In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
The poorly-conceived, poorly-designed, poorly-constructed, hurriedly-executed, ‘big-ticket’ skywalks in Mumbai are a scam of sorts. Are we seeing a similar pattern in all MMRDA’s projects?
In any suburban railway system, whether it is Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai, commuters need to cross the tracks at least once during their daily commute. The frequency of suburban trains is high, but somewhat random. If there are more than two lines, as is the case in Mumbai, the randomness increases. To avert accidents like commuters getting run over, foot overbridges (FOB) have been provided. Level crossings are being done away with to enable uninterrupted movement of road traffic and avoid rail services slowing down, by providing road overbridges (ROB). Sometimes, instead of FOBs, pedestrian subways or pedestrian underpasses have been provided, as at most railway stations in Navi Mumbai, and even at Churchgate and Borivli stations. At terminuses like Churchgate and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (previously Victoria Terminus) or Panvel, FOBs are not required at the terminal ends.
When the number of railway lines increases to four, as is the case on the Mumbai suburban railway system and at stations such as Dadar, Bandra, Andheri, Borivli, Virar, Kurla, Thane, Kalyan and from Vashi to Panvel, more than 75% of commuters cross the tracks at any peak period. The growing commuter population increases the density not only on the FOBs, but also on the municipal roads adjoining the stations and on the approach roads.
While population growth increased the commuter density on the access roads to the stations, commuter dispersal which previously happened on foot or on bicycles and to a limited extent by the BEST's feeder buses and taxis, changed to motorcycles, scooters and then autorickshaws (introduced in suburban Mumbai in the 1970s), and feeder BEST buses, private contract buses and taxis, pushing cyclists out of their parking spaces and also making it difficult for walking and operating feeder bus services. With so many people at any one station at a given time, it was only natural that hawkers began to serve them with fruits and vegetables, and put up for sale several utility items that a person could buy on his/her way to work or on the way back home. This added to the chaos at the outlet points of stations, necessitating in-planning Station Area Traffic Improvement Schemes (SATIS) under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) in 2003. Unfortunately, this could not be pursued with on the ground level beyond Ghatkopar and Chembur stations and even here the SATIS have not been done fully. The Thane SATIS, although not under the MUTP, seems to have overcome the chaos that prevailed earlier. Thane does have an elevated access way which is now termed as a "skywalk". The unique feature in Thane is that buses climb up the approach ramps to the FOB levels, while taxis, autorickshaws and cars drive at the road level, facilitating comfortable onward commute for a majority of the rail passengers.
Since every commuter uses the FOB, it was felt that if the commuter is provided with a continued obstruction free walking space at the FOB level, leading to the spot from where further commute is facilitated, the commuter would be significantly unburdened and happy. Since similar facilities existed in world class cities like Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and in Europe, the planners on the Mumbai Transformation Support Unit felt it could be emulated here too.
This concept of commuter dispersal is nothing new to Mumbai. It was very effectively provided at Charni Road station in the 1970s. Only very recently this was further augmented by a sheltered footbridge at the Opera House end. Success of the Charni Road footbridges was primarily because road traffic on Queen's Road (re-named Maharshi Karve Road) was quite heavy and required a smoother flow. Also, Girgaum had plenty of shops and vendors catering to commuters returning home from Girgaum, and so hawkers did not line the way at Charni Road Station. Another example is at Vile Parle Station, on the east.
The access to Bandra station on the east was narrow. It was difficult for feeder buses to turn around and pick up passengers going to the upmarket CBD at Bandra-Kurla-Complex (BKC), where the volume of commuters was growing rapidly. Autorickshaws added to the chaos and the closest mass transit station to the upmarket CBD was becoming a nightmare. This road also catered to the Bandra Railway Terminus for some long-distance trains on the Western Railway. In order to improve matters quickly, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) with its office at BKC, came up with the "skywalk" concept. It provided a six-metre wide walkway from Kalanagar junction, across the Western Express Highway, up to the FOB at Bandra Station on the east. Planners found that the FOB was at a much lower level than the skywalk at their point of meeting and provided eight to ten stairs.
At that time, an additional FOB was being planned, adjoining the existing one but at a higher level, presumably matching the skywalk level; this seems to have been completed, but has not been extended to connect with the skywalk. The skywalk also turned out to be a revenue generating model from advertisements on the visible stretches, especially over the highway. The Kalanagar Nagar stairway is alongside a bus halt for buses to BKC, Dharavi-Sion and Navi Mumbai. There is space for autorickshaws and taxis to pick up or drop passengers. The irony is that despite these and the close proximity to offices and the housing colonies at Kalanagar, very not enough people use this 1.3 km skywalk to be able to justify its construction.
Perhaps the revenue model was so attractive that MMRDA embarked on constructing 50 more skywalks all over Mumbai, without any public consultation. If one took a look at MMRDA's costs on ongoing projects, skywalks have been allocated Rs1,500 crore for the entire MMR. Many people opposed the construction of these skywalks as many required 'trimming' of trees, the pillars occupied considerable space in the narrow approach lanes, and they also raised concerns about privacy for residents in buildings in the neighbourhood. Some groups have succeeded in stalling some of the projects-like in Wadala. Consequently, MMRDA reduced the number of skywalks proposed from 50 to 36. Of these, 28 have been opened to the public. The cost of the project has been put at Rs735 crore covering Greater Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, etc.
MMRDA seems to have been in such a great hurry to show they are trying to make commuter's commute less arduous that they failed in the details. To make it easier for commuters to negotiate the climb of eight to ten metres, escalators or elevators were to be provided. This is also required under the "Persons
with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995" for people with disabilities. Now it is being said that there is no space to provide for this; as if this could not have been planned out at the outset itself. Perhaps, like the railways, the planners had no intention to make the facility friendly for the elderly, expectant women and those with knee and ankle problems. So much has been spent on these skywalks, but the tiling for the flooring selected with great care has not been laid properly and already damages are visible at Santacruz and Kalyan. At Santacruz, the tile patterns have not been worked out according to the drawing and one sees colour mismatches. Providing waste bins is a good idea, but what about the garbage that drops on those using the road below?
Since it was felt that hawkers occupied space at the road level and caused impediments to commuters, but they cannot be ignored as commuters purchase their wares and hawkers have to be able to earn a livelihood, MMRDA came up with the idea of a 7-metre wide skywalk with a 3-metre hawking zone, leaving 4 metres for commuters only, as done at Kanjurmarg (East). However, this was opposed by activists and the High Court banned such skywalks. If the 7-metre skywalk had a hawking zone, it meant no permanent stalls on the skywalk and this would have been quite acceptable. But going by what has been provided at the Kalyan Station Skywalk, perhaps the High Court was correct.
Incidentally, the Kalyan Skywalk seems to be the only one that has a ramp connecting the difference in level between the FOB and the skywalk.
Considerable integration is also involved. MMRDA is responsible for planning and implementation of the skywalks and the Metro rail. The Metro Rail Line 2 (Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd) is expected to go over the section of the skywalk on SV Road in Bandra (west). Perhaps a part of it will have to be dismantled, and what remains will be connected to the Bandra Station on the Metro Rail when it is constructed!
The only skywalk that will be useful is the one at Sion Station This is so, mainly because about 15,000 school children from the Sion Station side are said to cross over to go to schools on the Matunga side, as well as across the Ambedkar Road/Laxmibai Kelkar Marg, where there is considerable chaos in the movement of pedestrians and road traffic. How many people will use the new facility is anybody's guess, as they will have to cross Laxmibai Kelkar Marg by the pedestrian subway and then climb the skywalk. Train commuters have to climb to the station road bridge from the platform, then a further 8-10 meters up to the skywalk, and then down by the subway. How much more unfriendly can we be towards pedestrians?
Climbing up requires a lot of breathing, and the heavily polluted air at road junctions could result in increased breathing ailments for many. Hearing impairment will also accentuate as noise reaches the skywalks from all directions, while the same noise would get dampened by traffic at road level. Noise also contributes to cardio-vascular diseases.
Mumbai seems to have set a trend. Skywalks have come up in Bengaluru and Delhi and some are being planned in Pune also. Even a small matter like a skywalk requires public consultation. In a country where even a Metro has been planned and is being implemented without any public consultation [the cost stated by the government (MMRDA) is about Rs20,000 crore, while it is established to be above Rs60,000 crore] can we expect anything better if citizens are going to take these matters lying down? Metros, monorails and skywalks, are these not scams of sorts with inflated costs, inadequate capacity and poor utility, not to forget the health hazards?
[Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on the Government of Maharashtra's Steering Committee on Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's (MMRDA) technical advisory committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of the Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMMTA). He was a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He has been an active campaigner against noise pollution for over a decade and he is a strong believer in a functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at [email protected].]
If you not committed any crime, but you are forced to spend some time behind bars because of some other fraudster, here’s what you can do to survive
The concept of subordinates taking a hit for their bosses, whether in politics or business or some other professions, is as old as the hills. Drivers take the blame for road accidents, junior combatants become prisoners-of-war and rot forgotten while the generals escape even with post-war tribunals and judgements, minor public servants get suspended while the bada sahib continues to go for his evening single malt, and so on and so forth. Chances were that if you were a member of the correct clubs, then you will not really go to jail, but somebody else will.
However, it is only recently, in India at least, that reasonably senior people from the corporate world who could easily be defined as "second-rung-will-go-far", have started going into the state and central big houses as guests of the government or have suicide "committed" on them, and unwillingly too.
Whether it is the now almost forgotten case of Shekhar Mukund Deorukhkar, a close Kalmadi aide, who was at one time treated with the utmost deference as well as fear everywhere in Pune that his association with the many commercial ventures from the Kalmadi camp entitled him to or from the many companies who supplied products and services to the CWG (Commonwealth Games), or the managers from companies like Hero Honda, HSBC, Reliance ADAG, Unitech and DB who appear to have played with thousands of crores without their controllers knowing, or even the most unfortunate Batcha from Raja's Chennai—there is a new trend. Corporate employees are now fair game—and are going to be left to hang out to dry when the long arm of the sarkar reaches out to their bosses.
Very briefly, it appears that it does not matter what the cut of your suit was, Savile Row Bespoke or Lodi Road Wonder—if you were in a reasonably senior position with any entity in India, then you also need to be prepared for a term in jail at some stage or the other. It can happen to the best of us. No longer are the "Constitutional Arrangements" in India designed only to oppress the already depressed. Living and working in a country where with any luck we could likely be party to breaking a dozen laws every time we land at the airport of a new city, this essay and correspondent makes it very abundantly clear that what you will never learn in your management courses is how to prepare yourself for time-out, on behalf of your bosses.
Truly, a new era is on us, and people from Public School backgrounds who may have been to the best of colleges are also fair game.
The big fear is: Lord, I am now going to be in there with the other under-trials? How long will my enhanced blood pressure keep me in hospital?
Actually, getting to work the whole under-trial in prison thing is very simple, and opens with a deep breath. Take one, now, and then read. As mentioned before, I live in a part of Delhi which provided a large number of spies /shakers/movers/fixers and the rest, many of them went to jail and came out too, till they moved further out into their farm-houses. The same part of Delhi now provides abode for many who are 'corporate enhanced' and therefore the current favourites in the Tihar stakes. There are a few who are not seen out for their morning walks lately, and the guys walking their dogs are not talking, either. A few of them have come to me for advice, on confidential basis, because for a variety of reasons including first-hand exposure—I know.
To start with, the first step is to accept in a realistic and pragmatic way that as a manager or officer of a company, you are at risk. And that often you walk into these risks with your eyes open, because over time, these have become accepted norms, for commercial considerations, or otherwise. So there is no point trying to convince yourself or others that you were in any way tricked into things. That's the most important step number one—accept the truth. On your climb to the top, you compromised, and that was a calculated gamble. In addition, you antagonised and left more than a few people below you, who were unhappy with this. And they have the daggers and pins and needles out for you too.
Next most important point—nobody cares about the victim. Like in a drought as popularised by P Sainath, or after a road accident, everybody else other than the victim will be busy making as much personal benefit out of the episode. And the larger entity, be it the corporate or the political party or anything else, will not be dispensable. You are dispensable. Accept this fact also-from the day you join the organisation where you promise to give your sweat and mind.
If you need to be reminded about this, join the older retainers sometimes as they gossip about the sahibs who have come and gone—very illuminating. You are not only dispensable, but you are also a liability in a twinkling of a television report, and the corporate entity or party from being your friend will likely soon be your biggest enemy—so be prepared for it.
Third, "they" will always have access to better lawyers and investigators than what you can ever dream of in a month of Sundays, and then some more. You as an individual or even as a group of people will be totally out of your depth here, as thousand of people from mill workers and their union leaders to others who thought they could buck the system as individuals, have learnt. In this day and age of tax havens, you often will not even know who "they" are, as you are left shadow-boxing with ghosts listed as Directors of the holding companies which actually owned things, while all you had were long conference calls and emails, from people who will no longer give you the time of day.
But does that mean you, as an individual, do not have a chance?
Far from it. Apart from the very popular concept of "power of one", you as an individual who is likely to be left standing up alone, squeezed and left to your own devices, have a vast variety of tools and implements to choose from. And they were never better or easier to use than in this day and age of the Internet, incidentally, which is where you are probably reading this essay.
First of all, get used to learning about the environment, start visiting the places that you will have to frequent if and when you are in a jam. Go to the local courts, visit people in jail or lock-ups, and accompany other unfortunates on their treks to their thanas, mulaqats or courtrooms. Check out the websites for realities in jails. Certainly, if you can swing it, join an NGO that works with prisoners and under-trials. You will learn first thing off the bat and pad that it is absolutely not like anything you ever saw in any movie. What is it like?
It is like any other habitat which evolved around humans, with room for more, and rules as well as adjustments geared towards the here and now. And comfortable survival of the fittest. Try to go there in a bus or other hired public transport, though, and dress conservatively. Get a cheap haircut. Merge with the crowd.
In other words, like everything else, these are all part of a system. An environment of its own, in a manner of speaking, which will not change just because you were not aware or part of it. This is like travelling by train, and never getting to see what things are like in the unreserved wagons on either end of your train—they were always there, you were too comfortable to get out of AC. Look at it this way—if you are travelling to a cold country, then you make some preparations, right? Likewise, if there are even the remotest chances that you will need to know how to co-exist in the rehab system of any country, then you need to know more than what you saw on a television or movie show. The RTI (Right to Information) declarations on jails in India, for example, is a minefield of information. Very interesting too-email, for example, is a statutory right, as is some exposure to the Internet.
Next, read the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Start with any one of his many biographies, especially the ones which have a genuine view on his earlier days in South Africa or England, Even Anil Kapoor's movie on the subject will be of great help, it was called Gandhi my father, and never got the mileage it should have received. Another good book that I found of great help was Homer Jack's The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings, which is also available online as well as at most second-hand book shops. This is from his early writings, before myth overtook facts, and contains many articles which give brilliant observations on how the mind of the world's best strategic thinker worked.
Read Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and since you also must know how the other side thinks—John Birch. A simultaneous reading of George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and a re-read of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland will explain things from the perspective of excess of denial (Orwell), excess of availability (Huxley) and the need to maintain a balance between the two while keeping your sense of humour alive (Carroll). In all cases, if you cannot read the full books, just go through the many condensed versions available online-and they are free.
Now, read up on the real laws in India, the Indian Penal Code to start with. One good way to do this is to join a correspondence course in law, the Masters in Business Law from the National Law school in Bengaluru is particularly recommended. Much of their study material is available online, and for the rest, they send very interesting course books written in a simple and lucid style. Incidentally, if you do get locked up, then you can and should ask for books on the subject of law—you will have a lot of time to read up on them, and at this juncture, nothing else will be more important. You do not have to be a lawyer or practice at the bar to understand more about this fascinating subject.
As I never tire of repeating-the lack of a formal education did not prevent me from heading a Silicon Valley tech company's India operations, but the lack of knowledge of a variety of laws helped others take it away from me.
A brief read-up on the subject will bring you to the next step—asking for bail automatically is not necessarily the best thing you can do. As a matter of fact, the same or far lesser money spent with common sense will provide you a much better lifestyle while in custody-and time thus spent will be adjusted against the sentence, when and if it comes to that. Besides, bail comes with so many conditions, that it is often not really of much use-and believe me, society looks at you very differently when they know you are out on bail. Till as long as they remember, of course—bail is best sought when you are no longer in the limelight is a simple truth too.
Another aspect of bail is that if you do not challenge your custody then you take away one big weapon from the other side—which comes in useful at a later stage when the deciding authorities have to figure out whether to keep you in or enlarge you to the rest of the world. I know people who have "gone in" for a variety of reasons—from family squabbles to corporate warfare to criminal offences and more—and in all cases, if they have followed some simple rules of engagement, like not making the bail application the end-all and be-all, then they have made life easier for themselves while inside as well as their family and friends outside.
Now, while inside—it is the first couple of days that are relatively tough. I use the term "relatively" because friends who have been inside tell me that even this is nothing compared to the ragging some of us endured as juniors on a Training Ship, or in engineering/medical colleges, or certain establishments training people to wear certain uniforms. Or in many of the hostels that dot our educational system.
One of the first things to get used to is that your nakedness will be used as a weapon against you—if that doesn't scare you, then you have confidently gone over the first hurdle. This is a mind thing, especially in India, which we simply have to overcome. I have no idea how you can do it, in my case, at the ripe young age of 16-18, over a hundred of us were made to trot around without our clothes in shower stalls that did not have curtains and toilets that did not have doors.
Next, for the first few days till you establish alignments and matters, your sleeping area will be right next to or maybe even in the toilet area—learn how to accept that too. A simple walk around most slum areas will fix this for you. Terrible on the nose till you get used to it. Likewise, sleeping in a small room with a large number of people for company, after decades of the best in hotel rooms—will take getting used to. An annual trip to the family dharamshala helps. Or maybe some social service of the get-down and get-dirty sort—fix drains in semi-urban locales.
Another hit is the sudden lack of "possessions", wrist-watches, expensive pens, small computers, big plastic, the works. For many people in the corporate and political world, this means a lot, so the removal of these symbols can be quite traumatic. The other side knows it. Practice living without them.
Will you get beaten or buggered? Chances are that you may certainly get threatened with both, and even slapped around a little bit, but if you have taken care to make life easier inside then this will soon end. How you do this is by the oldest method in the book, and there is no need to spell out the process, again—being forewarned and forearmed helps. Ask your consultants who know about these things, and ensure that more than anything else, this aspect is taken care of before going in.
Building up a medical case history is another viable approach. Discuss this with your doctor, as you are aware, there are a vast range of ailments which have vague symptoms which can be used as methods to spend quality time in hospital or under observation. Spinal issues, for one, seem to be a hot favourite.
And finally, this is not to be laughed at either, but a simple jail diet seems to cure many urban maladies. You lose weight, your arteries get unclogged, and when you come out—you are able to wake up early and go for long walks. Truly, helps the golf, too.
Update: It is a known fact that certain criminals, like those accused of heinous crimes involving innocents, are at the bottom of the social structure inside jails and face a very rough time. Reports filtering back indicate that political corruption seems to be reaching that level, too. Which, if correct, changes the picture a lot—especially after the Kalmadi reports today.
The online survey fraud is spreading like wildfire in India, as more MLM companies announce ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes, promising over four times on ‘investments’. But don’t get lured, as this works only for a few people at the top, while the rest end up losing money and personal reputation
As if SpeakAsia, which claims to be an online survey company, was not enticing (cheating?) enough of gullible people, a few domestic multi-level marketing (MLM) companies have entered the online survey scam. The only difference is that domestic companies are asking for smaller amounts as investment, compared to SpeakAsia.
After Moneylife exposed the dubious operations of SpeakAsia, one such MLM company, comments have been pouring in about other such MLMs functioning under the pretext of online surveys. (Read, "Another MLM scam in the happening, this time under the pretext of an online survey".)
FLC Online India, like every other MLM company, also makes promises of high returns. In fact, FLC says that after completion of certain units, the member is entitled to bonanza gifts that range from mobile phones to cars like Skoda and Mercedes Benz.
FLC Online India has initiated the concept of a special segment for market research and offers monetary benefits merely for filling survey forms.
Apart from paying regular income, it also gives income through the binary method, which is primarily based on algorithms. In simple words, it aims to involve more and more people in the scheme, luring them through dubious claims.
FLC claims, "Become a part of $25 billion market research industry and earn Rs4,000-Rs40,000 per month from home by giving your opinion about various products of MNCs for only one hour per week by filling online surveys." The promise of income merely through filling survey forms is questionable as the process itself shows.
A person seeking to become a member of FLC must make a payment of Rs6,500 and the company promises to pay Rs1,000 per week till 52 weeks! Further, there is binary income, or per pair income, for which FLC will pay Rs500 and the levels of binary is unlimited. On referring someone to join the company, it promises to pay Rs500 as direct or referral income.
On the binary level, a member making two new members-one each on the left and the right hands (which constitutes a pair)-also gets 10 market points. The 10 market points are equivalent to one unit or one pair and the member can keep on adding up to a maximum or 200 pairs per week.
Further, if the member refers someone in the chain, then he will be given 10 market points per person introduced. But there is a catch in all this. An incentive of two market points is released whenever you have two market points in the left team and two market points in the right team, which is also known as one pair.
On completing 20 units, which is 20 pairs consisting of 40 people, the member is rewarded with a colour mobile phone, and on completing 90 units the member will get a laptop. This sounds murky, for the company does not mention the specific brand of mobile or laptop.
A simple calculation shows that if one member makes 20 units, the company would earn a whopping Rs2.6 lakh. Consider this: 20 units is 20 pairs, which means 40 individuals. Each individual pays Rs6,500 as membership fee, so 40 members give a total Rs2.6 lakh to the company. On the other hand the company promises only a colour mobile phone as a reward and the brand is not known.
Interestingly, on completion of 350 units and beyond, the reward could be a motorbike, or even a car-a Tata Safari, a Skoda, or even a Mercedes Benz. But there is a time period in which the targets are to be achieved to be eligible for these rewards.
A reader informs Moneylife about another MLM company by the name of Ram Survey, which also makes similar claims. The registration charge is Rs3,500, of which Rs500 is for life-time registration and the remaining Rs3,000 is a contribution towards an e-magazine called Ram Today, the member will receive fortnightly over 11 months. The company promises a weekly income of Rs500 for 44 weeks. Again Rs500 will be paid as binary income and Rs250 as referral income. There are also bonanza gifts ranging from mobile to cars, based on units earned.
Both the companies described, display pan cards and certificates of incorporation (as legal proof) on their web sites. The validity of these documents is to be verified.
Moneylife Foundation, an affiliate of Moneylife, is a not-for-profit organisation that is working to promote financial literacy and has always advised people not to invest in MLM companies that are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) or the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). However, many people continue to be lured into the trap with the promises of high returns and easy income.
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(SpeakAsia still can't show valid, legal documents)
( Stockguru.India allegedly dupes 2 lakh investors of over Rs1,000 crore)