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Breaking news or breaking credibility?

When a city receives rains of a total month or even more, in a few hours, to be fair to the administration, the infrastructure could not cope with this.

Anchors in the national news television channels and their participants make themselves perfect asses in half-baked comments and opinions. In their anxiety to be ahead of other channels, they venture to speculate often on un-sound opinions. This reaches a crescendo at the break of important news events. When the events/crises pass over, there has been little attempt to correct the mis-information or wrong projections. I cite a couple of recent instances:


When Mumbai suffered heavy rains on 29 August, these specialists of the news channels positioned their correspondents across the Mumbai metro and showed visuals on the extensive flooding. On the lines of Arnab Goswami, anchors roared on the utter failure of the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation: on behalf of the nation, these ‘demanded accountability’ for the crores of monies spent. They breezily charged the corporators as corrupt and indifferent.


The sufferings were indeed real with several lakhs, including school-going children, unable to return home and were forced to spend the night in schools; office goers in offices, railway platforms… Thousands had to wade through knee-deep water for miles to trek back home.


The enormity of the downpour


We have had precedents in the Mumbai rains of July 2005 or the Chennai rains on 01 December 2015. But one has to juxtapose these against the enormity of such downpours which threw the entire civic infrastructure out of gear: when a city receives rains of a total month or even more, in a few hours, to be fair to the administration, the infrastructure could not cope with this.


When the rains subsided after a few hours later and when normalcy returned to Mumbai, the vociferous anchors and the commentators, sadly, did not bother to present solutions to tackle such natural calamities in future and focused on another sensational news. The media is content to move from one ‘breaking news’ to another. I wish they have the social concern to engage experts to learn the lessons from failures and assist the administration with a blueprint for handling such crises in future.

Lessons from Hurricane Harvey and Irma


They have good models to emulate: the severe storm that struck Houston in the US by Hurricane Harvey on the same day as the Mumbai rains had good lessons to mobilise rescue personnel and resources in advance and minimise damage. The meteorological department today has tools to predict accurately the severity of such natural calamities. With satellite mapping and global expertise in weather forecasting, it should be possible to get data in advance and disseminating information and act in time is possible. eg. like ordering the closure of schools and offices.


Within a week of suffering the havoc caused by Hurricane Harvey, tornadoes hit Florida and adjoining areas in the Atlanta. Close to 6 million houses went without power and several thousands had to vacate home and live on shelters.

CNN International and other mass media covered the news continuously and in detail. One could not help but admire the risk and professionalism of dozen of news persons providing extensive information and visuals ahead and through the hurricane’s landing.

Our civic administration has a lot to learn on the advance preparations and steps taken by well co-ordinated team efforts of the government and municipal agencies. These focused on ensuring maximum safety and minimum damage.  



Rail accidents hit Suresh Prabhu most


Another recent instance related to the three rail accidents that took place in a span of a week. Sadly, this resulted in the efficient Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu resigning. Prabhu injected a strong sense of professionalism in railway administration. In the last two decades and more the railway portfolio had been given to one of the minor partners of coalition governments and suffered severe neglect. Remember the poor record of Lalu Prasad and Mamata Banerjee steadfastly adhering to  uneconomic tariffs, and neglecting safety and long term development. Modernisation suffered and expansion was poor.


Prabhu had the vision to bring about major changes like converting metre gauge to broad gauge, speeding up electrification, laying dedicated new rail lines and rationalising passenger fares. He had the courage to dispense with a separate rail budget merging it with the Central budget and to go for public-private participation in revamping railway stations and realising the latent value of properties owned by the railways.


When Prashant Bhusan goofed…


However, our news channels had a field day in venting criticism on their own and also through their so-called experts, the usual suspects and critics of the Modi government. Surprisingly, the normally well-informed social advocate, Prashant Bhushan, harped on a half-baked logic: he pointed to the poor allocation of resources to rail safety even while the railways planned to construct a high speed train service between Ahmedabad and Mumbai at a cost of nearly Rs 100,000 crore. This project, to be funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has been specifically designed to develop the Shinkansen-type high speed rail movement that would revolutionise rail travel in future. The average rail speeds that are less than 100 kmph today would exceed 300 kmph!


Such speeds have been achieved in France, Germany, Japan and other developed countries years ago. Over the last decade China has excelled in speeding up rail travel. This country has the longest high speed railway network of 22,000km,which is about 60 per cent of the world’s total and will be launching the world’s fastest bullet trains from Beijing to Shanghai at a speed of 350 kmph, thus making the 1250 km journey in just 4 ½ hrs! 

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