Citizens' Issues
Kisan Gokuldas Mehta: Remembering a national hero, and the force behind BEST

As citizens of India, we will forever be grateful to the many contributions of this unsung hero, Kisan Gokuldas Mehta

 

Kisan Gokuldas Mehta - a freedom fighter, a  public servant and an environment activist - breathed his last on 7 March 2015 at the age of 91 after prolonged illness. His achievements include the inception and implementation of the “Electric Supply to Slums Scheme”, the transformation of BEST into a public service, as well as the establishment of the Save Bombay Committee in 1973.  His contribution to the nation and to the city of Mumbai can never be forgotten.
 
Born in 31st August 1924, Kisan Mehta was highly educated man – he held a B.A in Economics and History, an LLB from Bombay University and Diplomas in Electrical Engineering and Prestressed Concrete. 
 
A true patriot, he participated in the Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942, for which he was imprisoned in the Yervada Central Prison, Pune for eight months in 1943. The sentence could do nothing to crush his spirit.
 
On his release, he conceptualised and established the Indian National Exhibition – a display of posters, illustration and translations, depicting the history of the Indian's struggle for independence. Inaugurated by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1947, the exhibition was put on display at various locations in India and (now) Pakistan between 1947 and 1950, during which time it was viewed by over 5 million people. 
 
He used exhibitions to create public awareness yet again during the Sino-Indian war in 1963. He created the "Himalaya Hamara Exhibition" in 1963, which depicted the importance of the Himalaya to India and its people – not just as a frontier, but its spiritual, cultural, and religious significance. The exhibition, which was put up at the Cross Maidan near Churchgate and Flora Fountain, was spread on 50,000 sq metres of land and had a model of Himalaya measuring 150 metres by 80 metres and 10 metres high, and attracted 2 million visitors in 60 days. 
 
He later served as a public servant for several years, and his achievements during this time are relevant till date. In 1968, he was elected Municipal Councillor of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and subsequently appointed as the Chairman of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST). He was responsible for the transformation of the BEST into a committed public service, which is to this date a lifeline for commuters in the most populous city in India. 
 
He also conceived of and implemented the "Electric Supply to Slums Scheme" for providing electric supply to slums in Mumbai, despite formidable government opposition and existence of a retrograde law. Since its inauguration in 1971, the scheme has been used as a prototype and replicated at several unauthorised slums by local authorities throughout the country, uplifting the lives of many underprivileged. 
 
His retirement didn't stop him from engaging in important causes and was actively involved in working for environment and resource conservation. In 1973, he set up the Save Bombay Committee (SBC), which works in the areas of urban and regional planning and development, and has raised a voice against many megaprojects such as Sardar Sarovar Dam on the River Narmada, Tehri Dam Project in Uttar Pradesh, and Silent Valley Project in Kerala, that posed significant threat to the environment as well as local inhabitants. 
 
Kisan Mehta also worked toward bringing about change in the country's legal structure so as to ensure for assuring accountability and transparency in public service. His efforts have led to the enactment of the The Maharashtra Urban Areas Preservation and Protection of Trees Act, 1975 and Environment Protection Act in 1981, as well as the setting up of the Ministry of Environment and Forests under the Central Government in 1978.
 
He travelled across the globe, participating in and presenting technical papers at the United Nations and other conferences on issued of urban development, public health and waste management and sustainable agriculture. 
 
As citizens of India, we will forever be grateful to the many contributions of this unsung hero. 
 

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How Railways can raise funds for its ambitious projects
Over the next five years, the Railways plan to invest in dedicated freight corridors, high-speed rails and elevated corridors, obtain rolling stock production and to develop logistic parks for facilitating Rail movement. All this requires an investment of about Rs8.5 lakh crore
 
Recently, while presenting the Railway budget, Minister Suresh Prabhu had indicated that, in the next five years, Railways hope to invest Rs8.5 lakh crore to cover various projects already identified by them.  They expect to generate surplus funds of Rs7,286.46 crore by the end of this month and project this to almost double to Rs14,265.71 crore by the next year.
 
However, the projects on hand alone would require over Rs2 lakh crore to complete, over the next few years.
 
It appears the Railway Minister has already some plans and has been discussing the prospects of getting some surplus funds from Life Insurance Corp of India (LIC), whose assets are said to exceed Rs20 lakh crore, and would probably be happy to invest Rs1 lakh crore in the Railway infrastructural projects.  As the world's fourth largest railway network in the world, there ought to be no problem in LIC coming to the aid of Indian Railways.
 
Over the next five years, it is reported, that the Railways plan to invest in dedicated freight corridors, high speed rails and elevated corridors, like in Mumbai, obtain rolling stock production and in development of logistic parks for facilitating Rail movement.
 
It may recalled that Minister Prabhu had also referred to the issue of coming out with Railway Tax Free Bonds to raise the needed funds as this will help in the railway development projects. Apart from huge daily passenger traffic, Railways carry millions of tonnes of raw materials like coal, iron ore and others to and from place of manufacture.  
 
Take for instance, the question of coal movement itself which has the biggest bottleneck of evacuating coal from pitheads to the point of consumption and this has been a perennial problem due to shortage of rakes. Imported coal is also lying in millions of tonnes at ports for the same reason and this gap is likely to widen, as the production of coal increases when the new owners of coal mines take control, after the auction process is complete. Therefore, a new approach is needed to check if this can be successful.
 
Since the wagon needs are standardised, why not avoid the usual practice of calling for tenders? Can this not be simplified by a rate contract like the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D)? An estimate of annual needs can be advised to the wagon builders, and they can also plan their raw material needs so that unnecessary processing time for this tendering can be eliminated?
 
The second issue would be to invite the main buyers of coal, iron ore etc, to be able to "finance" the purchase of these wagons, under the same DGS&D contract, and make it available to miners of these minerals!  One can go one step further, and have these wagons duly identified as "belonging" to this or that company, but with individual colour identification. These rakes must have priority in movement.
 
The most important aspect is the urgent and imperative need to have a detailed study of the use of railway tracks and employment of a Coal Express by Coal India on these tracks. The tracks are not in use all the time, and without disturbance of other rail movement, all these cargo trains can have priority in movement.
 
In the meantime, the Parliament is already considering the declaration of rivers to be converted into "national waterways" and this will reduce the stress on Railways for the time being in those sectors that are used for coal or other raw material movement.
 
Finally, for special freight corridors, Railways can also seek funding from main users, so that these can be developed without further delays.  If exclusive corridors or tracks are required, why not the Railways permit the consumer (buyer) to "adopt" this as a project and meet its costs?
 
Minister Suresh Prabhu may have similar ideas to generate funds and one may expect some interesting announcements 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.)

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Satyam Computers: Special Court to announce final verdict on 9th April

While ruling out further adjournments, the Special Court said it will proceed even if counsels of accused do not show up

 

A special court in Hyderabad trying the multi-crore accounting fraud in erstwhile Satyam Computer Services Ltd (SCSL) Monday said it will pronounce its judgement in the case on 9th April.
 
Citing voluminous documents in the case, Special Judge BVLN Chakravarthi said, "On April nine, the judgement will be pronounced. I am making it very clear."
 
"It is mandate of the Supreme Court that judgement has to be pronounced. If any obstruction is caused it is contempt of (apex) court...It is your (accused) duty to bring your advocates. Court will go ahead with its proceedings," he said.
 
The judge's observation came, as defence counsels were not present in the Court ostensibly because of the ongoing agitation of Telangana advocates, who have been boycotting courts demanding separate high court for the new state.
 
"April nine will be the final date for the verdict. No question of further adjournments. Court will not wait," the judge said.
 
During the last hearing on 23 December 2014, the court had said it would pronounce the verdict today.
 
On the possible reason for pushing further the judgement date again, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) counsel K Surender cited the voluminous documents of the case as well as the time needed for "typing the judgement."
 
Touted as the country's biggest accounting fraud, the scam had come to light on 7 January 2009, after the erstwhile company's founder and then Chairman B Ramalinga Raju allegedly confessed to manipulating his company's account books and inflating profits over many years to the tune of crores of rupees.
 
Raju was arrested by Andhra Pradesh Police's Crime Investigation Department (CID) two days later, after he allegedly confessed to the fraud, along with his brother Rama Raju and others.
 
All the 10 accused in the case, who are out on bail, were present in the court today.
 
Around 3,000 documents were marked and 226 witnesses examined during the trial that began nearly six years back.
 
Besides Ramalinga Raju, the other accused in the case are: his brother and Satyam's former Managing Director B Rama Raju, former Chief Financial Officer Vadlamani Srinivas, former PwC auditors Subramani Gopalakrishnan and T Srinivas, Raju's brother B Suryanarayana Raju, former employees G Ramakrishna, D Venkatpathi Raju and Ch Srisailam and Satyam's former internal chief auditor VS Prabhakar Gupta.
 

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