Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gurgaon gone berserk

When it comes to new buildings Gurgaon, the pride of India Inc., has gone berserk. Berserk, in itself is not a bad thing, but berserk using proven to be unsound, financially, ecologically and carbon creating technologies, that even the developed world is eyeing askance is just plain "herd mentality". In my 8th floor high-rise flat, uninterrupted power is guaranteed. Actually its not uninterrupted- it comes back within a few seconds every time it goes off- ten times a day. How? At exorbitant cost from diesel fuelled generators. Gurgaon where basics like water, sewage, roads get scarcer every year, is sprouting malls and high-rises at a blistering pace. So when I walked into the spanking new T3 terminal at New Delhi airport, my heart did a tailspin. On the one hand it is nice to land in world class looking airport. On the other I wondered how they did it? Is it following my Gurgaon flat model?
The Director of Center for Science and Environment, Ms. Sunita Narain writing on the new T3 Terminal at New Delhi, in Times of India [19.11.2010] writes that the airport symbolises what we are doing wrong. I hope every architect, builder and bank in India reads this article. India must "think sustainable" for its own benefit. Eco-friendly is not just about using CFL lights or more efficient air-conditioners. First, it is about design to consume less to begin with. Second it is about using renewable energy. Technology exists for both and even if at this time the technology is expensive its pay-back for India, where energy costs are highest in the world, is attractive.
Besides the exorbitant cost of running the building (it has its own power station), the building is poorly designed for eco-promoting features like parking for public buses. "It is time we found new temples of modern India, which we can be proud of. Not another shopping mall which we want to pass off as an airport" she closes. I agree. Lets do the math. Lets think for ourselves.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Healthcare: Stuck between Scam India and Slum India

Believing in the right to life equals believing in the right to health: a basic human right. In India, right to health comes in the form right to clean water, nutrition, waste management, clean air even before it gets to curing sicknesses. So India is solidly "stuck between scam India and slum India" said Dinesh Trivedi of the Healthcare ministry during the session on Health and Happiness at the 2010 PAN-IIT conclave in Noida. He was making a case for public-private partnerships in bringing change to India. Of the total money spent in India on Healthcare, 80% is spent by the private sector and 20% by the government (public funds). This means that 80% of the spend goes to 20% of the population and 20% of the spend goes to 80% of the population. Unless we change something this trend will continue. Obesity related diseases go hand in hand with malnutrition related ones and the twain do not meet. The formation of institutions like the All India Medical Institute (AIMS) was visionary in combining the latest in medical research while also serving the poor; but the government has not had the funds to follow through with more such institutions and indeed even the AIMS suffers from lack of funding. How do we get out of the rut we are in?
Change comes with convergence of three factors :
Feasibility: domain of science and technology - this includes Indian sciences like Ayurveda
Viability: driven by economics and policy
Desirability: Our political and social will
Public-Private partnerships can facilitate movement along all three vectors simultaneously.

I found Mr. Trivedi quite eloquent and persuasive. So if you are in the private sector looking to make things happen - contact him. PAN-IIT has said that all sessions will at some point be on YouTube. You can search for this session (its not there as of this writing) for verification. This writeup is from my personal notes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Many IITs are there in India?

I had the opportunity to attend 2010 PANIIT conclave as a IIT-Kharagpur spouse this year - i.e. as an impartial observer. One of the first things I noticed was the large number of new IITs - Its hard to miss the new banner; in places I had not even heard of. On the other hand, how many had heard of Kharagpur which houses one of the oldest IITs? I was not the only one noticing this. Alumnae discussions on the topic expressed concern of maintaining quality in the face of such aggressive expansion and the notoriously slow pace of government decision-making. At the same time Alumnae from different IITs vied with each other on how bad conditions were in IIT when they went there - from yellow water in Kharagpur to deplorable food in Delhi.
I believe that the expansion is a great thing and long overdue. And the risks of quality can be well managed for the following reasons:
1- Students: The older IIT capacity is so far below the number of brilliant available minds applying that even with the expansion- only the best will be able to get in. At alumnae meets I always hear that it is having brilliant students as companions made the IIT experience what it was. So this will not change.
2- Teachers: I personally know 2 brilliant deans who now have an opportunity to head a new IIT. Without growth they would not have the opportunity. I do not believe these teachers will compromise. As a daughter of parents (mother and father) who chose the teaching profession - I believe there is a lot more than money that attracts teachers - they will give it their best. With opportunity comes fresh ideas and new hope - it will trickle down from deans to the rest of the staff.
3- Curriculum: Nehru's vision for a free India included science and technology. And the great emphasis in IIT on that has paid a huge dividend for India. But times have changed - we are now in the knowledge economy where innovation is the name of the game. Improving the social sciences, medicine and arts curricula may be easier in the new IIT's and will certainly be a boost for students inclined towards disciplines beyond technology.
All in all, Its a great step forward for India.