Monday, March 29, 2010

Project to promote Net use in border areas -The Tribune

Chander Parkash
Tribune News Service

Fazilka, March 28
The Graduates Welfare Association, Fazilka, (GWAF) will set up the country's first of its kind "Open source cyber café" in the suburban locality — Nai Abadi — of this town under the name of "Cyber Abadi".

The project is likely to be launched on April 3 to promote the Internet usage in localities bordering Pakistan and make it accessible to each segment of society without financial barriers.

"The Internet usage is very low in the suburban areas of Fazilka due the non-availability of a cyber café within reach and no knowledge of the Internet," says Navdeep Asija, secretary (administration), GWAF.

Talking to TNS here today, Asija said initially one Internet centre within the premises of a school that was most accessible to people would be established. It would cater to the needs of residents of four areas — Dhingra Colony, Basti Chandora, Teachers' Colony and Nai Abadi. Due to its location in the Nai Abadi area, this centre had been named "Cyber Abadi".

"This will be a first of its kind Internet café in the country, where open source and free softwares will be used to encourage the use of open source software and also to discourage piracy. This centre has been established with technical inputs from SVIMTECH, PULPRIX and Thakral Info systems", said Rajneesh Kamra, in charge, Project Education, GWAF.

"Girl students, housewives and senior citizens shall be provided free Internet training at this centre. Free computer courses and other relevant IT awareness campaigns will also be organized. Depending upon response, more centres will be opened in various sub-urban localities of Fazilka", he added.

He said separate awareness campaigns had been launched to make citizens aware of this project and to motivate them to donate old keyboard, mouse, cabinet, mother board, CPU, UPS or monitors, which had become outdated and were of no use for them.

Kamra said after repair, the same would be installed at various sub-urban localities of this town.

"This will be a unique way to handle e-waste management", said Gautam Chaudhary, iIn charge IT Wing, GWAF.

The GWAF has already carved a niche for itself in the country after starting projects like Fazilka Eco Club (which included Dial a Rickshaw), 'Car-Free Zone', 'Sanjha Chulha, 'Anand Utsav' and Heritage Festival in this city.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cyber Abadi- a project to promote internet usage in sub-urban localities of border town Fazilka

  •  Country's first Open Source Cyber Café in Sub Urban Locality of Fazilka
  • Citizens to donate their used/old mouse, keyboard, CPU, cabinet, monitor UPS or desk
 In continuation with their mission, Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka is going to set up country's first of its kind 'Open Source Cyber Café" in the sub urban locality of Fazilka at Nai Abadi. The aim behind this project is to promote internet usage in the sub-urban localities of Fazilka city and make it accessible to each segment of society without financial barriers. At present 15% of the Fazilka urban population is net-connected but the internet penetration and usage is very less in the sub-urban areas of Fazilka due many reasons like socio-economic profile of the residents and non-availability of cyber café within area of their reach followed by internet literacy and users.
GWAF working in Fazilka for the past 5 years for a cause of Education, Employment, Environment and Energy have decided to takeup this task. Under this project initially one internet centre within the premises of Dost Model Middle School shall be established. This is the most accessible and central location near Gurudwara which will cater the need of FOUR colonies of Fazilka (Dhingra Coloney, Basti Chandora, Teachers Coloney and Nai Abadi). Due to its location in "Nai Abadi" area, this centre has been named "Cyber Abadi".
Girl students, housewives and senior citizens shall be provided free internet training at this centre. Free computer courses and other relevant IT awareness campaigns shall also be organized through "Cyber Abadi" Centre. "Depending upon the citizen's response, more centers shall be established in the various sub urban localities of Fazilka", said Dr Rajneesh Kamra, Incharge, Project Education, GWAF.
This will be first of its kind internet café in the country, where open source and freeware softwares shall be used to encourage the use of open source software and also to discourage the piracy. This Centre has been established with technical inputs from SVIMTECH, PULPRIX and Fazilka Cyber Buzz. Separate awareness campaigns and requests shall be made to the citizens for donating their old keyboard, mouse, cabinet, mother board, CPU, UPS or monitors which are outdated and not of any use for the cyber centers. After the minor up gradation or repair these unit shall be installed at various sub-urban localities of Fazilka. "This would be an alternative to better e-waste management" said Gautam Choudhary, Incharge IT Wing, GWAF.
The centre shall be inaugurated on 3rd April during 4th Annual Fazilka Heritage Festival 2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heritage festival to begin in Fazilka from April 1

Praful C. Nagpal

Fazilka, March 19, 2010
The Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF) has decided to organise Fazilka Heritage Festival-2010 from April 1-4 at the local Partap Bagh.

The festival would be organised in association with the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board. Saving water and promoting rich heritage of this historical town is the theme of the heritage festival. During the festival, the oldest building of Fazilka, Raghuwar Bhavan and historic clock tower would be decorated.

General secretary (GWAF) Navdeep Asija said that the first day of the festival would be dedicated to those elderly people who rendered extra ordinary services to the town. The second night of the festival would be named 'Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan' in which rich tributes would be paid to the martyrs through musical programmes and skit. On April 3, the women who brought laurels to the town would be honoured while the dynamic youths of the town would be honoured on April 4.

"We hope that with this initiative, more people would come forward to protect their environment and heritage as part of their moral duty," said Dr Bhupinder Singh and Umesh Chander Kukkar, patron and president, respectively of the Association.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fazilka: Come Without Your Car-Carbuster

Fazilka: Come Without Your Car

fazilkaFazilka is a small, 162 year old town on the India-Pakistan border. Its unkempt, garbage-strewn congested streets with small, bustling shops are nothing out of the ordinary. But this town of about 68,000 people – and about 45,000 vehicles on its narrow lanes – has removed one source of congestion: cars.
On November 21, 2008, the city made history, when it became the first in the region to implement the "Carfree City" concept. The main market area around the Ghanta Ghar (Clock Tower) was declared a "Car Free Zone" – the entry of cars was banned between 10am, when most shops open, and 7pm, when the shopkeepers head home – despite initial opposition, especially from shopkeepers who feared losing clientele. Only two wheelers (bikes and motorbikes) are allowed, but the town plans to remove them gradually.
Fazilka continues to build on its carfree success, by placing special emphasis on traffic calming devices and installing permanent barriers in a few locations, in addition to the introduction of other alternative ways of getting from A to B (such as "Ecocabs" or dial-a-rickshaw service), all helping to make the city centre more sustainable, pedestrian and cycle friendly.
Fazilka Finding its Feet
Fazilka's unusual story began with a festival in 2006. In the last week of March that year, a citizens' group of about 250 people, called the Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF) organised the Fazilka Heritage Festival. A stretch of 300 metres on the Sadhu Ashram Road, not far from the current carfree zone, was converted into a pedestrian street. GWAF used this event as a case study to conduct an experiment to keep the same city central zone as a carfree zone. By remaining free of cars, the study revealed not just an improvement in the quality of social life, but also in the law and order, environment through less air pollution from car emissions, economy and road safety of the residents.
"The festival was a success," said Bhupender Singh, a retired professor of mechanical engineering and an architect of this project. "Without cars, there was a lot of road space for everybody. There were stalls selling everything from food to handicrafts and people danced on the streets without the fear of being run over," he added.
The festival was held again next year, though at a different location: the Salem Shah East West Corridor, which crosses the Ghanta Ghar. This time, the carfree zone extended about a kilometre. Again, the festival was well received by residents and set the tone for a dedicated carfree zone.
"It is only logical that first the most congested area of the town should be freed from traffic," said Navdeep Asija, project manager of the Punjab Roads and Bridges Development Board. Asija had been studying the town's traffic problems since 2006. "Fazilka is approximately 10.29 sq km big with each side spanning just a little over three kilometres. It can easily become a pedestrian city, with motorised vehicles used primarily for transportation of goods."
Market Matters
Festivals can change cities. However, these festivals alone did not ensure a permanent carfree zone. GWAF was trying to convince the municipality to designate a carfree zone. This did not come up without initial resistance. Initially, shopkeepers were not too keen on the idea as they thought it would drive away customers, said Asija, adding that the municipality feared protests.
The stalemate continued until September 2008, when Anil Sethi took over as the president of the municipal committee. A trader himself, Sethi heard GWAF's idea of a carfree zone, became interested, and set about implementing it. He considered such a scheme beneficial to Ghanta Ghar shopkeepers because it would decongest the area. Sethi's influence among the traders helped him convince them, through several meetings with traders and their associations in order to create consensus.
The Ghanta Ghar market has three roads jutting out of it in three different directions. The lane encircling the Ghanta Ghar is about 200 metres long and is now free of traffic, as the three roads were barricaded. A further 800 metres of the road connecting the Hotel Bazar in the north to Wool Bazar in the south has been blocked. Another 400 metres of road in the east has been barricaded, and a stretch of road in the west has been blocked by a temple.
Once apprehensive, the shopkeepers in the Ghanta Ghar market are now happy with the ban. There is no official monitoring of pollution in Fazilka, but shopkeepers claim the air is cleaner. "I used to keep a jug of water for my staff and customers. Before the car ban, I had to change the water every hour as it would turn dirty," said Vicky Chabbra, owner of a local utensils shop. "Now, it remains in the jug for an entire day and still looks clear." Chabbra said sales in his shop have increased 25 per cent since the ban.
Roshan Lal, who sells chaat (North Indian street food) a few metres away from the utensils shop. "People have more time now. They come and enjoy their food without being hassled about whether their cars are blocking the road," Lal said. Vikram Ahuja, another local shopkeeper, wants the concept replicated in other parts of the town. "Fazilka is small; one can easily walk from one corner to the other," he said.
The carfree zone has spurred many an ambitious dream. There are talks of converting the Ghanta Ghar market into a pedestrian mall, with brightly coloured shops selling everything from cotton handkerchiefs to LCD televisions.
Rickshaw Resurgence
GWAF went further than simply introducing a cafree zone. Recognising peoples need to be on the move and get somewhere fast, a popular dial-a-rickshaw service was initiated. The rickshaws, called "Ecocabs", were introduced as a new form of public transportation using intelligent transport tools, arriving at residents doorsteps following a phone call. The city has been divided into five zones and each has a different phone number.
"We didn't want the rickshaws to be considered a poor man's transport, therefore the name Ecocabs," explains Navneet Asija, a Delhi graduate. Initially, the scheme got a lukewarm response, but picked up when residents understood the utility. It's not just residents, even the rickshaw-pullers have benefited from fixed rates, which means their earnings have gone up.
Profits Following a Car Ban
Mayor Sethi plans to free most of the city of cars eventually. Sethi sees the carfree zone as a way to promote non-motorised transport and to build connections between the wealthy parts of town and the poorer parts. "The aim to create a car free zone and also to promote non-motorised modes of transport within the city is to build bridges between the prosperous sections of society in the city and the less well-off," said Sethi. He opposes the construction of new overpasses within the city, which is a courageous position in Indian politics today.
Fazilka has seen a change not just in the improved quality of social life and road safety for its people, but also in improved law and order, local economy and environment from reduced air pollution.
The successful projects making the city centre carfree have been beneficial in many ways, not simply by decongesting the market. With the carfree zone and the Ecocab initiative, Fazilka is perhaps the only Indian town with such simple yet effective schemes. And it is clear that with public transportation alternatives such as these, along with the introduction of carfree spaces, communities benefit from feeling safer and healthier, when free from cars. Fazilka can proudly show a new way to the rest of the country.
This is an updated and edited version of Fazilka: Come without your Car by Arnab Pratim Dutta available

Thursday, March 18, 2010

1st Fazilka Indo Farm Heritage Sports Festival

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sports Club (Regd) Fazilka

1st Fazilka Indo Farm Heritage Sports Festival
ਪਹਿਲਾ ਫਾਜ਼ਿਲਕਾ ਦਾ ਇੰਡੋ-ਫਾਰਮ ਵਿਰਾਸਤੀ ਖੇਡ ਮੇਲਾ 
पहला फाजिल्का का इंडो फार्म विरासती खेल महोत्सव 
19-20 March 2010
Venue : M.R. Govt. College Stadium, Fazilka

Heritage and transport: And leadership by example?


"We'll  keep our cars thank you very much. And we shall park them where we want. And for as long as we choose to. If heritage is a barrier, let's move it out of the way. And, by the way, what moral authority do you have to tell me otherwise?" 

- Simon Bishop, Delhi, India
Climate Change is so serious explain the policy wonks that it is like a war. Did Gandhi then delay the salt march due to the searing heat of Gujarat? It took place when the Gujarat cauldron was heating, finishing in April 1930. Did Gandhi continue to take His Majesty's coin as a lawyer as 'the system was made to support the Empire and until it changed. We wouldn't? This is a key point. Until policymakers start to take a lead and practice what they preach who will believe the product they are trying to sell?

"The problems of excessive traffic are crowding in upon us with desperate urgency. Unless steps are taken, the motor vehicle will defeat its own utility and bring about a disastrous degradation of the surroundings for living... Either the utility of vehicles in town will decline rapidly, or the pleasantness and safety of surroundings will deteriorate catastrophically – in all probability both will happen."
The prophetic words of Colin Buchanan in the UK 1963 "Traffic in Towns" Report are now ringing in the ears of Indian towns and cities. Drivers include; a high and fast growing urban population, rising levels of prosperity, inadequate public transit, sprawling cityscapes, and easy lines of credit. All are factors behind a growing appetite to raise status through motorcycles and cars and buy into the suburban dream waiting just round the corner. More on that at the end of the article!

The impact of growing traffic is being felt specifically on built heritage in a number of important ways. The historic centres of Indian towns and cities were not designed for motorized traffic. Streets were meant to be narrow to offer shade for all manner of pedestrian and animal traffic to go about their business without struggling too much against the extreme heat of summer. Pick up any Lonely Planet to India and you'll find testimony that such a heritage fabric lends itself for the tourist to enjoy on foot or by bicycle. Sadly exhortations to 'explore the old city by cycle rickshaw' or 'hire a bicycle to enjoy the outskirts of the town' are fading away as pollution, noise and danger render the option unpalatable.

A perfect case in point is the system of nallahs or streams running through the city of Delhi. Built by the Tughluqs to supply the city with water nearly 1,000 years ago these nallahs or streams could be cleaned up to act as 'greenway' walking and cycling corridors. Just one nallah in South Delhi, for instance would link five of the seven ancient cities of Delhi, providing unrivalled access for tourists, school children, families to get in touch with the proud history of this city. Led by hungry contractors, the picture below shows what is happening in practice.

Defence Colony Nallah 'Before and After', South Delhi

Not only is tourist revenue under threat, but local people are increasingly hooted at and bullied in their own backyard by motorized transport. Parks and gardens are difficult for children and the elderly to get to. Street play is hazardous between parked vehicles and erratically moving traffic. What visual and aural intrusion is doing to deter tourists from 'Incredible India' is one thing, but the associated levels of pollution are also damaging building fabric. In larger towns with roads over 30 metres in width, high levels of traffic are also decreasing the economic viability of heritage buildings as they become dangerous and difficult to access – witness Sabz Burj on a traffic island in Delhi.

Traffic renders Sabz Burj inaccessible in Delhi

On a wider level whole communities living in historic enclaves are severed by wide arterial roads cutting through their heart or surrounding them from outside.
At a policy level there is a yawning gap between land use and transport planning. Delhi, the capital city of India still has no Transport Plan.

A series of exhortations in the Master Plan to build cycle tracks on all arterial roads are rarely observed and, without any network plan, those that are remain ineffective. In the absence of any multimodal plan to reduce journey distance through the application of compact, mixed land use strategies, large numbers of people are moving to greenfield apartments that can only be reached by motorbike or car. The newly opened Gurgaon Expressway from Delhi, saturated with traffic years ahead of schedule, is the result.

There are isolated examples of towns that have challenged the 'inevitable' threat to their heritage caused by unbridled suburbanization and motorization but only one has done this in a systematic way; linking environmental, social and economic objectives. Located near the India-Pakistan border, the Punjabi town of Fazilka removes cars from the city centre during daylight hours.

The market area was the first part of town to be made car-free. Four-wheeled vehicles are not allowed to drive in this zone during 12 daytime hours, although even then it has not yet been possible to prohibit motorcycles successfully. The Municipal Council President Anil Sethi places an emphasis on improving local transport options rather than in encouraging long distance travel. Sethi eschews overpasses and flyovers in favor of initiatives like the 'Eco-cab' scheme where residents can use their mobile phones to dial a cycle rickshaw to take them door-to-door. The local tea seller or shopkeeper keeps part of the telephone fee for acting as the cab controller, directing rickshaws to their customers.

Car-Free Fazilka ©Down to Earth Magazine

Other examples of towns applying the 'car free' concept, although not in a holistic way like Fazilka include Nainital, Shimla and Darjeeling where cars are banned during retail hours on the main shopping streets. The concept is an in emergency response to the huge influx of tourist traffic during the summer months. This, combined with steep hillside topography constrains the movement and storage of vehicles. In Nainital a system of Eco-Cabs operates where users obtain a ticket from a booth at either end of the main street and then travel from one side of the town to the other. Challenging gradients preclude cycles or cycle rickshaws in Shimla and Darjeeling but allow for pedestrians to enjoy unfettered access to the main shopping streets.

In a sign of things to come, the Carter Road in the Bandra area of Mumbai organized its first car-free day on 21st February 2010. Forty thousand local residents and Bollywood celebrities including Priya Dutt pledged to take part whilst the area was closed off to traffic. The aim of the event was to focus people's attention on the impact of vehicles on pollution and in inhibiting healthy living and exposure to the great outdoors.

Car-free Carter Road, Mumbai, 21st February 2010

Perhaps the key point to make, however, is that cars are aspirational. The policy wonks who rail against the Tata Nano would be the first to scream and cry if they were asked to make sacrifices by walking or cycling to the office or using public transit. Most have chauffer driven, A/C vehicles clogging up the roads on the way to their next conference.

Go to the Habitat Centre in Delhi by cycle, home to a host of environmental and UN organizations and you will be politely waved through the service entrance and forced to face oncoming car traffic. Go to a conference by cycle and you will be waved away. When these leaders asked if they walk or cycle the inevitable answer is 'No, it's too dangerous.', 'When the roads are planned for cycles I will use one', ' It's too hot for 9 months of the year in India to cycle'. The answer is always why I can't do something, not why I can. In fact it's perfectly possible to cycle in the Indian Plains early in the morning or late in the day when most people commute even during the hotter months with a folded shirt in your bag, a hat on your head and a T-Shirt on your back.

# # #

About the author: 

- Simon Bishop is working as a transport and environment consultant in Delhi, where he lives with his family. In India he has worked on bus and cycling projects like the Delhi BRTand helped set up the Global Transport Knowledge Partnership. Before coming to India two years ago Simon worked in London as a planner on demand management and travel marketing schemes, receiving an award from the Mayor for "London's Most Innovative Transport Project". He authored 'The Sky's the Limit' - Policies for Sustainable Aviation' while working as a policy adviser in the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

जनहित: अब से नहीं बिकेगा पॉलिथीन

Matrix News
आखिर नगर की सुन्दरता एवं वातावरण की स्वच्छता के लिए नगर के दुकानदारों ने पालीथीन को बंद कर उसके विकल्प को अपनाना शुरू कर दिया है। इसे नगर कौंसिल के प्रयासों की सफलता कहें, चाहे नगरवासियों का सहयोग, लेकिन कम से कम अब पॉलिथीन के लिफाफों से तो फाजिल्का का वातावरण दूषित नहीं होगा। होली के पावन पर्व पर यहां पॉलिथीन लिफाफा यूनियन ने पूर्ण रूप से इसका प्रयोग न करने का निर्णय लिया है। उक्त निर्णय का समाज सेवी संस्था ग्रेजूएट्स वेलफेयर एसोसिएशन ने भी स्वागत किया है।

बता दें कि नगर कौंसिल फाजिल्का ने करीब तीन माह पूर्व एक प्रस्ताव पारित कर नगर में पॉलिथीन के बिकने पर रोक लगा दी थी। इसके साथ ही कौंसिल ने पॉलिथीन के विकल्प डिस्पोजल मेटिरियल से बने लिफाफों को न सिर्फ बाजार में उतारा, बल्कि दुकानदारों को सैंपल के तौर पर निशुल्क वितरित भी किए। हालांकि इस निर्णय का शुरूआत में भारी विरोध हुआ। इसी निर्णय ने नगर में पालीथीन के लिफाफों का होलसेल का कार्य करने वालों को एकत्रित कर दिया था व विरोध स्वरूप यूनियन भी स्थापित कर दी गई। पॉलिथीन लिफाफा यूनियन ने पिछले दिनों यहां लगातार धरना भी दिया, लेकिन कौंसिल अपने रुख पर कायम रही। इस बीच कई बार कौंसिल व यूनियन में बातचीत हुई, विवाद और बढ़ गया। बीते दिनों फिर कौंसिल ने डी कमपोजल मेटिरियल से बने लिफाफे बाजार में उतारे। इसी के साथ ही कौंसिल ने फिर यूनियन के साथ बैठक कर उन्हें पालीथीन से होने वाले नुकसान के बारे में बताया तो यूनियन ने पालीथीन पर रोक को स्वीकार कर लिया। यूनियन के अध्यक्ष कृष्ण कुक्कड़, संदीप कुमार, रिषी भठेजा, अजय कुमार, विजय कुमार, विपन भटेजा व अन्यों ने कहा कि नगर की सुन्दरता एवं स्वच्छता को ध्यान में रखते हुए यह निर्णय लिया गया है। अब से डिस्पोजल मैटिरियल से बने लिफाफों की ही बिक्री की जाएगी।

सबको साथ लेकर चलेंगे: सेठी

अनिल सेठी ने कहा कि कौंसिल नगर की सुन्दरता व स्वच्छा के लिए वचनबद्ध है। इसके साथ ही वह किसी भी यूनियन अथवा दुकानदारों को साथ लेकर चलेगी। हर निर्णय में दुकानदारों की सहमती के बाद ही उसे लागू किया जाएगा। उन्होंने जहां एक तरफ यूनियन का धन्यवाद किया, वहीं आम लोगों से भी पालीथीन की जगह इस नये विकल्प को आजमाने की अपील की। उन्होंने कहा कि जल्द ही कौंसिल नगर की समाजसेवी संस्थाओं के साथ एक बैठक कर डिस्पोजल मेटिरियल से बने लिफाफों को अपनाने के लिये लोगों को जागरूक करने की अपील करेगी। उन्होंने कहा कि डिस्पोजल से बने लिफाफे कुछ समय बार गल जाते हैं और पर्यावरण को नुकसान नहीं पहुंचाते हैं

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fazilka Cycling Club-Let's Cycle for better tomorrow - A GWAF Initiative

Fazilka Cycling Club, A GWAF Initiative

फाजिल्का साइकिल क्लब 

Fazilka residents have already showed their concern and care for the environment through various mechanisms of their daily lifestyle. To take one step further, we are launching our "Fazilka Cycling Club", a GWAF Initiative. So next time, whenever you visit Fazilka; during your weekends FCC will take you for a long memorable cycle joy ride.... Cycling is one of the efficient, fast and non-polluting modes of transport and in Fazilka, cycling is part of our culture not a just a cause. Our many sweet childhood memories are associated with cycling….so, its time to celebrate cycling. Soon, we will announce the date of our first Cycling Picnic....gearup for our next ride...You are requested to Register for the same.

Dedicating one song of Punjabi Legend Gurdass Mann on Cycling to our Fazilka Cycling Club

Thursday, March 4, 2010

His next class act

His next class act

Shekhar Gupta Posted online: Saturday , May 30, 2009 at 2331 hrs
In his first innings as a politician, Dr Manmohan Singh liberated our economy. In his second, as prime minister, he brought about a paradigm shift in not only our foreign policy, but also our entire worldview. In each case, he persisted with change at great risk to his neck, and reputation. So what will be the change in his third stint in public office? Or, rather, what should he?

Our guess, and wish, is that he now does to our higher education what he did to our economy and foreign policy in 1991 and 2008, respectively. It is fashionable in India now to talk of our demographic dividend. By 2020, we will be probably the youngest nation in the world with an average age of 29. Our dependency ratio, the number of healthy breadwinners for each dependent — someone too old (above 65) or too young (below 15) to earn — is already near a healthy 1.8. By 2030, at 2.1, it will be nearly the highest in the world. (China's will have declined steeply to about 1.7 by then.) Unless our totally moribund system of higher, technical and vocational education is totally revolutionised, this dividend will become a curse. India would then end up having the largest population of angry, unemployable young lumpens in the history of mankind. Even a society as resilient as India will not survive that calamity. On the other hand, if he can now revolutionise our education, the same young India will be a qualified, productive, creative and joyful pride of the global community. If 1991 unleashed Indian entrepreneurship and 2008 liberated us from a six-decade fear of Westoxification, this is a real opportunity to take a crack at discrimination, deprivation, inequality and even at caste and communalism.

Just as the licence-quota raj created self-inflicted scarcities of telephones, scooters and cooking gas, our utterly authoritarian, cynical and intellectually bankrupt higher education policy has created humongous shortages. We all know the odds for a candidate to qualify for premier engineering, management and medical colleges. Those with means now pay their way to colleges in Australia, Singapore, Qatar, besides indeed the traditional "exporters" of education to India, the US and the UK. Various estimates put just the cost on Indian parents of educating their children abroad between $5 billion and $6 billion per year. This is an entirely one-way trade, as very few foreign students come to study in India, and some of those who wish to, like researchers, even Fulbright scholars, are given hell by our Orwellian (or you could coin an Indian equivalent, Arjunian, Murlimanoharian) HRD establishment. Where does it leave the poor who can't afford to buy their children seats overseas? Where does it leave Indian enterprise and industry — even the government, its armed forces, hospitals, PSUs — which can't find enough skilled manpower and therefore have to pay exaggerated wages, distorting all economics?

Yet, do advertise for a security guard on and see how many applications you get from MAs, MScs, even PhDs. These are young Indians who have invested the most valuable years of their lives collecting degrees but no knowledge, education but no skills. Unless this disaster is stemmed now, these numbers will multiply faster than you can imagine, and they will be angrier than you wish to imagine. But if you can fix it, the dividend you reap will be not merely demographic, but even economic and political.

While our army of the unemployable increases we suffer from crippling shortages of not just engineers, doctors and managers, but also of nurses, welders, electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters, teachers and of course social scientists. Engineering, management and medicine at least have their IITs, IIMs and AIIMS. What brand name can Indian social sciences and the liberal arts boast of? They, in fact, have a bigger problem than lack of resources: lack of intellectual freedom, diversity of thought and opinion. The few social science centres that we have, therefore, produce clones. Usually these are clones of professors steeped in the heady ideologies of the '70s incapable or unwilling to notice that the "revolution" has passed them by. JNU is a perfect example.

It is known that education liberates. But it also follows that better education, particularly greater access to higher education, creates a virtuous cycle of improved collective self-esteem, equality, ambition and satisfaction that dovetails so nicely in this new resurgent India that is choosing politics of aspiration over politics of grievance, and which will continue to get only younger for another 25 years. It is only because of increased opportunity that a paanwala's son now can get to IIT, or one modest coaching centre run by one motivated individual in Patna can send 70 Bihar kids to our topmost engineering colleges. And this opportunity has arisen when our IIT-JEE system now provides 8000 seats. This looks like a lot now, compared to just 2000-plus in 1988. But given the needs of our young people, and of our economy and industry, it is way too little. Compare this to UCLA (25,000 undergrad and 11,000 postgrad), MIT (4,172 undergrad, 6048 PG), Harvard (6,714 undergrad and 12,442 PG) and a total student strength of 11,250 at Yale. In comparison, our venerable JNU has 5000 and it is the only one of its kind in all of India, while there are 10 UCs (Universities of California).

This shortage, this criminal undersupply of quality education, is the most cruel atrocity on a society blessed with so much intellect, and such respect and longing for education. Dr Devi Shetty of Bangalore's Narayana Hrudayalaya points out to me that given the diabetes epidemic, India is now the kidney disease capital of the world. Yet, do you know how many nephrology MDs our medical colleges produce in a year? It is only 70. Neurology does worse, with 63, cardiology a little better with 88 and oncology, the specialisation to treat cancers, only 15. And we hope to earn foreign exchange from medical tourism! In each of these specialisations, India could absorb, and needs, at least 10 times as many per year. Can you imagine a country of 110 crores producing just 7332 MDs per year? America produces 16,000 and little UK 4200.

This undersupply of quality education at all levels is entirely self-inflicted, and unnecessary. Every year we see a scramble for private and even central schools admissions, court cases, madness of 90 percenters failing to get into even economics and English honours in our better colleges (actually just about 10 all over India). And the definition of "better" college here is where at least classes are held regularly since the UGC, a three-letter word from hell or Kim Il-Sung's North Korea, won't even let a college charge its pupils more if they were willing to pay, or pay its teachers more than the salaries it mandates. The result then is the phenomenon you see on your TV screen all day. The advertisement telling you that India's largest private university is Lovely Professional University in Punjab, of course with UGC certification. Now, why pick on a name, you might ask? The Americans have business schools named after Kellogg and, who knows, perhaps Mickey Mouse. But comparisons should stop about here.

This is what Manmohan Singh now has the opportunity, time and political space to change. He has made a good beginning by choosing Kapil Sibal, our first "modern" HRD minister in two decades. This is an issue Rahul Gandhi feels strongly about. There is no real opposition from the BJP which should be as embarrassed of the record of its Murli Manohar Joshi in HRD as the Congress should be of Arjun Singh's. So if 1991's near- bankruptcy created the justification for economic reforms, and a new intellectual-philosophical urge fuelled the nuclear deal and thereby a generational foreign policy shift, the new demographic reality and politics have both created the space for a revolution in education and HRD. On this one now, there are no excuses. No Dr Joshi, no Arjun Singh, no fake ideology, no Left.