There are problems in every city and everywhere the poor and elderly have their own problems, but looking around what is good for us can be replicated if it suits our culture and ethos without compromising on the safety and security of our people
Mumbai is the fourth populous city in the world with a population of over 12.47 million, as per the latest census. So it can never be compared with a small city-state called Singapore, which has a population of 5.18 million and is ranked 38th in the world in terms of population. It is preposterous to compare these two cities, as the former is the capital of the richest state in India; the latter is a single city-state Nevertheless, leveraging technology, Singapore has developed a few very useful systems, which can be duplicated in our cities as well, with a view to improve the lives of ordinary citizens of our country. A short visit to Singapore strikes you at what could be achieved through proper planning and executing the plan with such precision that makes life easier and smoother for the people of the city. In fact its president till recently was of Indian origin and the present deputy prime minister-cum-finance minister is also of Indian origin. Singapore has a population of Indian origin of more than 9% and Tamil is one of the official languages of the country, along with English, Chinese and Malay.
Here I am talking of only three areas of surface transportation of the city which can considerably improve the living conditions in any city and can be implemented with the initiatives on the part of government officials and also the co-operation of the people of that city. I have taken the liberty to suggest these projects for Mumbai, as Mumbai is a city that has an excellent transportation network, a very good civic infrastructure, praiseworthy civic sense among the people of this city, a large number of philanthropists live here and the citizens are responsive to the changes, if it can save the environment for the benefit of the society at large.
The following facts and figures of both the cities would be useful to understand the need for a change in Mumbai which is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Electronic Road Pricing (ERP)
The most transparent, flexible and practical solution working successfully in Singapore to control congestion in roads is the electronic road pricing (ERP), which has been systematically implemented for over the last 10 years in this small city-state. The concept simply requires any car passing into the downtown to pay a toll, which is collected through an electronic mechanism without human intervention and without obstructing traffic in any way. And because it is controlled through technology, it is so flexible that the toll can be increased, reduced or even shut off any time of the day,
The scheme consists of ERP gantries located at all roads linking into Singapore’s central business district to discourage usage during peak hours. The gantry system is actually a system of sensors on two gantries, one in front of the other. Cameras are also attached to the gantries to capture the rear license plate numbers of vehicles. At present, there are currently 76 gantries in operation in Singapore and new gantries are fixed where congestion is severe, like expressways, etc.
An electronic instrument known as In-Vehicle Unit (IU) is fixed on the lower right corner of the car windscreen within the sight of the driver, in which a stored a value card or a cash card is inserted for payment of the road usage charges. It is mandatory for all Singapore-registered vehicles to be fitted with an IU if they wish to use the priced roads. They have made the system so efficient that the IU now accepts what is called EZ-Link cards, which are used by all individuals while travelling on bus, train (MRT) and ERP, and this card can be loaded with cash at any metro station where there are plenty of machines located conveniently for the purpose.
The present cost of IU is said to be Singapore dollars 150 which is equivalent to around Rs6,000 as per the present exchange rate. This could be produced much cheaper in India, what with the bright minds we have in the field of technology and innovation.
When a vehicle equipped with an IU passes under an ERP gantry, a road usage charge is automatically deducted from the cash card in the IU. Sensors installed on the gantries communicate with the IU via a dedicated short-range communication system, and the deducted amount is displayed to the driver on an LCD screen of the IU.
The charge levied through a gantry depends on the location and time, peak hour being the most expensive. The ERP is shut off during Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, so that people can use these very roads on these days without any payment. Foreigners driving foreign-registered cars on priced roads, during the ERP operating hours, could choose to either rent an IU or pay a daily flat fee when leaving Singapore.
If a vehicle owner does not have sufficient value in his/her cash card (or EZ-Link card) when passing through an ERP, the owner receives a notice of a fine by post within two weeks and the violator must pay the ERP charges plus a $10 administration fee within two weeks of the notice. Online payment is allowed; listing just the vehicle registration number is required. Otherwise, a penalty of S$70 is levied by sending a notice through registered post to the vehicle owner, which rises to S$1,000, or one month in jail, if not settled within 30 days. (One Sing $ = approx Rs40 at present)
Whether Mumbai is ripe to introduce such an ERP is a big question mark, as it hinges on what the state government and the municipal authorities feel about the need to control congestion on roads. If not today, in a couple of years when the number of cars may multiply many folds, the government may be left with no option but to start this system in some way or other, as this system prevails in many international cities of the world. So it would be worth the while to experiment now in a limited way, as any project of this type may take a minimum of two to three years to commence and stabilize, subject of course to the support of the citizens. Besides, as most of the traffic in the island part of Mumbai moves from north to south and vice versa, it is much easier to implement this project in Mumbai with minimum gantries compared to any other city in India. To begin with, this system can be introduced only on that part of the city, which allows only cars to operate and no three-wheelers are permitted to ply, like from Mahim Creek to Colaba and Sion Circle to southern tip of Mumbai.
To get the support of the people of Mumbai and to ensure that it does not support inflation by increasing the cost of transportation for common people, the ERP charges may be waived for all public transport—including buses and taxies— and two-wheelers, so that it is confined to only private cars at least initially. There will, no doubt, be objection from the car manufacturers and other business and industrial lobbies, but this project will ultimately provide respite to car owners by a smoother ride and lesser petrol consumption due to faster movement of cars.
The next question is whether it will result in a toll being charged for just coming out of your gate if you live within this central business district, where the system is to be implemented. These users can be exempted by a system of pre-registration of their cars with the authority concerned.
Bus Bays at Bus Stops
In Singapore more than 95% of the bus stops have bus bays attached to them, i.e. each bus stop provides a separate bay for the buses to alight and pick up passengers, so that the buses do not have to stop on the main thoroughfare. This will result not only in faster movement of traffic coming behind the buses without any obstruction when the buses stop at bus-stops, but also prevent people waiting at the bus-stop from spilling over to the roads whenever there is heavy rush during peak hours.
Lack of adequate space behind the bus-stops may have prevented the BEST (Bombay Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking) to have such a facility in Mumbai, though I understand that there are already a few bus bays in some parts of Mumbai. In the absence of dedicated bus lanes in Mumbai, it is time now to seriously think about expanding this facility to as many bus stops as possible for the purpose of reducing congestion, faster movement of traffic and preventing accidents on the roads, besides, overall improvement in the surface transportation in the city.
The land available in all the roads in Mumbai being limited, this may cost a fortune for the local authorities to even attempt providing this facility. But certainly a beginning can be made at least at bus stops now located in front of government land, if it is available for this purpose. In case of bus stops in front of housing societies, these bus stops can have their names, if they cede any part of the land for this purpose to recognise their contribution to the cause. Many innovative ideas can be floated to get the co-operation of the people and land developers of Mumbai, as this will be one of the simple methods to ease traffic on congested roads and provide some respite to both bus travellers and car owners in this metropolis.
Footpaths for pedestrian movement
It is really a pleasure to walk on the footpaths of Singapore. These pavements are so wide that there is enough space not only for pedestrians to move comfortably, but also most convenient even for wheel-chair users, as these pavements are so evenly laid out that there are absolutely no ups and downs and no obstructions whatsoever. This results in more people preferring to walk for their daily shopping needs to the nearby markets.
It is not uncommon to find narrow footpaths in our country with full of obstructions like hawkers occupying a major part, dogs sleeping comfortably, junction boxes of telecom and transformers of electricity companies laid out in the middle of footpaths, lighting poles indiscriminately placed in the centre with wires hanging perilously and building material dumped not only on the footpaths but also spilling over to the roads, making it impossible for the pedestrians to move, not to speak of elderly and disabled people who have no place even to stand and stare. If the municipal authorities take a little extra care while laying footpaths by ensuring that they are evenly laid out with no potholes and obstructions, it will make life much smoother for the people of any city, more so for Mumbaikars because of the large number of floating population in this city.
Not that everything is hunky dory, as there are problems in every city and everywhere the poor and elderly have their own problems, but looking around what is good for us can be replicated if it suits our culture and ethos without compromising on the safety and security of our people. The whole purpose of the exercise is not only to reduce congestion on the roads, but also to reduce pollution, save precious oil, improve environment and more importantly improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens to the extent possible. If this suggestion receives the interest it deserves, the state government can make it mandatory to use the funds generated from ERP to be compulsorily used for developing road infrastructure in the city without frittering away the funds on any other project. This is, however, only a food for thought for all those interested in improving the plight of the citizens of Mumbai and even if some action is initiated towards this goal by the powers that be with the cooperation of the affected citizens, the purpose of this article will be served.
(The author is a banking and financial consultant. He writes for Moneylife under a pen-name ‘Gurpur’)
The artist and thinkers need to push the boundaries of culture so that is not ossified by custom and so that it evolves. Our collective evolution towards a more inclusive society, a more caring one, depends vitally on debate and dissent
It has been some time since I read in the media of a bride, (read poor-woman-who-could-not-pay-dowry), being burnt. I am hopeful that I won’t read about women being burnt at the unholy altars of greed and oppressive chauvinism for a long long time.
Call me optimistic. For I am forever hopeful: That man will seek and find his better nature and that evolution, however, random wants this for us and the planet. But I may be placing responsibility on disembodied Gaea which could be onerous.
Unfortunately the tyranny of orthodoxy (a phrase that I have shamelessly purloined from my male muse, Howard Jacobsen) persists.
And another form of burning raises its fiery head.
I refer of course to books.
Recently Salman Rushdie’s opus, Satanic Verses has been the subject of controversy again. The keepers of conscience objected and the protectors of freedom were seen to be helpless and therefore tearfully angry.
I have not read The Satanic Verses and therefore cannot comment on its credence to blasphemy. My attempts to scale the heights of Mr Rushdie have been foiled consistently by the short but slippery wall of his language. I find him difficult. That is my failing, not his. But the quality of his writing or my inadequacy is not the issue.
The book was banned, I remember, almost two decades ago. It was considered as being hurtful to Muslims. Fatwas, which sound like exotic scarves, were flung madly at him. Mr Rushdie was in hiding, protected no doubt by burly men in black suits.
It was a time for political introspection and circumspection, as well. No one wanted this to be the petri dish for fermenting fanatics. As everyone said, if you do want to read a copy of this, get a bootleg copy. In India where reputably, more Scotch whisky is consumed than is distilled in Scotland, this should not have been too hard. And so it was. Hey nonny no, as the jester said. Soon it was Ho Hum as well, The SV another one of those memories like a somewhat unpleasant odour that one remembers but can’t quite place.
It wasn’t such a blot on our collective escutcheon. We had been known to ban books before. My father who was a civil servant working in the customs department of the recently formed government of India was once tasked with reading and then pronouncing his judgment on Lady Chatterley’s Lover. His opinion, which was ignored, was that he didn’t think it was one of DH Lawrence’s better works anyway and he didn’t see what the fuss was, if someone wanted to titillate themselves they could find much more prurient stuff lying around in our own literature, or even pictorially strewn about on the walls of crumbling temples.
The book was banned. Of course it is, I believe, no longer so. But then not many people read post-Victorian literature these days, so it would scarcely matter. And in any event, you could were reaching the sexual mores of those corseted and cosseted ladies, the Internet will be happy to provide.
The problem is the sleeping dog is not allowed to sleep. Awakened once again at a literary festival where fabulous writers gather, read from their works to the oohs and aahs of adoring fans and budding writers seeking inspiration and where they exchange mental fluids in social and literary intercourse.
As I understand it Mr Rushdie, I wish I could call him Salman and make him sound more approachable, was to have attended. There was a real or imagined security threat. Discretion being the better part of valour, the government discouraged the visit, though not banning it. Mr Rushdie chose to stay away, but wanted to speak via video link. But prior to this, incensed by what the writers thought was disguised censorship, but which could easily have been political expediency, some writers took the step of reciting from the SV itself. Totally brilliant on their part, I thought, to challenge the keepers of conscience! Seriously?
There were some murmurs that since time had passed, the SV should be un-banned. Which was even more inane as a suggestion as reading forms the SV in the first place. Time has passed, yes, but times have actually gotten worse, with India under siege from parts known and unknown. So taunting people who are not really amenable to ‘superior intellectual’ logic is kind of quite stupid to begin with.
And the SV is not really banned. (see ‘Internet’ ibid above)
The media who loves nothing better than a storm in a teacup tried hard to turn this into a Force Five cyclone. Tempers frayed, organizers cried, politicians shrugged and the world moved on.
In all this the issue of book burning, metaphoric or literal, was not brought up.
The tyranny of orthodoxy extends beyond religious sentiment. It now includes historical figures. A history of Shivaji and his times has been banned procrusteanly. Another account of Mahatma Gandhi has been banned. (Even painting long given to license, is not immune. India’s most famous artist ran to exile chased by the hounds let loose by custodians of virtue and died, stranger in a strange land.)
I don’t know whether any of those books are any good or not. But they are legitimate attempts at understanding our history and our roots. You should be free to accept or reject any conjectures or contentions made therein. Provided, of course, that they are not attempts made to incite people to arson.
This raises the impossible to answer question of public and common good versus the artistic freedom to express oneself.
I am all for artistic, literary and generally, all forms of freedom that one should legitimately hope for. (There are forms of freedom that i like that are not even strictly legitimate.) The problem is those who read are few, very few. Those who hear are many, very many. The hushed and therefore sinister innuendo, the not-whispered scream of outrage significantly amplified by bad public address systems and the cry of moral and self-righteous indignation are heard by these many, many hearers. Almost none of them will have bothered to read the original text to understand the context of what has been said. If after that, they were moved to umbrage, one could proceed to reason. But incited by hearsay content and comment on the content by others may bespeak to a sensibility not unlike the wild bison that roamed the prairies. But without my making any judgement on herd mentality, this is dangerous stuff.
The writers will absolve themselves of the responsibility of consequence. The artists will shrug with Gallic aplomb.
However, the person who loses house or limb in the fires conflagrated by this freedom will weep.
So what is the balance?
The government must afford protection but cannot guarantee it. It guarantees freedom of speech, but cannot ensure its practice.
The artist and thinkers need to push the boundaries of culture so that is not ossified by custom and so that it evolves. Our collective evolution towards a more inclusive society, a more caring one depends vitally on debate and dissent.
At the same time those who have the privilege and yes it is a privilege, to be able to think outside the box and who have the gift to express those thoughts must consider the consequence. As an entomologist you have every right and reason to go poking at anthills, but for the ants themselves this is a mountain and they will swarm in defence of their carefully built fortresses. Belief besieged has more fury than the wrath of empires.
The answer obviously lies in persuasion and education. It asks of us to engage with the government to help them manage what is a truly difficult dilemma, where they are damned if they do or cast into eternal perdition if they don’t. The answer does not lie in rising up at a conference and spouting the very same lines from the Satanic Verses that started the fatwa flinging in the first place.
Instead maybe all these eminent and clearly well meaning and earnest people could have protested about all the other books that have been banned as well, instead of just picking up cudgels on behalf of Mr Rushdie alone.
(V Shantakumar is the former chairman & CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India. He is now the managing partner at Doing Think, a consulting company. Mr Shantakumar has over four decades of wide ranging experience as a marketing strategist and communication specialist and has played a key role in the creation and growth of some significant brands in India.)
Market concentration tends to distort the efficiency of markets, which negates the accuracy of analytic tools. To successfully invest in these markets requires different tools to understand the different rules
Last week I read an article about the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) latest forecast. Confirming my most recent suspicions, the IMF was forecasting that China’s economic growth in 2012 would slow to 8.25% from the 9% projected in September. Although in most countries a growth rate over 8% would be considered to be highly inflationary, the IMF advised that China could inject additional stimulus into its economy via its weekly open market operations.
Normally a central bank uses open market operations as the primary means of implementing monetary policy. The usual aim of open market operations is to control the short-term interest rate and indirectly control the total money supply. But in China this is not necessarily the case. Interest rates may make little difference in China. Few Chinese use debt to buy homes and fewer still use credit cards. Loans at the controlled interest rates go to state-owned industries and private companies are forced into the huge shadow banking system where interest rates have nothing to do with the money supply.
The IMF’s recommendation tells more about how economists and analysts from developed markets look at China and other emerging markets than about the economic situation in China. The IMF looks at China through the lens of developed markets, where its recommendations would make a lot of sense. In emerging markets things are different. One of the most important differences has to do with market concentration.
Emerging markets are dominated by two types of companies: state-owned firms and family-owned firms. Each emerging market is dominated by one or the other and sometimes both. In either case each market is made up of a few whales and a bunch of minnows. So the diversification that investors expect by investing in emerging markets is often simply an illusion.
For example in Russia about 45% of the market is dominated by five companies. They include three enormous state-owned companies: Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, Sberbank, the largest Russian bank, and Rosneft, the company that ‘inherited’ the assets of Yukos. Together these three make up 35% of the market by capitalization. If you include two private companies, Lukoil, and Norilsk, the total market capitalization of just these five makes up over 45% of the Russian market. Gazprom and Sberbank make up over half the turnover. In addition the state also owns large chunks of other large listed companies including Transneft, a pipeline company; Sukhoi, an aircraft-maker; Rosneft; Unified Energy Systems, an electricity giant; and Aeroflot among others.
China is a little better. Its top five companies make up a bit less than 30% of the market. They include PetroChina, ICBC, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China. It is not only the concentration of a few large companies that dominate emerging stock markets, the companies are overwhelmingly concentrated in either finance or commodities, usually oil. It is not only former communist countries like China and Russia where state-owned companies dominate markets, the 179 listed companies in the Gulf are at least partially owned by 51 government entities. Governments controlled almost 30% of the region’s total market capitalization.
Brazil at least has a mostly private firm, the mining giant Vale, dominating its stock market, but the combination of Vale and the state-owned Petrobras make up 30% of the Bovespa alone. If you add the shares of Vale and Petrobras with the other three in the top five, which include two banks, Itau Unibanco and Bradesco, and, refreshingly, a brewer, Ambev, you end up with the most concentrated stock market in the world at 48%.
In contrast to the other BRICs, India is the model of diversification. The top five companies make up only 23% of the market capitalisation. Still almost three quarters of the economy is in the hands of either state-owned or large family-owned firms like the two Reliance firms controlled by the Ambanis and various bits of the Tata empire. India is hardly unique. Carlos Slim is the richest man in the world. His companies account for more than a third of the Mexican stock market. Even in Israel the market is controlled by a few oligarchs.
Investors around the world are advised of the wisdom of diversification including diversifying internationally and into emerging as well as developed markets. But there is hardly any diversification by investing in markets concentrated in state or family-owned commodities and financial firms. This type of diversification also misses investing in the more dynamic firms that are supposed to make up the emerging market growth story.
Finally, market concentration tends to distort the efficiency of markets, which negates the accuracy of analytic tools. To successfully invest in these markets requires different tools to understand the different rules.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected])