Saturday, September 20, 2014

CPPR's views on Road and transport infrastructure of Cochin - ToI articles

Call to stream council meetings live

Hinting at the need to bring in more transparency, Kochi-based think tank Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) said that live streaming option would expose dubious practices.

"It would become difficult for councillors to approve an agenda without a debate since issues will be viewed by the public. This will give both experts and laymen an opportunity to voice their views on development projects. The process would eliminate any unilateral decision. Eventually, it would strengthen the democratic process and ensure the participation of efficient and capable people in the decision making process," said CPPR chairman D Dhanuraj.

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Road transport and safety bill is what Kochi requires

"The feeder system is essential for the success of public transport. Autorickshaws and share auto services can supplement public transport," said D Dhanuraj, chairman of the city-based think tank, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), which has done extensive research on the subject

for the article, visit for the article, visit

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Flyovers are not the long lasting solutions

by D.Dhanuraj

I was in Mumbai for a couple of days. I was visiting the city after 8 months. This time, I had to travel quite a bit for my meetings. It gave me an opportunity to experience many recently built flyovers. There are four lanes to eight lanes for the roads in Mumbai. But I hardly saw any public transport vehicle using these infrastructure. It was like hundreds of cars and luxury vehicles jamming the roads in turn. What is the use of these flyovers?

Recently in Kochi also, I have been noticing that more number of private vehicles are on the streets with one passenger alone. There is an increased traffic jam in the city since metro construction started. I am not sure why these authorities failed to promote public transport instead of going for widening of roads and flyovers on a priority basis.
If the corporation wanted to issue 3000 to 5000 new auto rickshaw licenses, why couldn't they impress upon the state government, metro and district administration to issue more bus permits? Why they failed to give people more comfort, access, safe and affordable options in public transport? Why couldn't they encourage commuters to shift to public transport instead of breaking their heads to fund the land acquisition and fight court cases? Introduce GPS trackers and online information of public transport for live information of movement of public transport that would enable more reliability and punctuality for public transport. These are all cheaper when compared to constructing more and more flyovers and widened roads and regenerating the vicious cycle of traffic congestion with the construction of each flyover promoting more private vehicles.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Of Students and Politics in Kerala

 By Rahul V.Kumar and Madhu.S*

We are a state where student politics has been vibrant. There has been moments cherished as well as loathed while campus politics was at its peak. Many of the current ministers and famous politicians are products of the vibrant campuses where student politics was the ‘call of the nation’. Hot debates, discussions and hectic campaigns used to happen in these campuses, from hostels to canteens and even spreading to the streets. Now things have turned sore. Campus politics has been vehemently equated to violence and the very democratic struggles of yesteryears have been weighed for its failures against the extent of violence it generated. And enough was enough; people at the top have decided to cut the root of the problem. And that root for them starts at the level of the students. Hence the obvious choice has been to snap that bud. In a few months from now, we would witness the last of politics in campuses in Kerala, with the recent ruling by the High Court banning of campus politics in the state. The State government agreed to the ruling and have decided to go ahead.Students will be cleansed of what is perceived as a taboo. Peace will dawn in campuses, students can concentrate on their studies and will not be forced out of their classes. Quite encouraging indeed!! But at this juncture we are forced to ask, “Is politics a taboo that needs cleansing?” If violence is the real issue, why not take measures to stop that; instead of killing the baby?

Now this decision to cleanse the campuses is a sensitive one. What has been the reason to justify this new policy? A crucial point as mentioned earlier isto eliminate violence which has been used as an instrument to promote political ideals amongst the students. Violence whether employed by the students or individuals outside the campus or for that matter the state itself has to be voiced against. But then the question is how do we do it? Is it justified to eliminate politics to stop violence or should it be the other way round? Depriving the instrumental nature of violence in politics has to be explored more thoroughly. Most of you would have witnessed the ordeals of several students who stayed away from colleges fearing violence against them if they attended classes. In these cases (and especially in government colleges) a prime reason for such violence was the manner in which the management responded to it. At various levels faculty as well as non-teaching staff stayed away from such incidents.

Violent campuses or Violent students?

Most of this violence occurred in the spaces allotted for political parties within these campuses (in small rooms where meetings etc. are held by them). There was a constant fear for students of these so called ‘unit-rooms’ within the campuses. And sometimes when the issue is with the State, they proliferate outside campuses and take various forms on the roads (for people staying in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, such scenes are frequently visited in front of the University College). We can/and often do blame the political parties for promoting violence amongst students. The best incentives that they offer to the nascent student is the illusion of power which would be provided in doses as and when required. But what stake do these political parties have in the life of the student? We would say that they don’t have much. But these academic institutions which accommodate the students do. They are supposed to protect and ensure conduct within it. It is thus a triangle of three major actors running this drama of violence: the students, political parties and the academic institutions. Some students respond more to the incentives of political parties while many to the prospects of better career. Thus there are two ways in which violence could be controlled. One by completely eliminating the role of political parties within the campuses; and the second by incentivizing students to be engaged in academic activity while in the campus. For us the latter i.e. the task of the state and these academic institutions to incentivise more students to look forward to a better career outside minimising the incentives of political parties has been lacking. Promoting this to an extent can not only lessen violence in the campus but better education itself. This suggestion was also mooted by Lyngdoh Committee headed by former election commissioner Shri J.M Lyngdoh. The committee advocated the need to delink campuses from political parties but sustain student politics as it was important for building a vigilant citizenry especially in a democratic country like India. Centre for Public Policy Research had conducted a detailed study in “Campus Democracy in India” to trace the campus politics existing in India. The study had interesting findings which supported the need for sustaining student politics. Majority of the students surveyed supported campus politics and wanted to have an election based student organisation and believed it to be the right of the students. At the same time they agreed to disagree with violent politics in campuses. Majority of them wanted to have an effective redressal mechanism to tackle such violent politics. However, less than half of the managements supported student elections or any form of student politics which show a larger departure from the ideals of students. As stated above, inaction of the college management often breeds violence and students unrest in campuses. It is important to have effective mechanisms for redressing student grievances in the campuses. 

Role of Academic Institutions

Another supporting question is where do our academic institutions lack in incentivizing students? Let’s ask ourselves the following simple questions.
1.       What is the quality of lectures offered that would promote 100 percent attendance and an equal 100 percent pass in each of these colleges?
2.       Why are students forced to languish outside classrooms given an opportunity to do so?
3.       Which of our professors can promise a bright future to each and every student of his so that this would be the best incentive for them to spend their time in studies?
4.       How many of our students are regularly supported to earn while they study?

There are many such questions and all of them would help us to understand that all that our campuses witness is due to the lack of such guaranteed incentives for our students. How often do we here about organized violence in Harvard or Cambridge or Princeton or MIT or for that matter at our reputed IIMs and IITs? The reason ought to be in the guarantees incentives that come with admission to these institutions. And mind it these are also the places where politics have had its bitter and better experiences. So what should we do: Tidy the system of its problems or deprive students of their firm political standings? The decider’s first need to do a soul searching before the actual cleansing begins. Most importantly we need to ask ourselves on what would be the future of politics and institutions in India if its young brigade stands out or show disinclination in the system. Banning of campus politics is never an answer, creating the right systems and opportunities for students to express their thoughts and ideals is definitely the way ahead. Campus politics exhibit this crucial role and shall enliven the Indian democracy. 

* Authors are members of CPPR 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bad State of the State

By Rahul V.Kumar*

As I understood from a recent experience our system requires that we remain closer (in time) with the state and yet we should remain far (physically) from its reach. Now the question is “How do we make the state believe that we are both close and yet far from its reach?” This is a subtle balance but still it is one that remains strong. Let me brief you on an issue to make it clear what I have in my mind. Last week I was at the corporation office to apply for a residence certificate. Since it is a government office, there is a clause attached to all, ‘be clear on what the procedures are before you actually go for the transaction’. (The people at various counters are so specialized that they are mostly unaware of the general procedures. Has specialization increased their productivity? This is debatable.) The reason is if you don’t know for instance that living in a rented house would want you 1) to carry a certificate from your ward councillor to prove who you are/or that he knows you do exist 2) your rent agreement 3) and finally the form which you have to fill which is obtained from the corporation office itself; the chances are that your transaction cost of commuting to and from the office would increase. So the minimum that a layman needs to spend is a few phone calls (if he is connected) or a one time travel to the office to enquire about the procedures. In case you are connected less (no phone, internet etc.) and stay far from the office, these costs are likely to be higher.

Let the transaction cost be left aside for those who say that it is pittance. But the actual cost is hidden; this is the cost of making the state believe that we are close and yet far. When I say making the state believe that we are close, what I mean is the trouble and toil to make our claims as a citizens. Now equipped with the councillor’s certificate you reach the office. But there you need additional verifications plus a mandatory visit by someone called the ‘revenue inspector’ to check these claims. 

At three stages you prove your status. Now if that sounds easy, for a first timer, it is not so. There are other paraphernalia attached, for instance ‘your luck’ to find the inspector from amidst the sea of people flooding this office;knowing the right manner of conducting with him/her pleasing them and seeing to it that there ego is not hurt; witnessing the horrendous trails of your co-citizens who have come to this office for much more inaccessible privileges and so on. To stay far from the state is easier. Nod your head for whatever comments you receive at these offices. If the revenue inspector jests at you for not knowing the procedures (for instance the order in which these forms should be tied up for submitting), accept it with a fake smile. Understand that these tussles might end up in his request for a premium to get the work done. And of course don’t claim knowledge of any of these procedures as it is more likely that new hurdles will be put in front of you. Amidst all this what you are intentionally doing is saving your physical self from having any affinities with the state. Thus when a procedure could have been completed with one proof, three are demanded. When the person at the counter should have informed you that you are at the wrong place, you take an entire day roaming the jungle to find that out. Are these to be expected or are we expecting too much from the state?

PS: I lost an entire productive day roaming around to find the procedures and being insulted from all these people for not knowing many. Then it struck me that the state likes more of its kind. A few phone calls (god’s grace I am connected) and within 15 minutes the next day, I found myself with three residents certificates. 

* Rahul V.Kumar is a Research Fellow and Consultant at CPPR

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Auto Rickshaw strike in Kochi – the policy imbroglio

by D. Dhanuraj

The recent strike by the Auto Rickshaw drivers in Kochi City exposes the fundamental flaws in the Governance structure and policy note. Kochi is one of the emerging metro cities in South India having a total population of 1.8 million spread out in Cochin and suburbs.

The commuting population to the city from the suburbs and the neighboring districts generate more than 50% of the total revenue generated in the State of Kerala. Commuting public use various modes of transport to reach the city limits that include KSRTC and Private Buses, Private vehicles like cars and two wheelers and ferry services. But within the city, many depend on the auto rickshaws (autos as we call them) for a number of reasons;

(1) Though many inroads and by lanes are developed as commercial streets, at times they are not wide enough for bus services.

 (2) Mostly the RTO has failed in issuing fresh routes for buses to cover these areas.

 (3) Another reason is the scheduling of buses. Anybody waiting for a bus at a bus stop has absolutely no clue of the timing and route of the next bus. This encourages the commuters to hire autos to go to their destinations, if they are in a hurry. 

(4)The CBD is small in size so that the average commuting distance is less than 6 to 8 Kms most of the times, which make autos more preferable.  

(5)There is an increased number of women commuters depending on the autos in Kochi as they consider the autos are more safe and comfortable than the buses in the city limits.

(6)The autos are available at the door steps in the most parts of the city and it helps to ease the last mile connectivity issues in the transportation grid of Kochi.

In an inspection drive last year, Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) in Kochi had identified 5600 illegal autos plying on the streets of Cochin. ( Subsequently, it was decided to raise the numbers of autos in Cochin to 7000. Though there are many disputes regarding this, it shows the dependency and the significance of autos in the transport grid of Kochi city.

It is in this context, the strike called by the auto drivers shall be analyzed. The reason they had cited was the harassment by police for the irregularities in the meters in the autos.

In the present context, I largely plead for the meter reading according to the trip charges against the arbitrary fixation of the charge by the auto driver. I am of the opinion that if the drivers are tampering the meters, they should be debarred from driving the autos.

Media reports suggest that the auto rickshaw unions also favor pre-paid autos and metered pricing.
This means, their issue is something different; they claim that the fare decided by the Government does not meet their expenses hence they end up bargaining and quarreling with the commuters.  They have many reasons for their grievances; from the diesel price hike to metro corridor congestion to inflation and so on..
Actually, what is the scenario in Kerala in deciding the auto rickshaw fare? Who is responsible for the auto fares in Cochin? I tried to understand the latest policy note from the MVD website ( It advocates for more or less the same fares across the State except in a few cases in few cities (that include Kochi also). But the gist is that the fares are same across the State. If that is the case, I am tempted to believe that there is a strong case for revising the ways by which the auto fares are fixed in the State.

How could it be possible for the autos to charge the same fare in a hilly district like Idukky or Wayanad to that with a congested city like Kochi? Don’t you think that the fares are not based on the actual situations prevailing in the eco system that each auto rickshaw operates? Why should it be decided at the State level and not at the city level or at the Urban Local Body (ULB) level.

I strongly believe there are convincing reasons for the auto drivers to get agitated if the local conditions, commuting volume and distance, congestion, last mile connectivity issues etc are not taken solved. The local ward councilors with the help of the transport expert should be able to work with the auto drivers and their unions to arrive at the suitable pricing formulas. Or, in the case of city like Kochi, it shall be the responsibility of the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA in this case) to deliberate on these matters. Auto rickshaw sector shall be encouraged and incentivized for using digital meters, android applications, GPS meters along with assurance of the choice for opting for share autos or single passenger system.  In fact, if the abnormalities in the system are not solved, this one would be one of the major challenges for the upcoming Kochi metro as the feeder system through autos will fail to take off and will lead to conflicts and strikes.

This is a classic case for the empowerment of the city administration to deal with the basic infrastructure and transportation requirements!