on Thursday, clarifying the coal block issue. “Among other things, the letter clarifies that... in the extant case the details being brought out were observations which are under discussion at a very preliminary stage and do not even constitute our pre-final draft and hence are exceedingly misleading. …pursuant to clarification provided by the ministry in exit conferences held on 9th February and 9 March 2012, we have changed our thinking… In fact it is not even our case that the unintended benefit to the allocatee is an equivalent loss to the exchequer. The leak of the initial draft causes great embarrassment as the audit report is still under preparation. Such leakage causes very deep anguish,” the PMO said in a press release.
Speaking with reporters, the finance minister further said, “normal practise is they (come out with) draft report... Then ministry’s comment comes. After the comments... There is a regular system through which it will be placed on the table of (both Houses) Parliament.”
The CAG’s draft report has estimated a Rs10.6 lakh crore loss to the exchequer on account of allotment of coal blocks without auction, during 2004 to 2009, to 100 private and public sector companies.
The draft created a political storm leading to disruption of proceedings of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
The official auditor has estimated a ‘windfall gain’ of Rs6.31 lakh crore (PSUs—Rs3.37 lakh crore and private parties—Rs2.94 lakh crore) based on the prices prevailing during the year of allocation on constant cost and price basis as on 31 March 2011.
The CAG report comes more than a year after its report on the allocation of scarce second generation (2G) telecom spectrum on first-come- first-service basis. It had estimated a presumptive loss of Rs1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer.
The pathetic and inadequate public transport system in Mumbai benefits everyone except the common people and hence it is left in dire straits, say experts
Mumbai’s public transport continues to be in dire straits with inadequate public bus transport along with issues of soaring fuel prices and fare hikes. And while transport activists and the government may lament about growing private cars, the fact is that the city is doing nothing to nudge people to migrate from private cars to public transport. In fact, one has a sneaking suspicion that this is deliberate, after all a whole eco-system around the automobile industry benefits from the poor public transport. Every one, except harried Mumbaikars, profits from it.
Consider this. The automobile industry is happy with zooming vehicle sales. According to city’s regional transport officer (RTO), during the twenty years from 1990 to 2010, the number of cars has gone up to 5.62 lakh from 2.40 lakhs while two-wheelers stood at nearly 10 lakh from 2.31 lakh. The numbers must be up significantly at present. The rising sales are also benefiting the automobile ancillary industry including tyre companies, servicing centres and other allied companies. Even the government is emerging as a beneficiary of this increase in auto sales.
For instance, RTO-Mumbai, reportedly, registered a 20% increase in the car registration and earned revenues of Rs3,500 crore in 2010-11 alone. In addition, there are revenues from the increasing number of driving license applications. Again, touts and agents are earning a moolah, as many people use them for obtaining or renewing driving license. Taxis successfully managed to increase fares by Re1. Private radio cab drivers of Meru are on an indefinite strike due to a dispute with the management. But commuters continue to bear the brunt of it.
However, while the number of cars is growing there is a dearth of adequate parking space in the city. More cars require more parking spaces. While the city has inadequate parking space, the BMC’s (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) solution is to hike parking charges without even constructing new parking blocks. The BMC simply uses scarce road space for more money. In fact on Sundays, it is been noticed that the parking rates in several prominent areas significantly go up.
To top that, traffic congestion, poorly maintained roads, refusal by the errant taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, add to commuters’ agony. Even there is no dedicated public bus service at the Mumbai airport, like other metros in India, connecting to other parts of the city. Taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers refuse to ferry passengers, especially on short distances while dearth of pre-paid taxis leaves passengers stranded at the airport terminals for as much as two hours. Moneylife Foundation submitted a memorandum for starting a dedicated air conditioned bus shuttle at the Mumbai airport to the chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan. The issue was also highlighted in newspaper DNA, but has got no response yet.
BEST (Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking), which has monopoly in city’s public bus transport, has far less buses compared to cities like Guangzhou (China), also one of the populated cities in the world like Mumbai.
Experts on transportation say while Mumbai’s local trains considered to be its life line, are over utilised, BEST is inefficient and under-utilized. There is no effort to rationalize their alternative use. When local train services are stopped on Sundays for maintenance work, Mumbaikars have harrowing travelling experience.
Take the case of Sunita (name changed), a daily commuter, who considers herself unlucky to be working on Sundays. Mega blocks, where train services are halted for several hours; and infrequent and reduced BEST buses, are the main reason why she hates travelling to Powai from South Mumbai on Sundays.
Consider this. Sunita prefers to travel by bus. But there is exactly one BEST bus, route number 27, from Worli Depot to Vikhroli (near Powai) after every half hour. “In such case air conditioned fleet is an ideal compromise between comfort and expense. But this service plies under limitations as BEST’s AS-1 does not operate on Sundays and the AS-2 starts only at 10.50am from Worli (I need to leave by 9 am); the first AS-3 is at 10.25 am and so on. Same is the case for other buses if one wants to visit the Western suburbs on Sunday,” she says.
She added that many BEST buses run on lower frequency. “Try taking a bus from SV Road, Santacruz to Flora Fountain or Churchgate or Colaba (or any stop along this major route). You will either have two to three buses appearing at once or nothing for half an hour. Meanwhile at Worli, you would see many buses go by only to stop at Tardeo. BEST bus no 81, 83, 84 are woefully infrequent and these ply on major routes such as SV Road from Andheri or Santacruz, through LJ Road at Mahim, directly to Prabhadevi, Worli, Peddar Road and Flora Fountain. This situation has deteriorated. Bus no 31, no longer stops at most bus stops and the route has changed to go via Worli Seaface. If Seaface is so important, why not have additional buses instead of redirecting an important route? There were some express buses introduced, C-1 or some such thing, but they have been discontinued,” she said.
She adds, “I don’t know if the BEST management sits at home on Sundays. They need to come out and get a perspective on passenger traffic. One would think a commercial hub like Mumbai needs adequate transport for all seven days of the week, especially given our population and a significant working population on Sundays.”
While the demand for efficient public transport is falling on deaf ears, activists on transport say that authorities should consider commuters’ issues before announcing any transport related project. “I wouldn’t say efficient public transport will reduce private vehicles. The argument is partly correct but given the desire and lifestyle people have, they still want to own a car. So taxes should be imposed on people using cars. This budget they (the BMC) gave allocation for road maintenance but this won’t solve the issue of traffic snarls. It’s high time the authorities rationalize the bus routes. They are running in losses because of poor management. Efforts should be made to actually understand the problems of the commuters”, says Ashok Datar, a Mumbai-based activist.
S Sriraman, professor of transport economic, University of Mumbai says that, “To address to issue of public transport, there should be more number of public buses. It’s a long pending demand. Special bus lanes at some routes should be provided and after trial and error finally BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) should be introduced. People will travel without their cars only if they have the option of a good public transport system. This also addresses the issue of inadequate parking spaces. There is also an urgent need to overhaul the BEST routes. Many of the buses are run empty while others are packed.”
The BMC in its recent budget mentions about roads, however improving the public transport system in completely ignored. Considering these factors, will Mumbai offer an effective and smooth public transportation making people to actually use it?