Multiple Angles

What ails us?

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I love my country and I am proud to be an Indian. As a nation, we have made a lot of progress over the last few years but at the same time we are aware that there are issues that we are still grappling with. These issues slow down our advance towards further development.

What are our major problems? The following is my attempt to analyze them:

1)    Our politicians. They let us down time and again. There are a few honourable exceptions but in general, it is our politicians who are the primary reason for India being an under-achiever. Politics, evidently, does not attract the best of people. The typical politician is not a well-read person, indulges in religion/caste-based vote-bank machinations and has ethics that is self-serving. It is shameful and embarrassing that so many of our politicians face criminal charges and we have not been able to put an end to this disgraceful situation.

2)    Corruption is rife in India. Sad, but very much true. Bribery, scams and other financial scandals involving huge sums of money give us a terrible image among the league of nations. The scams occur frequently and getting to the bottom of it and punishing the wrong-doers could take decades, if we are lucky. Most of the time, the perpetrators go scot-free.

3)    The root-cause of the multitude of our problems is the low salaries that we pay government and public sector officials including ministers, senior bureaucrats and other government-appointees. Meagre remuneration coupled with the power to take/influence decisions on matters that have significant financial impact aided by inefficient, ineffective and delayed processes to check compliance with established laws, rules and regulations tempt and snare individuals into the ‘Corruption Trap’. Some of the thoughts that would go through the minds of these officials, I guess, would be “When everyone else is making a fast buck with little risk of getting caught why should I be a conscientious fool and forego a limited opportunity?” “When the entire system is rotten what can one honest individual do?…It would be stupid and futile to swim against the tide”

4)    We have far too many laws, processes and procedures. And they are unnecessarily too convoluted and complicated. Form gets more importance than substance and inconsequential means rank higher than the end. Bureaucrats (including the lower-level government officials) revel in this situation. Since there is either no or very little accountability for the results, no one gets penalized. The general public and the nation end up as losers but then who cares about them…

5)    There is an enormous extent of black money that is part of the Indian economy which escapes scrutiny and measurement. Black money results in, among other things, reduced revenue for the government, inequitable sharing of tax burden and promotion of additional corruption. If the government has the will, (A) if it introduces well thought-out measures aimed to reduce dealing in cash for medium and big-ticket transactions, (B) if the use of Aadhar identity number is made compulsory for all residents without potential for Aadhar duplication and abuse, (C) if there is a tracking of all transactions − by Adhaar number − from different sources in a specific financial year and routinely checked/matched on an automated basis with the tax returns filed and exceptions noted (D) if the tax administration division can enhance its enforcement activity, act sternly against defaulters and deter non-compliance, the ogre of black money can become a more manageable beast.

6)    One of the strengths of India as a nation and a democracy has been its judiciary. We can be justifiably proud of its quality, independence and accomplishments. But we have a problem that needs immediate attention and resolution. Our courts are overburdened by the volume of litigation that is awaiting justice and settlement. Cases can, and do, go on for years, decades, sometimes, a lifetime of the litigants and may still not see closure. This grim situation can have far-reaching consequences that are not good to the country. Justice delayed is justice denied in most circumstances.

7)    A major drawback in the current scheme of things is our woefully inadequate process of enforcing existing laws, requirements and procedures. I have touched upon this issue in a couple of points discussed above but it is critical enough to be emphasized as a separate concern …and as an auditor, I feel very strongly about it. Proper governance requires appropriate checks and balances. It is imperative that there is an audit/ independent internal review of important activities/transactions performed by government or public sector officials. The compliance review should be conducted by experienced personnel and on a timely basis. Exceptions and other significant instances of non-compliance should be dealt with by taking swift and deterrent disciplinary action.

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Prime-time War(t)s

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Watching the 24×7 English TV news channels in India can be dull and monotonous but not so with the prime time debates/ discussions on these channels. Watching them is always an interesting and unique experience.

I will attempt to list some of the reasons why, I think, the TV debates and discussions are different.

1) The anchors (moderators) are the X-factor. They are loud and overbearing. They are jingoistic and sermonizing. Every anchor combines the roles of the Inquisitor, Prosecutor and all-powerful Judge. Each one of them is a spirited follower of the Sam Goldwyn dictum “Don’t talk while I am interrupting”.

2) A couple of topics are debated every night during prime time. The tone and language used for the introduction of the topic will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the matter is so grave and critical that the nation needs to deliberate (openly on TV and on their channel) without any delay. Examples of serious issues that call for immediate discussion could be “Does Dhoni want Tendulkar out of Test cricket because he stated in an interview today that young legs improve Indian fielding?” “Is the Congress-NCP alliance headed for a split? Your channel’s investigations reveal that Pawar was made to sit three places away from the PM in yesterday’s cabinet meeting?”

3) Typically, time allocated for a specific debate could be 15 minutes and the number of guests participating in the discussion will be six or more. With the anchor and the commercials cornering more than 50% of the available time, each participant gets a maximum of 1 to 1½ minutes of overall time (maximum of 15 seconds without an interruption) to air his/her expert views on the topic. As a rule, the participants in the debate will be rude, obnoxious, scowling at the person(s) articulating an alternative/opposing opinion. No self-respecting participant will allow the debate to end unless there is some animated squabbling. In the unlikely event that the guests are too polite and respectful to one another and there is no major argument, a self-respecting anchor will feel disappointed − he knows that he under-performed in the race for TRPs!

4) We, Indians, have not won too many Nobel prizes for our accomplishments and inventions in science. But there is one marvel that occurs on our news channels repeatedly that seems to have missed the attention of the Nobel Prize jury. I refer to the ability of TV debate participants in India to appear in different “live” discussions simultaneously on more than one TV channel. This defies the laws of physics since a particular person can be at only one specific place at any given time. Multiple live appearances on TV used to occur rampantly in the recent past. While their number has reduced currently, this amazing spectacle continues to happen still.

5) We love inviting guests from a neighbouring country to participate in our TV debates. We hurl harsh and sombre accusations against them all the time. They deny every charge and, in turn, accuse us of other more serious transgressions and breaches. We refute each one of them. Basically, the two sides will agree on nothing. We will be mean to each another throughout the show and unashamedly attribute mala fide intentions to the other. The participants want the ‘debate’ to stop as soon as possible and so do the viewers. But come another day, another so-called debate is scheduled! Why, oh why? I guess the TV channels are rendering a social service. They inflict this torture on us every day so that we learn to live through pain and emerge stronger!

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Auto Tales & Travails

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One can run but cannot hide from the ubiquitous auto rickshaws in India. The following are some of my observations about the auto rickshaw drivers (ARD) after years and years of interacting with them:

1) There is this amazing similarity among ARDs across towns and cities in India. If the fare is determined by the meter, you are in for a circuitous sight-seeing trip. However, should the fare be agreed beforehand, you will reach your destination ASAP and by taking the shortest route available.

2) Fares are always rounded up to the nearest 10 rupees or ‘10+10’ if the ARD is in a particularly ravenous mood.

3) If one does not hand-in the fare in exact change, one is at the full and abject mercy of the ARD. He can only find as many coins and notes to return that you end up paying 10 to 20% more than the actual fare.

4) You will be a happy passenger if you believe in and follow the motto: “Go where the ARD is going and do not dare to ask if he will come where you want to go”.

5) The traffic police and the local authorities in most places clearly designate extra-fare hours (late-night/ early morning). The ARD adheres to it religiously except that there is always a +/- 2 hour adjustment to his advantage.

6) Many of the ARDs are afflicted by GDS (Garrulous Driver Syndrome). If you are (un)lucky enough to board an auto rickshaw with such a driver, God help you! Your journey is peppered with an unending discourse on numerous subjects by our resident expert on everything under the sun.

7) Some ARDs don’t really like the passengers. In fact, some of them hate you because you get to laze around in the backseat while they need to cope with the crowded and chaotic traffic. They take it out on you by braking hard frequently, speeding past the road humps when you least expect it and torturing you by playing loud and annoying music on their radios.

8> And then there are ARDs who appear to be compassionate when at the end of a long wait and after several rebuffs from other drivers, you manage to board an auto rickshaw. He listens to your rant patiently and criticises those drivers who bring a bad name to their vocation. But it is not long before our Samaritan turns into Satan and fleeces you using the routine ‘Pay me more as I can’t get a fare back at this time and in this area” demand or the variant ‘When you said X-Nagar, you did not mention that it was the interior part of X-Nagar, hence you need to cough up more”

9) Beware of those ARDs who are either slow to react when you mention the name of your destination-area or agree to come but hesitantly and with zero enthusiasm. Don’t be surprised when after traversing a small distance, the ARD stops suddenly saying there is a mechanical fault with the vehicle and that you had better look for another auto. As soon as you have boarded one, you can see that the first auto rickshaw is fixed miraculously in an instant and has started moving again. The driver took some time but at last he decided he did NOT want to go where you were headed.

10) Personal experience: After 11 pm one night (and that is pretty late for Bangalore!), I got into an auto rickshaw and reached my apartment after about half-an-hour of travel. The meter-reading was Rs. 120 and I gave the driver a 500 rupee note since I did not have change. The driver took the note from me and did some sleight of hand and told me I needed to pay Rs. 110 more as I had given him only Rs. 10. He thought I was drunk (which I was not) or he had played this trick earlier because it was very smoothly executed. I was shocked and insisted that he showed me the contents of his pocket. There was no Rs. 500 note. I had been suckered. I felt angry and stupid. Mostly stupid. Lesson learned: Always carry exact change if you plan to take an auto rickshaw ride late at night or better still – drive, unless you have no choice.

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Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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