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Sunday, December 28

Turning the void page

A few hours down and its curtains 2008!

Another year gone in our life, and yet another blank unsigned check for our evergreen paradise state, as usual.

I thought it would be prudent to have a rewind at what I had scribbled this time last year about how I felt Kerala had done in 2007, and curiously enough this is what I wrote:

Kochi Metro, Vizhinjam Terminal, Technocity, Kannur Airport all still where they started.

mart City foundation stone laid.(Ah at last after 3 years)
A happening year!
December 2007 archive
No Man's Land

And have moved another inch forward in any of the above projects? You guessed it right...

Our planners are still deeply embedded in thoughts as to how to implement the Cochin Metro Rail proposal. The city keeps swelling, clogging the stenosed vessels in its system and there is still no light at the end of this year for this aspiring metropolis. Vizhinjam seemed to be raising the adrenaline for the poignant development aspirers, but its all back to square one for the landmark port project. Technocity has run into the 'recession' waters and its almost sure that the ground wont break at Pallipuram and locales this year. Kannur Airport? Huh, you must be joking...

And oh, the sheikhs who left after the 'stone laying' for Smart City is yet to return, after 365 days...

Same story with the Highway and Rail development, MEMU Services, IT development, Trivandrum Road Development works and all others. On a positive note, nevertheless, Trivandrum Airport Terminal, Vallarpadam Port and a couple of educational institution projects have made appreciable progress...

The Communist Govt will soon be observing its 3rd year in office, and the only good thing they've done last year was to crack down on some petty fraudsters and demo-Gods like Sabarinath & Santhosh Madhavan. The old VS-Pinarayi mudslinging ceased for good, and Karunakaran's barefaced return to his so-called tharavadu was the biggest joke of the year.

Our much hyped up CM Mr. V.S exhibited remarkable mellowness to keep his mouth shut most times, but he opened it to his doom in those infamous 'dog remarks' and paid the price for the loose talk.

Politics aside, there still seems no way out for Kerala to get out of the mess. 2009 is going to be the most unwelcome year in the past 100 years as the global money machines and job factories are slowly grinding to a halt. Kerala has started to feel the ripple effects and our leaders seems to be devoid of the spinal and cerebral systems to see whats coming...

Sometimes I wish we were all living inside the Matrix... Too easy no?


Wednesday, December 17

I'm Green today!

"Green" appears to have become the most alluring term in our life at present.

There is a kind of frenzy towards turning everything into 'green', be it the house you live in or the office you work or the car you drive or even the food you eat...everything is turning, not literally.

"Going green" or simply, changing to a more environmentally friendly way has become an obligatory response from a jittery world to the most alarming and realistic science fiction of our times: the global warming.

When the West as well as the affluent Asian economies are arming themselves well for this potentially catastrophic mutation of our climate, India appeared insular to the changes happening around us. But slowly but surely things have started moving. And surprisingly Kerala has responded pretty well to the need of the hour.

Last week one of the major real estate developers in Kerala, the Skyline Foundations, launched their first green apartment complex in Trivandrum. The commendable step taken by the leading developer is expected to be adopted by the whole industry.

The planners, architects and developers aim for the sustainable design of development by encompassing the following elements:
  • Use of Green, renewable or recyclable building materials.
  • Maximum energy efficiency and
  • Reducing the wastage of energy, water and materials during construction as well as when the building is operational.
Although this sustainable development concept is an entirely new concept in the Kerala residential arena, it is not greek to the commercial development sector. The new u/c terminal of Trivandrum International Airport has incorporated some of the green features in a modest yet elegant manner. Wipro Campus at Cochin and the TCS Trivandrum facility are the two biggies in the Corporate world to show the way.

Wipro Cochin campus

A green building will save 20-30% on energy bills and uses 50% less water when compared to contemporary buildings. So while it made perfect sense for the commercial structures to embrace green, the apartment builders were hugely reluctant to nod to the idea. There would be a 10-20% increase in costs for a green home and builders were reluctant to pass on the increased load to the customers. The advantages would not be easily digested by the buyers and model was at risk of rejection.

But initial response to the Skyline project indicated otherwise, and building green in Kerala is all set to take off!

SFS Grande, the first green apartment in Kerala

The Govt is expected to take two steps forward by formulating more stringent laws in making 'green' mandatory. Kerala has already taken vital measures in sustainable development by promoting rain water harvesting and waste management. Public awareness and education on the benefits and necessity of environmentally friendly development is essential. State and Central agencies to inspect, certify and rate the nature of development, something on the lines of LEED, should be envisaged. States like West Bengal has already enforced stricter laws making green rating mandatory.

Experts in the field are recommending tax incentives and relaxations in certain building norms for certified green buildings. Going taller is another option, leaving more spaces open & green. Highrise apartment culture has invaded even the smaller Kerala towns and now its awaiting another inevitable revolution: the 'Green' revolution...

Components of a Green building

So "taller and greener" appears to be the motto for the future. Kerala's topography, lifestyle and demographic pattern, in fact, augurs for such a style of development.

Global warming is a serious problem, and we may already be too late to stitch the rug. But the cost of doing nothing now may land us up in zero degree without even that piece of cloth.

Afterall its a virtue to practice providence.


Sunday, December 14

Moving on...

Today marks the completion of the first year of my blogging experiments..:)

So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the friends, and foes of this blog who took time to read, appreciate, ridicule, encourage and bash my takings on the social conundrum we find ourselves in.

Looking back, I regret in not being able to dedicate more time to this space and on missing out to put my thoughts into words on many relevant issues.

At the same time I dont feel missed out in sharing the space with some of the young, spirited and talented youth in the Indian blogosphere.

Looking forward in general, its safe to say that blogs have come a long way forward in competing neck to neck with the imperious and influential media folk, and surely as an arena to see honest, simple, straightforward and power-packed observations.

So merci, madames et messieurs, and keep visiting.

Special thanks to Nikhil Narayanan for facilitating the featuring of Celluloid and behind Part I and II on Desipundit and on to Reuters India, which remains the most read post in No Man's Land upto date.

Saturday, November 29

Living on borrowed time

The sun has gone down the horizon in Mumbai ending another gruelling yet concluding day of the terror siege which locked down India's financial capital for the last 2 days.

The world was on its feet, sleepless with India and Mumbai to see how 10 perverted minds could hold 1 billion Indians to ransom and bring down a fearless, sprawling, charismatic and cosmopolitan megalopolis to a virtual standstill.

Numbers have started to come out more clearly...

195 lives and counting..
300+ traumatized
600 hostages freed
4000 crores loss

The media quotes it as unprecedented, atrocious, calamitous and all kinds of adjectives you could imagine. Yes, the style and scale of the attack singles this one out, but I'm genuinely surprised at the element of surprise attributed to Mumbai 26/11 from many corners.

Yeah, I'm not surprised, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this count.

Such a massive, co-ordinated and crushing onslaught was long overdue in India, given the impassivity and laxity of our administrators towards the threats posed by Islamic militants. And who doesn't know that Mumbai, with all its glitz and glamour, volatile and disturbing past was always a prime target for these perpetrators??

Wasn't the 2001 Parliament Attack and the Akshardham Temple attack the following year precursors to such a pattern of attack on soft yet high intensity targets?

The bitter truth is that the largest democracy in the world, with the largest and modern armed forces and a host of so-called intelligence agencies failed miserably, yet again, to protect the lives and property of its citizens and guests. The US has been insular to terrorism since 9/11 and the UK too has learned its lessons well after 7/7 bombings but the painful fact is that India is yet to get the message inspite of being under the battering ram multitude no of times.

Courtesy our half-baked politicians...

Sadly our leaders opt to talk the talk than rather walk the walk. Talks are already in the air; about Pakistan connections, about British connections, about military training the terrorists had, but very little has been said about the most obvious and disturbing of them all: the Indian connections...

There is no denial that our youth, especially Muslim ones are increasingly falling into the fundamentalism-thoughts trap. More and more states are coming under the spotlight for being the breeding ground for religious extremism and anti-national activities, Kerala being the latest one with the red line under it.

In 2001 when L.K. Advani slammed Kerala as being a safe haven for terrorists, it created a ripple of laughter across the state. The humour seem to be over when some of the terror trails in the country led back to Kerala. The state was literally shook when the investigations into the recent Ähmedabad blasts cut a definite, clearcut track back to Vagamon Hills in Central Kerala.

Vagamon hills

A visibly white faced and bewildered state Govt finally woke up to the grim reality of the new image of the 'progressive Kerala state' and society. The Govt suddenly 'discovered' that Kerala has over 700km of unguarded coastline and that the activists of the banned SIMI group had indeed been roaming around freely in the state.

The dawning of the fact that terrorists are becoming more co-ordinated, indiscriminate and regular has become a hard pill to swallow. The random nature of the locations chosen for the attack is sure to give insomnic nights for the authorities.

Strategic institutions like VSSC, LPSC, the proposed Aerospace Command, Naval & Air Commands etc might take Kerala into the books of the wrong people. In any country, the most important elements for public safety is the Police. The Kerala Police at its best is equipped with a lathi and a fossil firearm which wouldn't kill a crow.

Pitting them against the insurgents we saw in Mumbai would be like Indian Rugby team fancying their chances against the All-Blacks.

Mumbai has also demonstrated the crucial role of Firefighters in a counter-terrorist act. The highest point our traditional firefighters can reach is 60m and as per rule there must be a helicopter to deal with fires above it. Kerala has pitched in for highrise IT Parks and Hotels crossing the 100m mark and our Fire Force doesn't even have a proper headquarters, let alone a chopper!

So every state, including ours should, and MUST learn from Mumbai 26/11... Getting the priorities right is the most important. Mumbai has taught us that a 7 star hotel, or a high end mall or a Multiplex is not worth its salt if you compromise on the first element: Safety.

Mumbai has underlined the necessity to resuscitate our state and national intelligence agencies to do the job they were designed to do, instead of collecting vote-bank details and spying on other political fringe groups which they're forced to do now. The most effective way to deal with terrorism is to think ahead of them, instead of thinking on our feet which we are practicing now.

The most worrying aspect would be to identify the rotten apples in the bag. In a vast, hugely diverse nation like India or even in a sprawling city like Mumbai which holds 5 times the population as Ireland, this is easier said than done. But going to the grassroots level and carrying out an introspection wouldn't be a bad idea afterall because this is an area which pinches most: Indians against Indians... The earlier you pinch the bud, the better...

Lastly, Mumbai will exhibit to the world how big a heart it has... Mumbai will bounce back, and I can't but smile at the fretting that we are going to see a different Mumbai from tomorrow.

Yes, different in a sense that we could well see a safer, better metropolis for its citizens.

Mumbai in itself is a heartbeat; it will take more than a group of terrorists to dent its spirits...

Wednesday, November 5

Let's Make a Difference...

Hello friends,

I want to introduce you to the most wonderful NGO in the world, which was working right under our noses and still we failed to see how they were Making a Difference

Make A Difference (M.A.D) is a youth volunteer network that currently functions in the three cities of Cochin, Pune and Chennai… 312 volunteers teach more than 1200 underprivileged kids English and computer skills in these three cities to enable them to have better career prospects...These children live in street shelters and orphanages. Without proper guidance, their lives will go astray. MAD makes sure that they have the proper life skills to make it in life. Then MAD tries to get them placed at jobs where they can live their potential...
MAD was recently picked as one of fifteen finalists for the international Youth Social Entrepreneur Awards which is a prestigious award bestowed by the Ashoka group. MAD became the only Indian entry in this competition in spite of 521 nominations from 60 odd countries. The final winner will be picked by online voting.
Map of finalists

Please dedicate one minute from your precious time to help these wonderful people make a difference. Make sure you read the instructions before yo vote.. Click below to enter the competition!

If the image isn't taking you to the competition page then click here. The voting closes on November 12th.

Let's try and bring pride to our country by spreading word about the achievements of our countrymen. To stand up and be recognized in such a multi-faced international crowd is an achievement in itself.

Spread the word, the only way we know how to do it.

Courtesy Kenny Jacob's blog for the post, links and images.

Wednesday, October 29

Good day for ducks...and dogs

There are two ways to react when you're subjected to a problem. One is to grab the bull by the horn and bring it down to its knees. Simple words, tackle the situation.

Another way, and the easiest one, is to walk away from the situation, so far that the heat of the issue doesn't burn your skin anymore. This is the option which seems to have attracted the Corporation of Trivandrum when it came to dealing with a perennial trouble: the floods in the city center.

Ever since Trivandrum grew out of its walls half a century back, the residents have been tormented by this menace after even the slightest drizzle. And after torrential monsoon rains the city roads morphed itself into an elaborate canal system mimicking Venice at its best. The major vessels of the city system got clogged, including the biggest market of South Kerala- Chalai, the City and long distance Bus Terminals, the Central Railhead and hundreds of offices and commercial establishments. Not to mention the poor public getting stuck in knee and chest high, murky waters, with no way of reaching dry grounds.

Trivandrum Central Bus Terminal after a rain!!

With Trivandrum being the focal point of road-rail transport in Kerala, disruption in the Central terminals meant disintegration of the whole system, statewide. The signal and control gadgets of Railways went haywire during floods, costing the system crores in repair alone. The capital city brought to a standstill just in one bout of rain was a common feature, and all this went on for decades right under the noses of the authorities. For the past 60 years, as much as 75 crores have been sacrificed at the alter of the 'flood management works', including the redesign and elevation of 2 culverts and roads, but the pest is still at loose.

Trivandrum with its undulating geography has enough natural systems for drainage, but haphazard development and brainless planning has hit our city in a bad bad way. Of late it seemed as if the situation has improved a bit, but below are the scenes from the heart of Trivandrum after the torrential downpours early this month...

pic courtesy Kerala Kaumudi

pic courtesy Malayala Manorama

The ladies and gentlemen in the above pics appear delighted and amused, may be stirred by the flash, but this is no water theme park to go on a fun ride. Those waters have washed up all the slop, sludge and sullage from the nearby canals and you wouldn't want your dog take a plunge in it.

On quizzed about this early this year, our CM Mr. V. S. Achutanandan urged that Trivandrumites should bear with the floods, and experts from outside the state will be called in for a solution. In the meantime the authorities came up with an ingenious plan to solve all the problems... Shift the Bus and Railway stations to the suburbs!

An official at the Corporation went on record saying that Kochuveli Railway station and Enchakkal Bus stand will solve the ailments caused by flooding in the city! This may just mean the end of the road for the businesses and residences around East Fort and Thampanoor...Those new developments should be planned and developed as per the needs of the neo-town sprouting along the Bypass, and not as a face saving escape from the floods in Trivandrum. The drains and canals must be cleaned and deepened, ensuring speedy drain of stromwater from the city center. The TS Canal, rather called Parvathy Puthanar, the misnomer waterbody cursed into carrying the mire of the city, must essentially be desilted and made navigable. Urgent measures be taken to prevent seepage of sewage and waste products into the Canal, which has the potential to turn Akkulam lake into a filth-swamp.

Parvathy Puthanar

All too easy to tell, but this is where our system beats us... lock, stock and barrell. To carry out the plan of action we need the assistance and co-operations from various Govt Departments like the Corporation, Water Authority, Public Works Dept (PWD), Railways, Telecommunications, Environment Ministry and all those contraptions in the system, which is almost impossible to achieve.

Each dept does things on their own, leaving big chunks of work to others... This happened during the widening of the Amayizhanjan Canal, when the PWD workers encountered a Water Authority pipe line while digging...The digging halted, and never restarts because those pipes were never realigned. A key canal crosses under the railway platforms in Trivandrum Central, but no excavations and cleaning is possible because it may harm the structural integrity of the tracks. TS Canal was desilted and all the sludge poured into the banks, turning the environmentalists and residents against the works. And the succeeding rains washed up all the deposits back into the canal..

Square one!

Monsoon in India

So the problem remains a problem... A Mumbai 2005 scenario may be far fetched to fear about, but these freak floods does make life damp in this aspiring city. All Indian cities, not just Trivandrum, are severely ill-equipped to handle such a common weather pattern. From our experience with mother nature, we must build our cities for human beings..and we are no amphibians...

As of now it is more suited for ducks if it rains...

Friday, October 17

The Celluloid & Behind- PART II

The Silverscreen woes...

We've discussed about the dogfights in the backyard of Malayalam film industry in Part I. Now back to what really matters here: the movie itself...

A fortnight back I read a review about a Tamil movie "Subramaniyapuram", claiming to be finest among the new age Tamil films. The review claimed that Malayalam film makers would have to wait at least 50 more years to make a film of such class.

Well, the fact that Tamil film industry is yet to churn out something of the class of "Moonam Pakkam", "Thoovanathumbikal", "Mathilukal", "Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha" or "Sargam", altercate that statement. True, movie makers like Bharatiraja and Mani Ratnam have carved a niche for themselves in the Tamil scenario, but the 1980-1990 Malayalam movies were a class apart, IMHO.

Mohanlal and Sumalatha in Thoovanathumbikal

Biased, you may feel, but I'm confident about arguing the point.

Now I'm not an art-film quirk to go blah blah about the Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Satyajith Ray movies; on the contrary I prefer the mainstream movies, or the so-called commercial ones. I'd still watch Chithram, Sholay or An Officer and a Gentleman, even if it is the 100th time, but I may fall asleep over Piravi...No offense meant. But the trouble seems to be that I feel like a rat-in-a-trap watching the contemporary Malayalam movies...

So what has gone terribly wrong with our movie makers in such a short span of time? Movies, as a major medium of communication and entertainment are so closely knit to the culture of a nation, and a deterioration of this sorts are a matter of worry. Malayalam movie industry is still revolving around the two stars of the century; the Big Ms...When the amount of fresh talents thrown up in the Tamil or Hindi movie scenario, both in front and behind the camera is just mind boggling, Keralites are still reluctant to part with Mammootty and Mohanlal. To make things worse, they both fail to mature on the screen with age. Both of them are trying hard to do things they cant...Mammootty in dancing and Mohanlal in those super-hero roles..Oh, and I'm all mixed up with the Suresh Gopi films because he is on a never-ending chase after murderers, with a gun in his hand.

The gifted scriptwriters and imaginative directors are gone for good, and we sorely miss the magical frames of Padmarajan, bold and colourful life portrayed by Bharathan, the straight-from-the-life scripts of Lohitadas, M.T. Vasudevan Nair or even the themed 'translations' of Priyadarshan. Now-a-days, except for the occasional lone brilliance from the likes of Lal Jose or Syamaprasad the future looks bleak and blank...and bore.


Those out there are creating a generation cursed to watch, applaud and enjoy mediocrity. Some of the blockbuster flicks, especially from the dawning superstar Dileep, wouldn't have created even a ripple in the Golden 80s. Some of the stars we managed to 'find', found their oasis across the border. Vikram is an example, and going by the history, Prithviraj may soon become out of reach for our movie industry.

The dearth of talents is only one part of our miseries; lack of fresh ideas and innovations, escalating costs, frigidity in improvising and piracy are strangulating the industry. The turbulent relationships between the various associations drain the sand under their own feet. The industry hit a new low early this decade when the thunder thighs of Shakkeela ruled the celluloid with her soft porn...To crown it all, now the theater owners have jumped in to further escalate the crisis.

Our new-gen movie makers desperately need to recognize the standards of the viewing public. The reason why Keralites prefer the physics-challenging antics of Rajanikanth and the laid-down formula movies in Tamil to the Malayalam movies is because the same local movies question the appreciating and understanding qualities of the public. Ever seen Ocean's Eleven, a pucca commercial venture from the Hollywood? The simplicity and ease in which a very complex plot was filmed must be an eye opener to our movie makers. Director Stephen Soderberg didn't have to spell out each letter and syllable of the script to the audience to understand what it was all about.

There is no point in elaborating about films by Kim ki-duk, Sergio Leone or Hayayo Miyazaki who are just master craftsmen at work. I'm too inadequate myself to brief you on their movies. Adoor and Shaji.N. Karun lifted up our spirits for a while, but far in between. As of now, the party seems over, and there are no signs of a rejuvenation.

Once upon a time in the West, a Sergio Leone classic

This may just mean another couple of decades with Mammooty and Lal! Oh, in 2025 they'd still be romancing Dileep's daughter on the screen...Wonder if there'd be anyone in the Talkies to see'em..:)

Sunday, October 12

The Celluloid & behind- PART I

There is one commodity in this state which is going from bad to worse and to worst, both qualitatively and quantitatively- the Malayalam film industry.

I remember my college days when I was nothing short of a movie freak. I spent more time on Theater push-backs and in front of Video players than on classroom benches. The celluloid thrilled my senses than any form of entertainment I could think of. The intellectual Trivandrum film fraternity, ubiquitous film shows, ample opportunities to understand World Cinema and a peer group consisting some agile movie critics moulded the way I saw and understood films.

And I always loved Malayalam movies, especially the ones created by Padmarajan, Bharatan, Fazil, Sibi Malayil(in his Golden times), Kamal(before he lost his plot) and even Priyadarshan, Satyan Anthicad and co. The movies made in the 80s until mid 90s had something unique and magnetic in them...the script, music, the way the story was told, the astounding feats of acting... The over whelming no of awards and accolades which cascaded into the Malayalam movie industry during the 90s is a testimony.

Ah, the Golden years bygone... for good, for good...

It hurts visualizing the pathetic, turbulent and violent screenplays unfolding in Malayalam movie industry at present. The sad part being that the scenes behind the screen are far sub-standard to the ones we see on it. There seems to be an eternal fight scene going on in the background, between producers and actors, superstars and not-so-super stars, actors and technicians, directors between themselves and finally between producers and theater owners...

At times this catfight really turns sour, with some of the individuals completely forgetting that they have the spotlight on them and what they utter is telecast to millions of family audiences. Such is the foul language and dung-flinging that the strong language used on V/U certified movies appear as benign as nursery rhymes. Eg: the recently ended Vinayan- MACTA war.

Just as the Director's drama reached anti-climax another ferocious and potentially grave conflict broke out among the Producers and the theater owners. Theater owner's strange and unreasonable demand that new releases be curtailed to just 48 centers was ridiculed and discarded by the producer's association. A movie is owned by the Producer and infiltrating into the marketing rights of a Producer made no sense. Even big injustice was the denial of viewing rights for the most undervalued, underestimated, neglected and abused section of the movie industry: the viewers.

The paying public was forced into B and C class centers of Kerala as the A-Class Talkies owners refused to screen the new releases, including the two superstar flicks. Allowing a small section of the big silverscreen community to hijack the whole industry and shake the foundations of this enterprise sums up the present condition of Malayalam Film scenario... Rockbottom...

Like the similar and anti-public associations like the Trader's Union(Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi) and Petrol Bunk Owner's Association, these film unions seem to be on a race to come out front in consumer harrassment...

New Theater, Trivandrum

It was reported that a newer Superstar movie grossed 25% more in half the no of days the previous no: 1 blockbuster managed. This created a new trend in Kerala: releasing maximum no: of prints to maximum no: of theaters and collect the returns in minimum time. Today movies are screened on more than 100 centers statewide as against 25-30 a few years back, maximizing the chance of a healthy return for the Producer. I don't see a flaw in this distribution tactic as all around the world this is how it is done. The Talkies Owners cried foul in this deal as they feared their individual income would be cut short.

The golden rule in any Industry is that you have to adapt to the changes and only the fittest will survive. Moreover this is a move which is beneficial even to theaters in rural areas and not just to a few big-guns in big cities. Movie distribution all around the world is transforming to digital distribution where any theater owner can download a new flick and exhibit in his center. 100 day celebrations are going to be a thing of the past.

Also the theater dadas may well be prepared for the Multiplex mania that we are going to see in our cities very soon. At least 8 new multiplexes are planned in Trivandrum alone, 5 of them being greenfield ones. Over 30 screens are going to get added to the city in 3-4 years time, almost doubling the existing capacity. I'd bet on the public discarding the existing theaters right in the middle of the city gridlocks for the sophisticated pleasures of the Multiplex-malls in the Bypass and peripheries.
PVR Multiplex in Bangalore

That was all about the backyard news in Malayalam film industry. Now back to what really matters here: the movie itself...Continue reading here in Part II

Tuesday, October 7

State No: 1...Again!

This post is inspired from Ajay Prasad's post and Mindcurry's article on the same subject.

Applause, applause, applause!
Kerala has bagged the trophy for the Best State in India, again, for the umpteenth time in history! Now I'm on cloud nine, and why shouldn't I be? Have a glance through the numbers given below...courtesy the Outlook Diamond States Awards 2008, and you'll understand my elation.

I can still recollect the India Today survey in the mid 90s and multitude of similar studies over the decade complementing the one result: Kerala on top! So the Outlook '08 result wont raise many eyebrows, apart from a few green eyed souls here 'n there and another bunch of wary cynics who would like to see sunrise in the west.

Because numbers cant lie, can they? I'll believe they won't, for the time being, :chuckle:

Kerala stands head and shoulders above the rest in Healthcare, Education, Women's Empowerment and Basic Infrastructure. I couldn't believe the Basic Infrastructure part of it at first, but it just meant the no of Post Offices, Hospital beds, surfaced roads, schools, telephone density and other social amenities for every 100,000 population...and for a 100% wired state the numero uno position comes naturally. No arguments.

No one could raise a point against the Healthcare and Education parameters of the survey as well; there is no better place than Kerala here. Education is a very sensitive and primary necessity in every mallu household, and there is one biggest factor behind Kerala's superior social indices: high female literacy.

Sociologists will tell you that female literacy is the determining factor behind all developed societies. Kerala scoring nearly cent percent in the Women's Empowerment part of it sums up the survey for Kerala.

So does that mean Kerala is the best state in India for the fairer sex? I'm not answering this question for you here, because it may just spoil the party...

Not surprisingly, Kerala has once again managed to mess up the figures when it comes to pointers directly related to employment and industrialisation. The chart has made it crystal clear that Kerala has not yet managed to chain its worst menace: the unemployment. Figures have sort-of doubled in the past decade and the sweat and blood of the labourers and professionals across the sea is what keeps the Kerala bogey rolling. But for how long?

How long will we survive by producing people and exporting them?

How far will we go by depending on the neighbouring states for even the basic consumer products?

And how are we going to compete in this scenario where petty politics, mindless factionalism, rusty ideologies and unnecessary controversies are drying up the trickle of investments we are getting?

Kerala has always been the land of firsts...First in all surveys...first fully literate state...first technopark...first container terminal...and now first mother port...the list rolls on. But from then on other states have taken over and we have allowed them to sideswipe us off the road. 25% of Kerala's Economy is from NRI remittance. Can Keralites imagine the situation if the oil wells run dry in the middle east or the "native population" policy is implemented. We know what will happen if a 1990 scenario(Gulf War) happens again. Kuwait is on its way to implement public taxation to counter the revenue loss from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia is drawing up plans to phase out the foreign nationals working in the country and many other middle east countries are following suit. In the West, UK already has a law in place making it mandatory for the immigrant workers to spend at least 40% of their non-taxable income in that country. The looming recession is forcing other nations to adopt similar enforcements. The end result: A major cut down on Kerala's income from its expatriates; devastating the Real Estate and banking sector in Kerala. This could well spell doom for the India's No#1 state!

There should be a way out for Kerala from this, you can't expect things to remain as it is now. Agricultural and Marine sector, providing employment to millions, has been contributing lesser and lesser to the State GDP over the years. Service Industry is on the rise in the state with Tourism generating a much needed boost for the state economy.The state bets big on Information Technology, with ambitious plans to spread the blue chip magic to even the smaller towns. Lastly, the Govt hopes to shrug off the "consumer state" tag by serious efforts to industrialization through the development of major ports in Cochin and Vizhinjam(Trivandrum). So there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we wont be overtaken before reaching there.

Even then the road ahead wont be like Hema Malini's cheeks for Kerala. The attitude against changes is the characteristic feature of the Kerala society, which inadvertently chokes any development proposals. It has resulted in the cash stripped Govt finding it tough even to pay its employees. Many social & infrastructural proposals get rejected in the Finance Ministry for want of funds. The biggest and crucial change should come from the politicians, media and a bigger section of the bureaucracy who always tend to see only the thorns in a rose.

So as of now, I will sleep with the survey report under my pillow, if it solves our problems. A good sportsman analyzes his failures, but the best scrutinizes his victories. Kerala knows that we are walking pretty on the ramp now, but is well aware that the shoe is pinching, and badly. So if we know what's hurting us, why don't we stitch it right away?

Have your say in the discussions on the Uniform Civil Code by Domestic Avalanche in Kenny Jacob's blog. Make sure you read the Part III of the series coming up this weekend!

Wednesday, September 17

The Corporate Marxist

The Communist Party of India-Marxist appears to have developed their own unique way of industrialising Kerala: start their own business.

Thats the message I got after the seeing the inauguration of the Vismaya Amusement Park in Kannur, wholly owned and operated by the CPI(M) under the ''people's'' co-operative society named Malabar Pleasures India Ltd. Not finished, the 'peoples organisation' is now planning to construct and operate a 5 star Hotel in Calicut city!

Guess what's next?

Probably a people's airport at Kannur along with a Comrade's Airlines, people's Shopping Mall at Payyannur or may be even a people's Medical and Engeneering Colleges all around Malabar. A revolutionary idea, is it not?? And it all belong to the people, bcoz it carries the 'peoples' tag...When MY own party is going to run schools and colleges, provide jobs in its own IT Parks, Hotels and industries, operate MY own Airports, harbours and Airlines, entertain me in MY own theme parks, malls, resorts and television channels, take care of MY health in MY own hospitals and protect MY life and property with MY own red force called SFI/DYFI, why musn't I be supremely happy? Because I am the people!

Oh, and this is the place on mother Earth I want to be born, live and die...

Jokes or sarcasms apart, the respectable Commie leaders in India clearly appers to be in Ideology Crisis, and a serious one at that. Whatever the archiac doctrines drive the Comrades here, it appears to be translucent, or best described, opaque. The leaders are all at sea with regards to the policies they adopt when it comes to National matters. And the contrasts get even worse at regional levels; Kerala and West Bengal being the perpetual samples.

Recently when the West Bengal CM Mr.Bhattacharya raised his voice against the hartals and bandh, the Party was quick in condemning him, forcing him to withdraw his statements. Even a State leader isn't aware of his Party policies has created a laugh out of the CPI(M). The blah blahs of his Kerala counterpart kicked off much dust and dirt in the Party think-tanks. The recent Singur-Nandigram episodes have exposed the Party stand on their traditional support group- the labour class, and it has dawned on the public that the Party requires some serious treatment.

Treatement for the Cataract, that has clearly blinded the pompous party from seeing where they are going.

In Kerala this policy predicament has led to the common public, as always, being the casualty. The Achutanandan Govt wasted 2 long years rubbishing against the tolled National Highway development by the Central Govt. Kerala was the lone state to be left out of the NHDP due to this drivel by the State rulers. The ubiquitous hartals and bandhs are striking tha last nails in Kerala's industrial aspirations, worse, it is slowly turning the common man against the so-called people's Party. The Party is hell-bent on an never-ending and nowhere-reaching discussion on the SEZ (Special Economic Zone), forgetting that the cream of the idea has actually been derived from the successful Chinese model of Free Trade Zones. These insipid debates have commenced almost a decade after the SEZ ploicies were drafted and adopted. Over a dozen SEZ applications lay biting the dust on the Kerala Premiere's table for an year, before it was forwarded to the Central Govt.
The SEEPZ, Mumbai. India's first SEZ

The transformation of CPI(M) from a Political Party to an aspiring Corporate House raises even more questions. When Anil Ambani became the Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh the Communist spokesperson quoted that ''businessmen turning into political figures creates a dangerous precedent in the democratic set up''. So how about Political parties turning into Business Houses?

It is imperative to suggest that the Comrades are at Crossroads now. They have to abandon the age old marxist policies and move on the Chinese way. China has long discarded the original Communist doctrines and is now a Capitalist nation, extinguishing some of the evils of Marxism. The only thing that binds the Indian and Chinese comrades together is the anti-American policy.

The other way is to hold on to the crumbling pillars of the Marxist dogma and get extinct with it, as history has repeatedly exhibited in other parts of the world. As of now, once you leave the Valayar pass the chance of meeting a comrade exists only after 2000km to the north-east.

Interesting to see which way the Reds are gonna go...

Wednesday, September 3

Setting the Standards- Part II

This is the sequel to the earlier post on No Man's Land; a scrutiny on the gauges set for ongoing and proposed infrastructural works in Kerala. When in Part I we saw how myopic criteria is going to handicap the state, now lets have a look as to how political double standards, procrastination and Ideophobia have started excruciating it.

July 9 Avenue, Beunos Aires, Argentina

Industrial development in Kerala seems to be at a crucial point now...Vallarpadam International Terminal is moving at breakneck speed towards commissioning. Between the two 'love-birds' of Cochin and Trivandrum, huge Tech Parks are turning to reality, promising to create lakhs of new hi-tech jobs. GoK pitches in hard, to develop an extra 3-4 IT parks in between these cities. And to crown it all, a colossal mother port is all set to break the calmness of the azure Vizhinjam waters...

So, all happy and sober?

The last time I travelled from Cochin Airport back home, it took me 6 hours and 20 min to cover the 250km 'highway' to Trivandrum, courtesy my 2.6 L SUV and a desperado driver. Out of that, 1 hour and 40 min to negotiate the unruly Cochin rush-hour, a chaotic toll-plaza(toll hut, to be precise) and a half-finished Bypass to reach Aroor, just 40 km from CIAL.

Vytilla Jn, Cochin, on NH Bypass pic courtesy The Hindu

All this at a time when the industrial growth is only about to begin...

If an average speed of 40km/hr I managed on that highway is a luxury, then imagine the condition when all the proposed developments are realized. Kerala is fast heading for the concrete wall, without a helmet or even a brake to help us. The only answer to get out of the mess is to resuscitate the almost dead Expressway plan.

I'm not going into the extremely ridiculous accusations against the project when it was conceived half a decade back. The only flick which always runs well in Kerala, the politics, once again spells doom for our state with the Expressway being the culprit this time.

Kerala Expressway was conceived by the old Nayanar Govt, taking into consideration the huge container traffic load on the highway post Vallarpadam. When the A.K. Antony Govt continued with the same plans, the Leftists cried foul and sabotaged the project. Rising public opinion against a big project in Kerala is just like plucking a flower from your own garden, and the leftists successfully buried their own brainchild; without a pinch of regret or shame. And now when they are back in power, the project is back, but in a rechristened form.

Check out this news quote in Manorama...

Our Road Transport Minister has 'discovered' that Kerala will need an expressway in future.. Wow, that's a big improvement, i must say, and he takes one step further in naming the road: Friendshipway...(He claims Russia uses that term for their expressways). Now Mr. Minister, you can call it Freeway or Comradesway(yeah, we have no objection) or North-South Highway(that was what his predecessor Joseph called it before he went on that airplane) or whatever you want, but give us a new access controlled road running the whole length of the state as soon as possible.

You've the plans, the budget studies, the alignment and the expertise...All you now need is to show the guts to make this a reality; for the 38 million inhabitants of Kerala.

Your party has shown the green signal as well... West Bengal has already built one, the Kolkata-Durgapur Expressway, and is planning more. Hey, China, your best pal builds 24km of expressways a day! Ah, we dare not try beat them (and hurt you), but why not join them?

We may not need a 100m wide road as envisaged earlier. Considering the demographic and topographic features of Kerala, a minimum for the standards could be adopted here. A standard width for a lane on an expressway is 3.5 m. Considering the heavy container movement expected after Vizhinjam and Vallarpadam, this is the bare minimum for a container truck.

A 8 lane carriageway ( 4 lane for a start) would require a width of 28m plain. An emergency or parking lane would augur for another 3m on each side, necessitating 34m of asphalted/concrete surface for traffic movement. An outer shoulder of 3m and an inner shoulder of 1.5m is recommended on both sides of the dual carriageway. A central median of at least 5 m is essential for the safety of a high speed corridor, where kinetic energy carried by a swift moving trailer could easily swipe away a small-sized car on the opposite tracks.

An Expressway in Beijing

In total, a 60m wide road would still leave enough space for drainage and utilities ducts, avenue trees, crash barriers and safety features after all the above mentioned essentials. The earlier idea of a central canal and facilities for a bullet train along with the expressway appears a bit too far fetched. Oh, may be inspired by the world's widest avenue in Argentina (the first picture in the post), but let's have a modest beginning.

Good ideas though, but let the most indispensable take shape now...Lets stop throwing up more dice to catch for the detractors.

Developing the existing NH 47 and NH 17 to take place of the Expressway is out of question, the simple reason being those two highways cannot be access controlled. There are commercial establishments and residential enclaves all along the highway, not to mention the big towns appearing every 70 odd km. What we need here is a dedicated high speed corridor for heavy load traffic. Anyone who traversed the Ernakulam- Palakkad highway knows well how the container trucks and lorries trail the traffic.

Mumbai- Pune Expressway

Allegations that an expressway divides the state into two is as ludicrous as claiming that Periyar separates Kerala, so silt up the river. Planners have mooted a crossover every half a km to one km, so this separatism theory obviously sprouted in some retarded brain. Well, if it holds water, then firstly we should annihilate those railway lines; it passes through the heartland of our fields and plantations and denies the right-of-way for our ducks, dogs, cattle and politician's cars...exactly in that order...

Another point against the expressway was that it will be financially non-viable. Speaking about Economics, there are already a few agencies willing to take up the project, who knows exactly what they are doing. So why dint we leave it out for the experts?

'Expressway is built for the rich; it does no good for the poor'; this was the funniest argument I heard during those revolts against the project. Ok guys, lets go and close down our Airports and ban Rajadhani trains...after all its also not for people who cant afford a day's bread. Roads are built for common public, goddammit, and time is the most important commodity in the modern world. If a child from Kasargode could be brought to the Sree Chitra Neurosurgical Centre in Trivandrum in 5 hours time, it would be the most important role of this project. For that child, time may have been the factor running against her, not money.

Well, when your bus cant shift into 4th gear on our highways and the average speed is nothing more than a gentle breeze, then we will start to rue our decisions. Exactly as how we are kicking ourselves for all the 'missed buses' of industrialisation.

Minor alignment changes could be adopted in the plan (seen here) including the extension of the expressway from its present endpoints at Pallipuarm(Trivandrum) and Chalinkal(Kasargode). It doesn't need an expert to figure out that Vizhinjam must obviously be the starting point. It would also be better if the Expressway is extended to join the proposed Mangalore Bypass near the state border.

If one project is going to turn the tables for our state then its the Expressway project. There are a hell lotta hurdles before the asphalt is laid for this road, but if those hurdles keep on distracting us we may never touch the finishing line.

Related posts: Setting the standards- Part I