The DAME Was Late

Swami A Aiyar’s latest column is about how the messes in the Commonwealth Games are the ones the government has made, while the few successes involved are the ones the private sector are involved in. This is a sentiment that I generally agree with, but it commits one key error when it talks about how the Airport Express line opening late is an example of government failure.

Actually, the public sector DMRC completed almost all its work within the hard deadline of the Games opening ceremony. Though they did miss their own deadlines; and the violet line still isn’t operating on the last few stations. The Airport Express line however was a private sector responsibility – it’s being operated by Reliance Infra (Anilbhai, that is). The DMRC was supposed to do the civil engineering, and R Infra (whose website’s core infrastructure page says it’s under construction – tee hee) didn’t do the electrical work and testing on time. To be fair, the DMRC has an interest in putting the blame on Reliance – they get to charge it a penalty.

The Swaminomics column also mentions Reliance’s putting up the world’s biggest refinery in record time as an example of private sector excellence; so the Reliance failure this time around is kind of piquant. The difference between the two situations could be explained by:

  • Dhirubhai was betting the farm with the Jamnagar refinery, and this added a little bit of desperation. The Airport Express Link is nowhere as important or as much of a flagship project; so management was not quite so obsessive about getting things done ahead of schedule.
  • Dhirubhai had it in him, while Anilbhai is a wanker. This is my favourite explanation, but then I’m biased. It is an explanation that is shared, though – some years ago I read either in Business Standard or Business World a deliciously snarky editorial that when talking about Anil Ambani’s attempt to set up ultra-mega power plants in UP, talked about how only an idiot would want to sell power to the bankrupt Uttar Pradesh electrical utilities. Sadly, I’ve lost the link.
  • Or to be very cynical, since this is a public-private partnership project, Reliance Infra presumably ends up making money no matter how late they are.

That last point could work the other way around too, though. Maybe Reliance Infra isn’t actually that late, and the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety is refusing to give the clearance to extort a bribe out of Anilbhai.

The exasperating thing is that ever since the news about the Airport link not opening on time came out, there’s been a news blackout on what is going on. There was that one Business Standard article I linked above on the penalty, and nothing since then. Not even news about when the line will open. So we can’t actually know what is going on, and who actually fucked up. What sadness.

On a more personal note, I wish there was at least some information on where the airport station actually is. At present, DIAL hasn’t got the Terminal 3 parking completely functional; so being picked up at the new terminal is a nightmare. If the metro station is right inside T3, though, it would mean I could come to Delhi, catch the metro to Dhaula Kuan, and get picked up from there. That would be awesome. Of course, this would also require domestic operations to start at Terminal 3. They haven’t, and this time this is because of fuckups from both the private and public sector – the IT systems didn’t work back in July, but now the bottlenecks are the entirely government owned and run Delhi Transco and Delhi Jal Board.

Oh, and for a very well written piece on how the vast majority of fuckups are governmental, not private sector, here’s Salil Tripathi in WSJ.

Notes From a Delhi Weekend

Or, too long for tweets, too short for individual posts. This is an Amul Chocolate blogpost. Or perhaps Goldilocks. Whatever.

  • To my great sadness, I fell sick on Saturday, and though my family had tickets to the athletics events at the Commonwealth Games, I wasn’t able to attend. I’m not sure when India’s hockey semifinal is, but between leaving tomorrow afternoon, and the immense difficulty in getting tickets, I think I won’t be able to attend that either. Such is life.
  • The innermost lane on all roads to Games venues have been reserved for vehicles with Commonwealth Games stickers. I am astonished for two reasons – first, that Delhi’s drivers are actually obeying this rule for the most part; and second, that there are so few vehicles with stickers. Since this is Delhi, I would have expected anybody with even a tenuous connection to anybody in government to have stickers. This is not the case. Astounding.
  • My home is near the tennis stadium, and thus my neighbourhood has born the brunt of Commonwealth Games ‘beautification’. In the past year, our sidewalks have been ripped up and relaid thrice. The last time (in the beginning of August), this involved raising the sidewalk to a height of six inches above road level. All well and good, except this was also done across everyone’s gates, making it impossible for cars to move from the roads to the driveway. The next morning, the MCD Senior Engineer accepted bribes from everyone to build small ramps to facilitate entry and exit. Well played, I say.
  • That said, the new sidewalks and road berms are very nice indeed. They are lowered to road level at zebra crossings, the berms too are interrupted to make an island at said zebra crossings. And when I walked from Safdarjung Enclave to Green Park, the new sidewalks made the walk much better than it used to be. However, it is still not perfect, because six things keep fucking up what is otherwise an excellent sidewalk:
    • power transformers
    • garbage dumps
    • cars parked on the sidewalk
    • street vendors
    • security guard boxes
    • shops enroaching on the sidewalk
  • The last two categories – shops pushing their displays or stairs onto the sidewalk and security guards’ kiosks being placed on the sidewalk instead of inside the house are sheer bad civic sense on the part of private parties. The street vendors and cars parked on sidewalk are bad luck or incompetent planning – Safdarjung Enclave and Green Park were developed in the 1960s when few households had even a scooter, and nobody could have anticipated that every house would have two cars at least. The transformers and garbage dumps on the sidewalk, though, are inexcusable enroachments by the government itself on public property.
  • There is now a FabIndia outlet in Green Park. Delhi visits have therefore become even more expensive.
  • Green Park Market is becoming positively Chennaiesque in the density of pharmacists. It has at least five, in what can’t be more than a three kilometre stretch. I suspect this may be a result of the Adyar Ananda Bhavan triggering a slow metamorphasis. If it continues, than in twenty years Green Park will no longer have Punjabis but elderly TamBrahm thathas taking morning walks in GAP shorts and white Converse sneakers. Whatay.
  • I also finally got to travel on one of the new low floor buses with the bright green paint jobs. If you can get a seat, they’re definitely more comfortable than the old rattletraps. If you can’t, there’s not much difference. The getting on and off on the low floor is a small delight though.
  • I have more to say on the subject of buses, but that is a blogpost (or possibly an oped) in itself.
  • The Hindi signage for the Green Park metro station reads ग्रीन पॉर्क and not ग्रीन पार्क. That is, Green Paurk. The signs inside the coaches are fine though. I am mystified.
  • The Airport Express Metro Line is not ready yet. Oh sigh. But more on that in a separate post.
  • The Metro coaches themselves are very nice, and the way they use LEDs in the route strip above the coach doors to show which station is coming next is very clever. They also have power points for laptop and mobile charging; though the coaches seem far too packed for anybody to use these properly.
  • Yes, the coaches are jampacked, even on the South Delhi stretch of the Yellow Line that people were afraid would be underutilised, because, hey, South Delhi snobs always take their cars. The Violet line was only jampacked upto JLN Stadium though – and that was presumably because people were going to watch the Games. But then again this was on a Sunday night – a weekday maybe more crowded.
  • There was a Wired article which said that the major attraction of public transport over driving yourself was that instead of focusing on the road, you could read, or play games on your smartphone, or tweet, or suchlike. This is true in general, but the Metro is so crowded that reading will require immense concentration and Zenergy. And the network in the underground parts of the Metro is good, but not good enough.
  • In fact, the Metro is so crowded that it leads to practically Bombayesque levels of overhearing other people. On the violet line, I ended up overhearing a girl who was terribly unclear on the concept of interchanges. This was in addition to the person who asked me at Central Secretariat station if the train we were getting into was going to… Central Secretariat. He believed that the sign saying Central Secretariat was actually denoting the train’s destination.
  • I was tempted to be snarky about people who cannot understand how the Metro works, but after reading this Slate article on signage, I am more sympathetic. It is actually an important question – how do you explain the concept of an interchange to somebody whose learning style does not mesh well with maps?
  • Also on the violet line was a small child who was surprised that the train suddenly emerged from the underground tunnel and went on to a bridge. His mother explained to him that the Metro runs both under and above ground. He pondered this, and then nodded gravely.
  • The story of 4000 condoms being distributed at the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village and then the drains getting clogged with the condoms (insert cleaning your pipes joke here) is by now known to everyone. But all these foreigners keep having sex anyway. What I am more concerned about is – are the games also helping the local teenage volunteers get any action? They seem suspiciously cheerful. And if they are, how much does the bright red and white volunteer tracksuit contribute to this happy state of affairs? It is true that bright plumage helps birds attract mates, but in that case only the male is brightly coloured while the female is dowdy. But here, the male and female volunteers both have the same shiny tracksuit. This must be investigated.