Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Hussein Brought to Justice - The Indian Response

In an official statement, the Indian Government has expressed disappointment over the execution of Saddam Hussein. How many are willing to bet that the statement of disappointment is due to internal reasons (read this as an attempt to play to internal compulsions) rather than any actual concerns over how the reconciliation in Iraq between the Shias and the Sunnis may get affected. Previously, I believe that the Government also expressed concern that this may end up being perceived as victor's justice.

What are the grounds on which the Government of India expressed concern over the execution? I am reading a news story which quoted the statement by the External Affairs Minister. A small excerpt captures the main point of the statement:

"We hope that the unfortunate event will not affect the process of reconciliation, restoration of peace and normalcy in Iraq," he said.

The government had earlier expressed opposition to Hussein's execution and cautioned that no steps should be taken which could delay restoration of peace in the troubled country.

This government has plenty of people well versed in the details of international affairs, so one would expect that they will know far more about the situation in Iraq than what this bland statement conveys. There can be no reason for them to not know the amount of negative passion which he brings out among the majority of his countrymen. They would certainly know the extent of his brutalities. In fact, the crime for which he has been sentenced has been the summary torture of hundreds and killings of 148 men and boys after an assassination attempt on his life. Even in a country under a military dictator such as Pakistan, assassination attempts on the life of the president have been followed by court cases and civilized behavior, not by the full scale sweeping pick up of all adult males in the vicinity and the summary trial and execution of them. Such an brutality was made more famous by the Nazis. Secondly, the transitional government and thus the court has been accepted by India as a valid authority, so this objection to their justice seems a bit misplaced.

If you want to read more, here is a detailed life history on Wikipedia. Saddam did a few good things as well for his people, but that was quickly over-shadowed by his self-interest.

People tend to forget that Saddam could be classified as one of the mass killers of the century, just a shade below Stalin, Hitler and Mao. He is certainly equal in level with other dictators such as Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and the like. From start, Saddam's regime had been a brutal regime, ruling the country with the help of a small clique and terrorizing everybody else. It started with a show of force where people were picked out in a televised party meeting and twenty-one quickly executed. He killed other sects in Iraq such as the Shias and the Kurds with immense brutality and committed mass murder. If there is indeed such a thing as reconciliation, the way in which he was tried by his countrymen from his own country's legal service and then sentenced was as fair as it could be. It will bring closure to the majority of his countrymen who suffered immensely under his rule.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:43 AM    

Mamta Banerjee and Singur

So Mamta Banerjee claims to have achieved something. She sat on a long fast to do something about the acquisition of land for the Singur project. For those unaware, the Singur project is the plan by the Tata group to setup a plant in West Bengal for building their dream Rs. 1 lakh car. This will happen by acquiring land from farmers to setup a plant. Mamta Banerjee is protesting against this proposal, or is she claiming that farmers have not been compensated accordingly? The entire media coverage does not make this distinction, but it makes a fair amount of difference as to what her goals have been. That is, if we accept that her goal in terms of this fast has been on some principle, but it is hard to get away from the thought that the only objective of this entire drama has been to portray herself as a champion of the farmers and to oppose the left; maybe this will convert her from being a spent force to somebody who starts getting public support again.
If her objection is to acquiring land from farmers for setting up a industrial plant, then it is sheer lunacy to support her in any way. The only way that a country advances economically is by moving up the value chain, and agriculture is the lowest element on the value chain. Land is a limited commodity, and if we get too romantic about land being used only for farming, then we might as well condemn our country to having a major segment of the population living in a poor sustenance type farming. Setting up industries after a due cost benefit analysis has a positive effect on the local economy, promoting ancillary industries, making the area more better off and raising the local purchasing power. This is the target of all industrialization. I believe that the current West Bengal chief Minister realizes this better than most politicians, which is why he is in the forefront of trying to bring more companies to invest in the region. But it is funny to see a Communist government being called as anti-farmer.
If Mamta's objection is to make sure that farmers are getting due compensation, then it is a sorry state of affairs that a political leader has to go on a long protest to make sure that compensation is happening properly. It has been the bane of a number of big projects (including mega-dams) that there have been consistent questions raised in the past about compensation not reaching the affected party. We need to avoid becoming another China where there are frequent protests about compensation not reaching the targeted citizens. We need to have a system in place that ensures compensation reaches the targeted party, which is
where having communists in the government should have helped since it is their ideology to ensure that farmers get their due. There must be at least one benefit of having a communist party in power.
There is one question that remains unanswered; does India really need a 1 lakh car? Given the state of our roads and wide-spread congestion, we should instead be moving to a system whereby public transport is the main means of getting around and owning a big means of transport such as a car becomes more expensive. This is a system that a number of countries have tried out with some success to control traffic congestion. Getting a 1 lakh car will instead mean a movement in the directly opposite direction.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:41 AM    

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Indian govt pleads for Saddam's life

In a bizarre twist, the Government of India has pleaded for the life of Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq (the same one who gassed a lot of Kurds to death; who crushed a rebellion with brutal force; the same one who killed almost all the male (men and boys) of a village where an assassination attempt on his life happened; and the same one who got voted with more than 99% of the popular vote in a truly 'impartial' referendum).
India has recognized the transitional Iraqi Government, the court has been formed under the same arrangement, and after a long trial, he has been found guilty. What can be the possible motive to oppose his death. It would be a long shot to believe that the Government is concerned about the Shia-Sunni reconciliation in Iraq and has given its view in that respect. Maybe they do not want him to die before they can learn from him as how to win a vote with more than 99% majority,especially in a free and fair election :-)/
Make no words, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who actually believed that his countrymen were his to deal with as he likes. And like many other dictators who went beyond the pale in their doings, he has to reckon with his past actions.
I believe that the Government of India is so besotted with the minority vote, especially with an upcoming election that they believe that pleading for his life will get the Congress party some votes. After all, it is not that India is one of those countries that is against the death penalty and is opposing his death sentence out of some principle. India actively sentences people to death for their heinous crimes and carried out those sentences.
I believe that the Congress party is making a fundamental mistake in its electoral calculations. If they believe that the Muslim community will get inspired by these actions to vote for the party, the Congress strategeists are sorely mistaken. And if they are looking for the Shia vote, they have forgotten that the Shia majority in Iraq was severly oppressed during the Saddam dictatorship, and that a wide section of the Shia population of Iraq is looking forward to the end of Saddam Hussein.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:35 AM    

Monday, December 25, 2006

Religion-based IITs, IIMs: Divisive, Unworkable

I just read an article in the Indian Express about a wishlist handed over to the HRD Ministry by a set of Muslim MP's. The wishlist makes for scary reading.
In a significant development after the tabling of the Sachar report, Muslim MPs, cutting across party lines, today handed over a wishlist of sorts to Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh: IITs and IIMs exclusively for Muslims, 5,000 schools, 2 lakh scholarships and more campuses of the Aligarh Muslim University across the country.

A senior HRD official, present at the meeting, said, "The MPs said since IITs and IIMs have less than 2 per cent of Muslim students, the HRD Ministry should create IITs and IIMs exclusively for Muslim children." Urdu schools, they also demanded, should be given adequate infrastructure support. "Minority-run societies and NGOs, if they wish to open schools, should be given CBSE affiliation without any delay," an MP demanded. The MPs said that these suggestions should get reflected in the forthcoming budget as well as the Eleventh Plan. The HRD Ministry panel on Muslim education is expected to submit a report by January 31.

Why does such an exclusivist minority viewpoint come into being? If such institutions come up, do the proponents not realise how divisive such structures will be? Will people actually flock to these places to recruit?
What is required is to push more students from the Muslim community through the schooling phase (primary and secondary), and given that intelligence and abilities do not look at religion, they will be there in the numbers for any institute. That should be the focus. But an institute especially for a religion? What will be next ? Hindus / Jains / Buddhists / Christians / Parsees all claiming their own separate institutions? All these in turn claiming that teachers should also be from their own religions?
Reserving an institution on a religious basis ensures that students who pass out from there do not get the mixed flavour that comes with interacting with other students from different backgrounds. It is an incomplete education, and not fully equipped to meet the needs of a modern workforce. The biggest fear is that nowhere did I actually come across any view from a ruling party or supporting party leader that this is an unworkable plan and fraught with danger. I have indeed seen more views similar to this, trying to propose a short-term solution for something that needs sustained effort.
I would repeat, this is a very dangerous line that we are approaching. Once we cross such a line, we may actually agree to separate reservations on the basis of religion, and even separate parliamentary seats. After all, the principle remains the same! We could even talk about separate security officals, laws, etc. for areas where a specific religion is in a minority. This is a proposal that the HRD Ministry should junk, and instead concentrate on how actually to do something that makes a substantial difference.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:26 PM    

Example of RTI Act successful usage

One of the biggest thunderbolts to hit organized corruption in India is the RTI act. This is an act, that has the potential to bring about an immense amount of exposure to the wheeling and dealing of Government in India, whether at the central level, state level or at the decentralized level. This exposure scares the daylight out of the decision makers; what mostly results is that if there is a guilty party in the decision making process, they will reverse the decision due to a fear of getting exposed and end up doing the right thing.
What is RTI ? Right to Information. The RTI Act states that except for some exempt areas, any citizen can file an application to obtain information about any aspect of the Government through an inexpensive process. Towards this purpose, the information will have to be given to the person making the query, and if not, penalties can be applied. There are a number of incidents where people have used this act to bring benefits to their community. Attached are excerpts from a story that bring about the true power of the Act, and the extent of changes that it can bring out if applied with determination and some amount of perseverance.
Read this article in the Indian Express:

In the six decades after Independence, nothing actually worked in the Naraini block of Banda in UP's Bundelkhand region. The villagers periodically protested against lack of civic amenities, bad roads and sub-human living conditions but no one listened. Until they discovered the Right to Information Act. On July 1, the villages filed applications under the RTI Act to the district collectorate, Banda and to the office of the commissioner, Chitrakoot division. They sought to know the outcome of the Banda DM's visit to their block on March 2 last year; what the DM's orders were after the visit; and details of how the funds meant for their villages were spent.
Within a month, they got what they wanted, and more. Work on a 7.8 km approach road and a bridge began in September, now electrification of the villages is underway.

This Act is a revolutionary Act (weaknesses and all) which gives ordinary people the ability to get an insight into the closed world of official decision making. Before the Act, this was a closed world. Government officials would invoke the authority of the Government to declare any matter as secret, and use this secrecy to cloak an immense amount of wrong decision making.
After all, when a Prime Minister with enough of a majority to be almost an elected dictator claims that only 15% of allocated money reaches the poor, one can only imagine the scale and magnitude of funds diversion (Rajiv Gandhi made this famous statement when he had more than 400 MP's). And how many of us are there who would not like to know when a decision will finally come on some matter, as well as some details of how the decision is made (especially when it does not seem to make sense).
The RTI Act was brought in under some pressure from reformers, people who knew what the potential of such an Act was. In the pre-RTI state of the Government, measures taken to prevent corruption were not very effective. Sure, there were arrests, cases against high and powerful people. But, there was never this spotlight on the process of decision making. As the examples of what this Act can do start building up, more and more people will start using this Act to get answers, something that a Government employee would love to have refused to do in the past. Take a look at 2 private sites pushing usage of the Act. (,
There are many weaknesses in the current implementation; it is argued that the RTI Central Information Commission is lenient on Government officers, many Govt. offices put hurdles in the way of the information seeker by trying to entangle the process in red tape, and so on. It is also argues that the Act is misused by people to seek personal gain. However, this Act has already made people more aware of their rights, and as the courts start ruling on some of the issues under the Act, one can expect more clarification of the process. In fact, when the Government realized the powerful nature of the Act after some examples of the usage, there was a proposal to water down the provisions of the Act, but in the face of sustained pressure, the Government had to back down.
This was a major victory, but the real victory will come when it percolates down to every department/official that their actions can be pulled out and reviewed. That is when we will be truly on the path to a more honest nation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:18 PM    

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Jessica Lall case - need for police reform

Well, so Manu Sharma has been convicted of the murder of Jessica Lall. Strike one up for the court system. The judges hearing the case pushed the case pretty fast, saw through all the defence attempts, and even took the time to castigate the judge who found the accused not guilty at a lower court. In a wonderful irony, that very judge is a member judge of the same High Court.So far all well and good, we all feel happy that justice has been done, and we hope that other cases also get resolved quickly and fairly. The next steps in this case are the ones that are not getting too much notice, and which are fairly significant.
The judges have already sent notices to the witnesses who turned hostile and are also further investigating the role of officials (police, investigators, forensic guy, etc who may have contributed to weakening the previous case). These 2 issues are heavily linked. In an ideal world, officials will do their duty fairly and witnesses will report truthfully on whatever they saw. In reality we see things happening differently. The accused in this case was from a powerful and rich family.
This case in the lower court saw what can happen when a powerful person makes a determined effort to thwart the law, and how the law itself takes a beating. Witnesses who reported facts straight just after the crime reversed themselves, making all sorts of excuses. Families of witnesses suddenly came into riches. But what can a normal man do when in such a situation?
The powerful man can threaten and offer riches in turn; with an indifferent police unwilling to do any kind of protection, how long can a normal citizen withstand the pressure of a well connected person ?
Genuine witnesses were pressurised by the police. Officials did all sort of unofficial acts to protect the accused. And why did all this happen ? A very simple reason, the police force and its investigating arm is not independent enough to be able to handle a case without interference. The politican angle has permeated so deep into the main security arm of the state that it is no longer seen as a protector in many parts of the country.
If we had a police force and investigating agency that was independent, where would even a powerful man have the courage to try and influence police officials to connive in thwarting justice? If we had a police force that was effective, witnesses could do their legal duty safe in the knowledge that they could not be threatened for their testimony, and even a most powerful man would not dare to either threaten or buy a witness. This is not something that is very difficult. Most developed nations have such police forces that invoke the fear of the law. It is an absolute imperative for our country's development and for the cleansing of the body politic that the arms of the state retain their independence.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:53 PM    

Monday, December 18, 2006

Casteism rears its ugly head in Orissa temple

From time to time, I wonder about this thing called the caste system, and wonder whether this is something that really exists even now. It seems a bit difficult to believe that in this time and age when people discriminate against other people based on the basis of their birth or what their forefathers did ages ago.

And then we have incidents such as this - the one about having to purify a temple in Orissa because some lower castes / dalits made the temple impure by entering it. Such an incident reminds me of the prevalence of untouchability in villages and how efforts to remove it have not yet suceeded. It is an imperative that we effectively ensure that these outdated and wrong concepts are eradicated. In this day and age, it is a shame that these sort of incidents happen and for every such incident that gets published, one wonders how many such incidents are there that remain hidden.

Here's an extract about what happened.

Priests performed late night purification rituals at an Orissa temple and opened it three days after its closure by upper castes protesting the entry of Dalits, reports said on Sunday. The Dalits had on Thursday entered the temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath, defying an age-old ban on their entry by upper castes. They also performed rituals under police protection following last week's high court ruling that allowed them to do so.

And there is no justification for such a happening. The lower castes (I do not believe in the usage of this term and hence do not want to refer to it without marking it) have wanted to pray at the temple of Lord Jagannath for ages, and finding that their entry was getting blocked, followed the proper method. They filed a case, and the Orissa High Court rightly ruled that any Hindu irrespective of his caste should be able to enter the temple. With police protection, they were allowed to do so.

But once they did this, all hell broke loose. The other higher castes deemed that the temple had become impure and did a dharna and finally got the temple purified. Seems very strange to me, a view of the God should be allowed to all. One wonders what other discrimination the lower castes have to face in their daily lives, but it does not make me happy.

In the midst of all this, the administration does not seem to have done much to retrieve the situation. What they should have done is to have made sure that a ritual such as purification should not have been allowed (it is after all against the spirit of the high court order).

What should now happen is that the lower castes should enter the temple every day as full citizens, and the Government should ensure that no hindrance is there. In addition, every person who acted in a way prejudicial to the high court order should be prosecuted. There can be no other way.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:10 AM    

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Environment and health - clean up ?

Typically, when we talk about global warming, India typically takes the stance that global warming is caused by the rich countries, and now when not-so-well developed countries are trying to develop, they are so far behind in emissions per person that they deserve the right to continue on their development track for a long time and not worry so much about environmental control. This sounds like a pretty nice track to follow and actually sounds pretty logical, but I submit that this is good as a negotiating position and not for internal policies.
India needs to follow sound environmental policies for its own good. We need to learn far more from the experience of other countries in the region of environmental control. The western countries have gone through long periods of tremendous environmental exploitation and have suffered through it. They have had long periods of smog that caused immense suffering to their citizens, they had extremely dirty and polluted water bodies. It is only when they saw the ill-effects of this on their citizens that they acted, and spent vast amounts of money to repair the situation, including putting forward laws to control things. In the US, it has been local governments that are acting when the federal government has shirked its responsibility by imposing controls. The Europeans have taken great steps towards environmental control and consider the issue to remain a priority in their policies.
We in India have a environment ministry that is only as strong as the willpower of its minister, and improvements have typically come in only when the courts have taken the quality of life as a standard and started cracking down on pollution control. Even with this small effort, there are vast sections of the economy and industry, especially in smaller towns, that continue to be environmentally unsafe.
Water bodies are extremely polluted and there are hardly any active effective campaigns to make these water bodies such as rivers and lakes (which are as valuable as gold in terms of their necessity) safer for human and animal use. We kill (in terms of poaching and due to sheer apathy) some of our precious wild-life and yet there is only a muted hue and cry (missing tigers in Sariska as an example). Go to some of the smaller cities and you cannot escape the pollution in the sky and in the air.
The health and productivity costs are incredible. Pollution and unsafe working conditions condemns many families every year to doom. We have managed to sow so much fertilizer and chemicals in the ground to try and boost farm productivity that we have a cocktail of chemicals every time we eat something. Typically every year, there is a brown cloud floating over South Asia (visible from satellites) that is a devil's concoction of chemicals.
It is only when citizens gear up and campaign for better environments that we will lead a healthier life. We need more examples of people doing their bit for a safer environment. One example is from this article on Desicritics (about a man trying to calculate the cost of a tree and propagate the message). Even the Supreme Court that has been very active in terms of improving the environment acted on the basis of complaints filed by an active lawyer and due to the campaigns by ordinary citizens.
It is only when we raise our voices that we can improve things. Even if one is not able to do something directly, at least follow good environmental policies of your own. Make sure that your vehicles are well-tuned and avoid too many emissions (this also saves fuel); observe what all your throw out and evaluate how much of re-use can happen; if you read about people doing good work in this area, see how you can contribute to their work (it could be just a cash donation or actual spending time on that effort).

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:14 AM    

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Sachar Committee Report and the State of Muslims in India

Well, the Congress party seems to be going down the same road. When in doubt, and unable to come up with a winning formula, try to be all things to all people and promise everything to everyone. Make a lot of hue and cry so that you do not have to do anything concrete.

A very cryptic beginning to an article, but I believe that this best describes how the Congress party and the Government are going about addressing the needs of the minorities, including that of the Muslim community. The Government set up the Sachar committee, which was roundly criticized by the opposition when it found out the terms of the report. There may be several doubts about the desirability of conducting research to evaluate the status of a religious minority; my apprehensions at that time were that the political bunch typically will use this as an agenda to drive divisive politics . I believe that the findings of the report, in an overall vision, are fair and need to be acted on with one caveat.

The recommendation of the report with respect to reservations can be very divisive. Islam does not believe in the concept of a caste-based separation of mankind, something that Hinduism condoned and which the reservation system seems to be designed to overcome. On the other hand, to treat the entire Muslim community as a minority deserving of reservation would mean that the reservations benefits would be cornered by the well-off.

What I feared subsequently seems to be coming true. What appears to have happened is that the political leaders are essentially harping on an agenda which suits their need, which is to try and derive short-term benefits by promising things that they know they cannot deliver. In addition, the Prime Minister makes statements that he knows will be interpreted by his party men to promise all sorts of his things in the hope that the community will fall for these short-term measures. The other set of political leaders will typically play the other end of the political game and oppose it loudly, thus appealing for the loyalty of their constituents.

Who suffers the most in this?

It is actually the Muslim community, since they do not get what they actually need and instead face more criticism from the majority community with regards to 'appeasement'.

The Government has tried to already implement religion-based reservations in a limited way in Andhra Pradesh, but this was struck down by the courts. The actual judicial reversal was more on a technicality, but from some of the opinions of the judicial system, it seems that such a case before the Supreme Court would meet the same fate.

The Sachar Committe findings on the state of the Muslim community in India make doleful reading, and any citizen would realize that there is no way that the country can progress if such a large minority is getting left behind. It creates too much dissatisfaction, and leads to strains in society. What should the Government be doing to actually help the Muslim community?

It should realize that there are no short term solutions, it should absolutely be totally convinced that it should not promulgate policies just to play to votes and actually be there for the long haul. It should involve community leaders and successful Muslim people (and there are a large number of such people who can be role targets, whether they be in business, in sports, in the entertainment business) to partner to promote a vision of where the broader Muslim community in India can empower themselves through some fair government policies.

The primary need is to ensure that Muslims are adequately represented in the education system at all levels, and that the problematic drop out rates are reversed such that Muslim youngsters get an equal chance to partake of the large employment opportunities becoming available. This will involve a lot of effort - it means spending funds to ensure that Muslim dominated areas have good schools, that these schools do represent main-stream education in
addition to some policies (such as having Urdu as an additional language) so that parents feel induced to sending their children there, it means having to be sure that Muslims do not face discrimination in the educational system including at the higher levels (such as professional courses), it means partnering and working with the religious leaders to make them share the same dream. It also means getting rid of policies that in some manner discriminate against letting Muslim citizens into sensitive ares such as the security forces.

Unless this country does all this, we are in for serious trouble if a wide section of our citizens feel that they are not getting what is due to them or if they are getting left behind in the country's march forward.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:25 AM    

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How deeply entrenched is dowry ?

I was reading an article in the Times of India section about New Zealand seeking to bring in laws to curtail dowry. At a very superficial glance, it seemed to be strange; why would New Zealand have anything to do with dowry ?
Then more detailed reading made things clear and shocking. It is the Indian heinous custom of selling husbands that gets replicated even if you are in foreign lands. What actually happens is that grooms having New Zealand citizenship or residency come to India, demand huge dowries for marriage and then sponsor their wives for a New Zealand visa. It is not necessary that the marriage has been registered in India, and hence proof is not available of the marriage.
Once these money-suckers / grooms go back to New Zealand, they demand more dowry from their in-laws, and if these are not available, they cancel the visa sponsorship. How greedy can people get ?
Now the New Zealand authorities are trying to bring some control into this situation, and they might actually pass laws making dowry illegal, just as there are in India. And we can be sure that with good enforcement happening, these greedy dishonest money seekers and their families will face justice. But the worst part is that these people are exposing the seedy under-belly of India culture, and I am sure that a lot of Indians will actually feel embarrased when they start reading about such cases happening outside India.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:00 PM    

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Indian airports - bad situation

I just completed a flight across India to the US via Frankfurt. Doing such a trip makes an Indian realize how really primitive the facilities are that are provided in Indian airports. There is no specific reason as to why such a disparity exists. It cannot be due to airports being good only in rich countries. There are many Asian countries that have excellent airports, and they can by no stretch be light years ahead of Indian in terms of economic development.

An airport is a very important symbol of a country, as it presents the first impression to any visitor. Is it really that difficult to make Indian airports world-class ? If one were to list down various factors that make an airport world-class in terms of facilities offered to visitors, none of them are very complex. Let me list a few:

1. Clean place (terminals, restrooms, people)
2. Adequate parking
3. Good arrangement for visitors
4. A good shopping experience for visitors who have time and money to spend
5. Nice eating experience
6. Not too much waiting for things to happen
7. A fast experience through the various processes

Instead, my experiences in Indian airports have always left me shaking my head, and sometimes squirming in embarrassment when a visitor points out something that is so obviously wrong. Indian airports are never as clean as other airports; their paint schemes are a dull colour; the less said about shopping experiences, the better. I wonder how many people have had the experience of coming back after a tiring 24 hour flight to an immigration room that was incredibly full of people, and which seemed like a chaos room gone crazy. It is not pleasant at all.

How many times have you been standing in a line for clearing emigration, when some friendly official comes to talk to the official attending to your queue, and looking at them, you cannot but observe that this is not any official work, but some kind of gossip that is delaying your processing.

I have always wondered as to why Indian airports are so paranoid about security that security checks can happen again and again. Sometimes one gets the feeling that they feel that insecure situations can happen again even after one level of security check. When I was picking up my luggage at foreign airports, it was easy to spot luggage originating from India; they always had a band tightly wound around them, and I don't think any airport elsewhere in the world apprehends that luggage can be tampered with after a security check.

Congestion is another problem. Most airports have only one serviceable runway, and to have only one runway when so many airports around the world have multiple runways to handle congestion does not make sense.

As I said, none of these problems are insolvable. A observer might claim that these are going to be solved through airport privatization, but a basic question remains as to why such a situation has arisen. The Government run body collects money from every transaction for airport tax, runs the airports badly, and then posts overall losses. Maybe it would take some time to change the situation, but the basic issue of placing the administration under government control has created a situation where the inducement to improve things is totally lacking. The sooner such changes happen, the better. Indian infrastructure is too important to depend on some minister's personal commitment to improve the situation.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:05 PM