Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reforming Our Education System

Towards Reforming Our Education System
Enough is enough. J&K has already waited for long and cannot afford negligence in education sector

On the homepage of the website of the “Directorate of School Education Kashmir” (DSEK) in a bold font with higher word size “Edu News” catches the eye of anyone visiting the website. With a hope that it will at least speak about current education scenario after having browsed every tab I was disheartened to see that the only newsletter it contains, which is unlike any professional newsletter, dates back to 2008. The other day while browsing the Website of Kashmir University I found that under departments tab the first department listed is Arabic and its webpage is still under construction. If the only university in Kashmir can manage such negligence I am sure DSEK must be applauding itself for at least updating its website 7 years ago.

While people in India are talking about reforms in Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 the state of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to make amendments to the archaic JKRTE act 2002. Great hopes were generated in 2013 when everyone talked about JKRTE Amendment act 2013 but till date like many other things the JKRTE act also remains in abeyance.

No education system can be reformed top down but a bottom up approach is needed. Till our school education system does not see massive reform we cannot hope to see places like Kashmir University or similar institutes of higher education to become centers of excellence. Compared to global standards the Indian education system at primary and high school level is below par but compared to most of the Indian states the education system of Kashmir at these levels remains below average.

To reform our education system the following should be considered

1)      An amendment to Jammu and Kashmir Right to Education (JKRTE) act 2002:- The amendment should not be a copy of RTE act 2009 but should be more pragmatic. The suggestions for reforming the RTE act 2009 should be considered like the ones which talk about reforming teacher training system, doing away with reliance on programs like B.Ed among others. All this should have been done at least 5 years prior to this day but now no time should be wasted by the new government to bring about this change as soon as it assumes office.

2)      Ensuring teacher and pupil attendance in schools:- One of the best reform that I saw even in remotest villages of Gujarat was that all schools are equipped with a biometric system. The system only requires a computer and a biometric (finger print) machine. The system is monitored by the education department in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat. It ensures the attendance of both teachers and students and proper entry and exit timing which is the biggest problem in government schools of Kashmir where both attendance and timings are least respected. To ensure that a teacher is present even after punching in the morning, the school can get a call anytime from the office and ask teachers to punch in biometric system thereby ensuring their presence at every time. The attendance of students is monitored as well and low attendance numbers are discussed with the head of the institute. The system is easy to replicate in J&K and will go a long way to built a great culture of respecting time and providing quality education in Kashmir.

3)      Reform in syllabus:- The education system needs to do away with the rote learning activities. The purpose of education should be making students aware about the problems and give them the freedom to design solutions to the problems. There is little room for innovation in our education system. An answer written in words not as shown verbatim by the teacher gets lesser marks even though it may be the same in quality if not more. The syllabus should be designed by giving our students confidence and showing them how the world is growing. The confidence can be instilled by teaching them about great Kashmiri writers, poets, artists and freedom fighters and their contribution towards the society. The major reason why US education system has succeeded for over a century has been the deep seated pride it takes in its education system which is led by innovation.  The students should simultaneously be taught about the latest developments in the field of science and arts in the world and the syllabus should be revised at least every five years.

4)      Engage industry partners and NGO’s:- Private sector in Kashmir remains in shambles but there are a few industries which are flourishing. A model can be created by engaging them and help can also be sought from big corporate houses which have business in Kashmir like IOCL, BPCL, Power grid, NHPC and other companies. Visits to industrial sites if possible should be appreciated. NGO’s can help streamlining the system by giving necessary inputs and engagement with NGO’s has proved beneficial in many states in India.

5)       Make private educational institutions more accountable:- The private education institutes should be made more accountable and they shouldn’t be allowed to charge excessive fees. The private institutes make huge profits under the pretext of education being a social service and thus avoid taxes. The tax payment should be calculated on the revenue that education institutes get and not on other parameters.

These are some of the factors that should be addressed immediately by who so ever assumes the office in the new government in J&K. Until we reform our education system we cannot expect a bright future in the long term.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Creative Tourism

Chokhi Dhani: Rajasthan replicated in other Indian states

Not long ago the name Rajasthan was synonymous with vast deserts, camel rides, forts and Rajathani Safa-the traditional headgear. For the city dwellers the village life is always appealing and it’s a wish of every city dweller to have an experience of village life. This is especially true among people living in big cities who have never seen a village leave alone the idea of having experienced living there. Not many people knew about the roots of Rajasthani culture and its village life. In 1990, with the aim of preserving and encouraging Rajasthani culture and to make people know about the roots of Rajasthani culture, the foundation of Chokhi Dhani-which literally means a “fine hamlet”, was laid in the outskirts of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Today Chokhi Dhani has 8 sub franchises in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Surat and others giving people the rich experience of an ideal village life in Rajasthan.

Usually located on the outskirts of the city but within a drivable distance from the city-usually within a range of 20-30 Kms from the city is the village of Chokhi Dhani. At the main gate of the village, boys and girls in ethnic dresses combining modernity and rustic life greet the visitors with the beating of the drum. An artificial horse which appears very much like the real one greets a visitor too and many visitors feign to be riding the horse to the shutterbugs in the front. In the most courteous ways are the guests welcomed and I have always been apologized to with utmost respect when I refuse them to mark a Tilak( a colored mark worn by hindus) on my forehead.

As one goes inside the village, one gets a true feel of the real village life. Traditional huts decorated with splendid workmanship present a feeling of splendor untouched by vanity. A complete experience of a prosperous village enthralls the heart of every visitor. Monkeys trained perfectly to obey every order of their master are a treat, especially for the first time visitor.

On the other side women prepare Rotis of Jowar and Makai. The puppet show awaits a visitor when he is done with things like body massage or a true feel of a traditional hair cut by those antique machines we used to have in 90’s. The mastery which the people of Rajasthan have acquired over the art of puppet show leaves a visitor spellbound. The puppets dance in perfect rhythm and play games with each other thereby amusing the visitors.

Camel and horse ride appeals to people especially the ones who are not from Rajasthan. The feel of riding a camel in the rustic environs adds to the beauty of the ride. Then there is traditional Rajasthani folk singing and dancing. Very few people resist the temptation not to sing or dance to the tunes of a humble musical or dance performance. The dance on broken glass or the act of balancing many utensils on the head while dancing is an amazing experience for anybody. It shows how even the most difficult tasks can be mastered and performed with ease. If you are still not filled then hold your heart and be ready for a show of boys dancing only on a rope held by two high bamboo sticks. The skill with which they run and dance on a high rope will leave you thrilled with joy.

No it’s not done yet. After having seen all this they treat you with a traditional Rajasthani food and make sure you are filled completely. The guests sit in large rooms and are served many varieties though the entire food is vegetarian only and may not appeal a Kashmiri. After the food if you still have some time left you may spend it by seeing an astrologer or a magic show. The magic show is another brilliance which people have mastered over a period of time. The magician will tell you that it’s all an illusion but will challenge you to catch him which no one does, at least in my many visits I never saw anyone catching him though infinite number of people tried.

The entire fee for the evening is around Rs 600-700 at most of the locations and all the above mentioned things are inclusive of the price. To mention it again so that no confusion prevails, the food is also included.

PS: The whole purpose of this is to appeal people in Kashmir to start such ventures. It is a great concept and I am sure Kashmir has much more to show to the world. We can showcase our rich art and culture and run successful business out of it provided we remain honest.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Power Sector in J&K? Situation and Solutions

Power Sector in J&K? Situation and Solutions

Power business is no easy business in India. A quarter of a century has passed since power business was liberalized in India, yet there has been little success vis-à-vis the twin objectives of increased generation and efficiency.  To cut it short, the fact remains that power business is difficult both because of intensive technology that is required as well as the risks involved in the business. The Indian power sector has over 5 Lakh crore of outstanding debt and nearly 3 Lakh crore of accumulated losses which increase by about 60000 crore each year.

Within electricity sector Hydro power is perhaps the most risky business. All that is desirable may not always be technically feasible. The moot question remains that with over 16000MW of techno-economically viable projects are we in a position to take up these projects on our own looking at the state of our economy or can we think about other options as well? Considering 70:30 debt to equity ratio we would still require around 35000 crores to develop this capacity and it will take a lot of time.
Jammu and Kashmir needs immediate solutions to its power problem and a long term vision to develop power projects so as to become a power hub and sell electricity to other states or countries. The present situation of power sector is almost similar to what Gujarat faced in 2001. With 2246 crore losses in 2000-01 Gujarat faced similar power shortages like J&K today. Gujarat neither had funds to add generation capacity nor was any private player ready to invest in the state. When Manjula Subramaniam took over as the chairperson of Gujarat State Electricity Board(GSEB) things seemed to be in a disarray. Rather than blaming others Manjula took the task of setting her house in order. She renegotiated power purchase agreements, renegotiated interest on loans convincing banks to lower the interest rates which where earlier negotiated at 18%, unbundled the sector to identify the weak points and employed a consultant to look into employee morale boosting. Today Gujarat is among the few states in India where power sector is making profits. The state has been making profits in power sector uninterruptedly since last nine years.

For short term the J&K state government can do the following

1)      Try to develop the thermal power project in Orrisa as soon as possible for which the coal mine has been allocated already. There has already been a lot of delay regarding this project. The major advantage is that thermal plants take less completion time and electricity cost is cheap. This would end our woes with a few years if execution is done as per industry standards unlike in J&K.

2)      Develop solar parks. As solar is highly location dependent and two independent surveys have put J&K on 1st and 2nd position regarding solar power potential in India, J&K state should identify the most useful sites, earmark the sites for itself and begin producing electricity. Over the years the installation costs of solar have reduced considerably and the cost per MW of electricity is around 6 crore which is cheaper than Hydro in most of the cases.

3)      Plug Transmission and distribution losses. For this the effective utilization of 3115  crore which has been approved by the centre under Restructured Accelerated Power development programme(R-APDRP) is necessary. J&K has the highest Transmission and Distribution(T&D) losses in the country at 59.72%.

4)      Unbundling of power department is a must if loopholes are to be identified and the system set right once for all. The opposition to this by certain people is unfortunate and linking this to return of power projects by some vested interests is unfortunate for the power sector of the state.

In the long term the state government can formulate a plan for being the energy hub which could supply power to other Indian states as well as other countries which are power deficit in our neighborhood.  Once we improve the health of our state power department many investors would feel confident and invest money in Hydro sector and other sectors like wind, solar and geothermal as well all of which hold huge potential in J&K but are rarely talked about. For now let’s talk about what we can do and must do rather than when NHPC will return our projects. Of course that can be talked about as well but not at the cost of the entire power sector in J&K.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kashmir Flood Story: Myths and Heroes

Ahmad came to Kashmir only a few days back to spend time with his family. Studying in world’s most prestigious university, Standford USA, Ahmad is heartbroken.  As I talk to him he explains about flood situations and how to handle them. He applauds the role of army, NDRF and local people and NGO’s. He is baffled by the statement of chief minister that “100 year events can’t be predicted” and he sites examples where structures are designed for 100 years or even more with “only 2% probability of exceedance”. As I point out to him that warnings were issued from local Masjid’s he again rebuts. Ahmad explains about international standards about how people need to be motivated and warnings need to be given early. He says that events like  random Masjid announcements don’t work and  people must be sensitized properly and convinced about the consequences. He tells me that the first step that could have averted the disaster was that CM could have passed on the information to flood department who could have checked the banks of Jehlum for cuts and breeches. This could have prevented significant damage.
Like Ahmad all people in Kashmir are distressed. Some are cursing their fate whereas others are blaming the administration. But among all this is great hope. Not only the people living in Kashmir but Kashmiri’s across the globe have come up for help in these troubled times. Working professionals, students, businessmen of Kashmiri origin have got together all across the globe and are trying their best to help the people of Kashmir. Many non Kashmiri’s are also working day and night for unknown people back home. Two such heros are Adil and Mubarakh. Adil who hails from Kulgam was one of the first persons to organize a coordinated effort to save his people back home. On hearing about massive floods  on 7th September, Adil contacted his friends in Kashmir on aircel network, which was the only service operational in the valley. He simultaneously organized a massive facebook and twitter campaign seeking whereabouts of people who were trapped. “I compiled a list of affected people and contacted National disaster management force (NDRF) Punjab who directed me to contact Delhi office. On the first day itself I was able to give information of about 30 families to NDRF and Army about the location of people”. I hear Adil & Mubarak being inundated by calls as I talk with them. Adil adds that on second day they received some 3000 calls and made sheets mentioning the complete address of people trapped and forwarded them to NDRF and Army. Adil tells me that his own family is untraceable and he doesn’t know about them but that doesn’t stop him from working with great dedication. He constantly updated his facebook page and gave people hope when there was none. Adil says that now they are working for relief operations. “We have collected 450 blankets, 150 life jackets and medicines as well which we are sending to Kashmir”, Adil adds. Adil says that he will do whatever it takes to help his people back home under these trying circumstances.
Not only Adil but many other Kashmiri’s are also actively involved in rescue and relief mission. “Kashmiri volunteers in Delhi” is one such group. Its core member Arif Ayaz, a noted Kashmiri writer tells me that, “we sent tents, life jackets, medicines, baby-food, chlorine tablets and about 5000 Liters of water”. Arif adds that they have sent boats as well and are working closely with local people on ground who update them about essentials which are of utmost importance. Other people like Faheem Shah of Lex Alliance is working particularly for people who are now in camps. He has already purchased 250 blankets, 500 Dal packs and milk and medicines which he shall be dispatching to Kashmir tomorrow.
Not only in India but Kashmiris across the globe have stepped up to help. Sana Sulatan along with many expatriate Kashmiri’s has been instrumental in raising money in London. Sana tells me that, “We have raised some 10K Pounds and hope to raise more”. She is working in close coordination with local Kashmiri’s associated with relief work in Banglore and Delhi. They are themselves travelling to India on 10 September to better utilize their funds.
Among this great commotion the stories of compassion and selflessness are replete. Gagan Kohli, a local Sikh boy living in Delhi has been compiling the list of people stranded and sending them to Army.
Among all this if there is one thing that repeats itself, it is that Kashmiri’s have not forgotten their long tradition of selfless love and compassion for everyone. In common parlance, it’s called Kashmiriyat.

 @Iqbal ..11Sep 2014

Sunday, August 18, 2013

67th Independence and Kashmir

Sixty seven years have gone by; the world has changed topsy-turvy over these years and so has India. The strenuous and arduous work of freedom fighters finally bore fruit on the jovial night of 15th August. The land was liberated from spiteful and vicious Firangis. The dreams seen by our forefathers bore fruit and the days of reconstruction began. Unanimously leaders and all around spoke of democracy, equality, secularism, freedom of speech, upliftment of poor, non alignment, freedom to raise one’s voice and a whole lot of things that formed the basis of India. No doubt many of these were practiced and it was the sequel of these efforts only that we are seeing the country at a formidable position.
But hold your breath if you are not a partisan and a parochial, the rendezvous with today’s so called success story has not been equitable enough. The visionary statements that applied were not equitable. Sixty seven years down the line the streets of Srinagar still reel under curfew, the mothers don’t get milk for their kids, the pregnant women are not allowed to go to hospitals, and the streets are nothing but secluded deserts of Sahara. Kashmir has always been treated with a different mindset, ideology, set of beliefs and nuances which apply to Kashmir only. Thousands of deaths in Kashmir does not shake the conscious of anyone across a country which claims itself to be comprising of eggheads, boffins and scholars but when a Mufti issues a trivial fatwa in the same region the news runs for no less than two weeks on the so called elite news channels of the country. The fear of protests other states makes Home Minister do the rounds and promise resolution but the killing of innocent people in proven fake encounters doesn’t shake his conscience. Wow how much we brag about Jawans but the same people say that for atrocities their men won’t get justice if tried in Kashmir courts, what does chief of Army mean by statements like this? The yardstick for Kashmir is different and so are the hearts and minds of people living there.
There has always been talking about Kashmir but does anybody even talk of fateful Kashmiri’s. They talk about it in New Delhi, Islamabad, Geneva, New York etc but do they talk about a 12 year boy playing cricket in bright sun and is killed while in cold blood, do they talk about 120 mass graves which get unearthed from a camp site, do they talk about those 12000 boys who have been taken to custody and are missing since then, do they ever talk of my childhood friend who was taken for assisting a search operation and then killed and my sobs still say whether it was his job. Words would fall short if I tell you what happens at a place which you all call bliss and wish to rendezvous with.
It’s a high time now. No government can claim that it does not know what Kashmiris want. The recent incidents in Kishtawar again make it clear that it’s not a valley centric moment only. Much blood has flown down the Jehlum and Chenab valley in these 67 years and earlier as well. The issue needs to be resolved as was promised to Kashmiris. Till then Srinagar will always see black flags being hoisted on this day

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Dear Friends

Dear Friends
(Especially written for those who are tagged and a few whom I wish but cannot tag)
I don’t know whether you consider me as your dear one but I certainly do. I should have written this much earlier but my Dad often says that no time is late for a good work. So let me begin with my short piece of philosophy. Although it may look like more philosophical than being pragmatic but this is how I think and I want you to know about myself.
Dear Loved ones, I believe that our friendship is not because of a common bond I share with you. It’s simply because I find some solace/satisfaction in being friends with you. It’s purely my relationship and I am solely responsible for honoring/dishonoring it. I have befriended you not because I want you either to help me or I expect something from you but it’s more of a self concerning relationship. A few of my good friends ended their relationship with me because they expected too much from me which I wasn’t even aware of.
Take this... Many people think that just because they did a favour to you implicitly means that I should return it as well. But that is no friendship at all. If you accompany me to a market, you should not expect that I too should accompany you to the market the next time around...If you come to attend my marriage ceremony that again in no way indicates that I should reciprocate... If you invite me for a lunch, it’s purely my discretion whether to call you over next time even if I invite many of those with whom as per you I have less understanding than you.
I am your friend because I enjoy it and so do you. This shouldn’t be a bond. Even if I sacrifice something for you, that shouldn’t oblige you to do the same for me as well. My predilections may be much different from you and so can be yours. Let’s be friends recognising our differences and individualities as well. And believe me if we live like this, world will give us very few reasons to be unhappy

May Allah bless you all..

Monday, June 10, 2013

Return of Narayana Murthy

In 1981 Narayana Murthy along with six other colleagues founded Infosys. The initial capital of Rs10000/= was invested by his wife after selling her jewellery. Although like any other start up it had to face difficult times initially but the visionary leadership helped it to carve a special position for itself in the IT sector around the globe. Today Infosys has a total revenue of more than 7 Billion USD. Narayana Murthy served as CEO of Infosys from 1981 till 2001 and as chairman from 2002 to 2011. Murthy is known as the father of Indian IT industry and has been honoured with awards like Padma Shree and Padma Vibushan in India and many others abroad as well most notable being that he is listed as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

But Infosys is not all what it was a decade ago. Companies like TCS and Cognizant have adapted quickly to changing market scenarios. Post 2008 market meltdown many companies thought that the changed condition is just like a wind of the storm which would subside soon and thought that business would pick as usual as soon as the sweet weather returns. Those who failed to adapt had to reconcile with the losses and failures and only those who took steps at the right time were saved. Infosys seems to be among those companies who thought on the former lines. When companies which rivalled Infosys cut costs and started to innovate to rebuild their portfolios and rethink their strategies, Infosys seemed to be content with its business model and merely thought that market changes are only temporary. Much has changed now. Infosys grew at just over 3% in 2012 compared to around 20% growth it used to deliver in its heydays. For the current fiscal year (2012-13), Infosys forecasts 6% to 10% revenue growth whereas The National Association of Software and Services Companies forecasts overall Indian IT industry revenue to increase by an average 12%-14%.

The board recalled Narayana Murthy to head the company after he had superannuated in 2011. Although return of former CEO’s/founders is not unknown in many multinational companies yet it’s a novel concept in India. This may be attributed to the fact that founders never retire and even when they do they pass on their legacy to their legal heirs. The market conditions were different when Murthy lead the company and they are very different now. IT sector is so dynamic that if you don’t adapt every single day to the market, chances are that you may be left behind in the race. Many believe that Murthy’s comeback may not matter much if he does not change the principles and highly centralised decision making on which the company relies today. Speculations will always be made and the best one can do it to listen to all and see the results on the ground because at the end of the day the only thing that matters for shareholders are the results.

On Narayana Murthy’s comeback two important comeback stories come to my mind which I would like to share with you.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO left the company in 1987 and stayed out for ten long years. When Jobs returned he proclaimed that “The Company took a nap “for a decade. Jobs did not set out to make Apple the wealthiest company but as he himself said, “Our goal has always been to make the best products”. Today Apple is amongst the most valuable technology firms on the globe. Jobs invented a culture of innovation in Apple which helped it make the best products that others only emulated.

The other story is of Starbucks. . In 1987, when Howard Schultz took over Starbucks, the company had 11 stores and 100 employees. Today the company has more than $13 billion in annual revenue and 21 thousand stores across 62 countries. More than 150,000 people now work for Starbucks. When in 2000 Schultz stepped away from his operational role as CEO and took on the role of Chairman, Starbucks experienced a challenge very similar to Apple’s. It began to concentrate on growth at the cost of customer experience and lost its sheen. In 2008, Starbucks profits slipped more than 50 percent from the previous year. The market signalled its concern, valuing Starbucks at less than $9 per share, down from its high of nearly $40 per share in 2006. It was only when Schultz returned to his original role did the company return to its roots. He shut down 7,100 stores for a day of company-wide barista training. Customers saw a note on the door which said "We are taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That's why we're dedicating ourselves to honing our craft." Starbucks posted its best financial performance in nearly 40 years after Schultz returned. While revenue was constrained by the recession between 2008 and 2010, during that time profits tripled and share value quadrupled.

Much needs to be seen about how Narayana Murthy could reshape the company. There are stories about those who came back and lost the battle as well like the return of Michel Dell.