Monday, September 12, 2016

Rage, a deep simmering rage.

The last few weeks have had me in a rage. Just a deep simmering rage. This morning when I read about the “injustice” being heaped on Payal Abdullah, I snapped.

What set me off this morning was a report in the Times of India on the plea by Payal Abdullah the estranged wife of Omar Abdullah. Payal was living in a bungalow in Lutyens Delhi. This bungalow was allotted to Omar Abdullah when he was a minister in the Congress Government. Later his entitlement to the bungalow was consequent to him being the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. In the interregnum, he lost his minister ship and filed a petition for divorce. The beauteous Payal continued to stay in the bungalow. Years passed. Finally, the Jammu & Kashmir Government – which is now hostile to Omar – took steps to evict Payal from the bungalow as neither she nor her husband were entitled to live there. Of course she resisted but, the law prevailed and she was evicted.

Promptly on her eviction she has file an application in the divorce proceedings claiming Rs 15 lakhs per month as alimony/maintenance as consequent to her eviction she has been rendered “homeless”. I was aghast at reading this. How much Payal claims as alimony/maintenance is really not my concern. But to say, on oath, that she has been rendered “homeless” is simply ridiculous. She was living in state accommodation. Not only living there but living there as an illegal occupant as she had lost her entitlement to the bungalow. She was simply squatting. And now, on eviction, she has the gall to say that she is “homeless”! I guess there are no limits to freeloading and taking public property as your own.

On similar lines, of course, is the matter of the hallowed Bombay Gymkhana. It is shocking how similar the two cases are. The Bombay Gymkhana is located on land leased to it by the Collector i.e. the Government. The lease expired 10 years ago and has not been renewed. Leaving aside all the noise surrounding the matter, the Government has said that they would like to take a strip of land on the rear border of the Bombay Gymkhana to widen the road. This is the road that runs from the old VSNL Building past Royal China Restaurant to VT Station. Please understand what I am writing. The Government wants to take a strip of land owned by the Government, for a public purpose, on which the Bombay Gymkhana is a squatter under an expired lease, and the Bombay Gymkhana is protesting this! How can this ever be correct? Simply boggles my mind.

There is yet another matter.

You will no doubt recall that His Holiness Sir Sir Ravishankar had held a massive function/event on the banks of the Yamuna a few months ago. Over very own Pradhan Mantri Shri Narendra Modi attended the function. Besides all the hoopla that surrounded the event, there was one matter which had everybody lathered up. The National Green Tribunal had “slapped” a financial penalty on the Art of Living Foundation which had held the event. The reason for “slapping” this fine was basically that the flora and fauna on the Yamuna banks was destroyed by the stages and platforms erected. Of course, in typical Indian fashion, the fine was not paid, it was disputed and now everyone has lost interest.

Now, turn your attention to the Ganapati Visarjan event that happens all over India. Millions of idols made with Plaster of Paris - which does not dissolve in water – along with tons of flowers, decorations and God know what else, are immersed in the sea and rivers and lakes all over India. Forget the rest of India, look at just Mumbai. I cannot imagine how many idols are immersed. The tons of attendant garbage, the truck belching exhaust gasses while the unwashed masses dance like maniacs, are all highly polluting. Destruction of flora and fauna, polluting the sea water? Yes indeed. What is the National Green Tribunal doing? I am certainly not suggesting banning the immersion of idols, but surely banning of idols made of non-bio degradable material could be a way forward with appropriate certification. Instead of regulating Ganapati Mandals, how about regulating the idol makers?

Forget what the National Green Tribunal is doing, what are our intellectuals, tree huggers and other similarly disposed people doing? No PIL?

Sometimes I really wonder how India has become the world leader in doing everything illogically.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Uber v/s Kaali Peeli. No gunfight.

A few days ago the taxis - “kaali peeli” variety – auto rickshaws – also “kaali peeli” – and the grand BEST busses – bright red – were to go off the roads on a one day strike. The Unions had called this strike to protest against Uber and its Indian clones Ola. This strike was called off. However, on 31st August 2016, the auto rickshaws went on strike.

Uber and its Indian clones have, to use jargon, `disrupted’ the taxi cab business. I am not going to tell you how Uber operates.

I have used Uber several times and am by and large very happy with the service when compared to a kaali peeli. Of course, there is a difference between various Uber drivers, in their competence, ability to read and use the GPS, knowledge of roads, ability to comprehend and follow instructions and so on. However, that is an Indian problem. We have lots of drivers, why drivers, lots of people who simply cannot read a map. Brain power differences are something that affects all of us.

What really troubles me is two broad aspects. First is a larger and graver question. What will happen if Uber runs out of money? The second is the sheer stupidity, pig headedness and attitude of the hyperbolic media that I cannot understand.

I am a capitalist, though, I must confess, while on the one hand I am all for `disruption’ and the consumer is king, I do feel twinges of hurt or conscience, call it what you might, at the havoc that could befall us if the `disruption’ is complete. I guess that is true for a lot of us. No, I do not read Economic & Political Weekly or the Guardian. So, I presume, it is the conscience that has been troubling me. Let me explain.

The cost of an Uber ride is - if you exclude surge pricing - very close to what you would pay for a kaali peeli. In fact, at times a ride in a small Uber will be just slightly more [by this I mean probably 5%] than an auto rickshaw ride. HRH the Queen of Kutch and I have experienced this several times when returning after a sumptuous meal and several intoxicants had at the ITC Grand Maratha at Sahar. An Uber ride to the ITC Grand Maratha at Sahar will cost a little more than an auto rickshaw ride back from ITC Grand Maratha at Sahar

Obviously, you cannot compare the costs of running an Uber vehicle and a kaali peeli. Travelling in a kaali peeli is a horrific experience, smelly, dirty, and rattly with a stinking unshaven irascible driver who is accountable to nobody. More often than not, the contrary is the case with an Uber. So, the question is who pays the real cost of an Uber ride. The answer obviously is Uber with its vast funds and continual funding has the ability to have extremely competitive fares, engage in predatory pricing, and all this is to the benefit of the customer. Yes, we as users have a good thing going with Uber. I believe, that with predatory pricing and a hugely superior offering, Uber is only going to have an increasing number of rides and customers at the cost of a kaali peeli. So, over time a kaali peeli driver will be out of a job. There are some 40,000 kaali peeli in Mumbai which would mean at least as many drivers. Mind you this is just Mumbai, add a lot more to this number when you look at the several cities that Uber has launched in. Who is going to bear the social and economic cost of these 40,000 being jobless? Certainly not our Government. Certainly not me or you and of course not Uber. My point is, are the Taxi Unions even aware or caring or troubled by this fact? Is striking work going to help in any way? On the contrary, people will get more upset with the kaali peeli and obviously all passengers will get to ride an Uber every time the kaali peeli strike. The Unions seem to be at a loss on how to deal with this `disruption’. I feel sorry for the poor drivers who are being misguided by the Unions and who are seemingly incapable of understanding the enormity of the problem.

Now onto the second matter of the sheer stupidity, pig headedness and attitude of the hyperbolic media. A few days ago while trying to look for a channel on the now re organised Tata Sky, I came across a panel discussion on exactly this. On the show were two kaali peeli Union leaders, some users and a representative of the BJP. Much was made about surge pricing, but, I honestly believe that you as a user has a choice. Surge pricing is disclosed upfront by Uber. It is not a surprise or an entrapment. You have a choice. If you do not wish to pay the surge pricing you can use a stinky kaali peeli. No questions asked. How can you protest this? Is not surge pricing an outcome of fewer taxis or conversely a greater demand. If the kaali peeli Union is so dead against it they should simply increase the number of kaali peeli on the road. But no, they refuse to understand this. Also if I am willing to pay the surge who is a kaali peeli driver to complain. Would he dare to overcharge me? Overcharging has unfortunately become the norm for the most weak and fragile customer – a tourist at the railway station is probably the weakest.

One point that emerged, to my considerable surprise, was that many car manufacturers refuse to sell their cars for use as kaali peeli. I am taking that statement at face value. The Union leader who spouted this explained that despite the willingness of a kaali peeli operator to use a better vehicle to compete with Uber, he was unable to do so as they could not buy the desired vehicle. In retrospect, I can understand the refusal of the manufacturers. But does this not beg the question. Kaali peeli vehicles portray such a bad image with their condition, use, lack of maintenance and so on that a manufacturer refuses to sell the vehicle to them. Is this itself is deeply disturbing and shows how utterly pathetic the reputation for maintenance is as far as kaali peeli are concerned. I am sure you have hailed and travelled in a Mercedes taxi when abroad. Do you honestly believe that this situation will change? How can a kaali peeli ever hope to compete with an Uber? See what I mean by pig-headedness.

Of course much is made about the kaali peeli drivers knowing where Mumbai landmarks are – examples of landmarks given are various hospitals. Is this really relevant in times of GPS? Much is made about the fact that kaali peeli drivers refuse fares. Explanations to this are bizarre – it’s lunch time, it’s dinner time, too short a distance, it’s time to hand back the cab to the next driver and so on and so forth. Once again this is a case of losing the plot. I as His Majesty the Consumer do not get this sort of rubbish from Uber. Why should a kaali peeli drivers problems become mine? Is this stubbornness to accept reality, to accept `disruption’ not only going to kill the kaali peeli driver?

Frankly, in my view, Uber and its clones have a bright future, and this bright future is directly inversely proportional to the kaali peeli’s dim future. This is not my real worry. My real worry is the social cost which no one seems to care about.

I cannot remember the last time I shouted `Taxi’ !