Saturday, December 29, 2012

Even in India, a timer for Green light may be hazardous

A timer for green signal may be hazardous in India as well. Yesterday's headline in the Chandigarh news - One killed as truck driver steps on the gas to cross traffic light.

It appears that the driver stepped on gas as he noticed only five seconds were left for the timer. He did not beat the signal but managed to hit "three cars, 2 two-wheelers, and two people on a cycle".

There is an alternate version of the truth:   Truck driver goes on the rampage

In this case, the driver managed to "hit a cyclist, a motorcycle, five cars (two on the opposite side of the divider) and an Activa scooter."

I suppose it is close enough except that the crucial bit about speeding up to beat the signal was missing :
The driver of the truck told the police that the brakes of the truck failed. However, eyewitnesses said the driver was drunk and was driving recklessly.
I prefer the former version of the truth as it confirms what I expect to happen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Anger and Rage - Justice in all Courts and not just Fast Courts

There was a third incident of rage and rampage in China - in addition to the two which were highly visible in India last week. This one also attacked school children as in the US. I was struck by the quote:
“Chinese society is full of anger and rage,” said Murong Xuecun, a best-selling novelist and popular online commentator. “Everybody has anger. It must be noted that every society has its share of sociopaths. But for China to have so many is no doubt abnormal.”
This could apply equally well to India. I am troubled by repeated requests for fast-track courts for various crimes which catch the imagination of media and public. This distracts from the obvious need for justice for any and all crimes - no matter how small.

Heinrich von Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas (ebook on Gutenberg) is a classic example of the problems a society can face as a consequence of a relatively minor injustice of misuse of power.

I wish we would accept research on deterrence and re-work the legal system accordingly:
Research has shown that increasing the severity of a punishment does not have much effect on crime, while increasing the certainty of punishment does have a deterrent effect
I suspect that the likelihood of conviction would go up if the severity of punishment was less.
  • Risk of the consequences of a wrong decision will be much lower. 
  • The reward for subverting the judicial process would also be lower. 
  • The process of trial would probably shorten and all pending cases would benefit.
This would be quite analogous to tax compliance increasing as the income tax rates go down.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Protests in Delhi

I find myself frustrated by people craving for capital punishment when all evidence points to its uselessness as an effective deterrent. I hope some sociologists and psychologists will study and help us understand why so many men in India are exhibiting such repulsive behaviour. Obviously, there is a lot that is wrong with our society. What should we fix first and who will do it?

A friend was suggesting a couple of months ago that the increase in the rape incidents in Haryana may be a direct consequence of mothers and fathers aborting the girl children and leading to a shameful ratio of girls to boys.

However, the protests in Delhi may result in one minor irritant being reduced. Hopefully, we will see a reduction in the security for the VIP's. Ideally, all MP's or MLA's showing off their cars with a light on top trailed by gun wielding police should lose elections. But I suspect that most people are not as angered by such vulgar display power and ownership of the public infrastructure as I am.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Justice or Revenge?

Two events in the last week have been very disturbing. They were so sickening and painful that I have no desire to search and link to them.

The non-stop discussions over the horrid event in Delhi again brings up the issue that are we craving for justice or revenge. How do we as a society ensure that such deviants do not cause damage without creating a police state which results in severe constraints and arbitrary injustices?

In the incident in the US, the craving for revenge disappeared as the perpetrator appears to have killed his mother who had bought the guns and himself. So, the focus is on how to prevent dangerous weapons being easily accessible to anyone.

I am reminded of the masterful and deeply troubling film by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange. It remains unsurpassed and relevant even after 40 years in examining pointless violence and we are any closer to coming to terms with it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Public Transport - the way it should be

Northern Europe was a fantastic place for public transport - it may still be but I haven't been back for over 30 years.

One incident has remained in my memory as an example of all that was good about Europe.

It was in Amsterdam and I was in a tram. A ticket checker boarded the tram and started checking. There was a man who was caught. He had a muti-trip ticket but had not used it. The ticket collector was very pleasant. She took the card from him and punched it. She did not fine him or even talk rudely to him. As best as I could understand, she seemed to suggest that he should not forget to punch his card next time :)

Experiencing The Bus Service in Chandigarh - Wishing it were better

Yesterday, for the first time, I decided to use the public bus in Chandigarh. I had given my car for repair - a neighbour had probably thrown a cricket ball and cracked the windshield.

I waited about 20 minutes and took the bus home. It was comfortable and not very crowded. However, I felt that the bus stops should be better located.

I saw the net and the bus frequency for the bus near my home was half hour. I decided to use the bus back to the car repair shop. The route is quite convenient for some of the markets we go to. I even planned using the bus during periods when traffic and parking is maddening.

I gave sufficient time and was not in any hurry. I waited and waited. The bus stop said that the frequency was every 20 minutes. However, I trusted the net time table more - every 30 minutes. After 40 minutes, I gave up and took an auto-rickshaw.

Will I use the public bus or recommend it to someone? Chances are - not likely - which is a pity. While I was waiting, I saw a number of potential passengers give up.

If we consider the internet, we have seen that the very successful companies have provided excellent performance and reliability and not made any profits until much later. Public transport has to have a similar approach if it needs to succeed and become an integral part of the city life.

It doesn't matter if the frequency is low but, in that case, it is even more important that the service timings are honoured. If the people who take decisions, ever travelled by bus, I am sure the reliability of the bus service would be far better.

However, I would wish that the city charged a tax on petrol and diesel and used it to ensure a reliable with a reasonably high frequency of bus service of bus service so that people who have an option, don't turn away from public transport.

It won't happen but hope is eternal.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stuck for a one rupee revenue stamp!

My public provident fund had completed fifteen years and I decided to withdraw the amount. SBI branch was fairly quick except for one little thing.

Government requires a one rupee revenue stamp on the receipt. I would have gladly put 10 times the amount using an ordinary stamp or even paid 100 times the amount in cash to the bank instead of having to search for a damn one rupee revenue stamp.

The need for the revenue stamp makes no sense but persists, possibly, as per Newton's third law.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Fair Way to Set Taxi Fares

There are hardly any taxis visible in North Delhi. None of the autos I used were ready to go with a meter. There is a perception and discomfort of feeling cheated.

As I sat in the train, having made it just in time in spite of starting fairly early, I wonder if the problem lies with the way the fares are set.

The standard way of setting taxi fare is via the distance travelled and a small component for waiting charges. Perhaps in congested environments, this just is not fair to the driver. It may be useful for regulators to consider the taxi fares as two distinct components - the operating cost and the earnings for the driver. The former can be based primarily on the distance travelled. The latter, however, should be on the hourly wage a driver should earn to have a comfortable life.

If that happens, may be drivers will go by the meter and not grumble or refuse trips passing through congested areas. And the passengers man not mind the driver taking a longer detour which saves time.

A Unique Way to See Off Relations/Friends/Guests

In the high speed lane of the highway, a car was stalled. The warning lights were on. As I approached nearer, I could see a couple with folded hands(Namaste). An older couple, at least middle age if not more,  was climbing over the divider of the highway!

What a way to drop guests at a convenient location!

At 80KM/hr, I could not see more. I wonder if the old couple sprinted across the remaining half of the highway :)