India trip 2017






This blog is based on our recent trip to India. Every time I go to India I find myself lost due to the changes that have happened in a short period of time. The shops, roads, traffic, the system everything is changed. So I thought this time it will be great to write a blog on that experience.

Airports – In India only people with a valid ticket are allowed inside the airport. I am not sure if this is the case in other countries but certainly I haven’t had that experience in my travels. In airports like London Heathrow anybody can go into the departures, so you have the luxury of saying good bye to your friends or family inside the airport. I am writing about this because I had checked in online and I had chosen the option of getting the boarding pass at the check in desk. So I am on my way to the airport and I realise that I don’t have a copy of the e ticket and won’t be able to go inside the airport without a ticket. Luckily they do allow you to show your e ticket on your mobile phone, so I was allowed inside. So folks if you are going to fly in India make sure you have a ticket or a boarding pass to actually get into the airport.

Disabled access – India is developing rapidly but definitely the disabled and the elderly have been forgotten in terms of infrastructure. We took a push chair for our 7 month old baby so that he can play or sleep when he wants to. Unfortunately we gave up using it because India is not designed for disabled people. This blog on NDTV really gives you an insight of a disabled man’s suffering in India I don’t need to say more.

Uber/auto – Wow, Uber is brilliant, book your taxi via an app, get in the taxi, enjoy the drive, your friend or family can track your location throughout the time, send alarm signals if something is suspicious, pay what the app tells you and rate the driver at the end of your journey on the app. What a brilliant idea. No bargaining/argument with an auto driver, no rigged auto meters and the rest which comes with it.

Food/hygiene – If you like food and especially Indian food, the place to be is India. It was an absolute treat for somebody who has been eating so called Indian food in the UK cooked by Bangladeshi chefs adapted for the English palate. Talking about food hygiene in India – certainly there is progress but you still see in a lot of places even wearing a simple plastic gloves would make a great difference but people don’t use it. Obviously we don’t know what happens in the kitchen or how clean the kitchen is. Unfortunately there are no health inspectors or food inspectors in India who can check the cleanliness and hygiene of these places. Even if there are any I guess they turn a blind eye as long as they are bribed well.

Goa – We went to Goa on a short trip. We went in an off season, so it was very hot but the food, beaches etc were all amazing. The resort which we stayed was excellent. Customer service is incredible in India, we had a little baby who was having mashed up food, they prepared it for us as we asked and even did room service. Thank you.

Garbage/plastic bags – Plastic bags are banned in Bengaluru but it’s still widely used and is available. The reason for this is 1 word – corruption. Corrupted and ignorant minds of shop keepers/consumers and the same applies for the government staff who are supposed to enforce it.

Muslim vendors/shopping – Shopping in India is a skilled job. You need to be local and know the prices if not you get ripped off. Bargaining is a mandatory and useful skill. When we went shopping although we look Indian we didn’t speak the local language, so people immediately recognised us as outsiders and the prices went up high. Interestingly when we went shopping during the holy month of Ramadan started we saw that the prices were reasonable. During the month of Ramadan adhere to certain principles and 1 amongst them is honesty and no cheating.    So if you want to get decent bargain and not get ripped off, shop in the holy month of Ramadan if they are a Muslim vendor. I don’t know if Hindus have this culture during their holy festivals.

Traffic and roads– Bengaluru has a huge traffic problem and the government doesn’t have a long term plan about it. Bengaluru is known for it’s small roads and now a surge in the population due to the IT industry means the city is not coping. The government’s argument is that it is taking steps to tackle the traffic problem but on the ground reality they find that no change and in fact they feel it’s getting worse.

Cost of Living – Every time I go to India, which is once in every 2 years (this time it was 4 years gap), I am shocked to see the rise in the cost of living. We always go to a major city, so can’t comment much about smaller towns and villages. We went out to a pub in a mall in Bangalore. 3 of us had 2 rounds of whisky and some chicken alongside it. The total bill was 11000 Rs. I was absolutely gobsmacked to see the price, interestingly we can buy 3 full bottles of the same whisky for that price. My friends who were with me found it to be normal. It’s not just the pubs, it’s the same with everything else. A family eating out at a restaurant can easily cost you Rs 2000 which is still a lot of money for the wages people earn.

Skilled Labour work – India has always been good in recycling and a willingness to repair old stuff. The Europeans and the Americans way is to just chuck them out or replace the whole thing. I have a touch screen Lenovo laptop which had problems starting up. When we managed to start it, it worked a treat. So restarting it was a major problem because it may take hours or may not start at all. So I took it to 1 of the premier shops in the UK which sells computers and repairs them. The answer was to get a new whole motherboard and I was quoted a total cost of 350£ for which you can actually buy a new laptop. I did not go ahead and wanted to try my luck in India. It was fixed for 2500Rs, they needed to change a chipset and since then it has been working fine.

Economic divide – Indian economy has seen tremendous progress in the last 2 decades. But the progress has not been reflected in terms of economic equality. The division between the rich and the poor has got wider. I think only when we achieve a certain standard of economic equality is reduced India will be considered a developed country.  

Healthcare – eye operation, mum scans – Healthcare in India is predominantly private sector. I have 2 interesting tales to share. My mum had some neurological symptoms for which we took her to a Neurologist. I myself suspected a condition and the neurologist thought the same. The diagnosis is usually made with a clinical examination and no tests can identify this problem. I am pretty sure that the neurologist was very aware of that but inspite of that he ordered us to take scans which were irrelevant. The interesting part was when he suggested lung function tests for a problem which was arising from the brain. Unfortunately there are no systems in place to challenge a decision like that and there are no guidelines for medical professionals regarding this at a medical council level as well, so all doctors get away with this.  The 2nd story is a really positive story, my wife wanted to correct her vision through Laser eye surgery. So we rang 3 hospitals in the same city for quotes, 3 different quotes ranging from 250000 Rs to 100000 Rs. We went with the cheapest option and the care was excellent. It’s an interesting scenario because the procedure, the technology and the skill set are all the same but there is a huge difference in the cost. It’s a shame the way Indian health care system is as we have some of the best healthcare professionals in the world living in India and living abroad.  

Overall we can see good and bad changes but progress is still being made. I hope for the best.

Elections in India and UK

Election fun fair






It’s been a few months since the last general elections in India and Britain will have its general election exactly 1 year later in 2015. I thought it might be time to write a blog comparing elections in India and UK.

Elections in India are like anything else in India. Indian marriages, cricket matches and movies are all extravagant and very much part of people’s lives, so are elections in India.

Elections are won based on power, money, religion, caste and people. One can only wonder how much of that money can be saved and spent towards growth, development and eliminating poverty in India. Money is spent on rallies, meetings, posters and votes. Obviously rallies and meetings brings road blocks and inconvenience.

In a democratic country like India anything can happen. Parties can contest the elections without even naming their PM candidate. There is no agenda or plan set out before the start of their propaganda or even Election Day. Personal, direct attacks are common and have become part of our elections. There are no public debates as politicians are afraid of taking part and answering people’s questions.

Like the endless number of castes and cultures in India there are endless number of parties. This is actually the beauty of a democracy but obviously in India we overdo it to the point that we need a book the size of oxford dictionary to list all the parties. Contestants get party tickets mostly because of money or due to their power to woo people. This means special entry for cine actors, actresses, cricketers etc. because they have a large fan base who are potential voters. Unfortunately most of these people are disconnected from reality, lack understanding of governance, do not have any leadership skills and end up exploiting the very own people who had elected them. The sad part of this is a real hard working party member is denied the opportunity of contesting elections because of a celebrity. If a husband is not allowed to contest his wife contests, wins and rules the state. I guess we follow the old monarchical style rule in our democracy through dynasty politics.

On the other hand we are the 1st country in the world to have an electronic voting system. So it means to a certain extent booth capturing, and other malpractices in voting are minimal. The other good thing about elections in India is the Election commission of India which conducts elections. In the last few years thanks to Supreme Court they have got more powers and they conduct the elections efficiently and every citizen is given an opportunity to cast their vote irrespective of where they live. After all democracy is still alive in India.
Election victory is then celebrated with the Tax payer’s money through rallies, posters, ads etc.

Elections in the UK

Elections in the UK are a different ball game. There are 3 main parties here Labour, Conservatives and Liberal democrats. Now we have a 4th party emerging called UKIP.

Political parties announce their PM candidate well in advance and that person leads the propaganda. The PM candidate is the leader of their party and is usually chosen in a democratic way by their party. This happens in the American elections as well but their party leaders are chosen by the people themselves. The parties put out their plans and agenda well in advance and these are usually debated in the public domain. In the last elections the 3 big party leaders actually debated on national television 3 times before the actual elections. It’s something which is impossible in India as there is not even a PM candidate named before the election.

Elections in the UK are generally a quiet affair in comparison to the fun fair in India. Propaganda is usually done through door to door canvassing, promotion through media. Politicians put forward their plans and these are discussed in public domain, everything is evidenced based on stats, government figures. There are no rallies, no protests, no processions, no posters, no road blocks etc.

Parties are usually funded through donations, lot of the times business people make large donations to parties they support and is all in the public domain. Party tickets are generally given fairly. Politicians don’t change parties midway through elections and it’s very rare to see politicians change parties.
There are no big victory ceremonies or rallies to celebrate their victory.

So what’s the difference?

I guess in India we easily point fingers at the politicians but it’s the people who are responsible for it. They vote for the party which pays them to vote. People are short sighted, careless and irresponsible and treat elections like another festival. This can only be changed through education, proper governance, good leadership and stricter laws. That seems decades away, let’s hope for the best.

Road safety

road safety






Road safety – Heard of that?
Road safety – have we heard of this term in India? I certainly haven’t but politicians have started talking about it now because 1 of them (a senior minister) died in a Road Traffic Accident (RTA). This is definitely a good sign as political will has a great impact in India.
WHO has estimated that more than 231027 people in India die of RTA’s every year. The stats are alarming
1. India accounts for 12% of the world’s total accident fatalities
2. A third of the people who are killed in RTA’s are under the age of 25
3. A third of the people who are killed are either 2 wheeler or 3 wheeler drivers or passengers.

The most interesting point to note here is that there is no actual recorded data for the number of accidents that happen on India’s roads. I think it’s no point talking about how unsafe are our roads and instead I want to focus on how to make our roads safer. I am writing this blog to highlight some of the road safety measures followed in different countries which can be used to formulate road safety rules in India.

Basic safety rules
Everybody should wear a seat belt – In the UK law if a passenger is found not wearing seat belt the driver is actually fined 50£, obviously this would mean the driver ensures that all the passengers are wearing seat belts.
Anybody driving or riding a 2 wheeler should wear helmets.
Children under a certain age and under a certain height should be seated in a child seat.
If it’s a 2 seater vehicle only 2 people are allowed and if it’s a 5 seater car only 5 people are allowed to ride in the vehicle.

Vehicle safety requirements
All vehicles should have insurance, tax paid.
All vehicles should undergo a very basic fitness test called MOT (Ministry of transport) test which will ascertain if the car is road safe. If the car fails the MOT then the required changes have to be made and presented again to pass the test. If you drive a car without a valid MOT you get a hefty fine.
All cars should have air bags fitted for the driver and passenger.
No honking ever. Think about the amount of noise pollution and the diseases it causes and what have we achieved by honking.
Make sure all your lights, indicators are working, if they are not and the police spots you, you have to pay a fine.
You are not allowed to drive with a high beam as this can be a major distraction to the driver in front of you and opposite to you. Always use low beam.

Driving license
The theory test which I took in India was a joke as the agent filled in all my answers and the practical test was driving for less than 50 m with 4 people sitting in the same car. As we all know most of them don’t even take the practical test but are able to get (buy) a driving license. This should change and should be the first point of addressing road safety.
In most of the countries it involves a 2 stage process of passing a theory test and a practical test.
The theory test is an online test which happens in a test centre.
The Practical test involves the candidate driving with the examiner on normal roads during normal hours for about 1 hour, you are also tested for your parking skills and manoeuvres. You are basically tested in real driving situations. The examiner marks the candidate based on the number of minor mistakes and major mistakes. If you have 1 major mistake you are failed and have to retake the test.
If you are a learned driver you should have an L plate displayed and should be driving accompanied by somebody who has held a license for atleast 3 years. People who have recently passed their test can display a P plate for a few months until they become more confident to drive.

Road signs
UK has 1 of the most effective and reliable system of road signs when compared to the rest of the countries. Clear road signs means more focus on driving and less chance of mistakes and accidents. So what are the basics which would ensure that we are safe on our roads? I am highlighting some of the most important ones which we need to have.
1. Speed limit – There is no guidelines about speed limits in India and there are no sign boards telling the speed limit. In the UK Speed limit is simplified depending upon the roads you are driving. For example if you are driving in a residential area with street lights it is automatically 30 mph unless otherwise displayed. The national speed limit is 70 mph for motorways (3 lanes) and dual carriage way (2 lanes). There are single carriage ways which have a speed limit of 60mph. These are standard speed limits for approx. 80% of the roads in UK.
2. There are different types of pedestrian crossings, display clearly which type of crossing it is.
3. If there is going to be work undertaken on any of the roads they are clearly displayed well in advance and the times the road will be closed etc. Most of the time work is done during the weekends or after office hours to make it convenient for the public.
4. Services and petrol stations are all situated in designated places and they are marked clearly with signs for exit etc.
5. Electronic sign board are present throughout the motorways and dual carriage ways which are used to notify congestion, accidents, change in speed limit, parking availability etc.
6. Roundabouts are 1 of the best creations and they work brilliantly. Signs are displayed when you are going to be approaching a roundabout and the exit destinations for that roundabout.
7. The obvious things on the display boards are places, attractions in that place and the distance to get there.

This is 1 of the most important things which India needs for our ever growing population.
I want to mention about something called “Hard shoulder”. Hard shoulder is an extra lane in most of the motorways for access to emergency service vehicles and police. In the event of an accident the police or the ambulance can get to the accident spot without going through miles of traffic by using this lane and can get to the spot quickly. This is also a lane for people who have breakdown problems or any other emergency. It’s a serious offence for moving traffic to use this lane unless instructed by authorities. This basically ensures that lives are saved and traffic congestion is reduced.
Signals work 24/7 unlike in India which stops at some point during the night.
Cameras- Cameras are everywhere to monitor traffic movement but also to spot people breaking laws.
The big question I get asked is do we have pot holes in other countries, of course they do but they are very minimal and nothing compared to the pot holes sizes on Indian roads. Pot holes are reported and are immediately fixed, if you suffer damage due to pot holes the local council are accountable for it and you may be entitled for a compensation.
Computerise the whole process of getting a license, insurance, MOT, Tax and everything related to road safety, it will save a lot of money and time. It will also ensure that 1 breaking the law can be identified and punished rapidly.

Offences and penalties
Cameras are the eyes of the law. There are speed cameras which captures the registration plate if you break the speed limit and you get a speeding ticket for that. You also get three points on your license for every single offence. In the 1st 2 years if you get 6 points your license is revoked and you have to go through a new application process. After 2 years you are allowed up to 12 points before your license is revoked.
Anytime you break the law like not paying your tax, insurance or drive a car without MOT you have to pay fine. There are cameras everywhere which capture number plates and analyse this information, so human presence is not required and offenders will still be caught.

The government collects data about everything related road safety like accidents, death related to accidents, fines, penalties etc. This is a very useful tool when planning for road safety. For example if on a particular road there have been more accidents they analyse the reason for it and make changes like reducing the speed limit on that road or installing a speed camera.
Indian government and the state governments in India should start collecting data and use that to improve road safety.

Education is the key to road safety. Road safety awareness should be promoted at home, schools, public places through media and various government programs and initiatives. This will definitely have a long term positive impact on road safety.

We really have a long way to go in terms of making our roads safer but it’s not too late to start. I want to finish by saying how a friend of mine compared driving in India to UK. In India people drive thinking that nobody follows the law as opposed to UK where people drive thinking that everybody will follow the law. I guess that’s something to think about!!

Reserve and rule?

reserve and rule








Reservation – a tool used to divide and rule or just divide?
Reservation is a system in India which was designed to eliminate social disparity based on one’s religion or caste. It is part of the Indian constitution which hails India to be a secular state.

In all societies and cultures there was always a division in people based on religion, sex, colour, profession, wealth and the list carries on. India in the Vedic ages was a land of Hindus and in the Hindu scriptures it has been stated that societies were divided into four groups based on their occupation. They were
• Brahmins – priests
• Kshatriyas- rulers
• Vaishyas- traders, merchants
• Shudras- servants for all the above.
Then there was another group called outcastes who are regarded as the modern day dalits. This is a system which is archaic and it probably worked in those ages but this system of dividing people prevailed even when the British came to India. The British used this to their advantage and established a strong and concrete system of dividing people based on their caste. They also included Muslims and Christians in this system of divided the people even further. Although the British exploited the divisions in the society to rule our country it was actually the upper caste people who executed this division in a systematic manner. The worst form of this division was untouchability which was abolished by Indian constitution in 1950 and the reservation policy was put in place to uplift the generation of people who were deprived of equality. This was done in a very noble sense to give a fair chance for the lower caste people against the dominant upper caste people. Although it has benefitted the lower caste people it has still widened the division in the society. If we look at in simple terms the policy of reservation actually promoted division by identifying each individual by their caste. The system was designed to reduce social disparity based on caste and make our country a land of equal opportunity but it actually divided people by giving them an identity based on their caste or religion. This was obviously a great tool for politicians who continued the divide and rule legacy left by the British and adapted it to a reserve and rule policy. The reservation policy like any other law or policy in India was never rewritten or audited and is still being used by politicians to gain votes. Although the advent of foreign companies into the Indian market has taken the topic out of our headlines it still remains in place and caste and religion have become deep rooted in our country.

Let’s look at a few examples to point out the downside of the system and the reasons why it widens the division in society
1. Reservation means a certain percentage of jobs or educational seats are reserved for a section of the society. So if a position is supposed to be filled in by a person from SC and if there is nobody available to fill that position, this remains vacant even though there are a lot of qualified people from other sections of the society.

2. A person from a backward caste benefits from the reservation system and progresses themselves in their social status. Ideally, reservation should not be applicable anymore to this person’s family as they have economically progressed and the objective of reducing social disparity has been achieved but the same reservation policy is applied to the second generation of that person which makes the system unfair. In the case of a 2nd generation benefiter this becomes an unfair playing ground for the upper caste person. I would probably agree with a lot of parents in the country who will find it difficult to justify to their kid that their friend who has got lesser qualifications than them, whose family is equally or sometimes more economically prosperous gets an unfair advantage over their kid when applying for university education or jobs. This example is applicable in in-house promotions where people who have benefitted from the reservation system are given unfair advantage again and again.

3. The reservation policy provides certain percentage of reservation for each section of the society but there is no such reservation for the upper caste people which means if 20% was reserved for open competition only 5% of them will be from the upper caste and this actually pushes the upper caste people downwards. I am convinced that this was not the intention of B.R Ambedkar when he wrote this policy.

4. Reservation does not start at school, it starts only when you are pursuing a college education and from then on into jobs and governance. This again provides an unfair advantage for somebody who is not competent.

5. A person from the upper caste does not mean that they have a higher social status which means an upper caste person from a low socio economic background does not have any support to progress.

6. In the name of reducing inequality quality suffers because the person who has secured 500th place lands a job when a guy who has got 50th rank cannot get it due to his caste. In essence a less qualified person is preferred when opposed to a more competent person. This is actually damaging for the economy in itself as these are people who are involved in policy making, governance and quality suffers.

This may also be a major reason for brain drain as all these people who have been denied opportunity, go abroad and build a successful life for themselves. It’s a pity to know that some of the best professionals from India are working abroad and those countries are benefitting from their knowledge and wisdom.

In essence reservation has divided people, deprived the best in our country an opportunity and has not achieved the objective set by B.R.Ambedkar instead promoted inequality in the society.

This brings us to the question “Do they have social disparity in other countries and how is it reduced?”
Let’s now take a quick look at the British system. Britain in itself is a multicultural country due to immigration and a lot of ethnic minorities living here. So how do they make sure that there is no discrimination in all walks of life? In the UK when somebody applies for a job or university education they are asked to fill in a separate form called equal opportunities monitoring form which is not available for the person who is assessing that individual thereby maintaining confidentiality and allowing an unbiased approach. In a lot of the institutions the assessor does not even get any personal info about the applicant until the shortlisting process is done. This information is collected separately and is accessed only by the HR department which is called an equal opportunities monitoring form. The equal opportunities form collects data on race, age, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability etc. If you prefer not to disclose any of the above info you have a prefer not to say option for all the questions. This data is monitored by a separate department and if it suggests any form of discrimination actions should be taken to address it. So this acts as a safety net to prevent discrimination on any basis.
So how is social disparity dealt in Britain? Social disparity in Britain is addressed through a benefits system which provides support for people/families who are economically challenged. There is a whole range of benefits which you can get if you are unable to provide yourself like employment benefits, child benefit, housing benefit, disability benefit and so on. In this system people are means tested and provided support by the government to reduce social disparity.
In the education sector there is no discrimination as everybody gets the same opportunity to take up the education they want and it’s solely based on remit. Student get a student loan towards their tuition fees which they have to pay back when they have started earning. Parents are means tested and if they have a low income their kids are provided living support when they are in university. This is a really fair system where kids are provided equal opportunities to pursue education.
The key here is if you have a low income or a disability which is stopping you to earn better support will be provided irrespective of your gender, race, religion, age etc.
Obviously there are downsides to this system as well because people start exploiting the ambiguities and false fully claim benefits which is being addressed by the current government.

It is very clear that to reduce social disparity the support system should be a needs based system rather than a caste based system. So the following are some of the steps which can be taken to achieve that.
1. Devise a needs based system based benefits system which will provide income support for the poor and disabled. If this system is well planned it could be something like a loan to the individual and when they are able to support themselves they should repay it back to the system.
2. Provide equal education to all sections of society from primary school so that everybody has a level playing field.
3. Income based educational support which should be given as a loan to repay for people who cannot afford education etc irrespective of their caste, religion.
4. A separate equal opportunities monitoring policy which is not mandatory to complete should keep a check on discrimination.
The needs based system should be reviewed every 5 or 10 years atleast and changes applied according to that period. In doing so we can hope that social disparity can be reduced in a fairer way provide equal opportunity for everyone in our country.