August 03, 2010

World class apart

What began as a series of tweets turned into a quick blog post ... and then I thought I should try to get the thoughts into print somewhere. So I worked on an essay that I sent to the Hindustan Times, and it is in print today.

Take a look: A world class apart.

It's been modified a bit as printed; if you'd like to read the original, please see below.

COmments, yes as usual, welcome.


News item:

"As part of the ongoing drive to beautify Delhi in view of the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the NDMC demolished last week nearly 5000 homes it described as 'old' and 'dilapidated'. These were located in areas such as South Extension I, Golf Links, Sujansingh Park, Shantiniketan, Moti Bagh and Karol Bagh. The residents were transported across the Yamuna river and left in camps there. Shri RM Khanna (65), resident of 5/15 Shantiniketan, one of the houses demolished, spoke to this correspondent: 'What are we to do here? My parents came from Pakistan in 1947 and my family built that house. Now the NDMC breaks it because they say it is ugly and has thrown us out of the city! Where do we turn?'

A spokesman for the Games Organizing Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, told this correspondent: 'We are expecting lakhs of visitors for the Games. Do they or do they not deserve to see a worldclass city free of these crumbling old houses?'

All right, I made those two paragraphs up.

But change words around and it could very well be a report about events that have happened in Delhi in the runup to the Games. People have indeed been taken from their homes and deposited outside the city, the homes demolished because they are eyesores. Some markers of a trend: Last September, the city's Social Welfare Minister, Mangat Ram Singhal, kicked off a drive to prosecute beggars with this remark: "Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games, we want to finish the problem of beggary from Delhi." In March, the Independent reported: "Ahead of [the] Commonwealth Games, the [Delhi] government … has increased the number of mobile beggars' courts from one to three." It also mentions the prison 15 miles north of Delhi where this mobile justice dispatches beggars when convicted. Also in March, a report for the NGO SOS Children's Village had these sentences: "Thousands of shanty towns have also been flattened as part of the city's pre-games facelift, leaving countless more homeless. The Games village has been built on the site of a demolished shanty town."

None of the people who figure in those reports were residents of Shantiniketan or Sujansingh Park, as if you didn't know. They belong instead to the streets and slum colonies spread across our massive capital, the interstices and open spaces left in between existing Delhi and everything that's being constructed so rapidly for the Games. They disfigure the city, so they must go. We are building worldclass, you see. Who objects to removing the eyesores?

And yet imagine if my faked news item had been real. Which resident of Delhi would stand for large scale demolitions in the city's Golf Links or SouthExes? (Eyesores, let's be frank, as some of those areas are).

The crazy injustice of this, coupled with the now-daily revelations of Commonwealth shenanigans, is the reason I'm staying away from the Games. If the organizers fling out my fellow Indians, well, they fling out me as well.

But the other side to this gets me nearly as much. What is our fascination with this term "worldclass"? Why are we so in thrall to it?

There's so much here that I don't know where to start, so perhaps I'll start where I'm told many of the lakhs of Games tourists will begin their visit: Delhi airport's new Terminal 3. ("T3" it is).

Since it was opened for use, I've seen plenty of breathless coverage about the space and the airiness, the beauty and who-knows-what-else there. I have no doubt it's all true. I've also read several times that T3 can handle 33 (or is it 34? 37?) million passengers every year. Which is one of those numbers that's flung about to impress. Shorn of context, it sounds hugely impressive and you think, as you are meant to think: "worldclass!" In its glass and metal and aerobridged glory, with its 33 million passengers strolling about, T3, which I am yet to visit, must be one worldclass edifice.

But here's context, or perspective if you like. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, erring always on the conservative side, shows that Mumbai's VT station handles … take a guess now … 150 million passengers a year. Close to five times what T3 is projected to do. Now it seems to me that in its ability to handle this number alone, VT is certainly a worldclass transport hub. After all, how many do you know in the world like that? Yet correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe I have ever heard VT referred to as "worldclass".

And besides that, why is it that we will build a glitzy T3 for 33 million passengers, but will do zip for the 150 million users of VT? Why should that station not have glass and walkways, air conditioning and cleanliness? My wife was at VT the other morning to see off someone, and called me to report how "filthy" it was. Would we tolerate "filthy" for T3? Why do we tolerate it for VT?

Don't forget the other great train terminus in downtown Mumbai, Churchgate, where passenger numbers are similar. And in fact, the entire suburban train system in Mumbai carries something approaching 2 billion passengers a year. Twice the country's population, sixty times T3's capacity; I don't know any airport anywhere that handles that kind of load. Yet this city's commuters travel in brutal conditions that nobody shows any inclination to seriously address.

Why? If we can build the splendour of T3, why can we not do something to make train travel more comfortable? Worldclass?

I realize how futile a question that "why" is, oddly enough, at an apparently unrelated moment every morning. That's when a skinny woman in a sari walks down my street. She has a basket on wheels and she carries two pieces of cardboard. This is an employee of the richest Municipality in Asia, and she uses those two pieces of cardboard to pick up the trash and litter on the side of the road. The same woman has walked my street with those (same?) cardboard pieces for 10+ years now.

Is that worldclass? Should it be?

Building shiny T3s is, in the end, easy. I wish giving that woman something better than cardboard to pick up the trash with were as easy. Now that would be worldclass.


Sahadevan said...

What has any of this got to do with Common Wealth Games? If you have a problem, you have one against laws in India. Begging is illegal. And the City has enormous powers to negate even actually valid and paid for property's rights.

Your philosophical position on the begging is not to be found in your posts but on the subject of State/City's right to assume eminent domain powers, you have tended to side on the State's side and not on property rights' in the past.

Now, what exactly are you complaining against? That people in posh parts of the City have title deeds and those who squat on the street do not? Isn't that restating the definition? If this is meant to be funny, I must say it wasn't. If it was meant to be thoughtful or insightful, I think you should pass this off as an attempt at a joke.

Dilip D'Souza said...

"You have tended to do X" is an argument that is a veil for "I want to assume, because it makes my argument easier, that you do X" -- so I'll leave that to you.

If we had worked diligently to eliminate begging from the root, over years and possibly decades until it happens, I would have no problem with the Games. But the idea that we must throw a whole lot of people out of the city because they (and their homes) must not be seen during the games is obscene hypocrisy.

I'm not a fan of obscene hypocrisy.

As for your inability to detect if this was a joke or not, I cannot help you there.

Suresh said...

But the idea that we must throw a whole lot of people out of the city because they (and their homes) must not be seen during the games is obscene hypocrisy.

Not new, either. In the era when visiting heads of state used to travel by car from Palam airport to Rashtrapati Bhavan, tall bamboo "curtains" used to be erected outside the areas which were not supposed to be seen by the dignitary. This started right outside the airport to cover a small slum.

Some things never change; wish this wasn't one, though.

Lastly, Sahadevan, Dilip is (rightly) raising the question of priorities. If we have to host the CWG by driving beggars out of the city or build a big air terminal to serve a relatively small set of people while ignoring facilities used by many many more, then something is wrong with the way our polity functions. It also indicates that something is wrong with us, the elite.

Incidentally, I almost never see eye-to-eye with Mani Shankar Aiyar but I am one with him in hoping that the CWG are a big failure. Not only is the idea of spending so much money on hosting the games itself obscene but as a former Delhiwalla, it has saddened me to see the way the city has been destroyed, mostly by our Central government building all sorts of monstrosities. The green area of the city has vanished for all practical purposes. If the CWG failure ensures that the Olympics etc. won't come to India, so much the better. And I wish that the idiot Kalmadi goes and drowns himself, as they say, in chullu bhar pani.

Anonymous said...

Well no part of this subject is a joke at all. Perhaps D'Souza indulged in some satire, but no joke.

It is all about wealth. Paving the roads (T3s) for the wealthy brings money to the coffers. Slumdogging is not part of the money machine.

I agree with D'Souza: beggary is a problem, Games or not, and is not "solved" by relocating the offenders but by rehabilitating or integrating the beggars. That however, is too difficult and DOES NOT BRING WEALTH AND POWER. They are relocated for the convenience of those who are "in the Game".

Dilip D'Souza said...


"tall bamboo curtains used to be erected."

Not even the bamboo has changed. Check this line from the 5th para of this Independent report: "... putting in place a plan to hide others from view by erecting bamboo screens."

aditya said...

My sister recently got a seat for PG course in the esteemed SPA, Delhi. She has to forfeit the seat after paying her first semester fees because, it may sound strange, there is absolutely no scope of accommodation in the area. When asked the director of the institute, she was told that the students must be thankful that they are providing 4 rooms for accommodation in their hostel (now filled, of course). In all the other colleges in DU campus, students have been asked to vacate the rooms because of the CWG. He practically has asked everyone asking for accommodation help to forfeit the course.

I am not saying its CWG at play here but I found this very insensitive on the part of the government to make it difficult for its own students to study in their own university. Displacement, rural or urban, is something that the Government has never learnt to handle in a subtle, sober way.

Sahadevan said...

This is precisely the problem I have with almost all your write-ups. In that you miss the point entirely and focus on outcomes you fancy.

Beggars being in the City or being thrown out or being sent to concentration camps so that the City looks clean for the CWG is irrelevant to the basic premise of this argument. Which is, begging is illegal.

Now, unless you understand the difference between the two I am willing to wager that reasonable people will miss your joke. You may disagree, but let's leave it there as it involves the definition of reasonable.

Putting it another way: the idea of eradicating "begging" is such nonsense. I can choose to beg tomorrow. You are assuming I will not because that's not a choice a person with access to broadband will make. I am merely saying that assumption is neither correct nor complete for purposes of argumentation.

wise donkey said...

after ur earlier post was alerted to another world class remark by a brit on India on tv Production line heart surgery wanted to share it...

on the post, eliminate the image, eliminate the problem. even if it just means eliminating people.

if only the fairness cream people could design a formula image, we could distribute it amongst the poor and they would vanish.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I see Sapathan aka Pub Chick is back in a new avatar. (apart from the tone, the insistence on irrelevancy is a giveaway, which you are free to use as a tip for your future efforts to hide your identity). Your own or either of those previous ones frighten you, is that it? Welcome home, anyway.

This post is not about eradicating begging or its legality. You brought that in.

This post talks about, and let me repeat, the idea that we must throw a whole lot of people out of the city because they (and their homes) must not be seen during the games. This idea is obscene hypocrisy to me.

If you disagree with the previous paragraph, by all means let's discuss it. Please don't sidetrack the issue.

wd: thanks for the link about that hospital. Inspiring example. What will persuade docs to go replicate such successes in, to take one place where I was not so long ago, rural Chhattisgarh?

Sahadevan said...

Precisely why I say you miss the point entirely.

Anonymous said...

Sahadevan: It is you who misses the point, entirely. It's not a near-miss either :).

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”

Chandru K said...

The bottom line is that the Commonwealth games should go on, and that Delhi does look reasonably good and prepared for the international visitors and traffic. Yes, of course, if the games catalyzes any indigenous 'clean up drive', anti-corruption efforts, and infrastructural improvements, well and good. But the CWG should be conducted, regardless of all these petulant comments about beggars and inconveniences.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Precisely why I say you miss the point entirely.

Ketan: does this too qualify among "logically the most incisive" comments you've seen?

As for the previous comment, the last three words speak for themselves. (Until, of course, they are denied, which I expect to happen any time now).

globalbabble said...

I am not sure I get the point - and I usually like your articles.

Railway stations will always handle more passengers than airlines. That doesn't mean we shouldn't build good airports until we have revamped every dilapidated railway station in India.

By that logic, there are far more people using village roads - so then, until every village road has been concretised, we shouldn't revamp our railway stations either.

I am not saying that we should not revamp VT. Of course we should - but in order to do that, we don't need to talk down T3. Perhaps, we can be inspired by it.

And I really think you should have used the terminal itself before writing the piece. Who knows, it might have changed your opinion.

Anonymous said...

First you say

'What is our fascination with this term worldclass? Why are we so in thrall to it? '

Then you say

'My wife was at VT the other morning to see off someone, and called me to report how filthy it was.'

Dude, so why are you in thrall of not being filthy ? The majority of slums, villages, even cities & urban infrastructure in India, why, India, itself, can be summarized very accurately in one word ie. filthy. So when 1.2 billion people seemingly have no problem with filth,Dilip D'Souza has a problem with filth ?

I guess what I'm getting at is that you aspire to not being filthy. Others aspire to worldclass, which subsumes your goal. Give them a chance, and your wife won't have to call you about filth at VT.

Dilip D'Souza said...


Who said anything about not "building good airports until we have revamped every dilapidated railway station in India"? And I'm not in the least talking down T3. It's because we've built T3 that I believe we can improve VT -- tho what about those cardboards?

Most airports are being revamped -- I've seen Bangalore, Hyd, Bom, Chennai, Raipur, and if I haven't been in T3, I've been in the already slick Delhi airport several times. I am yet to see one railway station getting this kind of attention. Why? They serve far more people, many are in need of renovation and cleanup, so why don't we work on them?

Anon above: there's some logic in your comment? Escaped me, sorry. Please try again. Esp the bit about being subsumed.

Funny Haha vs Funny Queer said...


I am not sure why you engage the people who comment here only to prove you are somehow better than them. It mildly turns readers off.

Case in point: previous comment on some person being illogical. This also extends to you asking some person if someone else is logical still. I mean, how does a person become logical? Only statements are. And it's perfectly possible and most likely that the same person makes both logical and illogical statements.

My request is, unless you have a coherent argument against the person commenting on your space, let it stand and let the reader decide. After all, it's not like you or I or anyone else here is stupid not to know what they already think.

Dilip D'Souza said...

FHvFQ: fair enough. point taken.

Chandru K said...

As a resident of Canada, I am all in favour of the Games being held and watching athletes from both my countries do well. I would expect that the scandals about corruption and removal of residents from Delhi will be cleaned up by the time the Games come around in October (unlike my impersonator above). After that, I only hope for an exciting event and laurels for India. I wish DSouza was a little more upbeat in the same way.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Someone wrote these words (next para) in this space, but then chose, for no apparent reason, to have them vanish. Since they make a good point, I'm posting them again, with my comments afterward.

... you could try and explain to D'Souza that building a large airport requires lots of workers. That the buildings of the surrounding airport city (including but not limited to 3 hotels and shopping centres) requires construction workers too. That a bigger airport requires more baggage handlers, ground staff, airport staff, cleaners, security guards, taxi drivers, parking attendants. That the new road built to the airport required labor to build. That labor was required to build the new airport metro track. That metro drivers are required to drive the trains to the airport. That labor is required to build the airport metro stations. That building a bigger airport means more more people travel through your country allowing for a greater exchange of goods, ideas, and money. And that all of this is possible because the Airport is owned by a private entity -

I fully agree with everything in this para.

Nearly everything in the para applies to VT station too.

Why is there no comparable effort to T3 to improve VT?

Anonymous said...

I think all will become clear, D'Souza, when you calculate the value of the "passenger-rupees" that go through VT vs T3. Even though the passengers are five times, by your guess, the rupees per passenger could easily be 100 or more times. Therefore the monies are better spent in servicing T3 since more employment-rupees will be achieved from there. Please advise why you do not agree, if indeed you do not.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I do not agree, for the simple reason that not everything needs to be calculated in passenger-rupees. (This is assuming we will even find that factor of 100 you're getting at).

Some things are built because they need to be built. That's one thing.

Would a major revamp of VT not generate employment-rupees like you're getting at? That's another thing.

What was T3 built for: to generate employment-rupees as you suggest? Or because it is a perceived need given the expansion in air traffic? That's a third thing.

There are other things, but I'll stop at three.

Rajan Shastri said...

I am thrilled that the general tilt of comments is towards progress. I passed by Dharavi a few weeks back and for an instant I lamented that it is no longer the "World Class" slum it used to be in the 70s. Maybe we should preserve a section like it used to be for sentimental sake and make it a "World Class" tourist attraction. The actors would actually dress up as "papers" and play the part. We don't have to do anything about the filth and the open gutters for they still exist.

Rajan Shastri said...

Begging is an illegal "business/entrepreneurial" activity. Slum dwellers are squatters and because in India we seem to have a misguided socialistic idea that everyone should own, there are no affordable rentals available. Besides, some of these squatters don't want to pay to live better and would rather intoxicate themselves. One thing I find common about Indians is that we are critical of the "Developed World", but we love "phoren" stuff, those who can afford it, take "phoren" vacations, those who can't dream about it. But emulating modern construction (we can't emulate the past, besides we have glory of our own) that is common place in Europe, US, Hong Kong, Singapore or China, amidst the squaller that abounds raises shackles. These mega projects (some of them involves plundering the country like T3 and the Commonwealth Games) provide jobs and set an example. And then there is the trickle down effect, like the Mumbai/Pune buses that came from the Asian Games. Geez...Mumbai got some left overs from the Asian Games!

Rajanikanth Shastri said...

Buiding Shiny T3's is easy! Could you please buy the lady who cleans your street a broom and a dust pan and send me the bill. Now that's easy. Churchgate station hasn't changed much since the 60's when I attended a nearby school. Status quo...that's easy. The Mumbai local train service is a miracle. You can travel from one end to the other for a mere Rs. 30 or thereabouts. Provided you are willing to sniff a co-passengers armpit if you are short and deal with full body contact in First Class during rush hour. You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

"that not everything needs to be calculated in passenger-rupees."

I was simply saying that there may be a bigger profit incentive in the T3 than the VT. Of course if you cannot quantify profit in monetary terms certainly it may be more valuable, as an investment into a more efficient public system, to work the VT. Strategic vision, social investment and profit motives are not always the same. As for the resulting employment in each case, that is only a small part of the overall impact. [By the way did you count 0-3? In that case you had 4 points, not 3.]

Jai_C said...

I didnt know begging was illegal. that's wierd- is it supposed to protect the vulnerable from a begging mafia? anyways its not working.