Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fallen From Grace

This year’s general election in India is going to be a landmark one.

One that will change the course of Indian politics forever. It’s also going to be one of the most hotly-followed, eagerly-anticipated and keenly-analyzed (microscopically dissected, I dare say) elections for some time to come.

First, the disclaimer! I am not an ‘expert’ on political affairs, I may not even be counted amongst the amateurs! But yes, I do have an opinion and that’s just what this is.

The reasons for all of this hype in these elections …are just two. Well, it was just one reason, till a few months back – for quite a while, the talk was only all about BJP’s Narendra Modi and the Gujarat success model (or failure model, depending on which side of the fence you were). Then in late 2013 along came Arvind Kejriwal who decided to dump (or vice versa) Anna Hazare’s style of activism and throw his own Gandhi topi into the fray.

I have deliberately left out Rahul Gandhi from this because I believe that he is a non-starter and secondly the anti-incumbency mood is likely to give him, and the degenerated Congress party, a sound thrashing at the polls.

Rightly so!

They have been ruling for the last 2 decades and whatever little progress we have made is definitely DESPITE the government. To add to it, he has been around as an MP for the past 10 years and to the best of my knowledge has done nothing noteworthy, considering the fact that he could have done so much more being so close to the seat of power..

Hey, his mother practically runs the country single-handedly and during this period, if he really wanted, he could have done much more. (Sure, he could have also abused his position like how Sanjay Gandhi did during Indira Gandhi’s reign. But for what its worth, Sanjay Gandhi at least stood for something, even though he was wrong on many counts!).

But let’s not digress.

This election is about Modi and Kejriwal and the aspirations of the common man (noticed how I consciously avoided the phrase ‘aam aadmi’ ??) Nowadays if you use the phrase ‘aam aadmi’ you get instantly branded with people having preconceived notions about your ‘type’. It’s ironical, because till now people used to do that only to those who were with the RSS or the Shiv Sena!!

But let me not take away credit where it is due. Kejriwal has done this country a great service – he has shown how the common man can rise up and shake the establishment. His victory in the Delhi elections is a modern-day version of the classic David and Goliath story – though both he and Sheila Dikshit are equally diminutive! His victory raised the hopes of the country. “Yes, things CAN change!” was/is the general feeling running through everyone’s veins.

Then he did two things which, in my perspective, were the worst he could have done. I’ll name them first and later elaborate each.

First, he formed the Government with the support of the Congress.
Second, he stepped down as Chief Minister.

Let me tell you why I believe that these two actions are the most damaging things he could have done.

Mistake No. 1 – forming the government with the support of the Congress.
When Kejriwal campaigned in Delhi, his pitch was consistent – Delhi was being governed badly. Three terms of Congress at the helm had ruined the City-State region. From mismanagement of funds to sycophancy to corruption, every act of omission and commission was blamed on the sitting Congress government.

The people of Delhi saw a ray of hope in him, booted out the Congress and voted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with fervour. Unfortunately, AAP couldn’t get enough of a majority to form the government all on their own. They were staring at the possibility of either sitting it out or forming the government with the support of either the Congress, whom they had bashed so terrifyingly, or the BJP whom they weren’t really cosy with.

Kejriwal, in true ‘aam aadmi’ style, again looked to ‘his people’ and asked them what to do? India saw it’s first-ever SMS Text Message Referendum! Apparently, the people of Delhi asked him to form the government even if it meant doing it with the support of one of the other two parties. In this case, Congress or BJP.

Kejriwal says his party sent the same letters, of seeking support on predetermined lines, to the Congress and the BJP. He says that while the BJP didn’t respond favourably, the Congress, it appears, was okay with supporting him as the CM.

This strikes me as being extremely odd! The one party, who was bashed so viciously by AAP during the campaign, was actually willing to help it to form the government! I’ve heard of political scenarios making for strange bedfellows, but this one takes the cake!

At this point, I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories about how the AAP is a surreptitious ‘front’ for the Congress… neither do I want to get into the alleged funding of the AAP by foreign nationals with vested-interests. I’ll just leave all that to the politicians and they can continue to sling mud at each other.

Coming back to why I think this move was not just a mistake – but a BIG mistake – damaging his credibility.

I believe that Kejriwal has let down the people of Delhi. Badly. They believed in the dream he showed them. They reposed their faith and confidence in him and gave him a good number of seats. They looked to him to improve their lives.

I don’t think any voter of the AAP ever dreamt that Kejriwal would ‘sleep with the enemy’. What was he thinking when he ‘agreed’ to accept the Congress party’s ‘support’? Those were the guys he had wanted to boot out, right? Congress was the ‘bad guy’ and he was the ‘good guy’!

In my opinion, once he realized that he did not have the majority to form the government on his own, he should have done one of the two things:
a) Humbly folded his hands and sat it out in the opposition, or
b) Sought support of the BJP – not because they were/are better, but since his entire poll campaign and mandate was on the basis of booting OUT the corrupt Congress.

But joining hands with the Congress was a complete ‘no-no’ and in my opinion this was the first big mistake he made.

If Kejriwal and his team were so damn sure that Sheila Dikshit and the Congress were so corrupt, didn’t he stop and think what message he would be sending out to the people who elected him? Didn’t his advisers and seniors (where are they?) tell him that this was NOT to be done?

It’s also surprising that someone like Kejriwal had gone to the extent of swearing on his children that he would not take the support of the Congress – and that’s not enough.. having done that, he went back on it!

I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing when he finally accepted the responsibility and formed the Government. And then we witnessed high drama for 48 days before Kejriwal committed, in my opinion, the next big blunder.

Mistake No. 2 – stepping down as Chief Minister.
Having (reluctantly?) accepted the responsibility, he took a few key steps in following up on his promises to the people of Delhi. But that didn’t last long. A lot of noise was being made about the Delhi police not being in the control of the State Government and therefore his government was really ineffective and toothless to do anything substantial.

What I find hard to believe is that having been in the government for 7 years and based in Delhi for all of that time, didn’t Kejriwal know the administrative set up? Didn’t he know that Delhi, being the national capital would have overlapping security by the sheer presence of the Ministry of Defence establishments and Central ministries?

Did he mention this during his campaign? That the City-State police is not really under the control of the State government and therefore his government would really not be so effective.

The refusal of the passing of the Lokpal bill is being stated as the critical turning point that made him quit – unless I have got it wrong! While I agree on the importance of the Lokpal bill – it seemed like Kejriwal was ‘daring’ the Congress to pull the rug from beneath his feet.

Ok – granted that the Police was not really under the CM’s control. And that the Congress was looking for an excuse to pull the plug … but there was so much more that he could have done! What about education, schooling, water, sanitation, transport, health, sports… If he was smart (hey, this is my opinion), he could have maintained a low-profile and gone about quietly making a change.

He could have fixed so many small, small things that really would have really benefited the common man in Delhi – and I understand that they were even beginning to see a change in the attitude of the government officials. All he needed to do was stick around in power – probably, his mere presence would have made all the difference!

And the people would have really appreciated it. They were really, really hoping that their vote will be put to good use and that their decision of electing Kejriwal and then ‘supporting’ him to be the CM, even if it was with the help of the Congress, would be the right decision. During the campaign he did come off as being ‘genuinely’ concerned about the well being of the people.

It’s really sad that they may have to wait a few months and hope that he comes to power again – this time with a better majority. But what is the assurance that that will happen? Assuming that DOES happen, given his maverick track-record… what is the assurance that he will not pull another ‘stunt’ and sit outside his own office on a dharna – instead of going about making the much-needed changes in the lives of the people?

Personally, I believe that he has betrayed the trust of the people of Delhi – though some may still continue to swear by him. His rise gave every principled individual a ray of hope that they could also enter the deep, dark world of politics and clean it up (the ‘broom’ as the party symbol was pretty clever!)

Frankly, I’m disappointed too! Disappointed that he had a golden chance to make a difference – and chose NOT to! Maybe he has larger political ambitions and aspirations – or maybe he just doesn’t know how to govern – or maybe he has poor advisers (lame excuse!).

In any case, he has fallen from grace.

Well … and that’s how I feel …

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Is MERC going to really allow Consumers a choice - a REAL CHOICE??

This post is excerpted (is there a word like that?) from my latest submission to the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) of which I am an Authorised Consumer Representative for a few Cases pertaining to electricity distribution in the State of Maharashtra.

The issue in the present case is the CHOICE of electricity supplier, in the event that two distribution licensees are present in an area. This situation exists in the Mumbai suburbs where Reliance Infrastructure and Tata Power both have a license to distribute electricity.

MERC has severely restricted the choice that consumers can exercise. Both companies have elaborate setups, expensive advocates, humungous resources and are/have been throwing loads of paper-work and contentions at each other and at MERC ...and also at us, Consumer Representatives.

There have been numerous hearings in the matter and what I wrote to them, was more of an Appeal than a formal submission. An appeal to give us back our right to chose the electricity supplier of our choice - and to remove the unnatural (and illegal!) constraints that had been created. 

Here are the excerpts...
(For those interested in the Chronology of events, a very brief Background is given at the end of the excerpt)
==========
 
  • The Case is governed by the ruling of the Supreme Court allowing Consumers (please note, there is no reference/definition of the word, Customer) to have the liberty of choosing their electricity supplier if two distribution licensees exist in the same area. The Commission cannot lose sight of this guiding Order, while deciding this Case. 
  • The basic issue is that of CONSUMER CHOICE in a competitive scenario. The Supreme Court has clearly laid down not only a Strategic matter, but also, to some extent, given some general principles for Executive action. The Commission must not OVERSTEP (as it has done in the past, according to none other than the Supreme Court itself!) and distort the Order and its dilute its efficacy. 
  • All other issues like laying cables, cross subsidy, regulatory asset charge, consumer mix, etc., need to be dealt with while keeping the end objective in mind. The Commission MUST not be guided (or driven!) by Licensees and their own constraints!
  • I have read the numerous submissions made by both parties and the on-going charges and counter-charges and submissions and rejoinders and responses - this can go on ad infinitum (or should I say ad nauseum!) They are just seeking to further complicate the matter and delay the decision-making.  
  • Both parties, RInfra and TPC are repeatedly referring to the Supreme Court order - but using selective phrases/passages/paras out of context to suit themselves. While they get to present their views ably supported by professional advocates, the hapless consumer has to depend upon people like us (who are not available to devote themselves full-time to this activity).  
  • As a result, if a Consumers point is not put across forcefully (or even put across at all!) it is likely to be overlooked by the Commission who is drowned in the barrage of submissions made by both parties. It is therefore the prime duty and responsibility of the Commission to err on the side of the Consumer and not otherwise.
  • It is likely that the parties are further going to divide Consumers into various groups and then advocate the benefits that one group is receiving (or likely to receive) and pit that against the dis-benefits accruing to another group.
  • This artificial distinction has NOT been made out anywhere in the Law (the EA2003) or by the Supreme Court (which has upheld the principles in the preamble of the Act). When I request the Commission to uphold Consumer choice - it is WITHOUT bias to any group. Sometimes things need to be left to themselves and within the given constraints, equilibrium will be found. 
  • Yes, there WILL be heartache and heartburn, but a Regulator needs to know when to step aside and let market forces drive the situation. Give companies a constraint - and see how innovative they can get! 
  • The Reliance Group and the Tata Group have been at the forefront of innovation in many products and services and the Commission should back down and not try to ’protect’ one or the other. It should leave the two of them to fight for the winning the Consumer!
  • The Order in Case 151 itself, severely restricted consumer choice and subsequent tariff Orders further complicated the calculations and is confusing Consumers. This Order has the potential to undo all the confusion and restore Consumer choice (for ALL Consumers, across various ’groups’ as selectively and artificially defined by the two parties) devoid of the various ifs and buts that constrain it. 
  • The Commission MUST restore the right to choice of selecting electricity supplier. The methodology was already laid down in the earlier Interim Order and the scope of that should have been further widened - but it has been instead narrowed subsequently.

         The Commission must seriously ask itself....
  • Does the Consumer REALLY have a choice? 
  • The SAME choice that an Act of Parliament has granted it? 
  • The SAME choice that the Supreme Court reaffirmed in its Order? 
  • Or is the Commission again going to overstep’ itself - only to be censured later - at the cost of lakhs of consumers losing their right?? 

          The matter is in your hands.

==========

Background
In 2004, MERC has incorrectly passed an Order disallowing Tata Power from supplying electricity to consumers because its license precluded it from doing so. Reliance continued to enjoy a monopoly and the rates kept going through the roof. Tata Power eventually won the case in the Supreme Court, in 2008, which upheld its legitimate claim that it did indeed have such a license and censured both the MERC and the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity for overstepping their jurisdiction. 

The Supreme Court in its Order, clearly stated that the electricity consumer MUST have a choice and a right to exercise that choice - upholding the Electricity Act 2003 and its preamble.

Subsequently, in 2009, MERC finally came out with a methodology of effecting this switch/change and consumers were happy that they finally had a choice!Reliance consumers promptly started switching over to Tata Power, whose tariff rates were lower.

...and then things went downhill thereafter. Reliance played spoilt-sport and complained to MERC that Tata was indulging in cherry-picking of only higher end consumers. Tata could not prove(!) that it wasn't proactively doing the cherry-picking, but yes, it was true that the higher consumption consumers, obviously, stood to benefit the most! And so MERC put a constraint on the switch/change and said that only those with consumption BELOW 300 units per month could switch/change!

Thereafter, a series of hearings, spanning months, and a few tariff orders later, the equation seemed to now become skewed in Reliance’s favour and MERC called for more hearings and this has been going on now. For those inclined to have details - please refer Case 151 of 2011 (Order passed) and now Case 85 of 2013 (present case, hearings still going on).

Friday, June 21, 2013

APTEL stays MERC Order on CSS

The Appellate Tribunal has stayed (for now) the MERC Order on Cross Subsidy Surcharge being levied by RINFRA.

The Order was passed today (21st June, 2013) and is available online, here: http://aptel.gov.in/Dailyorder.html

In my opinion, this is an important Order even if simply from the perspective that ANY element of tariff CANNOT be levied without it being clearly discussed with the public/consumers.

Also the Commission needs to give SPEAKING ORDERS explaining their reasoning and the rationale behind it.

This is only an Interim Stay on collection of CSS and the status quo to be restored as what it was before the MERC Order. Merits of the case will be argued in the 1st week of August.

A few excerpts of the Order are given below for your reference...

"The R-Infra on 07.1.2013 filed a petition before the State Commission in case No.3 of 2013 i.e. the present proceedings, seeking for determination of Cross Subsidy Surcharge for Open Access consumers. In this petition, only the other distribution licensees and the Government of Maharashtra alone were impleaded as a party and only they were heard. In fact, on 7.2.2013 the Government of Maharashtra had sent a letter to the State Commission to de-link the trajectory for reduction in Cross Subsidy Surcharge from the determination of Cross Subsidy Surcharge." 

"When the prayer was made by the R-Infra in Case No.3 of 2013 seeking for the determination of Cross Subsidy Surcharge, the State Commission did not choose to issue notice to the consumers with reference to the said issue. On the other hand after hearing the distribution licensees and the Government, the State Commission has passed the impugned order dated 10.5.2013 revising the Cross Subsidy Surcharge applicable to changeover consumers by increasing the Cross Subsidy Surcharge to a great extent without hearing them." 

"We are unable to understand as to why the State Commission had hurriedly passed the impugned order with reference to this issue which is admittedly pending before the State Commission in MYT proceedings as well as in Appeal No.178 of 2011 before this Tribunal. No reasons have been given in the impugned order with regard to the urgency."

"It is also noticed that the State Commission has decided to determine Cross Subsidy in the present proceedings after getting the view of the Government of Maharashtra without hearing the parties who are likely to be affected due to the high increase in the Cross Subsidy Surcharge."

"We find that there is prima-facie merit in this contention. That apart, the balance of convenience also in our view lies in favour of the Appellants." 

"If the impugned order, with reference to the increase in Cross Subsidy Surcharge is not stayed pending adjudication of the present Appeals, the Appellants will have to pay Surcharge which is increased to 1000% and 400% respectively and this would cause grave prejudice to the consumers once such increase of Cross Subsidy Surcharge has been collected from the changeover consumers."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Times…they are a changing


In the ’70s, when I used to wake up, the first thing I did was turn on the radio.

In the ’80s, the first thing I did was turn on my Cassette Tape Deck.

In the early ’90s, the first thing was my CD player.

In the early ’00s, FM Radio was my first choice.

Today, the first thing I turn on is… my Wifi Router!

Well, what next??

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Interesting Sights – Part 2: Amsterdam


Here are some interesting sights I came across on my recent visit to Amsterdam.  Do let me know which one you liked the most! 

Enjoy…

GreatLegs
Some fashionable legs & some not so fashionable,
and the latter have buried their heads in the sand ..oops, floor!

 
Ace&Dik
"Service(d)" like an Ace!

 
CoffeShop
It's at the 'other' side, you idiot! Can't you read the board?


Chutimas
Okay ...this one needs no comment!!

 
DocFeelGood
The Doctor "feels" good! Yeah, right! Shouldn't it be the Patients who feel good?


DrFish
The Original, Dr. Fish is going to do something fishy...

 
FullSpeed
Just GO..it doesn’t matter where..even if it is, to hell!


HotelJupiter
Hehe...and these are the kind of people we were hanging out with!


Kwekkeboom
Quickie ....BOOM! Yeah, man. Explosive stuff!!
 

MadeByMe
Me? Who, me? Yes, you! Couldn't be!...


MannekenPis
These chips are fried in ... Manneken's what? Ugh!


Moments4wine
Just a few moments, so you gotta gulp it down! 
And to think this is place where you are supposed to do "wine tasting"!


MrEggy
Yuck! We're gonna eat the Vanilla ice cream that's already IN his tummy!!
 

PakRest
'World Famous' ... in Holland!
 

PersTailoring
We're the SOCIETY shop, but we do PERSONAL tailoring..
 

Pipo
SurPRICE! If you wait long enough you can "take it out in a special way..." Huh, what?
 

SayedBros
We are doing all 'telephone activities' - seriously, nothing phony!
 

SilentMassage
Open 7 days a week, eh? 11-11. Then why is the shutter down? Shhh....!
 

SimonLoos
Err...what's inside?


SissyBoy
All ye who enter here are ...Sissy Boys!
 

SmallTalk
Look at those people doing "small talk"...
 

StillClosing
Well, the count down is over ...
 

Topkoks
Enter the Jackpot and you can be a Top...!
 

WaxingCo
They'll "polish" you off! No wait, these are Dutch!
 
 
Wildschut
WILD...WHAT??? An this is not even inside the infamous Red Light Area...!
 
Well, which ones did you like the most? 
Stay tuned for more such “Interesting Sights” from around the world.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Interesting Sights – Part 1: Beijing


I saw a few interesting ‘sights’ on my latest trip to China. I guess these qualify to go up on Engrish.com too!

CHN-Beauty-Golf
Well, what do we have here…Beauty Hair Nails Massage and… Golf!

CHN-dewars
Didn’t know Dewar’s sold Scotch WHISK in China!

CHN-forkiss
Hello! This, I presume, precedes the FOR(e)PLAY…!

CHN-fuxingmen
Err…just what is it that people do on this street??

CHN-here-toilets
OK, THAT’S where we are .. above the Recycle Bin and before the Toilets!

CHN-toilet
TOILET? TO-LET? …TOO LATE!

Stay tuned for more such ‘Interesting Sights’…

I used MS WindowsLive Write to prepare this post and it was fun doing it. Just hope that it turns out right!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

NEWS: Users oppose RInfra surcharge

 I made a detailed presentation at MERC's Public Hearing at Rangsharda Hall, Bandra, Mumbai yesterday (2nd April, 2011).

The following news item appeared in today's HT.

Users oppose Rinfra surcharge
Dharmendra Jore, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, April 03, 2011 


City consumers have opposed Reliance Infrastructure’s demand that consumers who have moved to Tata Power Company (TPC) to avail of low-cost power pay the cross subsidy surcharge.

RInfra wants the surcharge to provide relief to its low-end consumers. The company has the highest number of domestic (below poverty line) consumers who are subsidised by high-end consumers. But, as one lakh high-end consumers have shifted to TPC, RInfra’s subsidy ratio has taken a big hit, which may result in low-end users paying more.

Consumer representatives, presenting their side at a hearing on Saturday on RInfra’s tariff revision petition, blamed RInfra for the crisis. They said consumers who shifted to Tata because of its low tariff should not be forced to pay more for RInfra’s fault.

“RInfra’s spiralling power purchase costs impacted suburban power bills. RInfra had not been prudent in securing long-term inexpensive power,” said MERC-authorised consumer representative Sandeep Ohri, at the hearing conducted by the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC).

Ohri said the company had not categorically shown how it would meet the requirement for its 28 lakh consumers from April, 1, 2011, because TPC has completely stopped supplying power.

The Mumbai airport complex that switched to TPC long ago, opposed the cross subsidy surcharge. “We have paid all charges to RInfra before migrating.” The airport is saving more than Rs 10 lakh per month by availing TPC power.

To this, RInfra representative said the company’s requirement had gone down because of the migration of one lakh consumers to TPC and hence it would not hike bills.

RInfra has not sought any hike for 2010-11. Tariff petitions for the current year are yet to be filed. But, the company demanded the cross subsidy surcharge.

Ohri, who made a detailed presentation, also questioned RInfra’s business model. “We have seen Rinfra doing all the wrong things.

Indiscriminate expenses, baseless growth rates, non-transparent functioning, inconsistent statements, unnecessary legal proceedings and a monopolistic attitude are to be blamed for the misery of consumers,” he said.

Some representatives spoke in favour of RInfra. They said the company should be allowed to recover cross subsidy surcharge to discharge its social obligation of providing cheap power to the poor.

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http://www.hindustantimes.com/Users-oppose-RInfra-surcharge/Article1-680707.aspx
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