Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter carnival in Manali

A five-day long winter carnival is underway at Manu Rangshala here with winter sports stealing the show at the festival.

The winter sports event is being held once again after a gap of 22 years with improvement in the infrastructure.

More than 500 teams are participating in the competitions. Teams from more than ten states are also taking part in the events.

"Around 100 participants are participating each day. There are ten to twelve clubs. Apart from that, ITBP, BSF teams are also practicing," said Himanshu, an organiser, Winter Sports.

The five-day long winter carnival is showcasing the country's cultural treasures, which have attracted a lot of participants.

"We are feeling very nice here. We have chosen a village song from Ladakh. We sing this song when we have a gathering in Ladakh and also dance to the tune of this song," said Aangmo, a participant from Ladakh.

At the end of the festival, a beauty competition will also be held and the winner of the competition will be declared 'Miss Winter Queen'.

The winter carnival, a regular feature, is a unique youth festival in which teams drawn from various youth clubs, colleges and universities from all over the country compete in many events. A panel of judges assesses the performance.

The annual event, which started in the late '70s, was declared a state-level festival three years back in a bid to promote tourism in the state.

Tourism is the mainstay of state's economy, which generates about 100 million dollars annually. Approximately, 35,000 tourists visit Manali every month during winters.

Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal inaugurated winter sports including skiing competitions as part of the winter carnival on Sunday.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Buy a car and get its puja done for free

Buying a new car? What about going to a dealer who, along with freebies, offers a free puja for the car with a priest in attendance?

As priests hop from household to household performing pujas in the capital, they now have a new job opening, performing quick puja for the customers at showrooms before they drive away with the four-wheeler.

Aware of the fact that in a country like India where most of the Hindu acts are followed by a mark of religiosity, many dealers have now started to provide the grand-old service of performing customary rituals and ceremonies right at the car showrooms.

Raman Gupta who is a manager (Operations) in a leading IT company, recently bought a new Maruti from a car dealer in the capital. Like many middle-class Indians, he also believes in starting any new work after performing some rituals.

Just as he was about to leave for a Hanuman mandir in the nearby area, a person from the showroom approached him and introduced himself as Pandit Radhamohan Tyagi, a priest deployed by the outlet manager for carrying out the "customary rituals and ceremony" for the occasion.

"We are here for your convenience sir. Don't worry I will take care of your feelings," remarked the priest. In just 15 minutes, he along with his disciple performed all the rituals from coconut-breaking and 'swastik' smearing to 'aarti' and all.

"I am really delighted at the service being offered by the company at no extra cost", says wife of Raman, Seema Gupta.

Panditji is happy too. "We perform every ritual as per the demand of customer and get paid by the company", he says.

source- timesofindia

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nightclub scene comes back

For those looking for a night of entertainment and a taste of the club scene, the opportunity will be arriving Dec. 22 when The Awakening 2 will make its way to the Delhi Belgian Club.

The Awakening 2 and its predecessor, which occurred this past summer, is the brainchild of Delhi native Max Adams, who now resides in Toronto and is the manager of a nightclub.

"I brought the original one on Aug. 25 and I just wanted to make something for people to do down here," said Adams. "It was a huge success, we had 450 people through the door and a lot of people that didn’t come were just like ‘oh, you got to do it again.’ So I spoke with the hall, and this was the date we settled on. And basically we’re ready to go again."

Adams first decided to organize the original event, after realizing that nothing similar had ever been done in the area before.

"There are lots of bars around here," said Adams. "But we are going to go for that club night feel, there is going to be music for everybody. We are going to do some old rock, some R & B and hip hop at the start of the night. After 12, we are keeping it all high-energy dance music, and house music to end off the night."

Different DJs will be playing throughout the course of the night, DJ unlisted and DJ light along with DJ envious, who may be familiar to patrons of the Turkey Point Hotel.
For the second incarnation of the Awakening, Adams plans to build upon the strengths of the first event and address the concerns expressed after its conclusion.

"With the first one, it was more of an experiment and it was successful," said Adams. "Now we are looking to fix the problems of the first one. The first one, the major concerns were the night ended a bit too early, so we are going to be a bit later."

Although the partygoers wished that the night could have gone on longer, everyone present seemed to enjoy themselves.

"But by the end of the night, the dance floor was incredible," said Adams. "The dance floor was just bouncing. People wanted the music to go later, the DJs wanted to keep playing, but we had to shut down the party eventually."

The Awakening 2 is a 19 plus event. Tickets can be purchased in the downstairs portion of the Belgian Club for Rs.40 or Rs.600 at the door.

Friday, January 11, 2008

3,000 hotel rooms near IGI by 2010

The GMR-backed Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) has invited proposals from hospitality sector majors for building over 3,000 rooms in the hotels of all categories near the upcoming airport before the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

The consortium was allowed to commercially develop 5% of the total 5,000-acre area earmarked for Delhi Airport. In the first phase, 45 acres of the 250 acres allowed for commercial use will be used to develop a hospitality district.

‘‘About 50 players have sent expression of interest and 45 of them have been asked to send proposals by this month-end. The idea is to have over 3,000 rooms in the entire segment of hotels — from budget to five-star deluxe. The financial model will be finalised next month based on the kind of proposals we get,’’ said a DIAL official.

This hotel district will be linked by both the Metro and a six-lane road. DIAL has formed a full-owned subsidiary, Delhi Aerotropolis Pvt Ltd, for its hospitality arm.

If priced correct — and not overly as done by DDA while auctioning land for hotels — the DIAL hospitality district could help meet the massive gap in demand and supply for rooms in Delhi.

According to the Hotel and Restaurant Association of North India (HRANI), Delhi has just over 14,000 rooms in the organised sector while the requirement is 40,000 rooms.

Of the existing accommodation, 5,500 rooms are in five-star and five-star deluxe category for which the tariffs are in the range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000. These rates are likely to be hiked by another 15 to 20 % in the coming peak travel winter season.

‘‘As per projects in the pipeline, Delhi will see 12,000 more rooms in 40 new hotels (three-stars and above). Still there would be a severe shortfall going by current demand,’’ said Deepak Sharma, HRANI general secretary.

Prohibitive land cost in Delhi has seen several big players looking elsewhere in the NCR for setting up hotels. For instance, an Oberoi is coming up at Gurgaon and Taj is also learnt to be scouting for a site there.

Leading hoteliers want DIAL to clearly state the terms and conditions on which it is inviting investors to build in its hospitality district. ‘‘DIAL should learn from the mistakes that DDA made by overpricing its auctions. Setting up a five-star costs on an average, Rs 50 lakh per room (without accounting in land cost), which means a 100-room hotel will cost Rs 50 crore. So if DIAL wants top professionals, it has to offer attractive terms,’’ said Rajendra Kumar, president HRANI.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Delhi University ranked among the top 500 universities of the world

For the first time ever, Delhi University (DU) has been ranked among the top 500 universities of the world by the prestigious Times Higher Education Supplement, QS World University Ratings 2007. It has been ranked 254 for its research quality, graduate employability, international outlook and teaching quality. The rank is way ahead of two IITs, Bombay and Delhi, which also find place among the top 400.

Reacting to the news, DU vice-chancellor Deepak Pental hoped that the varsity would be among the top 200 next year. Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge expectedly figure among the top 10 universities of the world. “I am not very happy with the ranking. It should improve and rank among the top 200 by next year,” said Penta . “Since DU has never in the past figured in the list of top universities, whether in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University nor in the THES rankings, this is certainly a boost for the university fraternity,” he added.

Speaking about future plans, Pental said, “This university is a brand and its alumni has contributed to various sectors of society as teachers, bureaucrats, management professionals, scientists and judges, and we have to keep up with global standards. As of now, 10 per cent of the alumni is doing well, but we believe that this percentage should be as high as 50. However, at the same time, we need to improve upon the delivery of education system with a lot of reforms, particularly in academics since improvement in research takes a much longer time.”

As part of its proposed reforms, the university plans to introduce a uniform semester system at the postgraduate level, attract good faculty by providing them with incentives like more frequent increments and other such steps. Though reforms are much-needed, Delhi University has reason to celebrate as it has left behind even the prestigious IITs in the rankings. IIT-Bombay has been ranked 269th, while IIT-Delhi figures as 307 in the list. The other IITs, Kanpur, Madras and Roorkee, figured even lower, occupying slots between 431 and 433.

Meanwhile, the universities of Calcutta, Mumbai and Pune have been ranked 410, 456 and 469 in the list. For the ranking, each parameters carried specific weightage such as quality of research (60%) graduate employability (15%), international outlook (10%) and teaching quality (20%). As per the THES website, for each indicator, the highest scoring institution is assigned a score of 100, and other institutions are calculated as a percentage of the top score. Besides peer review, faculty citation, recruiter review and student faculty ratio were the key indicators for this survey.

source: timesofindia

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Auto Rickshaw or AutoRickshaw .....

An auto rickshaw (auto or rickshaw or tempo or tuk-tuk in popular parlance) is a vehicle for hire that is one of the chief modes of transport in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and is popular in many other countries. It is a motorized version of the traditional rickshaw, a small two- or three-wheeled cart pulled by a person, and the velotaxi. A small number of auto rickshaws and tuk-tuks can be seen on the streets of China Town in London, although used mainly by tourists and not the local population. The auto rickshaw is also related to its Thai, Lao, Cambodian cousins, the tuk-tuk and the Bajaj in Indonesia, whereas in Brighton, England auto rickshaws are called tuctucs.

Vehicle overview
Suspension and lighting on the front wheel assembly typical of auto rickshaws, first seen on 1940s VespasAn auto rickshaw, or simply just rickshaw, is generally characterized by a tin/iron body resting on three small wheels (one in front, two on the rear), a small cabin for the driver (called an auto-wallah in some areas) in the front and seating for three in the rear. Autos are generally fitted with a scooter version of a two-stroke engine with a handlebar for control (again like scooters) instead of a steering wheel, effectively making them a three-wheeler scooter carrying passengers on the rear seat. However, the former version has still not become extinct. In North India, there is a variation, powered by a Harley-Davidson engine, called the phat-phati because of the sound it makes. However this is almost extinct because of the amount of pollution it causes. Auto rickshaws are extremely light vehicles considering their capacity. When they break down, only two or three drivers are required to fully lift them off the ground and they can be easily pushed by one driver.

Auto rickshaws in India
Auto rickshaws in New Delhi street.A majority of Indian auto rickshaws have no doors or seatbelts. They are generally black or green in colour and have a yellow roof on the top. However the design normally depends on the location (state) of the patrol, and so does the color. For example the sides of an auto in Delhi are green, while in Banglore they are yellow. Their design varies considerably from place to place. In some locations, they have an extra plank on the seat to accommodate a fourth passenger. In reality it is not uncommon to see 6-8 passengers in an auto rickshaw with such an ad hoc setup, although, in theory, autos risk fines for carrying more than three passengers in many places. Auto rickshaws that are used for driving children to school have two extra seats/planks like narrow ledges, one facing the main seating space and one to the side. Such auto rickshaws may transport up to 20 children to school.

In India, it is common to find a mechanic's shop around every corner, thus allowing auto-wallahs easy access to spot-repairs. As a mode of transport, the auto rickshaw is turning out to be a major employer in India. Many graduate youths drive auto rickshaws. All major nationalized banks of India offer loans to buy one under self-employment schemes. Major Auto rickshaw manufacturers in India are Bajaj Auto, Piaggio Greaves, Force Motors (previously Bajaj Tempo), Atul Auto and Kerala Automobiles. A two-wheeler major, TVS Motor Co., has announced it will enter the auto rickshaw market with a technologically updated and a less polluting vehicle, in early 2006. Not restricted to cities, auto rickshaws are also prevalent in large numbers in Indian villages and in the countryside.

In rush traffic many autos can be found waiting to be hired. There is an initial charge at the beginning of a ride then the price normally increases by .5 rupees. It is mandatory that the initial charge be set at a value given by the government. The horns on the rickshaws sound like a duck quacking. For rainy conditions, some autos have plastic coverings.

Fuel efficiency and pollution
CNG-propelled autorickshaws are green and yellow in colour while petrol-run autorickshaws are usually black and yellow (or yellow in southern states) in colour. In Brighton, England each has its own unique colour scheme.In July 1998, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Delhi government to implement CNG or LPG fuel for all autos and for the entire bus fleet in and around the city. Delhi observed a dramatic improvement in the quality of air with the switch to CNG, and this is important for a city where it is not uncommon to see pedestrians and drivers wearing nurse's masks for protection against the prevalent city smog. Now, auto-wallahs in Delhi have to wait in long queues to get their CNG cylinders re-filled. Certain other local governments are also pushing for four-stroke engines instead of the current two-stroke versions. Typical mileage for an Indian-made autorickshaw is around 35 kilometres per litre of petrol.

Traffic Issues

Auto rickshaws have a top-speed of around 50 km/h (about 31 mph) and a cruising speed of around 35 km/h (22 mph). Traffic authorities in big cities have implemented different mechanisms to circumvent the resulting traffic slow-down issues. Autos are also banned from plying in the older, more crowded areas of Mumbai, south of Bandra. Some arterial roads of Chennai have a separate lane earmarked for autos and slow two-wheelers, though scant regard is generally paid to lane markings. The triangular form of the auto also makes maneuvering easy, with the front single wheel negotiating the available gap, and the rear two wheels forcing a larger space.

Autos have to install a taximeter according to laws in various parts of India. Many do not have one, however, and even among those that do, some drivers refuse to turn them on. Hiring an auto often involves bargaining with the driver. But auto-wallahs across India are often accused of fleecing money by installing faulty meters, taking a longer route to the destination and demanding multiple times the fare early in the morning or late at night, or at times when other means of transport are not available. Fares can also double if the destination is an isolated place (charge for returning empty). Auto-wallahs generally defend themselves against such accusations by blaming the government for its negligence of market realities while fixing the distance-based fares. Passengers unfamiliar with the local language are considered particularly vulnerable to overcharging. Cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode in the Kerala state of India have made strict regulations to install Fare-Meters in auto rickshaws. Every new auto entering their streets is required by law to install a digital fare meter to avoid the kind of manipulation with the older mechanical Fare-Meters.

In cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore, traffic-regulating authorities have tried to implement pre-paid schemes where the passengers pay pre-determined auto-fares (depending on the destination) to some central authority and board the autos. However, it is still far more common for a prospective passenger to simply flag down a rickshaw and negotiate a price without an intermediary official (for reasons like non-availability of prepaid autos at all locations and not wanting to queue up for a long time at the counter.)

Chartered and School Autos
Chartered auto services, where the auto-wallah caters to the hirer at a fixed time every day are also common, especially to ferry children on their trips to and from school, in major cities. Such autos often have tailor-made arrangements for extra seating. Children squeezed tight with their school bags in the gaps is a typical characteristic of these autos. Sometimes, such chartered autos violate traffic rules flagrantly by overloading the passenger area with uncomplaining and playful kids - and this has often led to the autos meeting with minor to fatal accidents, which has prompted stricter control and vigilance by parents and traffic authorities.

Slogans and advertisements on rickshaws
Auto-wallahs flaunt their affection for film stars, cricket stars and political leaders by putting posters of them both on auto interiors and exteriors. The latest movie title of the auto-wallah's favorite movie star generally appears on the back of the auto.

Lines like "Jai Bajrang Bali" (reference to Hanuman), "Jai Ma Kali," "Khoda Hafiz", "Jesus loves you", even "Jehovah, the lord is my protector," make regular appearance on rickshaws. Sometimes, a picture with all major religious symbols (Om from Hinduism, Star and Crescent from Islam, and Crucifix from Christianity) are to be seen. Such symbols have played an exceptional role in saving the auto during communal riots. More secular messages like "Small family, happy family", "We two, ours one" (on population control), "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" and "Don't pollute the air" (sic) can also be seen. Similarly auto rickshaws often display patriotic messages such as "Mera Bharat Mahan" (My India is Great) or "Jai Hind". Many auto rickshaws also display the Tiranga (Indian Flag) and the logo of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of India's independence.

Other inscriptions can be just plain colorful. Poetry, personal slogans, catch phrases from pop culture and just humorous comments often appear.

Autos also feature commercials on the back of their canopy. Autos in India's Silicon Valley Bangalore have advertisements of institutes teaching programming languages like C, C++ and Java. Certain autos are equipped with locally-made music systems that play tracks from latest musical hits in volumes above normal levels.


In India Auto-wallahs generally appear in all-khaki clothes. Many of them belong to Trade Unions and dutifully celebrate May Day and the International Labour Day.

In cities like Hyderabad (India), where house numbering is complex, auto-wallahs often turn out to be the only source for spotting out the house for a given address.

In Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore, auto drivers often refuse to drive prospective customers to various destinations. The hapless commuter then has to shop around, hopping from Auto to Auto searching for the right one.

In Brighton, England, drivers dress casually, but all wear waistcoats designed by Gresham Blake, who also has one of the vehicles in his livery.

Auto-wallahs in film
Auto-wallahs are often negatively portrayed in Indian films, sometimes as villains who kidnap passengers or steal their money. One exception is Tamil super star Rajinikanth's Baasha. Rajnikanth is shown as the best of benefactors in the movie and thus he has been an icon among auto-wallahs. Auto stands in Tamil Nadu have pictures of Rajinikanth showing their devotion for him. A Kannada movie Auto Raja starring Late Shankar Nag is also an icon among auto-wallahs. Auto stands in Karnataka have pictures of Shankar Nag showing their devotion for him. Recently Super star Upendra made a film Auto Shankar as a tribute to the great actor. A Malayalam movie Aye Auto starring Mohan Lal as an auto driver also proved quite popular, and not just with auto-drivers.

The James Bond film Octopussy features a chase scene in which Bond (Roger Moore) and a fellow MI6 agent (Vijay Amritraj) elude villains while they are in an auto. The sequence has one liners with Bond saying "Vijay, we have company" and Amritraj (Noted tennis player of the '70s) the driver replying "No problem sir, this is a company car" while villain Kabir Bedi takes pot shots at them using a shotgun. The chase ends with the rickshaw heading for a brick wall covered by the handbills of a Hindi movie which turns out to be the well hidden entrance to the local MI6 office. The thai film Ong-Bak features a spectacular tuk-tuk chase scene with many tuk-tuk stunts.

Auto rickshaws and crime
In many cities in Southern India, auto rickshaws have had a notorious reputation for being the vehicle of operation in criminal activities ranging from petty thievery and "chain snatching" (snatching necklace jewellery worn by Indian women) to murder. Auto Shankar, a notorious psychopathic killer operated in south Chennai as an auto driver in the 1980s. The image of auto rickshaw drivers in these cities has suffered greatly due to such incidents.

Share autos
A share auto on the roads of Chennai, a variation on the auto-rickshaw—engineered to carry more passengersAuto rickshaws have been modified in India to carry more passengers and are called Share Autos. Office commuters find this version more economical since the fare is shared by more people. Competition among 'share' auto-wallahs has led to the virtual standardization of fare per passenger based on their destination. Shared autos vary in both name and size from place to place. They are called "Phat-a-phats" in Delhi (which are actually variants of what were once horse-driven vehicles), "8-seater autos" in Hyderabad and "Polaamboo vans" in Chennai. These large share autos shuttle over a distance of 10 to 15 km to gather a substantial number of commuters. Shared autos play an important role in transporting urban India, where state-organized public transport, while not quite crippled, is congested to a point of extreme unreliability, especially during peak hours.

Autorickshaw challenge in India
The Indian AutoRickshaw Challenge (IARC), is a 1000 km (590 miles) rally through the most scenic roads of South India in a Auto rickshaw. The race is open to everyone regardless of experience, nationality, and age. Rickshaws are provided by the organizers. participants have 2 days to prepare their vehicles before the start.

The (IARC) takes participants deep into the heart of Tamil Nadu. Once there they travel through an incredible course of misty jungles, balmy coastlines, flooded streets, monsoon rains and overpowering Indian crowds. By reaching a multitude of challenging waypoints and completing physical and intellectual exercises, The winning team is crowned AutoRickshaw Rally World Champions. The rally is a 7-stage course that goes on a journey of over 1,000 kilometers (roughly 590 miles)

The (IARC) starts from Chennai passing through Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tuticorin, Courtallam and finally finishes in Kanniyakumari. Every night, a hotel or campsite will mark the end of the day's stage. In bigger towns participants spend the night in two-three star hotels. Outside of the cities tents are recommended. Participants receive an official list of hotels, though no one is obliged to stay at these facilities. The last night of the Indian AutoRickshaw Challenge will be spent at a luxurious hotel in Kanniyakumari. which is a part of the entry fee.

Auto rickshaws in Other Countries

Auto rickshaws in Pakistan
Known locally as Rickshah, and used mainly by the lower-middle-class, it is a popular mode of transport for short routes within cities. One of the major brands of auto rickshaws in Pakistan is Vespa (an Italian Company). In addition to ferrying people around, an innovative use of auto rickshaws in public life was the demonstration in Peshawar in 2001 against the American invasion of Afghanistan. The problem of environmental pollution caused by auto rickshaws in major Pakistani cities is a growing menace. Environment Canada is implementing pilot projects in Lahore, Karachi and Quetta with engine technology developed in Mississauga that uses CNG instead of leaded petrol in the two-stroke engines.

Auto rickshaws in Central America and Peru
Two 1/50 scale models of auto rickshaws, which are known as Bajajs in Indonesia.The mototaxi or moto is the Central American and Peruvian incarnation of the auto rickshaw. These are most commonly made from the front end and engine of a motorcycle attached to a two-wheeled passenger area in back. Commercially produced models such as the Indian Bajaj brand are also employed.

Auto rickshaws in Indonesia
Daihatsu Midget bajajs, competing for customers with taxis, these are common throughout Indonesia. Bajaj is a very famous and probably the only brand of Auto-Rikshaws that sell in India. Bajaj (Owned by Rahul Bajaj) is also a very famous brand for Motor Cycles and scooters in India.

Auto rickshaws in England
As of Monday July 10, 2006, auto rickshaws (named tuctucs) were introduced in Brighton & Hove, England by entrepeneur Dominic Ponniah, who had the idea after travels in countries who had successfully integrated the vehicles into their infastructure.

They were introduced to give cleaner and cooler private transport. They are CNG powered, using a four-speed (plus reverse) 175cc engine, so are far more environmentally friendly than petroleum powered vehicles, an important factor for the many Brightonians and tourists who are concerned about the environment.

Currently, the tuctucs run on only one route, which they must adhere to, due to their licence, and stop only at designated stops. The route runs along the seafront from Brighton Marina in the east Brighton to Hove in the west with a diversion along West Street to Brighton railway station and back. They run from 8am to 2am, between every five to fifteen minutes all year.

Within the first month of service, they became very popular and are to be introduced in other towns and cities in the UK, starting with London in May 2007. They are of the same design as traditional Auto rickshaws in other countries such as India, Pakistan and Thailand, being a design evolved over time from the Piaggio Ape, which started life itself as a Vespa scooter.

After all Auto rickshaw or Auto (as people in India prefer to call) are of great importance in transportation in India . its one of the main transport options in India. And rides in Autos are a real fun, specially in monsoon.

Long live Autorickshaws...........

Monday, January 7, 2008

MCD launches multi-level car parking project

Tejendra Khanna lays the foundation in Kamla Nagar. The parking complex is meant to accommodate 828 cars and 300 two-wheelers. ‘There are over 50 lakh vehicles in the Capital and this number is increasing by the day’.

Lieutenant-Governor Tejendra Khanna laid the foundation stone of a fully automated multi-level car parking complex at Mandalia Chowk in Kamla Nagar here on Monday. The parking complex, meant to accommodate 828 cars and 300 two-wheelers, will be constructed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi at a cost of Rs.110 crore within a period of two years.

Mr. Khanna said he hoped that the civic body would be able to complete the construction work within the stipulated time and urged it to undertake only those projects for which funds were available.

Informing about the practicality of constructing the multi-level parking lot, Mayor Arti Mehra said: “There are over 50 lakh vehicles in the Capital and this number is increasing by the day. Multi-level parking lots are a way to counter the problem of parking. Within two years we will construct 200 parking lots around various parks in Delhi.”

Speaking on the occasion, MCD Standing Committee Chairman Vijender Gupta observed: “There are two municipal primary schools in Kamla Nagar. These schools will be merged into one and the land of the vacated school will be utilised for constructing another parking lot. The MCD has identified 24 sites that will be developed into parking sites.”

Leader of MCD House Subhash Arya said there would be seven levels at this parking complex and the upper floors would be utilised for constructing commercial establishments.

The civic body plans to develop more parking lots at Lajpat Nagar, Rani Bagh, Greater Kailash-I, Defence Colony, Karol Bagh, South Extension, Mori Gate, Greater Kailash-II, Qutub Road and Rajouri Garden.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Story of a spoilt IT industry

The Indian IT industry is one spoilt industry. An experienced and successful entrepreneur once commented to me that for an industry to grow at a healthy pace, an unemployment rate of higher than 7-8% is needed. I think it makes a lot of sense. In the IT industry today, with manpower being scarce, the focus is merely on retention, hiring policies and compensation. While that does not mean that the industry is not growing at a scorching pace, it does mean that as a group, we are focused on the wrong issues.

Being a service focused industry, the dependence on manpower is inevitable. As such, I think it is a good thing because it generates employment, improves lifestyle and overall helps in GDP growth. But I absolutely despise the fact that the biggest "challenge" that the industry faces is a employee retention. So much time, effort, energy and money is spent on just one aspect of business that we are losing focus of the bigger picture. This trend is especially harmful for the fresh and young graduates who have just joined the industry or have been here for only a few years. Constantly pampered and hailed as the country's saviors, these young IT professionals live with a false sense of security. They start at salaries at which people in other industries retire, switch jobs every few months and in general lead the good life.

While this appears to be a win-win situation for both the workforce and the organization, it unfortunately prepares neither for the long haul. With organizations constantly focused on retaining and hiring employees "at all costs", our price competitiveness in the services industry is bound to suffer. Average salary hikes in the IT industry are in the range of 12-15%. If profit margins have been traditionally pegged at around 30% and billing rates are only going down, its easy to see how this current model is unsustainable in the long run. The answer of course is to move up the value chain, provide higher quality services and innovate. But with most organizations spending all their energy in maintaining headcount, where is the time to strategize and move up the value chain?

The IT workforce is actually getting an even worse deal. Switching jobs usually means a 20%+ rise in salary. Hence, on an average, an IT worker spends less than 2 years at one organization. Consequently, we have a large pool of inexperienced yet expensive workforce. This in turn ill equips IT organizations in India to move up the value chain since the workforce isn't stable and doesn't have enough expertise to add more value in a cost effective way.

The situation doesn't appear grim today because the world economy has been largely on an upswing for the past few years. So there has been enough business for IT companies to grow and thrive in spite of mounting costs and increasing difficulties in retaining employees. The media also paints a rosy picture and loves to glorify the Indian IT story. However, the big question is how well prepared are we for a downturn in economy? Are Indian IT companies prepared to handle an economic slowdown? More importantly, is our IT workforce equipped to face tough times? Are our young Turks taking their profession seriously enough? Are they spending more time on honing their skills and learning the ropes or are they only fretting over pay packages and job interviews? Do they have the maturity to prepare for future market correction?

Only time will tell but till then sorry, we don't have time to innovate!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Paharganj Bazaars

Immediately west of New Delhi railway station, Paharganj, centred around the Main Bazaar, provides the first experience of the subcontinent for many budget travellers. Packed with cheap hotels, restaurants, cafés and dhabas, and with a busy fruit and vegetable market halfway along, it's also a paradise for shoestring shoppers seeking psychedelic clothing, bindis, bags and bronzes and essence of patchouli and sandalwood. A constant stream of cycle and auto-rickshaws, handcarts, cows and the odd taxi squeeze through impossible gaps without the flow ever coming to a complete standstill - the winding alleys where children play among chickens and pigs seem worlds away from the commercial city centre only just around the corner. Beware of opportunist thieves here, though, and the attentions of touts, offering dubious hotels, overpriced tours and spurious charas.

As you wander through the mayhem of Paharganj, you may well find your clothes being gently tugged by some of the local street kids begging for rupees. Most of them are runaways who've left difficult homes, often hundreds of kilometres away, and the majority sleep on the street and inhale solvents - any money given directly to them is likely to further their fixes. A (non-registered) charitable organization working in the main bazaar, the Ujala Project, run by a Mizo-Swiss couple, is dedicated to helping street children attain a brighter future. Their main achievement so far has been the establishment of a centre in the heart of the bazaar where the children can meet, study, bathe and wash their clothes in a caring, drug-free space. They also offer informal counselling and teaching, and advice on hygiene and nutrition, and they try to wean the kids away from potentially harmful activities such as glue-sniffing and petty crime. The charity is sustained entirely by donations, and they welcome gifts of secondhand clothes for three- to eighteen-year-olds, coloured pens, pencils and paints, and of course money. They can be contacted at 5099 Gali Sakkan Wali, off Paharganj Main Bazaar (Telephone011/5539 8967, Email:- ujalapaharganj@netscape.net).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Environmental wonders, Delhi

squeezed dry of rain,
a host of clouds
palest silver like delicate sea-shells,
float free in places,
waved back and forth
by brisk winds with the utmost ease;
the sky appears like a great king
fanned by a hundred fleecy cowries.

A six pointed star, about 5 cm across, with Delhi at the heart of the hexagon, placed on a map of India of the scale 1 cm to 120 km, embraces the major regions of northern India. The north apex reaches the high Himalayas where lie Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the cold desert with its magical moon landscape. The curve to the right to the next point of the star follows the sweep of the central Himalayas and the apex encompasses the holy Mansarovar Lake in Tibet. The second curve towards the right embraces the mountains of Nepal and its two lofty peaks – Everest and Kanchenjunga. The third point of the star almost reaches Allahabad, the heartland of the fertile and populous Indo-Gangetic plain and the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The holy city of Varanasi is 185 km downstream. To the west of Delhi, lying between the two points of the star, is the Great Indian Desert, most of which is in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The southern point of the star reaches the forested highland of central India beyond which is the Deccan peninsula, an ancient landmass of volcanic origin.

The climate of Delhi is created by these geographic features. Hot winds blow from the desert in the summer months, and temperatures soar to 40°C, occasionally reaching a high of 46ºC. Violent dust storms – locally called loo – are a feature of this hot, dry season in Delhi. The blessed relief of rain follows by end-June when the monsoon reaches Delhi, having hit Kerala around the first week of June, crossed the Deccan and the Bay of Bengal to be finally deflected along the sweep of the Himalayas from east to west. Temperatures for the next few months remain in the high 30s and the humidity makes for some discomfort. Winter is the pleasantest season in Delhi, sunny and cool but the minimum temperature drops sharply in late December and January. Every time there is heavy snowfall in the mountains, icy winds blow down.

There is a brief change of season between winter and the hot weather. Spring lasts only a few weeks in February and March, but it is sweet and sensuous. It is the season of new leaf – many of Delhi’s indigenous forest trees are dressed in shades of vivid green. This is followed soon after by the procession of color of the ornamental flowering trees. The Hindu festivals of Basant Panchami and Holi celebrate this season, known in Hindi as Basant. In the Indian tradition, there are six seasons – Grishma, Varha, Sharad, Hemant, Sheet and Basant. They correspond roughly to Summer, Rains, Post-rains, Early winter, Winter and Spring. The passing of seasons has been immortalized in Indian art and literature. The most famous literary work on this theme is the 5th century Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara, literally the gathering of seasons.

The natural vegetation of the region around Delhi can best be described as thorny scrub, which can still be seen on the outskirts of the city. If one sees the city as a triangle, the western side is a natural divide, an extension of the ancient Aravalli hills, which run through Rajasthan. The undulating terrain runs through the Cantonment area in west Delhi, and the section in the north includes Delhi University. From the highest point in the south at Bhatti, 318 meters above sea level, the fall is 100 meters to the river Yamuna which forms a natural boundary of the city on the east. The base of the triangle is rocky, broken country where small villages are cultivated for vegetables and flowers for the urban market.

The magnificent remains of the older cities of Delhi, once fed by the Yamuna, invite exploration – Surajkund, Tughlaqabad, Mehrauli, Hauz Khas, Siri and Jahanpanah. Quarrying for stone at Bhatti, and in the neighbouring state of Haryana, has recently been curtailed through legislation as an environmental health measure.

The ridge today is an important lung of metropolitan Delhi. Its evolution from thorny scrub began in the 19th century with the British, who started planting drought resistant indigenous trees, largely Neem and Babul, Palas or Flame of the Forest, a small tree with a gnarled and crooked trunk, occurs naturally. It heralds spring with bright red flowers from which a dye is extracted. In 1878, the Ridge was declared a Reserved Forest. Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi, used the undulating land to great advantage while sitting the Viceroy’s House, now Rashtrapati Bhawan, the home of the President of India, on Raisina Hill.

At the southern base of the triangle, the urban sprawl has made inroads with agricultural land being converted into luxurious estates for the elite. Architecturally, these ‘farmhouses’ are completely out of tune with the past or contemporary landscape of the area. In planning colonial Delhi, Lutyens and Baker laid out a geometric pattern of roads radiating from roundabouts while keeping the Mughal and pre-Mughal monuments as axis points. They thus achieved an architectural synthesis of history and, at the same time, extended the garden concept integral to the buildings of the Mughal period to the avenues of New Delhi. The credit for planting indigenous forest species, a brilliant and practical idea, is shared with Lutyens by William Robertson Mustoe, a gardener from London’s Kew Gardens, who came to India in 1919. Together they created a garden city while not tampering with the old parks: Roshanara, the garden created by Shahjahan’s daughter, Qudsia and Shalimar gardens in north Delhi. The Ridge area in north Delhi, with Flagstaff Tower at the highest point, was a rambling wilderness until the idea of ‘beautification’ came up. This was the British cantonment during the 1857 war from where their attack was launched to recapture Delhi. In the 50 years since independence, Delhi’s population has grown by leaps and bounds. The garden city has expanded to become an unwieldy mega metropolis posing a severe strain on civic amenities and the environment.

After partition, the refugees from Punjab were allotted land in compensation for the homes they had to abandon: Karol bagh, Patel Nagar and Rajendra Nagar in west Delhi, Model Town in north Delhi and Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi. Now they are bustling centers of Punjabi enterprise.

The seat of government brought its own changes as government apparatus grew in size. A certain architectural homogeneity was retained in most of the new government buildings by the use of columns, domes, deep corridors and by continuing the use of the familiar pink sandstone from Rajasthan. The manpower needs of the burgeoning bureaucracy accounted for the growth of government housing colonies within New Delhi. Chanakyapuri, named after the master strategist, Chanakya, of the 4th century BC, is the diplomatic quarter.

Expansion continued. As bylaws changed and property values soared, gardens were sacrificed to greed. Soon the city spilled over across the Yamuna in the east, creating a concrete jungle, and south of the border into Haryana, which developed self-contained, suburban style housing complexes.

Some portions of the ridge have been landscaped and converted into parks. Buddha Jayanti Park was originally conceived as a Japanese garden. A splendid image of the Buddha was installed in 1990. Trees planted by visiting dignitaries in the 1950s have matured and lend variety to the landscaped garden. Mahavir Jayanti Park, near Maurya Sheraton Hotel, was developed more recently.

The city planners had some provision for park areas other than the ridge. The necropolis of the Lodi kings was tastefully landscaped around the monuments in the 1960s and called Lodi garden. The moat around Purana Qila was expanded into a serpentine lake where paddleboats are available. The grounds south of it became the National Zoological Park. Delhi Golf Club incorporates some old monuments creating a picturesque setting. Golfers tee off, often distracted by the unmusical call of peacocks.

In the third week of February, Mughal Garden at Rashtrapati Bhawan is open to public for about two weeks. The mass of colour is enchanting, the lawns impeccably manicured, the trees magnificent, even if the overwhelming security checks take away quite a bit from their enjoyment.

Nehru Park, located near Ashok Hotel in Chanakyapuri, is another well-landscaped garden. The rolling lawns are enlivened with groups of interesting trees and flowering shrubs. A group of three enormous Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus excelsa), provides a focus on the lawn near the rather forlorn statue of Lenin.

Forest species for avenue trees were selected primarily to provide shade. For instance, Neem is the choice for many of the major roads, including Lodi Road, Sher Shah Marg, Rafi Marg and Sansad marg leading from Parliament House to Connaught Place. Arjuna terminalia, with its distinctive light grey bark, lines Janpath, a major north-south road, and Firoz Shah Road. A group of six stands at the entrance of Safdarganj’s tomb. Tamarind is the choice for Akbar Road, Pipal for Panchsheel Marg and Banyan for Rajaji Marg.

Eugenia jambolana, the Java Plum or jamun is used extensively: Tughlaq Road, the northern half of Janpath and around India gate. The dark purple fruit is a seasonal delicacy but messy when it ripens and falls on the ground during the rainy season. Each of these species has many uses besides medicinal properties.

Variety is provided chiefly on the roundabouts or on subsidiary roads. Kanak Champa (Pterospermum acerifolium) on Jai Singh Road is a striking tree because of the size of its foot-long creamy flowers surrounded by five curled back sepals of the same length. The leaves are used as wrappings or made into plates, disposable and biogradable. A group of five Gingko-like trees, actually Hardwickia Binnata, a lone cypress and a clump of Kewra add character to the small masjid on the roundabout at the head of Sunheri Bagh Road.

The kaleidoscope of changing colors and fragrances continues through the year. The older indigenous trees have insignificant blossoms but provide variety in tints of green as they come into new leaf. Pipal (Ficus religiosa) and Kusum (Schleichera trijuga) are both delightful, as the young leaves are shades of rust or deep carmine which change gradually into a soft translucent lime green before assuming the deep green. This play of colors characterizes spring and early summer.

Then the flowering trees take over. The Coral tree (Erythrina indica), with its bright red spike-like blossoms and Jacaranda (mimosacfolia), with its delicate flowers in shades of mauve, is soon followed by Amaltas (cassia Fistula), draped in hanging bunches of fragrant bright yellow blossoms offset by the brown foot-long cylindrical seed pods of the last season. Champa or Temple Tree is a favourite in many homes besides public places and gardens. It grows easily, is attractive, and has exquisitely textured and scented flowers.

Well into summer, Gulmohur introduced in 1829 from its native Madagascar, comes into its own, its spreading crown a blaze of red shaded with orange. Pride of India, a small-sized tree, blooms in shades of deep pink or mauve, and then, turns to violet. Closer towards winter, the rusty shield bearer stands out with its copper-red oblong seed pods and sprays of yellow-touched-with-rust flowers. By mid September, Chorissia speciosa is glorious in its orchid-like blossoms in shades of pink and white, while Alstonia scholaris, often called Devil’s Tree, calls attention to itself with its heady fragrance.

Because of trees, gardens and the river, bird life in and around the city is abundant despite the pollution and the teeming population. Late winter and spring are the best time to wander in the gardens and to look out for birds. The winter migrants are still here and the trees, not yet in leaf, provide good viewing. Wagtails begin to lose their winter drabness; the blue throat will have its band of colors, and the red throat too. The warblers flit incessantly. A flock of starlings may alight on the ground and start feeding voraciously.

The brilliant green of the rose-ringed parakeets perching precariously on the soft grey and muted sandstone walls of the tombs at Lodi garden, tails fanned out, is an unforgettable sight. On the dome, there might be the ponderous white-backed vultures. Flitting through the trees you may glimpse the golden oriole or locate it through its rich flute-like call. A flash of deep turquoise will give away the white-breasted kingfisher. Or you may glimpse the common grey hornbill that is very partial to the ficus species. At dusk, the cacophony of mynahs, sparrows, crows, jostling for space in the putranjivas or malsarry may be punctuated by the sweet song of the magpie robin staking its claim to territory. The harbinger of the monsoon is the pied-crested cuckoo, which rides in from Africa on the south-westerlies.

Winter is the ideal time to see migratory waterfowl. At the Okhla barrage over the Yamuna in southeast Delhi, you will find herons, barheaded geese and brahmini duck down from their nesting grounds in Ladakh, and from Siberia and central Europe, common pochard, tufted duck, pintails, shoveller, mallard, gadwall, redheaded pochard if you are lucky, besides the comb duck, spotbills and coot. Spoonbills, avocets, painted storks, open-billed storks and the occasional black-necked stork can also be seen.

Another place good for watching water birds is the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, about 55km southwest of Delhi beyond Gurgaon. The Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary near Bharatpur, on the Agra-Jaipur highway, about 120km from Delhi, is the only wintering ground of endangered Siberian cranes.

In south Delhi, some areas have been demarcated as wildlife preserves, notably the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary near Tughlaqabad Fort. The area immediately south of Qutb is also worth a wander. Sanjay van, adjoining the Qutb Institutional Area, is a wilderness within the city and retains the indigenous flora and fauna of the Ridge. Peacocks abound in these parks.

The Yamuna is under threat. Much of its water is drawn away at the Wazirabad barrage in north Delhi to supply the needs of the metropolis and the rest is subjected to millions of tons of toxic effluents and untreated sewage. The meandering river bed is cultivated to grow water melons in summer but during the monsoon, the river rages in its full glory, reclaiming its bed. The sluice gates are opened allowing the accumulated water hyacinth to be cleared.

Unlike other cities with rivers, Delhi does not have a waterfront, perhaps because of seasonal fluctuations. However, the land created between the eastern wall of the old city and the current riverbed has been developed into massive memorial parks beginning with Raj Ghat, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, and later the memorials of Jawaharlal Nehru and other prime ministers of India.

The basic building material for the older cities of Delhi was the grayish stone quarried in the region. The stucco finish of pre-Mughal and Mughal buildings acted both as a binding plaster and a medium for decorative motifs.

Sandstone for exterior facing has been used for over a thousand years. The most spectacular example is the Qutb Minar. Being a soft stone, it lends itself to the chisel and can be worked in intricate detail. The red sandstone comes from Mathura and Agra and the buff-beige from Dholpur, Bharatpur and Alwar.

Red Fort uses a mix red sandstone for the great ramparts and outer walls and the finest Makrana marble, quarried in Rajasthan, gleaming white, for the private palaces and Diwan-e-Am, the hall of public audience. The wall with the built-in throne, has some of the finest examples of pictra dura work, using dark grey limestone for the bird panels which are set in shimmering white marble and held together as a composition with coils of delicate floral arabesques. Kurkura, a mustard-yellow limestone quarried near Jaisalmer, for branches and stems. For the details of the panels, semiprecious stones are used, including turquoise, cornelian, agate, onyx and lapis lazuli.

Marble and Kota stone from Rajasthan, slate from Himachal and black granite from Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh continue to be used in contemporary buildings.

The many cities of Delhi have been created over the centuries. Its monuments of stone will endure, but its very life-blood, the river Yamuna, is under assault and something must be done immediately to save it.