Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Commute in Indian cities

I have been wondering off late about difficulty in daily commute in most Indian cities. The city that I live in, Bangalore, surely has this problem, it is also a problem in most other cities. The average speeds in most Indian cities is now down to single digits kilometers per hour.

So, that got me thinking. From my personal experience, the mass transport system only solves partial problem. It is a great solution that can do a reasonable walk (max couple of kilometers) to a metro (or any other variety) station, take the transport to their place of work and then come back to home the same way. This solution doesn't work for many people who may not have a metro station near their office or home.

One thing is sure, vehicle usage within the city needs to be seriously discouraged. I did 40 kilometers of cycling everyday for a couple of years but had to stop cycling because of constant fear of being run over by mad drivers. I realized after my cycling days, that a cyclist is almost at the bottom of chain of people who are using the roads. The bigger vehicles have no respect for him because they are bigger and even pedestrians don't stop for him because they think, it is just a cycle.

So here is my utopian world looks like. Make cities cycling friendly. Here are the steps that need to be taken at a minimum to make this work. There are similar initiatives that exist in other parts of the world.

  • Take 5 feet distance from both sides of roads and create a cycling lane. Here I don't mean a lane created by painting a yellow line on the road. That is too civilized and will not work in India. To create a cycling lane, do all of the following things.
    • Create proper metal barricades on both sides of the lane. Only cycles are allowed.
    • Pass proper laws, anybody not on cycle in the lane has to be punished by law. 
    • The punishment would not involve paying fine, it has to be a criminal offense, something on the lines of "Causing wilful endangerment to the life of a cyclist" with mandatory jail time.
    • Add special signals just for cyclists for crossing junctions.
    • I understand all these measure would make current traffic situation much worse but I think at some level that is the point. Using vehicle should become so difficult that people are forced to look for alternative and if the government provides them another viable alternative, they will opt for it. This may be a good way to influence public behavior with a good policy.
  • The test for safe cycling environment is that one can take a 10-12 year old child cycling with him without fear of an accident.
  • Owners who hire chauffeurs for their vehicles have to be held criminally liable for the offenses committed by their chauffeurs.
  • Make sure there are no puddles on the road, this would require fixing the drainage system.
When I visited Thimphu, I liked the place just because it is small enough that for practically every purpose you can just walk. But let's be practical, cities can not remain small and walking is not a practical option for most cases. I think cycling the best alternative for making cities safe, environmentally friendly and fun place to live in.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Article 356 under different parties

Recently I read on social media an argument from somebody that Indian National Congress has destroyed the democracy in India by repeatedly using article 356. It sounded intuitive so I thought that I should look at real data. Here are some salient features of how article 356 has been used at different times in history of India.

  • It has been used totally 124 times by different prime ministers for different reasons. I have used Wikipedia's classification of underlying reason for invocation of article 356.
Following are the reasons given for invocation of article 356. Here is the list and a description of what I mean by that.
  • Breakdown of Law and Order -- General breakdown of law and order. Government in charge doesn't seem to be able to bring order to state. There are many instances of this being invoked after the demolition of Babari Masjid. Total 11 instances at different times.
  • Controversial Vote of Confidence -- The party in power passed the vote on confidence through not proper means. Total 4 times
  • Corruption - A major member in government indulged in corruption leading to the fall of the government. Total 1 time
  • Death of chief minister - Death of sitting chief minister and ruling party could not elect a candidate quickly enough - Total 1 time
  • Defections - Defections were engineered resulting in loss ruling party. Total 7 times
  • Disqualification - Chief minister's was disqualified  - Total 1 time
  • Elections Called - Elections were called and chief minister was removed and president's rule imposed - Total 1 time
  • Facilitate reorganization - President's rule was imposed to facilitate the reorganization of state. Total 3 times
  • Fishy - These are clear cases when the ruling party had the complete majority and still central government dismissed them for no obvious reason. Total  36 times
  • Loss of Majority - Ruling party lost the majority in the house. Total 42 times
  • No Majority - Elections resulted in no formation in a position to form the government. Total 8 times
  • Referendum for Goa Merger with Maharashtra - This is a one-off instance where Goa government was dismissed to hold a referendum on the topic of merger of Goa with Maharashtra
  • Resignation - Resignation of the chief minister and the government. Total 4 times
  • Statehood Demand -  Loss of law and order due to statehood demand. Total 3 times
  • Technicality - One off case of imposition of president's rule to pass the budget on account while the government formation was still ongoing and there was no chief minister and assembly.
So clearly many of the above cases seem genuine but I was interested in the cases which are marked Fishy. These are cases when the government center clearly misused its power.
Invocation of 356 by different PMs for different reasons
Above graph shows instances of 356 invocation by different prime ministers. Clearly The two biggest causes seem to be Fishy and Loss of Majority.
Invocation of art. 356 by different prime ministers for fishy reasons

We now look at different prime ministers who invoked article 356 for seemingly fishy reasons. Clearly Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai and top two with PV Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru behind them.
The problem with this figure is that it does not take into account the tenure of each of these prime ministers. So the next chart presents invocation of article 356 per 100 days in power by each of the prime ministers.
Invocation of 356 by different prime ministers per 100 days in power
When we look at this data, a slightly different picture emerges. Morarji Desai is clearly on the top now primarily because of an extremely short tenure, followed by Charan Singh, Chandra Shekar and followed by PVN and Rajiv Gandhi. Indira Gandhi falls behind because of a very short tenure. The best guys seem to be Dr. Manmohan Singh, H D Deve Gowda and Lal Bahadur Shastri who did not use to for the wrong reason at all. Of course Guljari Lal Nanda is there but then he had an extremely short tenure. Atal Bihar Vajpayee has also used it extremely sparingly.
Again, this is only half the picture. If we put the same data over the different years, we see a following picture.
Article 356 over the years
In the above pictures, we have removed incumbent prime ministers, We are just looking at the total invocations of article 356 and fishy invocations of article 356. You see a interesting picture. The worst period seems to be between 1971 to 1980. This was the period of Indira Gandhi losing the power and large scale sacking of congress governments by existing Janata Party government and then Indira Gandhi coming back to power and a tit-for-tat sacking of all existing state governments at that time. Clearly that was the worst period in India as far as politics is concerned.
Barring that period, the invocation of article 356 has stabilized in last few decades. it is hovering between 45 and 70 and seems to be random. It is neither getting worse nor getting better. What is surprising though that fishy invocations have stopped since 1996. We may be inclined to give credit to the maturity of politicians, but that is only the half truth. Here is really what happened.

The Janata Party being the majority party in the State Legislature had formed Government under the leadership of S.R. Bommai. In September 1988, the Janata Party and Lok Dal merged into a new party called Janata Dal. The Ministry was expanded with addition of 13 members. Within two days thereafter, one K.R. Molakery, a legislator of Janata Dal defected from the party. He presented a letter to the Governor along with 19 letters, allegedly signed by legislators supporting the Ministry, withdrawing their support to the Ministry. 
On 20-4-1989 after receiving a report from the governer, the president issued a proclaimation imposing president's rule in Karnataka.
A writ petition was filed on 26th April 1989 challenging the validity of the proclamation. A special bench of 3 judges of Karnataka High Court dismissed the writ petition.  Finally this petition alongwith similar cases related to dismissal of governments in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh contained similar question of law and therefore they were heard conjointly by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The arguments in the S.R. Bommai’s case commenced in the first week of October 1993 and were concluded in the last week of December 1993.
 On 11-March-1994, court passed an order invalidating the proclaimation of president's rule and laid down the guidelines regarding the use of the article 356.

  1. The majority enjoyed by the Council of Ministers shall be tested on the floor of the House. 
  2. Centre should give a warning to the state and a time period of one week to reply. 
  3. The court cannot question the advice tendered by the CoMs to the President but it can question the material behind the satisfaction of the President. Hence, Judicial Review will involve three questions only : 
    1. Is there any material behind the proclamation
    2. Is the material relevant. 
    3. Was there any mala fide use of power. 
    4. If there is improper use of A356 then the court will provide remedy. 
    5. Under Article 356(3) it is the limitation on the powers of the President. Hence, the president shall not take any irreversible action until the proclamation is approved by the Parliament i.e. he shall not dissolve the assembly. 
    6. A356 is justified only when there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery and not administrative machinery

So that put a stop to any misused of article 356 that's why we don't see any such cases after 1995.
In summary, politicians of all parties misused the article 345 for their benefit till the time the supreme court stepped in and put a stop to it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Digital India, the promise, the status

I heard about Digital Iindia from way too many people and could not ignore it anymore. So I went around looking for what it is. A google search led me to the Digital India Home Page. The page has tried to capture what government means by Digital India. Here is my analysis of the promise called Digital India. The site defines Digital India as "The Digital India programme is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy."
The Digital India narrative is defined in terms of Vision Areas.

Digital Infrastructure as a Utility to every citizen

This is basically about infrastructure building. It defines a set of Digitial Services that government is planning to provide to its citizens.

Current Status and my expectation
Availability of high speed internet as a core utility for delivery of services to citizens
I think lot of work has happened in this area but still lot more needs to be done. Unfortunately, our fixation with mobile technologies will not solve this problem in short term. Solid high-speed internet can only be provided with wired technologies and for some reason most telecom providers are not very keen on building that business.
Cradle to grave digital identity that is unique, lifelong, online and authenticable to every citizen
Aadhaar has done a lot in this area but the government needs to work with service providers so they can utilize the infrastructure. Something on the lines of Social Security Number in the US. You can walk into any store, give your SSN and the shop keeper can provide you many services like offering credit. It also works as an identification proof.
Mobile phone & bank account enabling citizen participation in digital & financial space
I think the difficult problem is bringing banking to every citizen. The real financial inclusion will come when the credit market is democratized. An individual with top credit rating needs to pay at least 4% more than bank base rate while a corrupt industrialist with the chequered history of not paying loans, can get loans at sub base rate. If people have money, they will open bank accounts and that is not the biggest problem to be solved. Credit is the biggest problem. So all this mobile phone is just a gimmick and I don't think governments need to worry about this aspect. There is sufficient private investment in this area already at work.
Easy access to a Common Service Centre
Yes, great idea, something like the PCO revolution of earlier times.
Shareable private space on a public cloud
There is already a service called Digital Locker. As usual it is like a service designed by a government. There are some good features, for examples your issuers can directly put your documents in your digital locker. But currently there are only two issuers in the system. Why can't government get authorities like Income Tax Department to use this, I don't know? There is an app in Android Play Store called DigitalLocker, which looks like an app for this service, but the publisher of the app is Puja Singh. I was not sure that this is Government of India, so I did not install it. The service gives 1 GB of space, which in my view is too little. But still a good start if all the government departments sign-up and don't ask me to send them self-attested documents every now and then, it is probably worth it. If GoI thinks that it is a replacement of Google Drive, I am sorry, they are mistaken. I don't see anybody using this service if it is not useful for government work. 
Safe and secure cyber-space
This is just about CERT-in.

Governance and service on demand

Current Status and my expectation
Seamlessly integrated services across departments or jurisdictions
The vision talks about open source and open APIs being established by the government for functioning across departments. Unfortunately, they refer to a site which is not working at this time, so I can't really say much about ti.
Services available in real time from online & mobile platforms
This is all about mobile. They have created a mobile governance app store, I really don't see the point of it, if all the apps are android apps, why not publish these on android play store. There are 642 apps available as of this writing which are downloaded total 337145 times. Clearly the AppStore is not popular. In my opinion, the government should concentrate on building following this.
  • Build and authentication and authorization system which can be used by ISVs to authenticate and authorize users
  • Publish open APIs which use above authentication system and let independent developers build apps
All citizen entitlements to be portable and available on the cloud
This is where government needs to get out of the mindset of building platforms. Here information needs to be provided and the government owns that information. The area refers to the GoI cloud platform (Meghraj) but actually very little information is made available online.
Digitally transformed services for improving ease of doing business
This is about bringing government services related to starting and functioning of business online. Here also I think they need to take the open API approach. Since many regulatory compliance issues can be sorted easily by integrating business IT systems with GoI systems using these open APIs.
Making financial transactions electronic & cashless
Primary talks about a payment gateway just for government service. Would probably make paying government and receiving payment from government easier. Till the time it interworks with other payment gateways, I think it is a great step.
Leveraging Geospatial Information System (GIS) for decision support systems & development
Talks about integrating geospatial data in decision making. Very little information about what is happening or has happened.

Digital empowerment of citizens

Current Status and my expectation
Universal Digital Literacy
Primarily talks about two things. The first being extending the fiber network to villages and the second being about settings up institutes so that people can be taught how to do e-governance transactions. As per the documentation available on NOFN website, the fiber network is currently available till block level and the plan is to extend it to gram panchayat level.
Universally accessible digital resources
This is about making information available to citizens. Nobody can argue with that, but the only concrete reference is which is an insufficient and old news.
All documents/certificates to be available on cloud
Talks about making sure that citizens are not asked to submit documents and certificates in dealing with government offices. Nothing concrete is talked about here. 
Availability of digital resources/ services in Indian languages
Talks about making content available in Indian languages.
Collaborative digital platforms for participative governance
Talks about having a platform for collaborative governance. Refers to using social media and governments platform. We will have to see if the interactions on these platforms are truly collaborative.
The initiative Digital India seems to be a good idea. The only problem that I have that it probably has not been thought through. Many items are a continuum of what has been going on. There are very few breakthrough ideas. Also in a mission like this, government's job should be of the platform provider, facilitator, and regulator. Rather than that it seems to be a typical government program.
If Government of India can build a platform with standardized authentication and authorization and open APIs then the market can take over from there and end user experiences can be built easily. Rather than that, the government is trying to do too many things at the same time. One thing the market is very good at, that is creating user experiences and deepening the reach of services, as we have seen in the case of technologies like WhatsApp. Probably the reach of Whatsapp may be second only to the reach of Aadhaar in India.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why we need a new twitter?

Twitter has become a garbage dump. Even though I don't follow many controversial people, still tweets, re-tweets, promoted tweets finally results in my timeline being full of garbage. So I am wondering what is the solution. There is still sufficient information that comes on my timeline that I am interested in but it is becoming more and more difficult by each passing day to decipher good information.

As a rule, I block anybody who I am not interested in. I have nothing against anybody who wants to say something, I am just not interested in spending my time in listening to it. Still some of my friends are interested in what others have to say and most retweet without thinking. That garbage shows up in my timeline.

So I am thinking what is the solution. Here is what I propose.

We need a cross-breed of Liinkedin and Twitter. What we need is the social graph of the LinkedIn with the degree of separation and approval and the broadcast capability and ease of use of twitter.

  • The edges  in social graph has to be directional. Basically, if I am interested in listening to what somebody has to say, that doesn't automatically mean he is interested in what I have to say.
  • I only see messages from my direct connections, if somebody else wants to reach me, he has to go through the message forward model of LinkedIn
  • Promoted messages should clearly mention which of  the attributes of my interaction are causing that particular promoted message to show up in my timeline.
  • If a person is blocked by a specified number of people, he is automatically thrown off the system. Basically we need an algorithm to locate people who are paid to abuse.
What say guys, somebody wants to build it. Or better still, fund me I will build it. I will call the system Cricket and a message would be called Chirp :-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Katapayadi system of verses

As I am researching the π, I find interesting ways ancient indian researchers described their findings. One such methodology used is Katapayadi System of verses. It is basically an system of code so that things can be defined in a way so that people can remember. The code is as follows.

1 23456789
क  ख ग घ ङ च  छ  ज  झ 
ट  ठ ड ढ ण त थ द ध 
प   फ  ब  भ  म  
य   र  ल  व  श  ष  स  ह  क्ष  
With the above key in place, Sri Bharathi Krishna Tirtha in his Vedic Mathematics gives following verse.
गोपी भाग्य मधुव्रात  श्रुङ्गिशो दधिसन्धिग  |
खलजीवित खाताव गलहालारसंधार |
If we replace the code from the above table in the above verse, here is what we get.
31 41 5926 535 89793
23846 264 33832792
That gives us \( \frac{π}{10} = 0.31415926535897932384626433832792\)

Apprantly this methodology of remembering digits of π has a name. It is called Piphilology.
Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant π. The word is a play on the word "pi" itself and of the linguistic field of philology.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

π Day and India

Yesterday was π day and my friend Haldar Rana posted this quiz on π. I started to look around the Indian contribution with respect to π. Here are some of the stuff that I found.

Aryabhatta talks about π in following way.

  • Add 4 to 100
  • Multiply by 8
  • Add 62000. 
  • The result is approximately the circumference of the circle whose diameter is 20000. 
With above calculation the value of PI comes to 3.1416.

Madhava has done some more serious work with π. He defines π as the ratio of the circumference (2,827,433,388,233) of a circle of diameter \( 9*10^{11} \). Which yields 3.14159265359.

Madhava also came up with Madhava Series.

\(\fracπ4 = 1 - \frac 13 + \frac 15 - \frac17+...\)

Ramanujam later discovered another series that converged much faster.

I will write another post with details of all that.