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Wednesday, February 27

A big fat nothing

The railway budget 2008 by Lalu Prasad Yadav has surprisingly evoked elated responses in Kerala, except, understandably from BJP.

The high spirits are as a result of the 5000 crore Coach Factory in Palakkad is the single biggest investment by Railways in Kerala in history. Over 10,000 jobs will be created in this massive Public sector undertaking, and indeed it is a milestone for Kerala.

But apart from that the Budget has failed to address the long standing demands of the passenger community of Kerala, for yet another time.

A total of 5 trains have been promised for Kerala including the extension of Bangalore-Coimbatore Intercity to Ernakulam and the Shornur-Nilambur Passenger. A Garib Rath, Lalu's own A/C train for the poor, will connect Bangalore to Kochuveli(Trivandrum) thrice a week. Another once-a-week service from Kochuveli to Amritsar & Dehradun + increase in Rajadhani frequency to thrice weekly sums up our kitty.

But the long standing demands of the passengers remain only partially addressed. A daily Trivandrum-Bangalore Superfast has been on demand for a decade now. Apart from the irritatingly slow Island Express and an erratic bi-weekly express the 2 IT Cities have still poor rail-links. Demand for a superfast which leaves TVC at dusk and reaching Bangalore by next morning has been falling on deaf years. Garib Rath is still not the right one. The new Intercity service from Ernakulam is a daytime express, which will make commuters lose a full day in travel.

May be it is the economical front which makes the Railways turn down demands for a Shornur-Mangalore Intercity or another daytime train connecting Trivandrum-Kannur. The travel in Malabar isn't getting better with doubling still at snails pace and electrification a distant possibility.

The Sabari rail link is all set to take off but there isn't any mention of the line extension to Trivandrum. This will create a parallel to MC Road from Angamaly to Trivandrum and will enhance the development of the hill regions. This line will be of great significance once the Vizhinjam Harbour is commissioned. If directly connected to Vizhinjam via Balaramapuram, it will create a rail bypass to the already congested Trivandrum-Kayamkulam sector. It is unthinkable to allow constant container traffic through Trivandrum Central and Kollam Jn.

The Edappally- Guruvayoor line is another vital part in channelising freight movements to and from Vallarpadam. If not, the level crossings in the main route will soon reach a state of permanent close down.

The Thalassery-Mysore railway line still remains on dreams; same is the Shornur bulb station & Nedumbassery station. The line surveys announced are turning out to be sarcasms, as after the survey the idea is found impractical and dropped.

In total, there is nothing much for the common man to cheer. The Coach factory was already promised as a compensation for Salem Division. The Suburban Services wont be commencing anytime soon. The travel woes will largely remain so as the 4 general compartments in the once-a-week trains are insignificant for daily commuters.

So Laluji has cleverly foxed Kerala politicians with his guile and numbers. Achumama & his Govt is happy; they got a handful when compared to previous years. The opposing Congress team is also proud; after all Lalu is their alliance. And the political think-tanks at the Center are even more happy...

Because Laluji managed to create a rift between Kerala & Bengal comrades during the latter's walkout during Budget presentation, against neglect of West Bengal. Kerala reds refused to join them...

Yes, Lalu gave Bengal nothing, and Kerala a big fat nothing!


Sunday, February 24

Birth of a new city!

At last its boom-time for Trivandrum!

Its gladdening to see the surge of activities hotting up in my hometown, perhaps for the first time in the 50-odd years of Kerala history. Trivandrum is right up there, among the new age cities of India, waiting to ride the IT wave.

Even though the Technology Park concept was sown and sprouted in Trivandrum, it took almost 2 decades for the city to blossom into a noticeable IT destination. Unfortunately, lack of a strong traditional business community and absence of political willpower retarded the city's growth, almost to a standstill.

But it seems as if the city is shrugging off the threads attached. Technopark has grown from a mere 5000+ employees in 2003 to over 18,000 by 2007 end, showcasing names like Infosys, E&Y, Allianz Cornhill, IBS and UST Global, with Satyam, TCS, Patni soon arriving. Technopark is transforming Kazhakkoottam, a languid village 15 km from city-center, into a dynamic suburb threatening to outdo the mother city in all aspects.

An area of nearly 140 sq km is awaiting infrastructural uplifting to keep pace with the IT, commercial & real estate development. This area accommodates the Akkulam-Mangalapuram Highway(14 km) and the 5km radius around it. Thats double the present size of Trivandrum city. This new city is taking shape with the NH 47 including the Bypass as the arterial avenue, relying heavily on the IT development centered around Technopark and the proposed Technocity. Industrial initiatives such as Film Park, Apparel Park, Brahmos Missile Centre, along with Life Sciences Park and Telecom City firmly announce the arrival of Kazhakkoottam, and a new city for Trivandrum.

Luckily for this satellite town, the major infrastructural necessities are already in place or fast taking shape. This is unlike Trivandrum, where even after 50 years the Govt has not finished developing the main thoroughfare, the MG Road, into a decent one. NH 47 will soon be widened into a 4 laned one. The biggest Railway terminus in Kerala, with 10 platforms is getting ready at Kochuveli, served by roads on either sides(Even now it has 2 entries, one on the Veli Road and the new one on the Bypass side). Most importantly it wont be drowned in a drizzle, as what happens now in Trivandrum Central Terminal. Moreover Veli, Kazhakkoottam, Kaniyapuram & Murukkumpuzha Railway stations are already operational and just 1km away from the highway. May be we could even think of new stations between Kochuveli and Chirayinkeezhu once the suburban Rail System kicks off. Trivandrum International Airport is just a breeze away from the heart of this new city- Kazhakkoottam Bypass Jn.

So transport and connectivity isn't a big headache.

The industrial foundations of Kazhakkoottam is already strong with the real estate merchants vying for a pie. At least 3 dozen residential projects are sprouting up from the verdant greenery accounting for over 4000 units, just for a start. Hilton, Rajadhani Group, Taj, Nikunjam & Raheja are the early birds in hospitality front. Mall projects from Nitesh Estates, SFS, Prozone, Plaza Centres et al will redefine shopping experience in Trivandrum. What's more, even a waterfront is slowly evolving along the Akkulam lake shore, which will change the aesthetics of the new city!

That just means Kazhakkoottam is promising what Trivandrum always hoped for. The advantages are numerous: straight and wide highway which will serve as radial road; in-place transport infrastructure; flat terrain, vast, unused land for development; good industrial background providing a golden opportunity for a planned, sustainable development.

The nation is already taking notice as evidenced by the studies and articles projecting the rise of Trivandrum, which obviously will focus around Kazhakkoottam. And to fuel its growth Govt of Kerala needs to give ear to articles like this:

The news item in Malayala Manorama cries out about the shortage of power and water in the Technopark area. Just a few months into its rebirth, Kazhakkoottam is already feeling the heat. The issue is not a small one as the authorities are dealing here with an area bigger than the present city.

Water, drainage and electricity are quintessentials without which no city can survive. The IT population alone is expected to add 2 lakh inmates to this area, not mentioning the adjacent industrial parks. So the success of Trivandrum essentially relies on how well the authorities can handle this massive pressure of population.

The emerging new downtown of Trivandrum is almost fully encompassed in the map below, and the major landmarks projected...

Apart from the development of the present NH(in red) and the Bypass(in green), we need a network of wide, quality roads connecting the city and peripheries. The container traffic when Vizhinjam materializes is another worry for this highway. Alternatively, the coastal road (shown in red parallel to sea)via Shankhumugham-Veli-Thumba could be connected to Attingal to take this pressure off.

The CET Road, from Chavadimukku to Kulathoor(in blue) must be widened to accomodate 6 lane traffic and must be connected to Kazahkkoottam Railway Station and further to the coastal road. The existing Sainik School Road(in yellow), which connects NH 47 to MC Road must also be developed and connected to this coastal road. The Akkulam- Ulloor Road, which has bright prospects of metamorphosing into a Lakeshore Drive will be a feather in this new city. A Trivandrum-Attingal parallel road also could be envisaged at a later stage, if to avoid a Hosur Road scenario.

The idea of connecting Punalur to Trivandrum by rail is in its embryonic stage. This line, running along the MC Road, is proposed to join Kazhakkoottam which will turn this small station into a major junction in Trivandrum. An integrated City Bus Terminal is required at Kazhakkoottam, with sub-depots at Kochuveli, Pallipuram(Technocity) and one at the Coastal road.

An MRTS for the twin cities would be a possibility in future, probably for a skybus or monorail from Technocity to Vizhinjam, connecting the techno-corridor, various railheads, bus terminals, commercial/residential zones, the International Airport and Vizhinjam harbour. As per reliable sources, proposal for this project has already been submitted!

The TS Canal which runs parallel to the highway and railway track opens up another mode of people and freight transport apart from creating a leisure zone for the new city.

Development of parks, playgrounds and protecting the greenery from being eclipsed will adorn the same charm of Trivandrum to Kazhakkoottam. Let this new city emerge from the shadows of Trivandrum, but without traffic problems, congestion, picketing of Govt offices, dharnas, marches and what else....!

Its not a tall hope but a necessity, because a city which doesn't rebuild itself eventually dies...

Photos courtesy Sudheesh @ Skyscrapercity

Related Topic: Trams: Outdated or Futuristic?

Wednesday, February 13

Travails of a CM

I wonder why I was all too happy when V.S.Achuthanandan was sworn in as Kerala Chief Minister in May 2006.

I may belong to the sparse and forbidden class of citizens who wish to see development in all arenas across the state. But development is a word regularly viewed with suspicion and profligation in Kerala, and investors are potential desperados...

And comrade V.S. Achuthanandan is one soul who was always the commander-in-chief, leading the press and politicos delegation to liquidate such efforts.

VS has led scores of agitations against encroachments, sexual harassment, corruption, social discrimination and inequality while he was the opposition leader; giving the premieres Antony and Oomen Chandy many sleepless nights. He also thwarted efforts of industrialisation by the Congress led Govt, opposing projects such as Expressway, Coco-cola & Pepsi plants, Smart City, KMML Mining project, Private professional colleges, ADB loans et al.

He became a social icon among Kerala middle class and the darling of media, since he would always deliver what they loved: controversies. He was indeed the most powerful Opposition leader Kerala had seen and the whole state celebrated his succession to the throne of Chief Minister.

I was also strangely happy to see this immaculate leader-of-mass rise to power, since he had the potential to liberate Kerala society from many of the teething issues plaguing it, mainly relating to corruption and injustice. I was positive that his stands on industrial & infrastructural development would naturally change once he is the boss.

After all, I thought, how could a Chief Minister oppose development of his own state when he is in charge???

Well, V.S just exhibited how...

He continued his babbling about Dubai Internet City being a private real estate agency and Smart City is not needed in Kerala. The corresponding Communist leader &West Bengal CM, Bhattacharya was the first to take advantage of this let off and invited TECOM to Calcutta. VS was put under pressure and eventually the Smart City is becoming a reality. Ironically, the refurbished agreement became a feather in his cap, as it exhibited how the state had benefited out of the new draft, an appraisal of his stern stands.

Munnar drama seemed to create another sensation and an aura gradually formed around him, being a real common man's leader and saviour. He drew accolades even from Sonia Gandhi when she praised his efficiency.

Sadly, the honeymoon ended all too quickly...

Munnar became a boomerang and ended in a sensational fiasco.
His handling of the officials in the ISRO Ponmudi land issue left much to be desired.
His refusal to accede to the BOT terms of the NHAI effected in Kerala being left out from the Highway Development plan. As a result Keralites were forced to travel on the worst ever road surfaces(if they ever existed) in history.
On the other hand railway development is at a standstill.
His heroics in the sex harassment cases ended the day he came to office. He had pledged to "bring the offenders to daylight within a week he gets power." Nothing happened.
His public allegations against the Special Economic Zone policies of Central Govt received no backing up from the state or party leaders.
He allowed himself to get mocked publicly in the Farris Aboobecker-verukkappettavan episode, after locking horn with the media-man.
His innocent-act in the HDIL Cybercity affair went horribly wrong. His backing away from the official inauguration at the last moment created the spark which ignited the controversy.
His govt faced a diabolical failure in the Private professional colleges case. He had vowed to "bring down the managements to its feet" if he came to power.
His failure to address the price explosion in commodity market has led to frustrations among common people.

In short, V.S Achuthanadan has soiled his own portrait. He cuts a sorry figure ridiculed by even his ministers and party. He still clings to his ideologies, which has been discarded by his own party.

Communism, in the way VS follows, can exist only in paper. There are numerous models of failed communist states and the doctrine appears wonderful only in theory. Social equality and prosperity can only succeed economic stability. China is an imposing

illustration of how a nation can prosper if you discard or modify such antiquated & ineffective theories. Have a look at Shanghai in 1990 and 2007!

The social equality envisaged by the founders of Communism is now, ironically, only found in a capitalist setting. Europe is a classical example. Western Europe has very effective laws and systems preventing any discrimination from occurring in a workplace, social setting or even at home. Staunch Labour laws make sure all's fair and square; both for employees & employers. Eastern Europeans, like in Poland, have freed themselves from the Communist doctrine, and slowly starting to enjoy the fruits of social prosperity because of their economic development.

The Communist leaders of India have opened their eyes and brains to this reality, barring a few like V.S.Achuthanandan. They play the Pepsi and Tata games for political mileage but at the back of their mind they can't turn a blind eye to investors. Industrial development is the backbone for any community and serves as a platform to establish social benevolence.

There are enough indications to assume that V.S regime will end prematurely. The Polit Bureau incidents and recent State Committee meetings have weakened his status in the party and public.

An ulcer can be covered by just placing a dressing over it, but a knowledgeable doctor understands the need to treat it from within. Kerala's woes have added complications and V.S. is ill-equipped to address the real issues. How long can you close the eyes towards the jobless educated youth? Or how long are you hoping to depend on the NRI sweat which contributes 60% of the spending power of a Keralite?

You can be a victim of your own ideologies, but why take us along?

Wednesday, February 6

Which one would you mind?

The recent racist issue between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds concluded in a rather hilarious way for some people, but it has also left many whining.

The story unwinded during the second Test between India & Australia at Sydney when Harbhajan was accused of 'racially insulting' Symonds by calling him 'monkey'. Bhaji was summoned after the test and Match Referee Mike Procter was convinced that he had enough evidence to hand over a 3 match ban for the Indian offie. The BCCI immediately sprang to his rescue and appealed against the ban, alleging that the accusation was false. The air was turbulent for a period of time and even the whole tour was in jeopardy. And just before the conclusion of the series, appeal commissioner John Hansen cleared Harbhajan of charges with this observation:

"I need to be sure and if I am left with a dishonest and reasonable uncertainty, then I must find in favour of Mr Singh,’ he said. ‘There was a direct conflict as to whether the word was used. ‘There are cultural accent and language differences and it is accepted some of Mr Singh’s remarks were in his own language." (Read full report here)

The crucial evidence of Sachin Tendulkar that Bhaji used the term 'maa ki' in Punjabi and was percieved by Symonds as 'monkey' was too plausible for Henson. Harbhajan was fined a portion of his match fees, a let away compared to the original ruling. Everyone seemed happy and content. File closed!

There is an ocean of a difference between what one perceives as an abuse across different communities. Symonds, Australia's only black player was repeatedly monkey chanted by the crowds during the last tour of India. Even terms such as 'black', 'Indian' or 'Asian' could be perceived as a racial abuse and is considered a serious offence in Western Countries, whereas 'monkey' wouldn't be an almighty abuse in India, even to our aborigines. Some groups even claimed that monkeys are considered God in India and it isn't associated with even a tinge of racism!

Now 'maa ki' is a direct verbal abuse to one's mother and it wouldn't make a difference if you are an Indian, Aussie, American or Utopian...It is an offense. Ask Marco Materazzi, he will tell you how it feels after addressing one's mom the wrong way.The infamous head-butt incident was as a result of his verbal assault on French star Zinedine Zidane's mother. Even though he defended his words as 'a phrase you would hear a hundred times on a football pitch', Materazzi had learned the lesson the hard way. But you wouldn't expect similar episodes in cricket; touted the gentleman's game.

Well, some gentlemen we have here!

Many have considered the 'Monkey' incident as a lighter moment, a comedy. Now some local chewing gum company is utilizing the incident to their advantage by casting Bhaji and Symonds in their ad based on this story. What I find really incomprehensible is Mr. Hanson's ruling that a 'monkey' is more degrading than a 'maa ki ****'

To be honest, I wouldn't mind a 'monkey'.