Wednesday, March 01, 2017

‘I hate India’

When you hear on TV that Someone said the above statement, the first thing that comes to your mind these days is, that Someone must be anti-national.  That Someone doesn’t deserve to be in India.  Ministers who have the important job of running the country are stopping their work to tweet, or grab the nearest TV camera, to say, ‘Someone should be thrown out of the country.  Why live in this country if you hate it?’ 

So what does it mean to say ‘I hate India’?

‘I hate India’ says an activist

An activist who is fighting against construction of dams, after being harassed, arrested, and tormented, says, ‘I hate India, for its apathy towards those who have to leave their homes’.  All of a sudden, this sentence doesn’t look anti-national anymore.

‘I hate India’ says a tourist

A Indian tourist who travels the world gets back to India, and looks at the pollution, the dirt, the trash, and the garbage everywhere, and says, ‘I hate India. I think we should start cleaning our cities first’.  All of a sudden, this sentence doesn’t look anti-national anymore.

‘I hate India’, says an angry mother

An old Indian mother who lost her husband, says, ‘I hate India. Which makes me stand in line for many months before giving me my pension’.  All of a sudden, this sentence doesn’t look anti-national anymore.

‘I love India’, says a terrorist

Before blowing up a big bomb in an Indian city, a terrorist records his voice and puts on internet, ‘I love India.  I love it so much that I really want every Indian to feel the pain of love I have for them’.  All of a sudden, ‘I love India’ doesn’t sound so endearing anymore. 
Spoken words should not be legalized

Words, these are merely words.  They can have different interpretations.  The one who uses the word ‘hate’ for India is not anti-national, the same way the one who uses ‘love’ for India is not a patriot.   Getting riled over what every Indian citizen says on social media is going to be quite exhaustive exercise for Indian Ministers who stop in their tracks each time someone says ‘I hate India’. 

The spoken word should have unequivocal freedom, its citizens the inalienable rights.  No ifs, No buts. The State cannot dictate what can be spoken in what form, because words have different meanings, and one cannot simply conclude what they could mean. 

Laws such as sedition (IPC Sec 124A), which says, that ‘Whoever, by words, attempts to bring into hatred towards the Government in India shall be punished with im­prisonment for life’, have no place in modern societies.  This was the law that was used by British to jail Indian nationalists.  Now, India uses it against its own citizens.

Grow up, India  

Especially, Grow up, Indian Ministers.  Get on with your work, and please ignore what every young person living in India says on social media.  Just because one young angry woman says, ‘I hate India’, it doesn’t make her anti-national, and it doesn’t mean she supports terrorists, or the enemy state, or that she is bent on breaking up India. 

And ah, this goes to Cricketers and Actors as well.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Demonetization: The essential objectives

[Disclaimer: All the views expressed in here are personal and do not reflect the opinion or the position of the organization that the author works for.] 

It is becoming evident from the long lines at ATMs across India, and the troubles faced by the farmers and small-time traders, that the implementation of the demonitization initiative has been quite poor.  Clearly, it could have been planned better and executed better.  As Supreme Court of India warned, if things don’t improve, we could see riots in this country.

But the poor implementation is not good enough reason to conclude that this exercise will not achieve its objectives.

So what are those objectives? 

Unlike most people in India, including those who actually introduced this initiative – namely the Prime Minister and his team, I don’t have unrealistic expectations from the current initiative of denotification of the existing 500 and 1000 rupee notes.  

According to me, the objective of this exercise is not that much about curbing counterfeit money, nor about trying to ‘get out’ the black money from their hideouts.  Yes, the introduction of new currency notes would obviate the problem of counterfeit notes, but only for a while, because if the enemy is insistent on copying and releasing even the new notes, they could do so, given some amount of time.  And, unlike what most people hope, there is no need for black money to be deposited into the banks.  If that money cease to exist, it is good enough.  The shortfall in circulation or non-existence of the black money is good enough for the Government to infuse more printed notes, thereby giving itself a fillip in public spending on infrastructure projects. 

Also, the objective is not to remove the higher denomination notes just because it makes it easy for hoarding black money.  With introduction of 2000 note, which is higher than the erstwhile 1000 note, that objective is anyway not even addressed.  And most importantly, India can never become 100% cash-less society either. Cash will continue to be a dominant form of tender, but cash-less transactions will increase exponentially.

So, the moot question is: why support this demonitization initiative if the above ‘stated’ objectives by the Prime Minister and his team are not so important?

I think there is another unstated objective which, according to me, is far more important.  It is about putting our house in order. 

1. To change the way we do business going forward

For any country to be effective, like any organization, the formal discipline of doing business is important.  For a company to be effective, one of the first steps is to streamline the processes, make the stakeholders accountable and trackable, so that you have a grip on what’s happening in the company.  Only when you have control on the proceedings and the actors, can you plan for efficiency, profitability and pursue excellence.

And yet, that’s not the case with our country.  With bulk of our business transactions being conducted in an informal, unaccountable way, there is no way one could keep a check or track on what’s happening.  This doesn’t allows us to strive for improving the system and get the best results.  Most of the rewards, if any, are squandered away.

Imagine a company like Microsoft.  Instead of the company making profits on the sale of its software, if each employee is selling the software on the side, how would Microsoft survive? It would go defunct.  That’s exactly what was happening in India. 

Far too many transactions, trade, business, real estate, jewellery, employee salary and wages, were all being done without accounting for them.   That’s loss of tax revenues for the state, allows for unmanageable inflation, and creates a shadow and alternate economy that competes with the mainstream economy by creating uncontrolled disruptions – imagine one employee of Microsoft suddenly releasing 1 Million copies of its software into the market, competing with the company itself.  What would be the profit to the company? You can only imagine.
Streamlining the businesses not only helps the State, but also helps the traders and the wage earners who it is hurting right now owing to cash crunch.  Because they currently conduct their business in hawala, or black, or in unaccounted way, the prices and quality of products cannot be regulated, their business agreements cannot be legally honoured - the lack of accountability leads to inefficiencies and sporadic losses.  But if these businesses are streamlined, the overall business health improves, the traders get secure, and they can use their legitimate assets to raise capital, and apply for insurance, and get legal help where necessary.  If things don’t go well, they can file bankruptcy and save their families in a legal way, instead of facing blackmail, threats, mental pain and agony.  Meanwhile, the wage earners will develop a credit history, use that to avail car loans, home loans, and buy health insurance.   This will secure their lifestyle. 

For far too long, our businesses have not had proper accounting methods, their transactions were not reported, and taxes were not paid.  Only 3% of India pays taxes.  Most of the transactions are based in cash – mostly to avoid taxes, but they end up not creating the necessary formal accounting procedures.  The cash that is obtained without paying taxes is called black.  Some of it is stored as cash, but most of it is converted into buying property or gold.  But even the transaction on buying property in India is shady – where only a little portion of the property is paid in white, while the rest is all black.  This is once again done to save on property tax.  So, the vicious chain continues.  Most Indians have got into a habit of not paying taxes, telling themselves it is OK not to pay taxes.  Give such self-feeding mechanism of saving your taxes a few decades, what we get is a completely broken system.  And that has been India.

Putting a small company in order after 3 years of bad accounting takes few months to clean up.   This country has been doing bad business accounting for many decades.  A move like this, though a shock treatment, is essential to set the ball rolling towards proper accounting methods.

The biggest outcome would be: we would have achieved a change in attitude, of the people, of the businesses, on how we trade, and how we buy and sell.   Our DNA would have changed.  All of us will insist on proper method, and oppose improper methods in our transactions.

Like how an Indian landing in US suddenly starts following its rules without putting up any resistance, following rules in accounting, adopting formal policies, doing it the right way, will become natural to Indians. 

Therefore the primary objective of this initiative is to streamline our businesses forcing them to adopt legal and accountable methods, which the current initiative of demonitization will achieve.  This has far reaching implications on the overall economy of the country, and that takes us to the second objective. 

2. Improve the overall economy. 

Though there could be a lull in the economy during this transition period, eventually the economy will get a fillip.  With more deposits, the banks will lend out more loans, at lower interest rates.  The government will earn more tax revenues from accounted transactions thereby leading to lower income tax for people and businesses.  This will give more spending power to people, and increase industry in the country.  This will further increase the GDP and further increase the tax base.  Real estate transactions becoming accounted will give the State more revenues, decrease the real estate prices, and the buyers will now avail the legal way to finance it without resorting to convert their white money into black.  Knowing the exact circulation of the currency in the market allows the government a good handle on inflation, which in turn has a bearing on reducing the interest rates.  

Doing it the proper way gives financial security to people and businesses.  They will no longer feel compelled into storing or stashing their savings in the form of cash, property or gold.  Secure businesses and secure people take bold decisions in business.  Such an environment creates more entrepreneurs.  It allows for businesses to scale in legal way, go public using stock market.  The accountable way of transactions will discourage people from parking their money in real estate or gold, and instead put their money into institutions like banks, funds or stock market, which in turn will help Indian businesses to scale and grow.

Yes, the government has bungled its implementation, but the decision itself is bold, transformative, and laudable, and will bring in positive results in the long term.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Demonitization: Will it work?

I hear lot of criticism launched against Demonitization.  I cite some of them here.

‘Poor people are suffering’

‘It is the common man who is hurt.  Look at the long lines at each ATM.  They are standing there for hours’.

And yet the narrative is not as simple as it sounds.  When these people standing in line at ATM are asked if they are facing trouble, almost all of them say, ‘Yes’.  But when asked if this move is good, they all say, ‘Yes’.  Then they add, ‘This is an inconvenience, but in the larger good, this is OK.  On the whole, we support this initiative from Prime Minister Modi’.

So, it all depends on what part of narrative you want to hear.  If you hear only the first part, it does clearly say that people are inconvenienced to a great extent.  But if you hear the second part, common man endorses Modi’s demonitization. 

Did Government bungle up its implementation?


First, it did not prepare itself with enough new rupee notes it wanted to introduce.   It should have had enough stock with it before announcing the demonitization of old notes.   The paucity of new notes is creating lot of trouble to many businesses, including the common man.

Second.  Why did they not create 500 and 2000 rupee notes the same size as old 500 and 1000 rupee note? That would not have required the calibration of ATMs which is currently underway, and is causing the impediment in delivering cash to people.

It definitely looks like Indian economy has come to a standstill.  However, given few more days, with more new notes brought into circulation, the problem of paucity of notes will fade away and normalcy will be restored.  

‘We will not get the black money into the banks’

‘Most hoarders will not return the money to the banks.  They will either find methods to convert it, or just throw the cash away’.

Actually, the government doesn’t need the hoarders to return the black money.  The fact that such money doesn’t exist, and will never come into circulation, is good enough for the government to print notes in excess to compensate for the loss.  That is in fact better than getting that money back as bank deposit – because when it is deposited, it is with the banks (and not necessarily with the government).  However, if the hoarders don’t return the old notes, the difference that is printed is in the hands of government to fund its schemes and projects.

In summary: there is no necessity for hoarders to return the black money.  The fact that those old notes don’t exist anymore is good enough.

Coming to the second point.  The hoarders cannot convert their entire cash using other people’s accounts.  Just look at the math.  To convert 14 Lakh Crores of black money, one would need 7 Crore peoples’ accounts.  That is just not humanely possible.  Therefore, the best a black money hoarder would be able to convert is 1 Crore of his money using 50 of his known associates.  Even that is on the higher side.

‘The actual black money is in the name of benaami lands and jewellery’

Yes, but that is not what the current initiative aims at.  The current initiatives starts with attacking the physical black money, which forms the base of the pyramid of illegal transactions.  The benaami lands and unaccounted jewellery could be the next target, which come above the base of the pyramid.   Unless the physical black money is attacked, addressing benaami lands and jewellery does not make sense.  Therefore, the current move can be seen as the first move.  And there are good reasons to believe there are more steps in the offing.  So, let’s not despair.

‘What about the lull in the economy? Who is going to fix that?’

There is definitely lull in the economy.  Transactions have stopped.  State Governments are not making money.  Businesses have stopped buying and selling.  Traders have stopped trading.

But this is not going to be forever.  Very soon, once enough cash is in circulation, the economy will kick in and business will be as usual once again.

Hmm... Not really.  Let me pause there.  The reason why I endorse this initiative so strongly is because it changes exactly that.  Business will not be as usual after this.

What were our old habits?

For a very long time, most of our business was done in cash, and the advantage of that has been that the buyer and seller didn’t pay tax.  The employer gave employee his salary in cash, once again not paying the tax. This accumulated black money, the money that is unaccounted.  Over a period of time the accumulation was so much, that it could fund political parties to win elections, and entire real estate market turned out to be based on false reporting.  This also made land acquisition by the government quite impossible.

Jewellers traded in cash, their transaction values running into crores of rupees per day, and yet they didn’t pay any tax, so is the case with cloth merchants, real estate contractors, commodity traders, and even the wholesale merchants of fruits, vegetables and flowers.  They all traded in cash.  Even the movie producers traded in cash, so did, many small manufacturers. 

But that will change. 

What is going to change?

What is already changing is the attitude.  Attitude towards how we go about doing business, and how we are going to trade, how we are going to pay salaries. 

Unlike most other pundits who do not believe that legislation helps in changing the culture of a nation, I tend to believe that a legislation indeed is a very powerful tool, and it can change the attitude and culture of people of a nation, and that it can also alter its course in history. 

Take for example, Hindu Code Bill, which reformed our age-old traditions, with respect to how many kids we have, towards contraception, towards family, towards marriage, towards treatment of women.   Or for example, Right to Information Act, which changed the way we look at facts given by the government and how we use the information.   Take TS-iPASS bill passed by Telangana State to give clearances in 15 days.  The change is fundamental, and has dramatically transformed the way government dealt with investors.  No amount of coaxing would have achieved that.  But one law brought a sea change. 

Looking at examples of South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, it becomes obvious that certain fundamental legislations have transformed their cultures and economies.

This demonitization is one such step.   It is going to bring in fundamental change, and may alter our DNA.

A generation is a nation in itself.
Thomas Jefferson

The upcoming generation in this country will not believe that there was a time when almost all our business transactions was done only with cash, and most of it without paying tax. 

We are already witnessing change in attitudes.  Many business people are ready to streamline their processes so that they are never caught with their pants down like this ever again.  The businesses will stop doing cash-only transactions and instead use checks, banks, credit cards, e-transactions, whereby the government actually taxes these transactions.

What is the positive outcome?

In the first 3 days after demonitiziation, banks received 3 lakh crores of deposits.  The banks expect a total of 10 Lakh crores of deposits in the next month.  That is approximately 12% increase in the total deposits, equal to 10% of India’s GDP.   This will have a profound effect on our banking.  For a starter, the interest rates would go down, borrowing becomes easy, and more loans will be available.  In short, the cost of capital, which has always been very high in India, is going to drastically reduce.  And that will spur the economy in many ways.  More infrastructure projects can be funded. States can negotiate for a higher ceiling on their borrowing capacity.  Industry can raise capital to scale their business. 

And now for more interesting aspect.  The tax revenue is going to drastically increase.  For all these years, most business transactions were unaccounted for, and it was loss of taxes to the government.  Now, these transactions will yield substantial increase in tax revenue, so that the government has more money to spend.  This could even result in decrease in personal income tax and corporate taxes, which will further improve the economy, industry, and employment in this country.

‘Why issue 2000 rupee note when it is clear that higher denomination leads to black money hoarding?’

Well, I fundamentally differ with the premise itself. Some people believe that having a higher denomination allows for black money hoarding.  That is patently wrong.  A higher denomination just makes it easier. It is not a cause. It is just one of the possible methods.  The black money hoarders can hoard their wealth in the form of diamonds, or gold, or iron ore.  Just because we get to know that people are hoarding gold, we don’t put a ban on gold.  In the same way, banning higher denomination is not the solution, not even close. 

In fact, India needs higher denomination.  For its size of economy, it cannot trade in just 100 rupee notes, which is equivalent to $1.3.  Imagine US de-notifies all it currency except $1 and asks everyone to trade using that – that would be insane.  

‘People will now hoard 2000 rupee notes, makes it even easier’

Yes.  In theory.

But in practise, people are afraid that there could be another demonitization in future.  The mere threat or fear that there could be another demonitization in the next few years stops most business people from hoarding cash anymore, and pushes them to go for white transactions.


For now, the chaos and confusion will continue to torment the common men and businesses for the next few weeks.   But the good news is that demonitization is already working.  The real success will become obvious over a longer period of time. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Demonetization: Defining moment in Indian History

I am not a Modi-Bhakt. In fact, I have been a big critic of Narendra Modi, when it comes to his tolerance of religious intolerance in this country.  And yet, today I stand in support of his historic decision to invalidate the legal tender for the existing 500 and 1000 rupee notes that are in circulation.

Those who meet me usually ask me for a solution to some of the problems that we face in India, probably because I tend to maintain the attitude that I do have a solution to such problems ;-).  So, over the last many years, when anyone had asked me, ‘How do we root out black money in the country?’ my answer was, ‘In fact, the solution is quite simple.  I would make the 500 and 1000 rupees notes invalid as of today.  And everyone has to come to the bank to exchange and get new notes starting tomorrow.’

The discussion would then usually go into whether the political leadership in India would ever do it.  The answer would be – ‘it is not a very pragmatic decision for a political leader, he would invariably alienate most of his colleagues in politics, because politics in India is funded mostly by the black money.   One would really need balls to do it, and our politicians rarely have that’.

And yet, three days ago, I get a call from a good friend.  ‘Watch the news’, he said.  Unfolding before me was the one of the most defining moments in Indian History.   Prime Minister was announcing the demonitization of 500 and 1000 rupee notes.

In 1947, Nehru in his famous Tryst with Destiny speech, said:
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

On 8 Nov 2016, Modi in his speech announcing demonetization of old 500 and 1000 rupee notes said:
There comes a time in the history of country’s development when a need is felt for strong and decisive stand… there come moments, those moments come but rarely.

And we will all remember this moment twenty years from now, where India stepped from the old into new.  Where an age ends, and a new age begins. 

And yet I find some criticism, some naysayers.  

How could you not celebrate this moment?

Yes, there would be some hiccups.  Never will such a transition be smooth for everyone.  When Telangana was struggling for statehood, many people complained of inconvenience caused by strikes and bandhs, and I asked, would you rather allow a large section of people not have their freedoms just because you are inconvenienced?

Like how a small child cries in pain when given vaccination for her own good, these are nothing but small inconveniences that we face right now, but we would have found a cure to curbing black money in this country.

Let’s celebrate.  And take inspiration to do something bold!

This message is for all state governments across the country.  Pass those bold bills, take those bold decisions.  Go against the tide, piss your colleagues, challenge the status quo!  Reform, rectify, improve, break down, invent, be creative! 

Carpe Diem!

For a change, be bold!

Thank you, Mr. Modi. 

Coming from people like us, you should take it as a compliment! ;-)

Friday, November 04, 2016

Why do our roads and cities continue to fail us?

In August 2015, we landed in Taiwan a day after Category-5 Super Typhoon Soudelor made a landfall with destructive winds reaching 215 km/h, with torrential rains causing widespread damage and disruptions, accumulating 632 mm of rain in 12 hours, where a record-breaking 5 million households lost power on the island, and yet the roads were intact, and the city came back to life within a day.  Looking at how well the city looked and functioned, we couldn’t believe that they had experienced such a powerful typhoon the day before. 

In September 2016, Hyderabad city faced a 24-hour long rain fall from the active south-west monsoon, accumulating 164 mm of rain, but that brought the city to a standstill, resulting in inundation of several localities, breaching of drainage system, with many of the roads completely damaged, causing hours of traffic jams across the city.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, storms, flash floods - these are some of the extreme but routine natural weather conditions that hit most parts of the world.  Developed countries tend to face them as much as any other country.  And yet, the roads in those countries don’t get damaged the way Indian roads take a hit after a single large rain.  Those cities don’t get inundated and don't come to a grinding halt so easily as Indian cities do. 

Why is that?

Before answering that question, let’s make another observation. Why do the roads on Outer Ring Road, or the airport tarmac of Hyderabad, withstand the same rain, while the roads of urban Hyderabad get potholes and get eroded with one single rain? Why some parts of the city, especially the older sections, are not inundated, while the newer sections are submerged?

Here we need to understand one crucial point - it’s NOT just because of maintenance, but it is because of the way they were built.  It’s NOT because of tropical climate, or because of monsoons, or because of global warming.  It’s got to do with the fundamentals of how we build them in the first place. 

Example 1: Podium at KU, Warangal

I grew up in Warangal in Kakatiya University campus, where we played on a podium that was built in mid-70s.  For nearly three decades this podium withstood all kinds of rain, sun and wind.  It remained intact even after repeated use.  In mid 2000s, it was decided to increase the size of this podium. A new construction extended the podium on three sides.  Within 6 months, the new construction began to crack and crumble.  The tiles broke into pieces and jutted out its sharp edges, the plaster fell off the whole section, and if you walked to inspect, you could clearly delineate the older section from the newer section – the older sections still remained intact while the newer section was completely broke.

How did this happen, in this country, that methods of construction deteriorated over a period of time, while the technology and quality of materials actually improved in the last thirty years? 

Are we one of those unique countries on the planet who have actually reversed the arrow of progress?

Example 2: Kagdaspura in Bangalore

Bangalore city has some really nice layouts that were made in 70s and 80s.  Even today these layouts continue to have nice parks, wide roads, and traffic doesnt't come to a halt.  And most interestingly, these colonies don’t get clogged during heavy rains. 

In the last 10 years a new layout came out – called Kagdaspura.  When it was decided to include this village into the city municipality under urban planning, there was a huge debate and furore from the residents.  The decision to develop it by Bangalore Development Authority was turned down through intense lobbying efforts of the people who held these lands. The land was now sold by individual owners without any planning.  The small lanes of the erstwhile village became the arteries of the new city.  The result is one of the ignominious experiments of how collective greed combined with short-sightedness could become a debilitating mess for modern cities of India.  The roads turned out to be crooked and narrow, and the new locality doesn’t have sewage system or the gutters.  One particularly important road, which connected few lakhs of residents to the rest of the city, is so narrow that only one truck could go either way at a time.  Every day in the morning, entire traffic comes to a grinding halt and it moves at snail pace.  And when it rains the entire place is submerged in water.

Here we need to acknowledge something profound.  It is not because we don’t know how to build better cities that failed us, but it is because we decided succumb to a Funny Form of Democracy that we created such a mess for ourselves.  This Funny Form of Democracy comes from our inability to understand the full extent of our constitutional democracy – wherein we use citizen forums to pander to a collective greed while flouting the laws and disavowing the best practises.  It is the form of democracy where we believe a group’s demands are right even when it tramples the rights of the others to lead a decent life.  It is this form where the collective greed of the majority overwhelms the collective good of the society.   [Can we all vote and use our majority to repeal all the laws?]

Bangalore is now a crumbling city, with worst traffic, frequent inundation and damaged roads after each rainfall.  Interestingly, Karnataka Government had earlier come up with an act to regularize illegal constructions through acceptance of a small payment – and it was aptly called Akrama Sakrama (which literally means ‘Legalize the Illegal’). 

Example 3: Indian Software Services

In 2003, I came back to India after living in US for about nine years – it was my first job in India, and first time in a software services company.   In the division that I worked as System Architect, there was a software module that consistently failed – it was listed as ‘critical’ for over three years. Because that software module produced so many problems continuously, the five engineers who worked on it were always in fire-fighting mode.  Since most others didn’t understand the complexity, these engineers were treated with utmost respect, considered ‘most valuable’.  They were paraded as prized fighters.  

When I was given the task to oversee the solution to one of the problems in that software module, I hit upon a realization – I summarized it as follows to the team:  There is a man who keeps falling, and each time he falls, he gets hurt.  What you are doing is fixing the external bruises and the cuts, with band aids and bandages.  Each time he falls, you add another layer of bandage.  Now the bandage itself has grown so thick that it is somehow acting as a crutch for him to walk.  But you have never fixed the real problem.  The real problem is that the patient keeps falling because of the broken bone, and it has never been fixed.

When the team was confronted with the reality that they need to fix the basic architecture of the software, they just balked.  They were in a state of denial.  They thought they didn’t have authority to make a design change, and didn’t want to admit it needed a design change. Here is another syndrome – Indian software services syndrome in action.  The team was refusing to see the stark reality – a change in the design.  And there was an ulterior motive for the management to continue this kind of continuously fixing the software.  Because it perpetuated their revenues.  It served a business interest. If it was fixed permanently then the team of 5 was not needed, and they would get less money.

This is exactly what is happening to our Indian roads.  We are not fixing the actual problem, because it is hard work, and also because not fixing it serves a business interest. Nobody wants to fix the problem which could involve a new architecture or new design.  Instead, each time a rain washes off our roads, we lazily put another layer (like the band aid).  This serves the interest of certain sections.  Those who fix the roads continuously make money, and those who are in the thick of action are always considered important. 

What is the problem with us in India?

It is clear that our roads are not designed properly.  Though the city planning is a well-understood science and technology in the world, even the most basic principles are not implemented in India.  We built better roads and better cities in 1970s and 1980s than now.  While most countries in the world are adopting better engineering techniques, clearly our methods are deteriorating.  How is it possible?

As a country, we are suffering from an insanely debilitating malaise that is caused by a combination of collective greed and short-sightedness.  We have created a political, bureaucratic and societal system which doesn’t allow us to promote excellence in engineering, design or architecture of our roads and cities.  Our short-sighted approach doesn’t allow us to solve the architectural problems, and our collective greed perpetuates these problems because of vested interests. 

This is our undoing.   As a society, we could collapse.

Cure 1: Architecture fix in the software module

Going back to the problem with the software module.  Back then, I had recently come back from US, and was enjoying the experience of being back in India.  In fact, I went to office daily telling myself that I am going to be fired that day.  That gave me immense courage to speak up, face any authority, and propose solutions – because I didn’t fear for my job.

I took the responsibility of redesigning the architecture, to fix the problem once and for all.  I spoke to client, got two engineers allocated, and we made the required changes and fixed the architecture in six months.  Bugs reported from that software module reduced drastically.  And after a year that module was no longer featured as the hot item.  In fact, nobody talked about it.  Only one person was assigned to maintain it, that too with half of his time.

So, what is the solution?

‘It's the Fundamentals, Stupid!’

Right now, our roads are built with a technology that must be more than 100 years old.  Our roads have no conduits, no gutters, and no drains.   Any road in the Indian city would not be more than 10 - 15 cm in depth.  

We have no choice, but go back to the fundamentals of engineering!  We need to build our roads as per actual engineering requirements.  

Belgium roads follow this rule: The new pavement is a 23-cm CRC slab over 5-cm of bituminous interlayer, 25-cm of cement-treated granulated asphalt rubble, and 15-cm of granulated lean concrete rubble.

This is how a concrete road is built in Germany (90 cm depth).

This is Belgium’s first concrete overlay even after 45 years in service.

Take a look at this video, where they build a tunnel under a highway over one weekend in Netherlands. 

Though it is clear that we need to embrace technology and engineering to solve our problems, we are in fact moving away from that – a dangerous sign.

Way forward

We need to say, Enough is Enough (in fact, that could be our slogan).  Enough of this collective greed, enough of short-sightedness, enough of inferior road building, enough of unplanned city making.   Enough of this incompetency!

We need to plan for future, and stop this short-sightedness that has been plaguing us.  Instead of maintaining the road every 6 months, thereby spending thousands of crores of rupees over many years, we need to heavily invest our monies once and build roads that last more than forty years. 

We need to combat the collective greed which creeps under us as a Funny Form of Democracy.  What we need is political leadership which says, ‘I am gonna fix it’, and then go about really fixing it in spite of antagonizing the large clout of contractors who benefit from such continuous road-laying, and it needs to stem the corruption that feeds the government offices to continue the same practise. 

And what we need in India is to have more experienced engineers to be taken into urban planning- and they need to be at the helm of affairs, not just in supporting roles, so that we do it the right way.