Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bihar assembly polls, 2010

Nitish Kumar's landslide victory in the Bihar polls comes in the wake of a committed performance in his previous term as Chief Minister. That the people reposed their faith and hope a second time is an acknowledgment of the processes that his government has put in place - working for making the state power sufficient, developing anti-corruption laws, doing away with caste, attracting newer & safer investments, etc. Women empowerment and education has been another big factor - girls have been provided with bicycles to reach schools !
Such instances of leaders winning successive elections are not uncommon though. The huge margin of 206 out of 243 seats kind of mirrors the achievements of the Left Front in West Bengal in 2006, when it garnered 235 out of 294 seats. Such victories often the ride the wave of people's hope for better governance and development. But, as it has turned out for the CPM, since then they have lost the 2008 rural polls, the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the KMC elections earlier this year. Nitish Kumar should do well to learn from Bengal, how people's hopes from a leader can turn to anger and frustration if promises are not delivered.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government started well in 2006, with large investment and capital being attracted. Investors responded well. IT zones, chemical hubs, steel plants, car factories, etc. were planned. But subsequently, the government somehow seemed to falter and failed to deliver on most of the promises of development. That Mamata Banerjee opposed several measures is no excuse - she only did what she has done earlier too ! Also, inability to keep the party away from the government administration has played a major role in the reversal of fortunes. Nitish Kumar, however, has so far been quick to admit that the margin of victory places on him a great responsibility. In his own words, the victory is for the people; what he has got is a very tough job.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wildlife tourism

Does tourism help or hinder the increase and protection of wildlife? This has become an issue of considerable debate in recent times, particularly after reports of animals in sanctuaries and national parks falling prey to tourist vehicles. The most recent incident is that of a tigress being found dead in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, after hit by one of the many tourist vehicles that visit the area; the cause of death was later ascertained to be liver rupture.

While it would be simplistic to suggest that blocking tourists will help wildlife thrive, those opposed to such a ban argue that the move will reduce the income of those living in fringe areas, making them easy associates in the poaching network. Plus, the revenue generated from tourism is channeled into conservation efforts. The dwindling income of forest authorities could actually leave corrupt staff to have a field day!

In India, liberating the jungles from any form of human presence is a complicated issue. Indigenous, tribal people have co-existed peacefully with the forest and its animals. With this in mind, conservation efforts can be based on an inclusive model, utilizing the skills and traditional knowledge of the local people, with an aim to reduce man-animal conflict. Tourist inflow into core areas should be regulated, while limiting the visits and making them more expensive can also be looked into.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The city

I was returning home from Dalhousie, feeling quite jaded. The day at office had been taxing, so it didn't help matters when we had to wait in a long queue for a bus to arrive at the stand. Even the metro train services had been disturbed due to some reason. The over-crowded bus, where I thankfully managed a seat, snailed its way through the evening traffic, stopping now and then at the frequent signals. Some of my fellow riders were shifting restlessly, as was I in my seat, while others were simply too tired. Several people started a talk on how their city had fallen behind, while others had progressed - traffic jams, pollution, politics and mismanagement, etc. etc. I didn't like it at all - I realized how, for many years now, Calcutta has inspired little but self-loathing among its own inhabitants.

It is a very dismal state of affairs for a city when its own residents consider it a shame to live there! Calcutta, in recent times, has come to represent all that is wrong in modern metropolitan life. The quality of the city's air, the filth on the roads, the lawlessness of traffic and the huge strain on the city's infrastructure by the high population density (almost 7 times that of London!!!) has made healthy and dignified civic life almost impossible to lead.

While financial resources, or the lack of it, may sometimes hinder change and development, in Calcutta's case, it is more of a lack of vision for renewal and the lack of a work culture to bring about qualitative change. Councilors here incorporate a political approach to civic management - their energies are spent mainly on scoring political points over their rivals!

Recently, much has been publicized about transforming Calcutta into London. Whether our politicians can make good their words remains to be seen! London has its problems too - busy, dirty with litter in areas, traffic jams, pockets of deprivation, crime, etc. Yet, politicians there aspire to bring out the best - helping its companies to grow, its communities to thrive, and its people to prosper. To reduce vehicular air pollution, there is even a congestion charge of 8 pounds for cars entering the city centre during the day. One just cannot imagine Calcuttans readily agreeing to pay Rs. 500 to do the same!

Drastically big measures are necessary for Calcutta's renewal - tackling air pollution, making the city more investment-friendly for international business, modernization of heritage buildings, beautification of open spaces and green patches, doing away with bandhs, vast improvement of transport services, incorporation of a better civic sense, and above all, good leadership to look after the needs of the common man. Involving experts in urban planning and management are more useful strategies than mindless populism!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Minutes to midnight

Only a few more minutes to go before 2009 becomes a thing of the past and 2010 arrives with its fresh challenges and resolutions. The ubiquitous merrymaking all round to usher in the new year has really gained momentum in recent times; places like Park Street in Calcutta get flooded with people, flocking together in restaurants and discos for one big hurrah, dancing and celebrating into the night to welcome the new year. Even as I write this, the sounds of crackers and enjoyment can be heard from afar; infectious as they are, they egg on even the most reluctant and reclusive person to indulge in some sort of festivity in his/her own beautiful way. I am not much of a party-goer; I watched '3 idiots' today with family, and had a nice dinner at home. For me, every passing year has its own value, for it makes me richer in terms of experience and maturity, and helps me evolve into a better person; 2009 was no exception. It was quite rewarding in its own way - many good moments to cherish; I was in good health and good spirits throughout the year, and my academic performances were satisfactory too. I aspire to continue with this in 2010, staying physically and mentally fit, and focused on the many important tasks that lie ahead. Personally, 2010 is as important a year as it could be. By the end of this year, I should have appeared in GRE, fully prepared for GATE to be held in Feb. 2011, completed 7 semesters of my BME course, and most importantly, managed a decent, well-paying job !

Here's wishing everybody a very happy and prosperous new year 2010 ! :)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Copenhagen affairs

The grand Copenhagen conference on climate change of 15000 delegates from 192 countries for two weeks is a sign of a rare sense of urgency and suggests an overwhelming consensus on the imminent dangers facing a steadily polluting world. The effects of climate change, as we all know, are universal - the tsunamis, cyclones, floods and droughts are all portents of things to come; investing in climate control is therefore very essential.

Global mandates and agreements have been in place for a long time now. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 to arrest the rate of global warming by reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Another such mandate is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which recognizes that the largest share of global emissions have originated in the industrialized countries. According to these agreements, developed countries have an obligation to progressively reduce their emissions, as well as to contribute financial resources and transfer technology to the developed countries to compensate for the incremental costs of moderating their rising emissions.

These have, however, been met with scorn from many developed countries, like Australia, which refrained from signing the Protocol for a long time, or the US, which is yet to ratify it. Reality is that, since 1997, emissions in developed countries have, in fact, continued to increase, and commitments made by these nations have fallen woefully short of the required level. While there has been unanimous agreement on cutting emissions, the bone of contention is over who is to do how much and in return for what. Instead of implementing their commitments on the required scale, the developed countries are aiming to shift obligations to developing countries like China, India, Brazil, etc, whom they view as competitors in the global economy. Agreements like the Kyoto Protocol are under threat; developed countries are looking for a new pact to replace it.

At the conference, the US seem to have brokered a political deal with India and 3 other emerging economies over non-legally binding emission cuts, which has, however, been rejected by an overwhelming number of developing nations; the deal under which each country needs only to list its current pledges for emissions sparked a rebellion among vulnerable nations, like Vanuatu or Maldives. India, like most other emerging economies, has pledged to act, but not without adequate incentives(economic aid, etc); India has indicated that it is ready to discuss international scrutiny of its domestic actions to curb greenhouse emissions. Both India and China have been under pressure from the US and the European Union to allow monitoring review and verification (MRV) on all emission-curbing actions; India, though, has consistently asserted that it would open only foreign finance supported emission-curbing actions to international scrutiny. Other important issues like the Kyoto Protocol and long-term co-operation also need sorting out.

While agreeing to work with other nations to help create a fund to deal with climate change, the US has also indicated that unless China and India opened themselves to international monitoring of their emission curbing actions, no US financial deal would be possible. What emerged finally was the Copenhagen Accord - not a legally-binding document providing clear and time-bound targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The procedure that led to the Accord was initiated by President Obama of the US and China's Wen Jiabao, and was subsequently agreed upon by India, Brazil and South Africa. Several other industrialized and developing countries joined in, some grudgingly.

The poorest nations have objected to being left out of the critical negotiations; several of them, threatened by rise in sea-levels, want industrialized countries to take on deeper emissions reductions, while several European countries are unhappy that the US and China are not part of the Kyoto Protocol, and expressed their disappointment about the Accord openly.

Though the Copenhagen Conference has failed to arrive at a consensus, it may still be the starting point for future commitments. Results of international negotiations are not always obtained by the level of urgency; agreement has to be adopted by consensus, and not by majority, something China, for instance, has used to raise objection and stop the entire negotiation process on several occasions. Besides, world leaders are governed by their respective national mandates and related interests, which also acts as a vital gap in the capability of the system. President Obama has already received much credit for his role in the negotiation process; obviously, his may either be a genuine commitment to protecting the earth or an attempt to enlarge his own political image as a green leader. NGO's have blamed world leaders for failing in Copenhagen, while the common man is unsure, whether to celebrate the essential beginning of a new global agreement or express anguish over an unproductive conference. We hope to see a legally-binding agreement in Mexico next year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The last two days have been couple of the most memorable days of my life so far. I had been selected for participation in the Short-Term Course on Mechanics over Micro and Nano scale (STCMMN) 2009, organized at the Bengal Engineering & Science University(BESU) Shibpur on Dec. 21 and 22, 2009. It was time well spent, in the enlightened company of a galaxy of reputed professors and eminent personalities in the field of science & technology from well-known institutes.

Some of my readers might be interested in knowing what the programme is all about. Well, the idea of STCMMN was conceived by Prof. Suman Chakraborty of IIT Kharagpur, who is also a member of the Indo-US forum for research excellence in fabrionics. This particular forum came into being in Kanpur a few years back to facilitate collaboration between India and the USA in the fabrication of new technologies in microfluidics. The Indo-US forum organises the STCMMN every year in India; the 2009 venue being BESU Shibpur.

The subject of microfluidics is a relatively modern one, but its popularity has seen a considerable amount of work been done already, with further extensive research being taken up by several research groups in different parts of the world. The consequences will be far-reaching, with the possibilities of fabricating new techniques and advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, lab-on-a-chip systems, DNA hybridization, cancer treatment, intelligent drug administration, and many more!!!

Being an interdisciplinary subject, microfluidics encompasses various branches of science & technology - physics, chemistry, biology, fluid mechanics, chemical engineering, image processing, tribology, genetics, and what not ! Question naturally arises as to how much would an undergraduate student like myself be able to garner from lectures that presented topics quite advanced for his/her level. In the days leading up to the event, I was quite apprehensive regarding this. The success of the programme, therefore, would lie in the fact that while it could cater to the needs and queries of enthusiastic research scholars and faculty members, it could also present undergraduate students with an overview of the subject, underlying the basic principles and fundamentals, as also the scope and applications of the subject in modern science & technology at present and in the near future. The entire programme was thus carefully designed to kindle interest among budding researchers and get us acquainted with the subject.

While all the lectures were fascinating in their own ways, for me, personally, the high point was the one delivered by the keynote speaker, Dr. Howard Stone, a professor and researcher from Princeton University, USA. He interacted freely with students and teachers alike, and his presentation is certain to have generated a new wave of understanding and developing fresh techniques in microfluidics. The entire 2-day session was sprinkled with timely tea-breaks, while the sumptuous lunches and the conference dinner on 21st Dec. night were just awesome! A big thanks to the co-hosts, BESU Shibpur and IIT Kharagpur for all the warm hospitality; the event was a huge success, and the organizers deserve special praise.

On my part, I would definitely like to take part next time as well - hope IIT KGP or BESU hosts the event next time too, for, however selfish it may sound, it would certainly facilitate an easy journey !

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thoughtful in winter

December is a beautiful month. I like the winter season here; especially the afternoons when I can spend hours on end, planted on a chair on the roof, eating oranges in the pleasant sunshine, or the cosy nights, cuddled up in the warmth of the quilt. In our younger days, we used to exchange Christmas cards and share cakes back at school, things I fondly recall at times. Another thing I miss these days is wearing the blazer to school; how I used to dress up smart and handsome! I always abhor getting up early on winter mornings, and now that the exams are over, I can sleep for longer periods of time.

Exams always arouse a mixed bag of feelings in me. It's true there are extra efforts put in, reduced recreations, the tension of purpose, yet the feeling that I have the luxury of suspending all other jobs and worries apart from studying somehow manages to allay the butterflies in my tummy that exams usually tend to give rise to. When I was young, I used to faithfully abide by the restraints that used to be placed on my actions during exam-time- "not much TV, not many cartoons; finish your exams well, then you can do as you like...don't play for long;what if you get hurt? " !! Years later, I haven't changed much, except that I have learnt to focus better and my resolve has grown stronger.

Now idling away on a lazy afternoon in the post-exam holidays, this innate resolve tells me that my challenges are far from over. Having reached the business end of my graduation course, fresh tasks await, and it is their successful completion that will eventually shape my academic and professional career. Now is the time, not to drop anchor, but to continue sailing in the proper direction. The mind and body need rest though, and some nice relaxing time at home is the perfect way to prepare a plan of action.

Winter season in college life hasn't been short on fun so far. I have wonderful memories of two college winters behind me...four very beautiful months. The cricket matches with my fellowmates are a standout- having scored four consecutive ducks in my first year, I plan to score a few runs this season :)