The tragedy of 24 students from an engineering college, who were washed away by the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh, calls for a deep introspection on why such tragedies keep happening
As per news reports, at least 24 students, including six girls from Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology (VNR) in Hyderabad, who were on a college trip to Manali were washed away by the strong water currents when there was a sudden discharge into the Beas River from a reservoir of the 126 MW Larji hydel power project around 2km away. The students were posing for photographs, when they were washed away by the water surge.
The Mandi district administration of Himachal Pradesh will investigate into whether people downstream were cautioned before releasing the water, but according to the students of VNR, there was no sign board to tell visitors that this was a dangerous area for visitors. However, nothing can replace the loss of lives of these precious youngsters. As of 3pm Monday, rescue workers had recovered five bodies, while the fate of 19 other students washed away in the sudden flood is still not known.
In India, water tragedies happen with regularity due to two chief reasons. Firstly, the department in charge of the water body hardly ever gives priority to putting up cautionary boards at strategic places or deploy patrolling to deter tourists from getting into the flood perimeter. Secondly, tourists, particularly youngsters, take unnecessary risks by getting too close to the water body, be it a lake, river or sea in their enthusiasm for taking photographs on cliffs of hills and hill slopes. No amount of warning by the police or life guards helps, and in their exuberance think such tragedies happen only to someone else. Such scenes are particularly seen during monsoons, which is also the most dangerous time in the mountains
During my recent Goa trip, a Jeep with the Life Guard and his team inside it, was driving up and down the sea shore of the Baga Beach, appealing through his megaphone to step back from the waters. It was around 6pm and the person on the mike was imploring the vacationers not to risk their lives. “The water level has become dangerous;” “you may be suddenly swept off by the sea;” “that your stupid courage could end in a water tragedy;” “please listen to what I am saying, please get off.” However, we were aghast to see families with young children refusing to budge. Some mocked at the Jeep when it came around one last time. The Life Guard on the mike said - “this is the last warning to you. Please do not play with your life.” It had hardly any effect as at least one-fourth of the crowd continued to revel in the noisy waves that hit the shores. While that evening was lucky for everyone, last year, on a beach in Goa, five Pune-based techies were drowned during a picnic.
A similar scene can be witnessed in various monsoon picnic spots of Maharashtra. Lonavala-Khandala is a particularly scary example, when around one lakh people, most of them youngsters, come to get drenched in the rains during weekends. Bhushi Dam, which is the star attraction, invariably registers six-seven deaths due to drownings every season. The Lonavala Police has been issuing warning signs, using blaring loudspeakers and pamphlets; local youth organizations volunteer to be guards; caution boards too dot the area but hardly anyone pays attention to them. Drowning deaths also occur at the foots of various gushing waterfalls, not only in Lonavala-Khandala but in Malshej Ghat and several other popular monsoon picnic spots across Maharashtra.
Last year, while some of our family members were on a joyous boat ride in the backwaters of Kerala, their hearts froze when a bunch of youngsters were dancing on the rocking boat, creating a racket and trying to touch the water, thus tilting the lightly rocking boat every now and then. This could easily have led to the capsizing of the boat. Thank God it didn’t!
PS: This is not to pass the buck of the recent tragedy onto the the 24 students of Hyderabad College. They were caught unaware with the huge water release from the dam. This is the time to ponder, as monsoon sets in, to learn from earlier tragedies through self-restraint by adhering to safety norms.
(Vinita Deshmukh is 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 and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
As a low cost, no frills airline, AirAsia will be a completely new experience for air travellers in India. Travellers who have been used to 'free' bonanzas like extra baggage allowance, hand bags, service on board and other amenities, will now have to forego these luxuries!
According to press reports, with the Air Operators' Permit (AOP) from Directorate General of Civil Aviation in place, Air Asia is scheduled to launch its inaugural service from Bangalore to Goa, on 12th June, with a single A 320 aircraft.
As a low cost, no frills airline, it will be a completely new experience for air travellers in India. Travellers who have been used to free baggage allowance, hand bags, service on board and other amenities, will now, have to forego these luxuries! In fact, in Air Asia's flights, they will have to pay for every single service that is offered.
With even check-in baggage dis-allowed, the only concession appears to be a 7kg hand baggage. No doubt, the well trained staff will ensure that the rules are strictly followed.
However, the DGCA appears to have already objected to the AirAsia baggage plans, which envisages pre-booked check-in baggage upto 15kgs being charged Rs199 (as against Rs300 if checked in at the counter); the rates go up to Rs498 (upto 20kgs), Rs999 (upto 25kgs), Rs1,499 (upto 30kgs) and Rs1,999 (upto 40kgs). Should the passenger check baggage in at the counter, every kilo above 15kgs will be charged Rs250. So, passengers who usually carry a lot of luggage may obtain a cheap fare ticket, but literally pay through the nose for their luggage. It appears that the DGCA has already advised AirAsia to remove these charges detailed on their web site, and have directed them to approach the regulator for approval. Details of the luggage charges may be announced in a day or two.
Also, as a general airline practice, when tickets are cancelled well in advance, taxes are also refunded after deducting a certain percentage for cancellation; last minute cancellation gets no refund at all. Existing Indian carriers refund fares subject to a maximum cancellation charge of Rs1,500. Who knows, the domestic carriers, who have been raising these objections to prevent AirAsia from taking the sky, may now come out with a more lenient policy on baggage, apart from cut-throat air fares they are offering to spite AirAsia!
A discussion was expected between Prashant Kumar, Chief of DGCA, and AirAsia representatives with regard to the baggage charges policy.as . Indian passengers are known to carry huge amounts of luggage wherever they travel. The proposed baggage policy from AirAsia might just change this quintessentially Indian habit.
Loss making domestic carriers like SpiceJet, and others like GoAir and IndiGo have also reduced their prices in to meet the price challenge from AirAsia. Apart from fighting on the price front, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) have filed a case in the High Court at New Delhi, scheduled for hearing on 11th July.
AirAsia began its quest for entry into the Indian market some 15 months ago. Though they may be starting operations with just one aircraft, their plan is to bring in one more every month. Besides, June is not the peak "season" month for travelling, and they expect to have a few more when the peak season starts.
The major issue facing AirAsia is the verdict of the High Court. If it goes against them, they may have to postpone their flights or make an appeal, in which case, the FIA would have won the initial advantage. However, it remains to be seen how the High Court rules.
In the meantime, both the Airline industry and the hospitality industry are hoping that the Finance Minister would make suitable provisions in the ensuing Budget to reduce taxes on the hospitality sector and jet fuel. After all, the increased cost of jet fuel is eventually passed on to the passenger.
The outcome of the dog fight between FIA and AirAsia will also affect the Tata-SIA full service airline that is now awaiting AOP. In this new airline, Tata Sons hold 51% stake and Singapore Airlines 49%. This new airline, when it takes off, is expected to bring about a major change in the airline industry in the country in terms of passenger comfort and service.
Which is why, perhaps, domestic airlines are doing what they can to prevent both AirAsia and Tata-SIA coming into the scene, as they will be hard to beat. Their entry is what the air travellers hope to see in the near future.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also 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; and later to the US.)
According to the independent MP, we have a situation in India where regulators have failed deliberately or because of incompetence, but are still not held accountable
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, has requested Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to undertake a comprehensive review of independent regulators; for significant reforms in governance and building or rebuilding credible and performing regulatory institutions that are capable of handling challenges of economic regulation in today's India.
Mr Chandrasekhar, in the letter sent to the Finance Minister wrote, "We have a situation where regulators have failed deliberately or through incompetence, but are still not held accountable. There are instances of malafide conduct on the part of regulators that are obvious and known, but no action has been possible because of ambiguity of oversight over these regulators. Hundreds and thousands of crores of Taxpayer money has been impacted by regulatory orders and decisions, and there has been unfortunately little or no debate or review of these decisions."
"The recent payment crisis at the National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) was yet another example of poor oversight and regulation, adding to the already severely impaired and adversely affected credibility of the Indian finance sector on the back of recent allegations of money laundering by public and private banks in the country, and the depreciation of the rupee," the MP said in his letter.
Under the existing architecture, the financial sector is regulated by eight agencies, which are Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and Forward Markets Commission (FMC), Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT), Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC), and Financial Sector Development Council (FSDC).
However, from the consumers’ perspective, the track record of these regulators is a huge disappointment. In fact, there is hardly an example of an investor or saver receiving satisfactory redressal of his grievances from these regulators.
When first introduced in India, independent regulators were envisioned as strong and credible institutions that would safeguard consumer interest and act as catalysts for investments by ensuring a predictable set of ground rules. Instead, they have declined and morphed, in most cases, into a second bureaucracy - indistinguishable in conduct, will and performance from the regular bureaucracy.
Moneylife has been highlighting the issue of regulators and their lack of accountability towards investors and savers. Key regulators like, RBI, SEBI, IRDA, PFRDA and FMC do not have any mechanism to directly engage with savers.
Consequently, regulated entities like mutual funds, investment banks, insurance companies, banks and their industry associations such as Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI), Association of Investment Bankers of India (AMBI), Association of National Exchanges Members of India (ANMI) and Indian Banks' Association (IBA) do not engage with savers either, which is a sad state of affairs.
In fact, almost all industry 'summits' or seminars of insurance companies, capital markets and banks do not even have a token session or panel discussion that invites their investor or customers.
Here is the letter sent by the MP...