Mar 182014

Anand Bhate is a disciple of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. And a fabulous singer in his own right. I first heard him sing for the film Bal Gandharva, where he was outstanding. I have been trying to scour the shops and the interwebs for more of his music, unfortunately there isn’t too much. I wish there is a way of recording every classical artist and make them available freely, because i am quite convinced the more people hear classical music, the more it will get heard .. (if that makes sense)..

Here is a fantastic rendition of Teerth Vitthala composed by Namdev, one of the leading lights of the Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra. The oneness with Vitthala comes through in every line of the song. I have heard Pandit Bhimsen Joshi sing this live in concert. I was moved to tears at that point. This rendition is interesting because it manages to bring out the familiar with a distinctiveness that is unique. And Anand Bhate is still young – an average classical music singer reaches his peak in his early 50’s. It is going to be a musical trip when that takes place


Dec 232013

This column appeared in the DNA on the 14th of November

If Campa Cola had created so much buzz when it was a soft drink manufacturer, it would probably still be in business, selling aerated water to the consumer market. Alas, that was not to be the case. Campa Cola, for those born post the liberalization era, was one of the largest soft drink manufacturers in India. It made its mark at the time when Coca Cola departed India in the late 1970s. It was also one of the first victims of Pepsi and Coke re-entering India. The land allotted to Campa Cola was acquired by builders who constructed upscale apartments. The builders had permission to build apartment blocks of six floors each. Many of the buildings are much taller. The tallest one is 17 floors high. All this happened a long time ago, and like much else in India there was a ‘nod-nod, wink-wink among all concerned’.  Banks give loans, owners buy properties, electricity connections are given, tankers supply water, and it all proceeds as though everything is normal and legal. The modus operandi is as follows: File a plan, get municipality approvals based on the plan, begin construction, violate all that is in the plan, and then pay a small fine to regularise the construction. It happens all the time. There are posh localities in the suburbs of Mumbai that still get water via tankers, five years after residents have moved in, because the entire complex is yet to get an OC (Occupation Certificate) from the BMC. And more often than not things like this gets regularised — someone knows someone, who knows someone, and for a little compensation (for greasing palms and getting through the bureaucratic labyrinth) everything gets fixed. Except that in the case of Campa Cola houses it did not. The current fracas is over 35 floors that were constructed without permission, occupied without an Occupation Certificate, and which was ordered to be demolished by the BMC.

Naturally, the residents were shocked. They refused to move out. Upper middle class agony, expressed in fluent English and anglicized Hindi makes for great news television. It makes audiences identify with those portrayed. And, more importantly, it makes news anchors outrage in an even shriller manner. Suddenly, the residents of the Campa Cola Compound were no longer the educated, well-heeled, well-connected individuals who had access to lawyers and could check contracts and building paper work, but innocents who were duped by a corrupt system. And once the media got into the fray, so did the politicians. To give him his due, Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan refused to pass an ordinance that would halt the demolition. But, the rest got onto the bandwagon, including his own party members. Suddenly, a bunch of people who should have known better while they were busy breaking the law, were portrayed as babes in the wood. The very same people who would otherwise rant when illegal slums and pavement dwellers began using the same analogies to defend their illegal constructions. ‘we have always lived here’ ‘our children grew up here’ ‘where will we go’ ‘our entire community is here’.

Any house owner in Mumbai (possibly elsewhere too) will tell you that buying a flat is fraught with tension. The chain of ownership is often vague, and very often there are situations where buildings have neither Occupation Certificates, nor No-Objection certificates. Most of us are not used to reading technical documents in archaic technical language, and most just glance at the requisite paperwork to see if it is complete before buying. But, ignorance is not a defence against breaking the law.  And when you strip the Campa Cola Compound case of all the emotion, the tears and the angst, all you are left with is one thing: The law was broken, and those who broke the law may get away with it, with the media whipping up outrage to dissuade the law from taking its course. At the time of writing this column, the Supreme Court — reacting to media reports — has stayed the demolition.

In April this year, the residents of Golibar, a slum in Mumbai, were protesting for the same reason.Their homes were being demolished to make way for buildings. They had occupied the land since the mid-1960s. Television news did not care. Demolitions are proceeding as per plan. In June this year, slums at Ejipura in Bengaluru were demolished after residents were evicted in an area they had lived in for decades. Media coverage was nowhere near as sympathetic.

It seems that the middle class likes the idea of the rule of law when it is applied to others. It is quite comfortable breaking the law, and sheds copious tears when it is caught. The sentiment is simple — the rich get away with it because they have influence with those in power. The lower middle class and poor get away with breaking the law because they are the mass, and political parties need mass votes. Given that the middle class have neither the political influence nor the numbers, it does the next best thing — use the media, made up of people like them, to amplify issues. And it has worked.  While in the occasional case like a Jessica Lal when the media got it right, the fact remains that this sort of coverage of raw emotions has repercussions in terms of the rule of law. Think back to the hijacking of IC 814 and ask if the media had not constantly broadcast and amplified the heart-rending anguish of impacted families would the Government of India have been placed in such a ridiculous position?

Two sections of India that most often talk about declining morality and increased lawlessness have in the last week gotten together to do both: The middle class and the media. It is pointless to point fingers elsewhere. If you want the rule of law, you start by following it, not by breaking it, because others do just that.

Dec 232013

This column appeared in the DNA on the 31st of October

About a decade ago, I traveled to film my first documentary. It was a hot and dry May and we were filming the destitute Dalit and Pardhi women near the town of Udgir, Latur District, Maharashtra.

The documentary was on how self-help groups helped the women achieve financial independence and reclaim their lives through grit, courage and hard work. Each self-help group, which had approximately 20 members, and each woman in that group saved one day’s wages between Rs20 and Rs50. When the group reached a certain threshold in savings, the NGO working with the group gave them a female goat. The idea was simple: the female goat would mate and before long there will be a herd of goats. And that is exactly what happened. The women, in a span of two years, had a herd of 250 goats and were earning money with goat milk and milk products. What was interesting was what they did with the money they set up an anganwadi and a pre-primary school where their children could study without discrimination.
While one celebrated the women’s success, I couldn’t but help thinking ‘What was the State doing?’ Isn’t it the role of the State to provide quality education? After all, we are paying taxes, and the application of tax money includes education, especially for the poorest. There was a governance gap, and  destitute women used their miniscule incomes to plug that gap to give their children a better future.

Earlier this year, in the scorching heat of May, I was out filming another documentary in Vidarbha, Yavatmal, Nanded, Adilabad and adjoining districts. The documentary was not on farmer suicides as documentaries on Vidarbha tend to be but on the traditional knowledge of the Banjara and Kolam tribes. What I saw in the villages was impressive. Water pumps in every 10 homes, concrete roads, good sanitation, primary schools and girls and boys going to school. There seemed to be a lot more worldly goods two wheelers, DTH connections, TV sets and the like.

Older teens were in nearby cities for further education both boys and girls. On the face of it, governance seemed to have delivered the basics and more. But, two interactions left me wondering. A villager told us that his son was in the ‘shehar’ studying engineering. That they had managed to cobble together the first year’s fees, but were thinking of mortgaging their land for money needed in the second year. Our local guide was also the principal of the local college and he informed the villager that for his son, education at this level should be free because of a variety of central and state schemes. In another case, there were these old women, very feeble and totally blind with thick cataract. We asked why they didn’t get their eyes operated, and the answer was it was too expensive. Once again, cataract operations for women (and men) in that category are totally free provided by both the State and various NGOs. People simply didn’t know about it. There was a governance gap, and the poorest, weakest and the most marginal had slipped through this gap.

The role of the government is simple. It is to get things done based on policies that they have put in place. If the policy is subsidised food items and kerosene delivered to the population, then the governance gap arises when the public distribution system fails to deliver; if the policy is quality education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14, then the governance gap is the inability to provide schools and qualified teachers; if the policy is free medicines and hospital treatment to the poorest members of society, then the governance gap is not enough hospitals and doctors; if the policy is a society where women can walk without fear on the roads of India, then the governance gap is lack of adequate policing; if the policy is the creation of several thousand kilometres of roads in the country, then the governance gap is the shortfall; if policy is about keeping the borders secure, then the governance gap is incursions into the Indian territory; if the policy is a safe and equal society for all citizens, then the governance gap is riots. The list can go on and on. We just have to look around us, in our own everyday lives and see the governance gap.

Every time someone breaks a signal and drives away, there is a governance gap, because at the most basic level there is no respect for the law and law-breakers can get away with it.

Gandhi had talked about Sarvodaya (welfare of all), but he clarified that this is based on Antyodaya the welfare of the last in society. It is impossible for the Centre or even state legislatures to look at the needs of the  Antyodaya. For that you have local governments corporations and panchayats.  If you look at the West, the basics health, social service, education, sanitation, garbage collection and road maintenance are mostly in the realm of services provided by local government. The states and the Centre put in place policies that help local governments deliver, but the local governments will have to take these services  to the local community.

To ensure good governance, citizens have to be informed about what the government plans to do, and they should be empowered with the ability to question the government when it doesn’t deliver.

In reality, a highly centralised set-up makes that difficult. The best way to ensure good governance is to enable local governments and local representatives to deliver quality services to the local community where they live and work. And, more importantly,  empower citizens who live in that area so that they can take their representatives and administrators to task if there is ‘no delivery’.

Unless there is decentralisation, and local corporations and panchayats are  empowered, the gap in governance will continue.

Jul 062012

My feature in today’s Lokmat

Maharashtra is reeling under its worst power shortage ever. It is estimated that the State faces a shortage of between 1500 – 2000 MW.  For a state that has is to being the number one inIndiain industrial production, that kind of a shortage is a huge blow. Industry, small business and households are reeling under acute power cuts. Factories are relocating, industries are shutting down, unemployment is rising, and there seems to be no end in sight to the power crisis.  In regions such as Marathwada 12-13 hours of electricity cuts, on a daily basis are no longer the exception, but the norm.


Maharashtra has some big power projects coming up. There is the world’s largest consolidated Solar energy plant being set up in Dhule. There are large thermal plants being set up and the one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants is slated to come up in Jaitapur. But, these take time. Also, there are fears of environmental pollution, safety concerns and the like. The fact remains with large power projects, you need vast tracts of land that have to be acquired from various stake holders, get environmental clearances, run the gamut of PIL’s and hopefully when all that is done the power plant will be operational. While all this is happening households, industries and businesses are without power.


The solution may lie in looking at micro-grids rather than centralised grids. Micro grids are bonsai versions of the large centralised electricity production and distribution systems, and they work purely at the local level.  They are aimed at achieving local level electrification within certain parameters of environmental & cost efficiency, and if needed they can tie into the larger electricity grid. Private enterprise and NGO’s such as Greenpeace are working at the grassroots level to help bring electricity, off the main grids, purely at the local level. Micro hydro electric power plants, solar power, power generated through bio mass are all being used, in various locations, in various states


One of the companies involved in purely local level power generation is the Husk Power Systems, that is bringing electricity to parts ofBihar.  is estimated that over 80% ofBiharhave never received electricity. They have been using kerosene lamps for lighting purposes. Kerosene is expensive. A litre costs around Rs.40. An average family requires around 13-14 litres a month for just basic lighting purposes. Rice Husk, on the other hand, is abundantly available. It is a waste product that costs very little, yields high levels of energy. HPS has bootstrapped a solution to provide electricity generated from rice husk to the community. Each power plant supplies power to a community of 300-400 households. There are around 60 plants in operation inBihar– mostly in North Western parts, and has a customer base of 25,000 households (roughly 1.2 lakh people).


In a little village called Pratap Patti, villagers are enjoying 6 hours of uninterrupted power supply for the very first time in history. Rather than install expensive power meters, the company charges per appliance per month. On an average, a family pays around Rs.120 per month for 15watts of power, much cheaper than kerosene. Also, safer, cleaner and brighter.


(rise husk power lighting up the village of Pratap Patti – the blue hues are from light supplied by it. the yellow light is the headlights of a car ,and the left hand side of the road has no light)

Also, the company believes in involving the local community in the process. It trains locals, especially women to take care of the plants. The feeling of community ownership is huge. The plant manager of a Husk Power plant said that they don’t even have barbed wire protecting the plant. No one will steal anything because of the utility it gives the village at large.

Cheap, efficient, and effective – maybeMaharashtraneeds to look at its own variants of the micro grid to address the energy requirements of its people.


On Rice Husk power generation

  • Rice husk is purchased & dried
  • It is poured into the funnel of a biomass gasification plant.
  • The furnace is maintained at a temperature of 400-500 degrees C
  • The rice husk burns, and this generates the energy required to light up homes.
  • ON an average it costs about Rs.50 to generate 1 watt of power
  • About 2 kgs of rice husk yield 1 kW of power.



Jun 212012

image courtesy NYtimes on twitter

A huge fire broke out at Mantralaya – the administrative office of the Government of Maharashtra this afternoon. They are still putting out the fire

This image was tweeted by NYTimes – India.

who are these people saving the flag of India ? were they ordered to ? what made them risk their lives or lungs ? Struck me that painting the tri colour on your face or wearing it on your shirt is easy – this kind of ‘love’ is quieter. I wonder how many people i know would have even thought of this, let alone go up on the roof of a burning building to take the flag to safety !