Saturday, May 31, 2008

Yeddy, Reddy, Chaddi, and Gaddi.

So, Yeddy has finally gotten his Gaddi with the help of Reddy and Chaddi. While it means a lot for the BJP and for Yeddy himself, I'm not sure that the message is totally positive for Karnataka. Yes, it is a landmark verdict, and the Karnataka voters have largely done the right thing, ridding ourselves of the Devegowda clan's shenanigans, albeit only temporarily. And while this blog welcomes the new government and hopes that it delivers, it remains unconvinced that the rule of the BJP will actually make a difference for the state or for Bangalore.

Yeddyurappa's own shenanigans at the Vidhana Soudha today - conducting a 6 hour Hindu ritual in what should be a secular seat of power, doesn't give us much hope.

Earlier, Yeddyurappa agreeing to break away from the BJP and begging the Gowda's to give him chief ministership, doesn't give much hope either.

Nor does infighting in the BJP over ministries, nor the fact that the Mining Reddys who spent over 60 crores in this election will demand their pound of flesh.

In today's "ವಿಜಯ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ", ಪ್ರತಾಪ್ ಸಿಂಹ (who is fast becoming my favourite columnist) wrote about the the damage that Yeddy's 'dream budget' has caused to the Karnataka finances. Now, I'm one who says that there is no reason for governments to turn in surplus budgets when farmers are committing suicide, or when large parts of the populace still remains illiterate. However, hand outs are not the answer to the problems facing the electorate. Yeddy doesn't seem to have the mindset required to really bring in the required change. For Bangalore, it is doubtful if Yeddy will override his partymen and restore the BATF.

However, the government hasn't even started functioning, so visit this space in a year for a proper review!

Postscript: This election has really been a mixed bag. While I'm glad that the Gowda family is not in a position to influence the government, and am glad that people like Dharam Singh, the Bangarappa family, and Bangalore's very own Vatal Nagaraj were shown the door, I can't help being sad that an excellent MLA and corporator like K. Chandrashekar (Congress, from Basavanagudi) lost. It is also tragic that the fascist Congress high command overruled its MLAs to deny Siddaramiah the opposition leader's post, instead giving it to a spineless Kharge.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Racism, pigmentism, communalism

Racism: Why is there such a controversy over the racism (it is really pigmentism* - discrimination on the basis of skin colour) issue in picking cheerleaders (or in asking some of them to leave)? There is already discrimination (let's call it sizeism) in cheerleader selection - why is it that you don't find a fat cheerleader? If your sales item is a body - let's be frank about this - then you have to accommodate the fact that a majority of the people have a certain taste there. In the west, people think thin is sexy. In India, we think white is sexy. Why is one necessarily worse than the other? 'Equal opportunity' does not work everywhere.

I'm not saying that pigmentism or racism is OK in any domain. I'm only making the point that when you are selling beauty, you can't blame people for having a particular taste and for your marketers to cater to it. I've seen casteism and pigmentism at work in my previous company, and believe me, it sucks, even if you are not at the receiving end of it.

Communalism: You may recall how Manmoron lost his sleep when he came to know Indians were involved in the Glasgow blasts, and how (correctly) his 'secular' government fought tooth and nail to get him acquitted. Now, Indian cab drivers are being attacked in Australia, and these are racist attacks, why is the moron silent? Which cat has got his tongue? Why isn't there at least a demarche issued to the Australian mission in India? Well, if you didn't guess it already, it is because the victims are Hindus. If Muslim Indians were targetted, our secular government would have jumped into the fray - now, if a few dozen Hindus are killed out of the 850 million or so around the world, why bother?

* Thanks to a journalist friend for coining the word.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blatant International Airport Loot Ltd.

For nearly three months now, lunch discussions in my organization have revolved around the new airport. Last week, I got a chance to preview it first hand - BIAL has a "scheme" to allow MNCs to take teams of employees for a visit, and I signed on. So, what is my conclusion?

As passengers take the first flight out of BIAL, the taxpayer will be taken for a ride.
(Disclaimer: I don't know anything about running an airport, so things may be radically different once the airport actually opens.)

The reason is simple: the airport, particularly the terminal, is not designed to handle anything more than the traffic that HAL airport used to get in the early 2000s. It is tiny, particularly in comparison to what was expected of it. Terminal size of 71,000 square metres is dwarfed even by the Hyderabad airport at 105,300 square metres. And the PR folks at BIAL have the nerve to claim that they can handle 11 million passengers every year, while HIAL with nearly 50% more area claims a modest 12 million. HIAL beats BIAL in aerobridges: 12 to 8, and even in terms of runway width, which our host at BIAL acknowledged is insufficient to handle A380s. The person in question even claimed that no airline was ordering A380s in the near future, saying "why dedicate capacity to something that won't happen in the near future" (paraphrased). Apparently, he hadn't seen this:, or a million other news items easily accessible from your favourite search engine.

We continued discussions about the airport, and he said that in Phase 2, an identical terminal would be built, taking the total capacity to 50million passengers. Now pray, according to BIAL numbers (which I completely reject), their terminal can handle 11million passengers. If you double of the area, what pot must you be smoking to let you quintuple the capacity!? When we entered the departure area, we were told that the seating could accommodate 1200 passengers, which was definitely a stretch of the imagination. Still, assuming that it can, let's examine the reality. A quick look at the departures from Bangalore between 8:00 and 9:00 PM reveals that there are around 20 flights taking off between those times. Taking a simple number of 70 passengers per flight, we have 1400 passengers. Similarly, peak hour international traffic happens between 00:30 and 2:30 hrs. Anyone who's taken an international flight during those times will testify that the cramped HAL airport had over 1000 passengers during those hours. So, we've already exceeded capacity! How will the airport handle traffic growth, which currently is at 20% per annum?

Now, this is not an accident. Ever since its inception, BIAL has refused to acknowledge the need for higher capacity in the airport, quoting dubious studies, while ignoring the ground reality - 10 million passengers took off last year - and the new airport is claiming to accommodate only 11 million (which, I'll bet is a total lie).

Let's now take a look at its finances. Are the user charges of BIAL, currently at Rs.675/- for a domestic passenger and Rs.975/- for an international passenger are too steep?

Here's a back-of-the envelope calculation. Taking an average charge of Rs. 700 per passenger, and with today's passenger numbers of 10 million per year - we get a figure of 7 billion rupees, or 700 crores as revenue from the measure. The total investment made by the partners is:
  • Rs 375 crore from Karnataka Govt (32.6%)
  • Rs 379.5 crore from Indian financial institutions as debt (33%), and
  • Rs 51.42 crore from the three member international consortium of Siemens Project Ventures, Larsen & Turbo and Unique Zurich Airport
Which means at nearly 900 crores expenditure, the airport venture will break even in the first two years of operating! And without _any_ increase in passenger traffic! OK, they have to pay salaries, there are running costs and utilities, but I haven't considered the revenue they will make out of the airport city, the planned "five-star" hotel, and from all the retail outlets that will be setup in the airport.

In addition, the airport will not allow KSTDC taxies to operate in the airport - what'll become of the livelihoods of those drivers?

These are the issues that Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Mohandas Pai, and the rest of the rabble rousers must raise. Not travel time to the new airport.
On a final note: we went when there was less than two weeks for the airport to open, and finishing work was still on at the airport. Think about it, this is an airport that the company claimed was ready to open on March 31st! Looks like Mr. Brunner has learnt some Indian habits during his long stay here!

Postscript: It is a shame that none of the channels or the newspapers that covered the airport controversy bothered to present a statistical analysis of the airport, instead relying on sound-bites and "feelings". This points to a drastic reduction in the quality of journalism caused by the increasing numbers of those who come in for the "cool"ness of the job, not its rigor. Few journalists today are trained, or are willing to train, to achieve the analytical rigor that a Sainath, a Shourie or a Gurumurthy have achieved.