Gandhi Chhadi set for Rs.300? Is Swachh Bharat Mission kidding?

So I decided to consider getting a “Gandhi Chhadi” [Gandhi stick] which is a long stick with a pointed metal tip that is useful to pick waste objects off the road without bending. It has been highlighted by Swachh Bharat Mission Urban since last year and a couple of addresses of manufacturers have been provided in a YouTube video.

On enquiry with the first supplier listed in the above video, it turns out they want Rs.300 for a set of these litter pickers and the Mission – yes, a whole Central govt Mission – has no distribution mechanism for this. So it can only be couriered.

Clearly, this shows the emptiness of such campaigns. This low tech device should have been outsourced for production, and made available for everyone to make, like a broom. In fact, modern versions of such pickers are today sold on Amazon, and these have a lever that operates as a gripper.

Not surprisingly, the Mission has not made known a plan to distribute even the old-style Chhadis to municipal workers, who have to keep bending everyday to pick up the trash that you and I toss around carelessly.

This is the one on sale on Amazon India for about Rs.500:


Bailing out of the system – The Hindu on foreign medical trips for bureaucrats

This editorial appeared in The Hindu today, on the foot dragging by the UPA government on Universal Health Coverage, and its unseemly hurry to sanction foreign medical treatment for IAS and IPS officers and their families.

Bailing out of the system – The Hindu.

PSBB drowning, Zion school bus disaster and accountability

The general approach to disaster in Tamil Nadu today is worrying. Without holding a brief for anyone in the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan student death case (read the report here) it is legitimate to ask whether the lower level staff were sufficiently empowered to ensure safety of children.

If indeed there were safety lapses and they had no way to resolve them because they lacked the authority, the answers for what happened would lie with the management. Of late, there have been numerous fatal accidents in Chennai, of which the incident involving Sruthi, a child studying in Zion Matriculation School who fell through a hole on the floor of the bus and died, is the most prominent. In that particular case, the RTO was clearly at fault, as it had issued a Fitness Certificate for the vehicle only recently.

Then there was the CMRL crane accident which killed one and injured many. Two people were immediately arrested for this, including the site manager of Larsen and Toubro.

The key question in such incidents is about negligence or refusal to heed warnings of safety risks. That has to be proved using transparent, credible investigation. Some of the worst and highly visible negligence is attributable to official agencies in charge of safety. Examples are RTOs, Lift Inspectorate, and Food Safety authorities, who are openly corrupt and yet have no real liability when things go wrong.

It is important to point out that criminalising everything will leave high-risk jobs such as swimming instructors open only to those with the strongest politician-police-underworld connections, and not serve the cause of children’s safety, because such individuals cannot be touched even they have been negligent or motivated. The better choice would be to professionalise the system, empower and train in disaster management, before demanding accountability.

Urban Jungle: Chennai is a horror for people on foot

My Urban Jungle column in The Hindu on the difficulty of being a pedestrian in Chennai published today, is here. This column is part of a series on the city, and looks at the many aspects of suburbia from a personal viewpoint.

Beware when you tread on Chennai roads. The footpaths are barely there, and often hold nasty surprises. Photo shows a drain clean-up in progress on Kodambakkam Station Road. Note the various obstacles on the walker’s path.

Urban Jungle: Why is Chennai no city for old people?

My ‘Urban Jungle’ column in The Hindu today is here and it looks at the plight of people who literally fall by the wayside in Chennai, and whether they stand a chance of being rescued. The story is centred around this old man who has collapsed in a quiet corner of Kodambakkam, across the road from the Risen Redeemer’s Church in United India Colony.

Social worker Santosh Kumar of HelpAge India with the old man in Kodambakkam, before shifting him to Royapettah Hospital

I have posted it here with a question on older adults in Chennai because there is a helpline that is supposed to work for their welfare. What I found is revealing. Based on my column, The Hindu’s Chennai bureau wrote a piece on the helpline, and you can read that here.

What is view on the prospects for older citizens who want to live in this increasingly crowded city? You could comment here on the blog or on the website of The Hindu.  If you want to explore HelpAge India’s website, it is here.

Bent but not broken in Chennai

This scene on a busy Chennai road is a powerful visual of what the streets of the city are today, for people who have fallen afoul of the consumptive economy. As one of the most densely populated cities in India today, Tamil Nadu’s capital is witnessing a fast deterioration in the quality of life. Real public investment has been shrinking and virtually disappeared after last year’s state elections brought the AIADMK to power. The city has a significant slum population, scorching speculation in property, withdrawal of the government from welfare sectors (in spite of high profile announcements to the contrary), and sheer lack of public circulating space.

No city for old women

Chennai is at the bottom of the list of Indian cities when it comes to pedestrian facilities. Ask this woman on Station View Road, Kodambakkam, which is hostile to walkers.

An old, bent woman making her way along one of the crowded roads in Kodambakkam may be unremarkable to those who have lost touch with the reality that most citizens encounter. This arthritic older adult is almost at the centre of the road, moving ahead painfully with the help of a stick. This is Station View Road. The space at right is actually illusory for walkers, because it is created by a commercial establishment for its own purposes, is not continuous, and pushes a walking person to the centre at several points closer to the suburban railway station.

I remember the spaces available to old people about the age of this woman on the streets of Barcelona when I visited that magnificent city in 2010. Retirees were enjoying themselves, walking along nicely demarcated and smooth footpaths, in groups, chatting. It was a picture of contentment, afforded in part by civic order. What a contrast!

Until Chennai is brought to its senses, and forced to identify clear walking spaces along the margins of its roads, it will remain at the bottom of civilised practice, as this recent news report on walkability in India in the Times of India points out.

The Hindu’s editorial advocates ‘Free medicines as a mission’

This editorial in The Hindu, following up earlier ones on Universal Health Coverage through a tax-funded system, appeared in print and online editions today.

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorial : Free medicines as a mission.

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