But will the government manage to curb gross wastage in weddings when its own ministers are seen flouting norms?
Since the last several years the “Big fat Indian wedding” may have attained a glamorous tone but the clamour to stop lavishness bordering on vulgarity of wealth display has been making the rounds. Surprise, surprise, steps are being taken by the government itself, whose members of Parliament are also responsible for hosting extravagant weddings.
Recently, Delhi-based RTI (Right to Information) activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal invoked the law to find out the status of the committee meetings and recommendations made to enact a law similar to the Guest Control Order Act which was implemented in the 1960s but was not adhered to. In fact, the central government authorities are unable to find the original document so Assam’s State Guest Control Order Act of 1967 is being used as reference.
What are the repercussions if such a law comes by? Well, you would not be allowed to serve tandoori kebabs, Chinese, Thai, Italian and South Indian—all in one breath—to impress your guests. The plans are to have a Pakistani type law which is being well implemented there since the last 15 years of “one dish, one rule” for everyone.
As per the RTI documents procured by Mr Agarwal, the committee to reduce wastage of foodgrain and ostentatious behaviour witnessed during marriages, parties and meetings was formed on 30 May 2011 for an initial period of two months and extended up to 31 March 2012. (There been no consensus as yet.)
The committee decided to recommend measures on:
• Launching an awareness campaign through “Jago grahak jago” scheme
• Explore options to introduce legislative and administrative measures in due course
• Examine how the government/public sector could set an example by practicing austerity.
Discussion in the first meeting on 30 June 2011 zeroed on:
• Awareness campaign through audio-visual publicity in schools and colleges
• Sensitise the student community about avoidable wastage
• Identify NGOs involved in collection of surplus food for distribution to the poor
• Ask an expert organisation to conduct a survey on food wastage to assess the magnitude of the problem.
Accordingly, the ministry of consumer affairs, food & public distribution sent a letter dated 25 August 2011 to all state governments and union territories. It has directed them to conduct awareness campaigns in schools and colleges against vulgar expenditure in weddings and other public functions.
On 4 April 2011, even before the central government sent a directive to the state governments, a document procured under RTI shows that Sudarshan Agarwal, former governor of Uttarakhand and Sikkim wrote to prime minister Manmohan Singh stating: “it is with deep anguish that I am writing this letter as a concerned citizen of this country about the colossal wastage of food at weddings and other social functions in the country. It is painful to see 100 dishes being served to 1,000 or more guests at several of these weddings… Last year, a minister in Karnataka had a wedding reception for 30,000 guests in a pandal where he had put 350 air-conditioners. I sincerely feel that we need to revive the Guest Control Order which limits the number of dishes that can be served at dinners/lunches and also limits the number of guests.”
He further wrote: “This will help to embellish the image of the government and show that it cares. Unfortunately, the ministers themselves have not set an example. A couple of years ago, a union minister had his daughter’s wedding at a heritage hotel in Jodhpur and it is reported that 60 private aircraft landed in Jodhpur carrying the invitees for the wedding. People are no fools; they understand everything.” Mr Agarwal has demanded the promulgation and implementation of the “Guest Control Order”.
Thereafter, on 5 August 2011, Prof KV Thomas, minister of state for consumer affairs, food and public distribution sent a letter to Kapil Sibal requesting him to include this subject in secondary schools. The letter states:”as you are aware, large quantities of food served at social gatherings like marriages, parties, etc are wasted while millions of people go hungry in the country. A number of dishes served in such lavish parties exhibit vulgar display of wealth and ostentation… I shall be grateful if you could kindly consider including this subject in the syllabi of the secondary and higher secondary schools through the medium of National Curriculum Framework (NCF) under the NCERT on the same lines as disaster management and environmental awareness.”
However, efforts towards curbing weddings have met with strong objections from various political parties. Several years back a prominent minister of Maharashtra had invited more than 30,000 people from several villages and towns of his constituency. Being summer time, hundreds of ice blocks were put in the wells for cold, drinking water. While the media carried negative stories on this extravagance, the minister argued that this was the only time he could give back to all the people in whose houses he has had a meal, some time or the other.
Dear readers, we invite you to give your opinion in 100 words about whether you think lavish weddings should be curtailed or not? Write to [email protected].
The picture in Pakistan
• In 1997, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came up with the slogan “One dish, one rule for everyone” for marriage ceremonies
• The marriage (prohibition of wasteful expenses) law which was implemented permits only one dish (one curry, with roti, rice and salad)
• The number of invitees not to exceed 300
• Rs5 lakh penalty for those violating the norms
• The law apparently is presently being well implemented and violators penalised
The two main facets of the law:
• No person celebrating his or the marriage of any other person, shall serve or allow anyone to serve more than one dish to persons participating in the marriage in a club, hotel, restaurant, wedding hall, community centre or any other place except hot and cold soft drinks
• No person running a hotel, restaurant, wedding hall, community centre or club being the site of marriage ceremony or any caterer shall serve or allow anyone to serve more than one dish to the participants of the marriage ceremony other than hot and cold soft drinks.”
(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].)
This is a CK Birla company and has gradually evolved from being a single-product company,...
How the Railways the artificial pricing and flawed ticketing process is allowing tickets touts to skim off hundreds of crores a year
In part 1, Moneylife showed how the higher classes of travel on railway trains were being subsidised by the unreserved general class travellers and pointed towards how the concept of totally unreserved trains on certain routes and at certain times of the year were money spinners for the Indian Railways. In effect, what used to be called the “White Man’s Burden” in the colonial days has now become institutionalized in favour of the neo-colonials in Independent India.
And this disparity is growing. Lower revenue earning sleek luxury trains with brand new coaches like Rajdhanis, Durontos and Shatabdis get priorities on scarce shared resources like path, platform, waiting rooms, manpower, track, engine and station. The higher revenue earning freight trains, passenger, express and superfast trains with general unreserved compartments wait it out to provide a clear path—their rakes usually consisting of older coaches and low maintenance as well and nil facilities.
This then brings out the next part of the series: Why is reservation of railway tickets such a major issue almost throughout the year, especially but not restricted to peak seasons?
To help reach some answers, the writer not only analysed reports on the subject by Indian Railways, CAG, CRIS and other entities, but also discussed the issue with past and present employees of the Railways who have thorough knowledge of passenger reservation systems. In addition, contact was established with some technologically savvy touts and ticket providers, who know an assortment of methods by which to beat the system.
Also, I myself went through a large number of bookings and cancellations as well as analysis on some routes (typically Delhi-Patna, Delhi-Mumbai/Pune, Delhi-Bengaluru and Delhi/Goa and some more including what is probably the only one-way train in India, the 02779 on the Goa-Bengaluru route) and used three different identities in the bargain. Here’s how the Indian Railways, constantly complaining about a lack of resources, is on the other hand letting this huge amount of revenue leak through.
There are approximately 105,000 tickets kept aside for Tatkal reservations on a daily basis. Of this, it is estimated that at the very least 60% of them are booked with the assistance of agents, touts and others. The typical unauthorised add-on charges levied by the touts vary from about Rs300 for sleeper class to about Rs3,000 for 2AC tickets. This can be easily re-verified with any tout at any PRS centre, especially if you choose to go there around 4 or 5 in the morning, hoping to be first in queue, only to discover people are already sleeping or sitting in position from the night before.
Taking even Rs1,000 as an average, that is a straight Rs6-Rs7 crore worth of cash industry, everyday, thanks to Tatkal tickets because the present system of booking Tatkal tickets creates more problems than it solves. The big problems with Tatkal tickets are that:
(a) there is a fixed official premium for a product that has a much larger demand than supply and therefore people are willing to pay more as well as go through fake identity options.
(b) all the Tatkal bookings open at one fixed time—the day before the actual date of departure of the train—and therefore there is this huge surge and crowd, both physical and online.
The railway authorities have ostensibly been trying to solve this issue by making the process even more complicated, which only benefits the touts and others outside the system some more, without applying the real fixes, which are to:
a) make the premium dynamic, by a process of automated bidding, which handled transparently and simply, would remove all outside interventions.
b) make the timeline of these Tatkal bookings relative to the scheduled departure of the train.
The revenue currently lost would accrue to the railways. This is like dynamic pricing on airlines—some of us will recall paying premiums for airline seats when prices were fixed, and how that has vanished now that the airlines are allowed to vary pricing within price bands as per demand. This is simple yield management, and not rocket science—and it also permits the various discounted and other fares to co-exist.
This suggestion came from somebody within the Railways, as well as others who follow the subject, and when it was discussed with some touts, they were all universal in agreeing that it would put them, the touts, out of business. What better validation do you need? And the revenue generated would be diverted to the Indian Railways—whose perishable commodity the reservation is, in the first place.
(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.)