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Monday, November 22, 2010

Selling global warming down the river for 40 rupees....

I have a diesel car, for which I have not been able to get a Pollution Under Certificate for years, even though, when I bought it five years back, it was supposed to have the Bharat I norms (the latest norms then). After going to PUC kiosks all around Delhi (and finding it failed to pass the emission norms everywhere), I got the Catalytic Convertor cleaned, the engine tuned up..and yet it failed to get a Certificate.
For months i was puzzled: here was a new car, a privately owned, sparingly used one, with the manufacturer promising the latest emission norms, and yet it failed : its emissions were way above normal.
Well, having been a student of TERI, the guilt of contributing to global warming was only surpassed by my fear of being caught everytime I passed a traffic constable, for not having a valid PUC certificate.
Well, I thought, maybe the new emission standards were so stringent (Bharat IV or is it V now?) that my car could not pass...or maybe something was wrong with my engine...or maybe I was driving my car badly...??
The mechanic at the Workshop cleared up the mystery: "No car can pass those norms...give the man at the PUC kiosk a hundred-buck note, and ask him to issue the certificate...you people don't know how to get these things done..."
The legal cost of the PUC is 60 rupees.
This sunday, I went to a kiosk, and told him I wanted a PUC.
He said, "Okay, line up the car, and I'll charge you sixty bucks whether it passes or fails the test"
"Oh", I said, "It will fail the test. Just take a hundred bucks, and adjust something, and pass it"
The guy gave me a broad smile. "Okay. Line up the car".
I lined up the car in line with his computer, so that he could take a pic using his webcam. He took a pic, and asked, "Do you actually want to test it?"
"Not at all. I just want the certificate"
In two minutes, he put in my car number, and hey presto!, he printed out my certificate...
I remembered all those classes while I was doing my Master's Degree in Public Policy and Sustainable Development right under RK Pachauri's nose in TERI, the theory about "socially acceptable costs of pollution", the Kyoto Protocol, the "Cap and Trade Regime", cutting down on global warming, and most of all, the great incorruptible "Control and Command" model of environmental conservation...all to be sold down the river for a measly forty rupees....
How about the "Bribe and Barter" system of pollution control, folks?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The most ancient place in Delhi

The date: 23 centuries before.
Approximately 230 B.C.
A group of heavily armed soldiers come down the jungle path, from the East of the land, from Pataliputra. They come to a kind of intersection in that primeval dense forest, where the path from the East to the West meets the track from the South to the North. There is  a crag at this ancient crossroads, rising out of the green roof of the jungle, a tiny spur of the Aravallis. It is not much, but it will do :  with its cliff face inscribed, it will act as a billboard for travellers along the busy route to the south, the Daksina-patha, advertising the new faith of the Chakravarthi, King Ashoka.
The soldiers carry a palm leaf inscription with them, and in their party are stone-inscribers, experienced in etching on the hardest of granite, using little more than water and a few simple tools. They climb the crag, and inscribe the long message of Compassion and Purity that their Monarch had dictated to them, which they have recorded in the palm leaf manuscript. It takes them a few days, but the winter sun of Indraprastha is pleasant on their faces as they work, guarded by soldiers. Their work done, they depart, to inscribe the Edicts of their King in some other place...
The centuries pass, the jungle covers all, and the inscription, and its message is forgotten. Indraprastha falls, empires rise and fall. Finally the City of New Delhi arises around the place, the place which was the crossroads in the jungle.

The modern ugly locality called Kalkaji arises there, and the hillock is used as an open air toilet by the poor of the place. Yards away, is the busy Outer Ring Road. Finally, sometime in the 60s, serendipitously, someone stumbles on to the inscription, realises that this is one of the Minor Rock Edicts of Ashoka, and that the site is 23 centuries old, and the ASI, in desperation, builds an ugly iron cage around the Edict, and a concrete shed to shelter the inscription.. The photo above shows what the site looks like.

Of all the historical remains of Delhi, this is probably the most ancient, arising paradoxically out of the brashest and most modern part of Delhi.

The idea fascinated me: this juxtaposition of ancient crossroads with the modern flyover, this magical crossover place from our age to the Ashokan era. So one day a few months back, I went there.

I went to the ISKON temple, crossed it, and went past a huge garbage dump. Holding my nose, I crossed over the gate of the Park that had come over the hillock. Kids were playing cricket all over and around the hillock, and they guided me on the route to the top.

I went up and gazed at the highly weathered, and faded inscription through the iron bars. Despite the grim concrete of the shed, and the noise from the busy highway, I could picture the scene, 23 centuries back...the rat-a-tat of the chisel, the thunder of hooves in the forest, the sense of mission of the leader of the group, and the solemnity that comes with the act of creating a time-capsule, to be opened and read in a distant future, when the language itself and the King was forgotten

That act of deciphering the lost language and reading would be done by a young Brit, James Prinsep, twenty one centuries later...but that, ah, is another gripping story....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Emerging country blah blah blah...

As Obama was addressing Parliament, and flattering our MPs and citizens with arfully chosen words about how great we are, I was navigating the back lanes of Okhla in South Delhi, looking for a workshop for my car. There was no tar on the roads, once you got off the main road into Okhla. There was no tar on even a single road: further, the dirt track (for that was what it was) was full of deep potholes and gentle hillocks, and I was wishing I had a four wheel drive vehicle. The narrow dirt-tracks were full of shacks built right on them, on the "side-walks'. To complicate it further, huge trucks were parked right on them. As the crow flies, the place was just half a dozen kilometres from Parliament, where Obama was providing balm (zzzzzzzzandu balm?) to the Hon'ble MPs.There were hundreds of  young men sitting on their hauches on the roads, doing absolutely nothing, and little children playing in the dirt, right next to the roaring traffic.
Maybe they were from Bangladesh, or may be they were Indian.
But all the same, it was a shame, that while we were spending thousands of crores on the Commonwealth Games, we could not even provide tarred roads a few kilometres away....after all, everybody, just everybody pays taxes to the government, either directly, or through indirect taxes, don't they?