In the “Silicon Valley” of India, plumbers, carpenters and water supply are scarce while flat-owners bickering among themselves in illegal “associations” formed to run the buildings
There are essentially two types of residential buildings in Bangalore. The first type is those that are constructed by builders who use tracts of land from their land bank. The second is those where an independent home owner (often called a 'promoter') enters into an agreement with the builder to sell the plot to him. In return for the same, the builder demolishes the structure and constructs defined number of flats, of which, some of the flats are sold in the outside market. The balance flats are owned by the promoter. So, for instance, if the builder constructs 20 flats, depending on the type of contractual agreement, eight flats may be sold in the outside market while 12 flats may be retained by the promoter.
The flats built by top-notch builders like Prestige, Embassy, Mantri, Sobha Developers and Puravankara are sold at a premium depending on the location and the amenities available. These developers are particular about aesthetic appeal of the structures and also provide facilities like round-the-clock security, comprehensive elevator maintenance, swimming pool, gymnasium and a club-house. It is another matter that Bangalore faces a severe water shortage and so most of the swimming pools are defunct.
Water supply: There are essentially two types of water connections in flats in Bangalore. One is the borewell water that is used for cleaning and washing. The other is the supply from the municipality, popularly known as Cauvery water. The quality of the borewell water is such that it can corrode even your stainless steel vessels. The Cauvery water can't be used for drinking without filtering. Many areas in Bangalore do not have even the Cauvery water facility. So, it becomes a field day for drinking water suppliers. I have seen at least 15 different brands of mineral water supplies and people consume them simply because they are packed and sealed. They seldom worry about the nitty-gritties like whether the source of water is good or if the water is purified.
Incessant drilling for borewell water: Walk into any of the narrow by lanes of Bangalore and at any time of the day (or night) you can hear the huge noise of borewell machines drilling the ground. One of the residents near our area had drilled the ground and the noise stopped after 72 hours of incessant drilling. Even as we were wondering what happened, the penny dropped that the resident had become a supplier of tanker water. He proudly displays the board-"Manjunatha Water Supply".
Funny associations: Every building has a so-called association that has no legal standing. The so called municipal bye laws are rarely ever complied with. The association meets once a year to discuss the most absurd and silly issues that one can never imagine. However, they never discuss things like sinking fund, financial management of association funds, etc. Anyone who questions the association is bad but people who are silent spectators are good. I know of associations where bank balance of around Rs2 lakh lies idles in a SB account at 4% interest but the association members cringe to give Rs50 for menial work like tank cleaning, removing the weeds in the garden, etc. Despite the fact that water is in short supply, people wash their cars as if there is no tomorrow. Every household has a minimum of four vehicles-two cars and two scooters/bikes.
One can see independent home owners throwing garbage on the road and using water to wash their gates and the streets outside their homes. Even the IT crowd that stays in flats under a leave-and-licence agreement are quick to buy large vehicles (thanks to easy availability of vehicle loans), regardless whether there is adequate parking space or not. In case of independent home owners, they avail of free parking facility on the road. Many independent home owners block the roads to put up a shamiana to celebrate family functions.
Plumbing woes: There is a severe shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in Bangalore so if you are looking at repairing something, you are in for a rude shock. One has to cajole the carpenters and electricians to get your work done and they won't touch the debris generated.
Anyone with plumbing tools and tackles passes off as a plumber. On most occasions, these unskilled technicians aggravate the plumbing problem instead of solving it. Builders do the vanishing act once the flats are sold, so there is little recourse on that front. The second rung builders also do not worry about doing the plumbing in an aesthetic fashion. So, you will have drainage pipes bang above the parking lot on the front side of the building. Leaking water taps are never rectified.
Legal issues: In Bangalore each flat owner is given a 'khatha' certificate that indicates that he holds the share in the area on which the structure has been erected. To get this certificate, you have to grease the palms of people in the registration office. This system is something like the conveyance deed scheme in Mumbai (though there are differences). Other than this, one has very little control on what happens in the premises. Flats are bought and sold without anyone's knowledge. There are no transfer fees payable to the association. There is no need for a "No Objection" certificate at all, when flats are sold. Likewise, tenants walk in and out of the buildings, stay and vacate the flats as though it is a lodge. Neighbours rarely open the door to each other.
Despite being called as the "Silicon Valley" of India, the Garden City has not managed to keep pace with the changing times. Monstrous transformers stare at you from every nook and corner. Garbage is handled manually by scavengers who sort the garbage right on the road. Hooligans pass off as auto rickshaw drivers. Bus conductors do not issue tickets for short rides and even if you insist on a ticket, they brazenly ask you to return the ticket so that the same can be reissued. Street dogs swarm every street. The only advantage of living in this city is probably the anonymity it offers you.
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel is conducting a drive across Gujarat to file RTI applications for procuring copies of answer sheets. Interestingly, it has invoked Section 7(1) of the RTI Act under which information has to be given within 48 hours as it concerns ‘life and liberty’
Taking the issue of recurring student suicides across the country every year after results of various public or class examinations are declared, a state-wide campaign is presently underway in Gujarat to make students aware of their right to get copies of their answer sheets under the RTI (Right to Information) Act.
Already 500 students have filed RTI applications and interestingly, the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) which is steering the campaign, has invoked Section 7(1) of the RTI Act. Under this section, the citizen can demand information within 48 hours as it concerns 'life and liberty'.
The campaign's initiative also leans upon the historic Supreme Court judgment of August 2011 wherein the apex court had ruled that evaluated answer-sheets are covered under the definition of 'information' under the RTI Act. This judgment applies to all examinations including the Public Service Commissions, Universities, CBSE and other boards, professional bodies like ICAI-in fact, every examination conducted by any agency in India. (Ultimate victory for students: Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment orders access of copies of answer sheets of all examinations).
The Supreme Court order is important for MAGP as a case is pending in the Gujarat High Court against the Gujarat State Information Commission's order of 2007 which gave a similar order like that of the Supreme Court.
RTI expert and member of MAGP, Harinesh Pandya states, "an evaluated answer-sheet is of vital information to a student as his/her career depends on it. There have been many incidences in the past of students committing suicides because they have got lesser marks than what they had expected, particularly in school board examinations. This trend is seen across the country every year after Std X and Std XII results are declared. Therefore, this information falls under Section 7(1) (life & liberty) of the RTI Act. Students need not wait for 30 days for this information, but are eligible to get it within 48 hours. Once a copy of evaluated answer-sheet is given, the mystery of getting less marks will be resolved-which may save several lives."
The first such campaign was conducted three years ago, when 4,000 students across Gujarat had invoked the RTI Act at the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Board for procuring copies of their answer-sheets. Information was denied to them. The MAGP appealed to the state information commission. The Gujarat State Information Commission gave an order in favour of the students. However, at that time, the Board filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. The case is still pending but on the backdrop of the Supreme Court order, there is hope again.
States Pankti Jog, founder member of MAGP who is leading the initiative, "In the light of the Supreme Court judgment and now that the time is nearing for the declaration of the results of various examinations, MAGP decided to launch this campaign. We have created a help desk and already 500 students from schools, colleges, competitive examinations and also examinees of UPSC and GPSC have been educated as to how to use the RTI after their results are declared. We are very keen to see if the Gujarat Board provides information on the backdrop of the Supreme Court judgment."
The helpline number of the "Help Desk" is 09924085000. From Monday to Saturday, students can visit the MAGP office for guidance on filing RTI applications to get copies of their evaluated answer-sheets. Every Saturday, between 4pm to 6pm, experts will guide students. MAGP's mobile RTI clinic will also move through various cities and towns to spread awareness and give guidance. "Legal help will also be given at the doorstep of people who request it," adds Ms Jog.
Ms Jog informs that, "during the last four years students from across the country used RTI to seek copies of evaluated answer-sheets. The Supreme Court also in its judgment gave a clear verdict that evaluated answer-sheets are not exempted from RTI. Several state boards, including the Rajasthan Secondary Board has now decided to provide photocopies of evaluated answer-sheets proactively. In the light of this we hope that Gujarat students, who pioneered this movement, will be able to access copies of answer-sheets from the board. We also appeal to the students and parent community to volunteer for the campaign."
What does Section 7(1) say:
The section states: "7. (1) Subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of Section 5 or the proviso to subsection (3) of Section 6, the central public information officer or state public information officer, as the case may be, on receipt of a request under Section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request, either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in Sections 8 and 9: Provided that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within 48 hours of the receipt of the request."
Contacts for MAGP's answer-sheet drive:
MAGP: Pankti Jog and Harinesh Pandya : 9824048842; 09909006791
Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel
B-3, Sahajanand Tower,
RTI Helpline: 09924085000
MAHITI ADHIKAR GUJARAT PAHEL's photostream
(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
Gender determination can be stopped if stricter audits on how ultra-sound machines are followed. But this would mean a straight 70-80% drop in business in India. Which manufacturer of ultra-sounds wants to see that happen?
The previous article Satyamev Jayate: Follow the money trail to catch a criminal ended with a promise to reveal more about the core reasons behind gender determination. Here it is, and let me be frank, this has not been an easy article to write. It is very difficult to try to present these facts in a simple and lucid fashion. The reality is that one is living through these issues, and the strain that medical episodes have on oneself, close friends and family, do have an impact. Most of all, there is this amazing reluctance, bordering on fear, within many in the medical community, to discuss this subject-unless in the strictest of confidences. So, some facts first:
Fact # 1: Today, the business of 'healthcare' as it is known is almost 15% of the GDP (gross domestic product) of the United States of America. This percentile figure would be the natural target in a rapidly evolving economy, like that of India's, especially with the middle-class as a target.
Fact # 2: It takes immense strength of purpose, character, intelligence, scheming, support as well as available power, to be able to take on the multiple lobbies which support this global healthcare business. These are not just the direct lobbies from within the profession, but also the lobbies representing other entities which stand to gain from expenses incurred on healthcare.
Fact # 3: Within the Indian context, there is the additional issue of superstition, social issues like female infanticide and more. And they are being misused for fiscal gains by the explosive mixture of religion and politics that prevails in India.
Fact # 4: The benefits of modern medicine and healthcare are, at the same time, not to be denied in any way whatsoever. Many of us are alive and kicking today because of this boon to mankind. Some of us have the strength to live out our truths because of this, too, present company included.
But it is the misuse which has deeper roots than simply the superstitions and social evils that provide business opportunity for the petty greed of clinics and hospitals offering gender determination and infant or foetus murder services. And, as always, this misuse starts from the top. In this case, both corporates and authorities are involved, without which this business can not survive.
Simply defined gender determination would not be possible without an ultrasound machine. Typically, the gender of a baby is known around the 18th week or so, though some clinics claim they can do so earlier-14th week also-the reliability decreases the earlier the ultrasound is done. It is also claimed that there is a DNA-based test available, which can be used as early as the 10th-12th week, with a blood sample, but results from this are not reliable at all. In both cases, it is not unknown for these illegal gender determination clinics to claim that the foetus is that of a girl, so that they make more money in the abortion.
If the manufacturers of the ultrasound machines and consumables used wanted to participate in blocking gender determination, then it would be as easy as (a) installing a hard drive that will retain data for an extended period of time and (b) audit with electronic records the consumables used on these ultrasounds. Matching the data thus obtained with the identity of the patient would provide a very decent mapping of misuse, if any, by the people owning and operating the ultrasound machine.
It would also mean reduced business for the sellers of the ultrasound machine and consumables, and the full business chain therein, as well as reduced income for the authorities if this was implemented. That part is simple to see, it is pure economics, and the parties involved will do anything to protect their business. Include kill the fully-formed girl child, if required, and let us not squirm away from these hard facts. And let me not name the global MNCs involved, because that is simple to find out, and dangerous to publish.
That's one part, the business model of the purveyors of a technology which has its good side also-the same technology is used, as mentioned in the previous article, also to help childless couples have babies. And more. But then, as more than one source from the ultrasound industry told me-if the illegal gender determination business were to somehow stop overnight, then business in India would be down by a straight 75%-80%. Which manufacturer of ultra-sounds wants to see that happen?
But it is the dark side of the foetus termination and infanticide business, which goes deep into the economics of life re-generation therapies and supposed cures for everything from sexual disorders to skin rejuvenation, and much more-including organ farming. This is the one which flourishes and provides what commerce has always called a "new income stream" -and becomes the subject of much speculation. That it exists is a simple fact of life-and that it is getting absorbed in mainstream healthcare is also becoming acceptable.
So how does one follow these diverse money trails?
1) Stricter audits on how ultra-sound machines are used. Implementation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostics Test Act of 1994 on a war footing with exemplary punishments. Existing and new ultra-sound machines to be provided with un-eraseable hard drives and "silent observer" tools which can be monitored online. External audits to hold the manufacturers, who typically also provide AMCs, liable for not detecting compliance by the owners/operators of these ultra-sound machines.
2) Stronger tracking back of airway bills and customs documentation from the Indian customs and central excise sources pertaining to the export and domestic movement of body parts, amino acids, and foetuses-exported for whatever reason. This will require opening up of such information into the public domain without the typical issues of 'privacy'. The rules for carriage of such human remains, organs, tissue, amino acids or any other nomenclature, by air cargo out of India, are a good point to start from, without going into grisly details here.
If just these two money trails are suitably tracked, and action taken, then a large part of the problem can get solved.
Of course, the solution from the sociological approach is not covered here. But then, this was more about the money trail.
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love-writing.)