Put expensive assets created to use...
TAMIL NADU has the reputation of attracting investments in large industrial and infrastructure projects. This was the result of the strong base laid in the 1950s and 1960s by the leadership provided by K.Kamaraj, R Venkataraman and C Subramaniam. The advantage of good infrastructure and the focus on power were big help. Disappointingly, the over-emphasis of the Dravidian parties on the distribution rather than creation of wealth, has dented the reputation of the state. Tamil Nadu has been neglecting power development for two decades and presently is in the midst of a severe power crisis. Post 2000, the IT sector received a big boost. Presently, this appears to have suffered a slowdown. High cost of real estate, compounded by recent huge hike in property tax proposed by the Corporation, are dimming the prospects.
Times of India recently featured several large buildings like the new Secretariat building and the new Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital complex built at a cost of a couple of thousand crores of rupees, kept idle.
The state has several other such issues like the NHAI elevated road project being built along the Cooum River getting stalled. There have been humongous losses suffered on stalling these projects of great value to the metro.
The average citizen is already reeling under the weight of inflation. Items of daily consumption including food, fruits and vegetables, house rent, transportation, power, have all been registering frequent and steep increases. Should the government be insensitive to the burden caused by time overruns, delays and idling of expensive facilities? There is urgent need for a much higher degree of cost economics on the part of policymakers.
Why can’t leverage the strengths of Central projects?
THE STATE has not been supportive of large Central-sector projects that have been making huge contributions to employment and state revenues. BHEL, Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Chennai Petroleum Corporation provide large employment and handsome revenues to the state. In fact, for nearly five decades, Neyveli has been providing cheap power in large volumes. NLC has handsome resources and is financially strong. Its proposal for expansion at Jayamkondam with an investment of over Rs 18,000 crore has been hanging fire for two decades. Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal is busy with a Rs 20,000 crore (4000 MW) thermal plant in his constituency Kanpur in UP, with NLC pumping in Rs 6000 crore. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have been effectively leveraging the large presence of BHEL in their states to set up joint venture power projects. Unfortunately, such a JV between BHEL and TANGEDCO for setting up a 1600 MW power project at Udangudi was dropped.
When resort to technology reduces
NOT LONG ago a regional passport officer, belonging to the Indian Foreign Service, was found taking bribes. With a huge surge in application for passports, touts prospered and officials entrusted with administering this service turned corrupt. This is understandable in the context of high demand and the crucial value of time. One notices spectacular improvement in the service after it was outsourced to TCS; the latter takes recourse to information technology and efficient management. One notices the entire process streamlined; much of the corruption seems to have been eliminated.
A similar change is also perceptible in the Income Tax Department: with much of the processes IT-based and simplified, one experiences a considerable reduction in the hassles involved in filing the returns, getting the order and in the efficiency of administration. I remember the practice not long ago when getting refund of excess tax collected used to be an ordeal and was seethed with corruption: the cheque would have been ready but the auditor (and not often the assessee) would receive a call with the tacit demand for a 25 per cent bribe. If it was resisted, the cheque wouldn’t be dispatched. Finance Minister Chidambaram deserves credit for eliminating a good deal of corruption in the revenue department.
Sadly however, there is no culture of tax compliance. Just think that less than 3 per cent of the population are income tax assessees! Large sections of prosperous professionals evade taxes. These include doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants and of course, traders and businessmen. The general tax on goods and services can bring into the tax net much larger numbers and improve the tax GDP ratio from the abysmal 10-12 per cent now. Even when the finance minister took bold to bring much larger segments under the service tax net last year, implementation appears to be difficult. Right from cine superstars to doctors and lawyers, there has been resistance to be brought under the service tax net.
A FEW months ago, Times of India embarked on a spirited campaign to get the auto-rickshaws charge by the meter. Marshaling facts, TOI focused on the need to protect the consumer with a fair public transport facility. It also goaded the transport commissionerate to look closely at the issues involved. Alas, like several other issues raised by mass media, this also faded and has been overtaken by other current events.
Auto terrorism is a typical instance of the impotence of the Chennai consumer to rise up against injustice. A mere 60,000 odd auto rickshaw owners literally take a 50-lakh population of the metro for a ride. While in other civilised metros the refusal to ply to a destination is an offence punishable with a fine, in Chennai this is passé. The driver demands his (exorbitant) fee and gets away with this. The hapless consumer has to relent.
All the while the government elected with comfortable majority by a popular vote is indifferent to correct this glaring violation of law and injury to the public. If only Jayalalithaa turns her attention to this, she can correct this in a matter of days. Will she?
The violin virtuoso…
PERHAPS AFTER Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu,M S Gopalakrishnan (MSG) was the most consummate violinist of our times. Belonging to the Parur School and groomed by his father Parur Sundaram Iyer, MSG had absolute mastery over the violin. The violin just obeyed his command from tonal splendour for use of the bow to produce lilting melody through dexterous fingering!
The trio – MSG, Lalgudi G Jayaraman and T N Krishnan - had dominated instrumental music for over 6 decades. Unlike the other two, MSG was withdrawn and reserved, totally focused on practising violin as an upasana.
MSG had accompanied a wide gamut of maestros in music. He excelled as an accompanist, provided great inspiration to the vocalists to cross new frontiers. I have had the fortune of listening to MSG both as an accompanist and as a soloist. I still remember the two gems: when he accompanied GN Balasubramaniam along with Palghat Raghu in quick succession at the Sai Samaj and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. GNB is known for structuring his concerts with fine architecture– from varnam to a couple of brisk pieces followed by a few gana ragas. In both the concerts, I remember the ragam-tanam-pallavi extended over 75 minutes with swara ragamalikas of delectable Hindustani ragas. It indeed was a veritable treat to hear the three maestros each excelling and complementing the others.
A couple of years ago MSG and his daughter Narmada performed at the Music Academy. He was sitting in a plain chair putting his legs down. At the age of 80 his performance was as serene and as soulful as the ones I had heard earlier. No single false note! The jugal bandhi concerts he gave with the stalwarts of the Hindustani school, showed him in brilliant light. Flutist Hariprasad Chaurasia described him as the greatest violinist. Such tributes had also come from Yehudi Menuhin almost six decades ago.
His elder brother M S Anantharaman and his sons, children of MSG Narmada and Suresh, carry the great tradition of the Parur School. To think that the instrument of violin bequeathed by the west, should have been handled so dexterously by MSG different genres of music – Carnatic, Hindustani and Western !