THE HINDU EDITORIAL : October 2, 2017

  1. a) A question of responsibility

On September 29, soon after the horrific stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road railway bridge, that led to the death of 23 people, two groups of policemen came to the accident spot. One was from Mumbai Police, and the other represented the Government Railway Police (GRP). Instead of coordinating their investigation effort, the two groups argued — over jurisdiction.

Whose call?

As this newspaper reported, “GRP personnel said that while the FOB (foot overbridge) was from the railway station, it was built on BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) land and so it was the responsibility of the city police. Mumbai Police personnel, on the other hand, said that since the bridge was used by railway passengers, the responsibility lay with the railway police only. Personnel from both forces were seen taking measurements on the bridge to decide the area of jurisdiction.” Technically, Mumbai Police are responsible for preventing and detecting crime within city limits. The GRP is a police organisation under the State government in all States, and responsible for the prevention and detection of crime on railway property, including in trains. It liaises with local police forces where railway lines and stations are located. The jurisdiction incident is symptomatic of all that is wrong with Mumbai’s infrastructure — there are far too many agencies, and no one is willing to take responsibility when a tragedy takes place. To be sure, accountability and multiplicity of agencies is just one of the many issues that dog Mumbai’s development, planned and unplanned. One could argue that this is the case with pretty much any city in India, and the quarrel over jurisdiction, shameful as it is, could have taken place anywhere in the country.

Not just any other city

But Mumbai is unique primarily because of its status among India’s mega cities. It is easily the nation’s commercial hub, is home to more than 20 million people in its extended Mumbai Metropolitan Region, and it is far more diverse in its cultural inclusion than most other metros. Put simply, India needs Mumbai to prosper — yet the city has been struggling to maintain its civic stride for a long while now. It aims to be included among the world’s leading cities, and yet, Mumbai does not even have the most conducive environment for businesses or people to thrive. Its public transport, though widespread and connected, is well beyond saturation point (the Elphinstone stampede was an calamity waiting to happen in a rail network that ferries nearly eight million passengers daily); the city’s roads make the moon’s surface look like a German autobahn; commercial rentals are higher than in Los Angeles, forcing entrepreneurs to set up businesses elsewhere; Internet connectivity, so vital for any city’s progress, has improved over the years but it is nowhere near world standards. Even its Development Plan 2034, a municipal vision statement to transform Mumbai into a “global city”, betrays so many logistical inefficiencies and unrealistic ambitions that it underwent several revisions since 2014. Almost all of the projects are yet to take o after it was cleared by the BMC in August this year, because the Maharashtra government is yet to approve it. There could be several explanations for Mumbai’s faltering and stuttering growth over the last three or four decades, but the primary reason is not too difficult to isolate: a lack of political will. Although Mumbai is Maharashtra’s capital, much of the city’s development discourse has gone through various iterations on who should be the city’s boss. In most cities around the world, it is the mayor. In Mumbai, the mayor has been reduced to a figurehead, while the real powers lie with the municipal commissioner, who is appointed by the State government. The BMC commissioner is, in effect, Mumbai’s CEO. The powerful standing committee, comprising elected representatives, can frame policies, draft byelaws, and sanction the city’s budget. But the person to oversee and implement everything is the commissioner. Besides, a large majority of the State’s elected legislators visit Mumbai only during legislative assembly and council sessions, and have no stake in the city’s progress. As a direct and indirect result of this ambiguity, much like the jurisdiction embarrassment after the stampede, accountability for the city’s roads too is diffuse. There are at least five agencies that handle roads in Mumbai — the BMC, the State Public Works Department, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, and in some cases even the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.

Civic apathy

It is another matter that Mumbaikars themselves are so self-absorbed in their day-to-day struggle that they find holding politicians accountable a lost cause. Less than half the city’s voters turn up at polling booths during the General and State elections, and the voting percentage during municipal polls is even more abysmal. After the terror attack on the city on November 26, 2008, there were widespread calls for a change of guard in the State. Yet, less than 45% of Mumbai’s voters turned up on election day in 2009. It is a vicious cycle of apathy and indifference that is seemingly impossible to cut through. Rent-seeking, therefore, continues unabated without citizens questioning it, and in many cases, actively participating in it. There are clichéd terms that the city uses to bring out the helpful nature of its inhabitants when a catastrophe strikes. The most abused one is “the spirit of Mumbai”. This spirit, a matter of pride earlier, has become the city’s shame because it is a mere fig leaf for citizens’ lack of involvement in the political process and their utter disregard for holding public servants accountable. It is, of course, true that the city survives, albeit on the brink, mostly due to the enterprise of its individual residents and their sheer capacity for resilience amidst under par services. As a matter of fact, Mumbai carries on not because of political and bureaucratic support, but in spite of it. However, a city that aspires to be true to its people, let alone be world class, cannot survive on spirit alone; it will eventually break down. That breaking point is nearing fast, and the sooner Maharashtra’s and Delhi’s lawmakers wake up to it, the better.

It is doable

It is not that Mumbai’s problems are insurmountable. Despite its lack of geographical space, the city has the capacity to provide for public services that are often taken for granted in both developing and developed countries. There are right-thinking and forward-looking organisations that have come forward with feasible plans to assist the authorities to make Mumbai a liveable place. But then we go back to the old question of who will implement these plans and who will be held accountable. It is this question that needs to be answered first. The rest will fall in line.

  1. b) Back to paper

The Election Commission’s decision to deploy the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail system for all the constituencies in the Gujarat Assembly elections is questionable. This will be the first time VVPAT will be used on a State-wide basis. A costly but useful complement to the Electronic Voting Machine, it allows the voter to verify her vote after registering it on the EVM, and the paper trail allows for an audit of the election results by the EC in a select and randomised number of constituencies. The implementation of VVPAT was to have been undertaken by the EC in a phased manner, but this blanket use appears to have been expedited after a series of unwarranted attacks on EVMs by some political parties and scaremongers. The EC had sought to allay concerns and confront allegations of voter fraud by running through the administrative and technological safeguards instituted to keep EVMs and the voting process tamper-proof. It had also challenged political parties to a hackathon to see if, with these safeguards in place, EVMs could be manipulated. The representatives of only two political parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Nationalist Congress Party, bothered to turn up. It is unfortunate that parties have found it worthwhile to cry wolf but refuse to meaningfully engage with the EC when challenged to do so. The introduction of VVPAT and the audit process should allay some of the doubts raised by EVM naysayers — but this is a costly process and should not become the norm going forward. Meanwhile, it would be wise for the EC to rapidly transit to third-generation, tamper-proof machines, which must be thoroughly tested and vetted by experts before deployment. The EC’s use of a standalone, non networked machine that runs on a single programmed microchip shows that India’s simple but effective EVMs were ahead of the curve compared to the alternatives used elsewhere in the world. Many advanced democracies used networked EVMs, which raised the question of remote manipulation through viruses and malware, compelling many of them to revert to paper ballots. The EC has so far demonstrated that the voting process is robust and its machines are continually upgraded to meet possible challenges, but there are other concerns regarding the use of technology that it must be aware of. For example, Russian cyber-hacking, using techniques such as spear-phishing of election officials and related manipulation of voter data, has been suspected in some jurisdictions abroad. The EC’s move in late 2015 to avoid the linking of the voter identity card with the Aadhaar number in order to avoid the trap of linkages with big data, thus becoming susceptible to digital manipulation, was thus a wise decision. It must continue to keep its processes decentralised and accountable.


WORDS/ VOCABULARY

1) Stampede

Meaning: A sudden rapid movement or reaction of a mass of people in response to a particular circumstance or stimulus.

Example: A stampede of bargain hunters.

Synonyms: Rush, Panic

2) Jurisdiction

Meaning: The official power to make legal decisions and judgements.

Example: The English court had no jurisdiction over the defendants.

Synonyms: Authority, Hegemony

3) Hub

Meaning: The effective centre of an activity, region, or network.

Example: The city has always been the financial hub of the country.

Synonyms: Centre, Core

Antonyms: Periphery

4) Inclusion

Meaning: The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Example: They have been selected for inclusion in the scheme.

Synonyms: Incorporation, Addition

Antonyms: Exclusion, Omission

5) Stride

Meaning: A step or stage in progress towards an aim.

Example: Great strides have been made towards equality.

Synonyms: Progress, Advance

6) Calamity

Meaning: An event causing great and often sudden damage or distress; a disaster.

Example: Emergency measures may be necessary in order to avert a calamity.

Synonyms: Disaster, Tragedy

Antonyms: Godsend, Blessing

7) Rentals

Meaning: The action of renting something.

Example: The office was on weekly rental.

8) Betrays

Meaning: Expose (one’s country, a group, or a person) to danger by treacherously giving information to an enemy.

Example: A double agent who betrayed some 400 British and French agents to the Germans.

Synonyms: Fail, Denounce

Antonyms: Be loyal to

9) Faltering

Meaning: Lose strength or momentum.

Example: The music faltered, stopped, and started up again.

Synonyms: Hesitate, Delay

10) Stuttering

Meaning: Talk with continued involuntary repetition of sounds, especially initial consonants.

Example: The child was stuttering in fright.

Synonyms: Stammer, Stumble

11) Byelaws (Plural from of by-law)

Meaning: A rule made by a company or society to control the actions of its members.

Example: A by-law banning public drinking in the town centre.

Synonyms: Regulation, Rule

12) Ambiguity

Meaning: The quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

Example: We can detect no ambiguity in this section of the Act.

Synonyms: Ambivalence, Equivocation

Antonyms: Transparency

13) Embarrassment

Meaning: A feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.

Example: I turned red with embarrassment.

Synonyms: Awkwardness, Self- consciousness

Antonyms: Confidence

14) Turn up

Meaning: Be found, especially by chance, after being lost.

Example: All the missing documents had turned up.

Synonyms: Reappear, Be found

Antonyms: Disappear

15) Abysmal

Meaning: Extremely bad; appalling.

Example: The quality of her work is abysmal.

Synonyms: Dreadful, Awful

Antonyms: Superb

16) Vicious

Meaning: Deliberately cruel or violent.

Example: A vicious assault.

Synonyms: Brutal, Savage

Antonyms: Gentle, kindly

17) Apathy

Meaning: Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

Example: Widespread apathy among students.

Synonyms: Indifference, Phlegm

Antonyms: Enthusiasm, Passion

18) Seemingly

Meaning: So as to give the impression of having a certain quality; apparently.

Example: A seemingly competent and well-organized person.

Synonyms: Apparently, Outwardly

Antonyms: Genuinely

19) Unabated

Meaning: Without any reduction in intensity or strength.

Example: The storm was raging unabated.

20) Clichéd

Meaning: Showing a lack of originality; based on frequently repeated phrases or opinions.

Example: He has a horror of clichéd images of African-American life.

21) Catastrophe

Meaning: An event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

Example: An environmental catastrophe

Synonyms: Disaster, Calamity

Antonyms: Salvation

22) Abused

Meaning: Treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.

Example: Riders who abuse their horses should be prosecuted.

Synonyms: Mistreat, Maltreat

Antonyms: Look after

23) Pride

Meaning: Consciousness of one’s own dignity.

Example: He swallowed his pride and asked for help.

Synonyms: Self-esteem, Honour

Antonyms: Shame

24) Albeit (conjunction)

Meaning: Though.

Example: He was making progress, albeit rather slowly.

25) Sheer

Meaning: Nothing other than; unmitigated (used for emphasis).

Example: She giggled with sheer delight.

Synonyms: Utter, Complete

26) Under par

Meaning: Better (or worse) than is usual or expected.

Example: Poor nutrition can leave you feeling below par.

Synonyms: Substandard, Inferior

27) Bureaucratic

Meaning: Relating to a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives.

Example: Well-established bureaucratic procedures.

Synonyms: Administrative, Official

Antonyms: Simple, Relaxed

28) Insurmountable

Meaning: Too great to be overcome.

Example: An insurmountable problem.

Synonyms: Insuperable, Unconquerable

29) Feasible

Meaning: Possible and practical to do easily or conveniently.

Example: The Dutch have demonstrated that it is perfectly feasible to live below sea level.

Synonyms: Practicable, Workable

Antonyms: Impractical, Impossible

30) Deploy

Meaning: Bring into effective action.

Example: Small states can often deploy resources more freely.

Synonyms: Use, Utilize, Employ

31) Constituencies

Meaning: A group of voters in a specified area who elect a representative to a legislative body.

Example: The most politicians are more interested in the voice of their constituency.

32) Scaremongers

Meaning: A person who spreads frightening or ominous reports or rumours.

Example: Scaremongers forecast that 8 m–9 m people could soon flood in.

Synonyms: Alarmist, Pessimist

33) Allay

Meaning: Diminish or put at rest (fear, suspicion, or worry).

Example: The report attempted to educate the public and allay fears.

Synonyms: Reduce, Diminish

Antonyms: Increase, Intensity

34) Allegations

Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.

Example: He made allegations of corruption against the administration.

Synonyms: Claim, Assertion

35) Tamper-proof

Meaning: Made so that it cannot be interfered with or changed.

Example: Driving licences with tamper-proof colour photographs.

36) Hackathon

Meaning: An event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.

Example: A series of 48-hour hackathons to build new web and mobile services.

37) Cry wolf

Meaning: Call for help when it is not needed, with the effect that one is not believed when one really does need help.

Example: He accused her of crying wolf.

38) Naysayers

Meaning: Someone who says something is not possible, is not good, or will fail.

Example: He ignored the naysayers and persevered.

39) Vetted

Meaning: Make a careful and critical examination of (something).

Example: Proposals for vetting large takeover bids.

Synonyms: Screen, Assess

40) Spear-phishing

Meaning: The fraudulent practice of sending emails ostensibly from a known or trusted sender in order to induce targeted individuals to reveal confidential information.

Example: Spear phishing represents a serious threat for every industry.


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