Monday, March 27, 2017

Improving Indian Railways



   
While India is well known for its hospitality, relaxed and gentle people on the positive side; on the negative side it is also known for chaos, disorder and crowding. It is therefore not surprising that similar values have entered one of the largest railway networks of the world, the Indian Railways. While the new Dynamic Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi and the dynamic Rail Minister Shri Suresh Prabhu have done a lot to improve the situation, a lot still remains to be done. Here are four brief suggestions that are easy to implement and would improve the service quality manifold, increase earnings and save costs for the railways

1 Forum for Suggestions

A new web portal is needed linked through the IRCTC web site on - Forum for Your Suggestions. The best of services in our world have improved through suggestions of users and there is no reason why the Railways should not do so similarly. It can be Facebook style, where a registered user can post a comment and even a picture with option for replies by others to promote a discussion. Some dedicated railway officers can then look through and forward any useful ideas to relevant department, even the Minister himself if felt necessary, while other railway personnel can also look through to see what the public thinks.

2 The IRCTC Website

Recently this author used the IRCTC web site. The site worked extremely well which is a remarkable feat given the huge amount of data it has to tackle. Hundreds of thousands of travelers benefit from it daily and are grateful to it. That includes this author. Therefore it is with a sad heart that this author feels obliged to mention a  shortcoming. The idea is that it may be rectified soon and this excellent website win glory, not just across India but across the planet.

The shortcoming was the interface. One was aghast to see the customer interface design. It was an overcrowded and confused web page typical of the traditional Indian Bazaar. The site was fully functional and worked efficiently but the interface design was horrible. While many an Indian user used to similar things may not notice, it must surely cast India in very poor light to an International audience. Some of them leave the site soon as they see the mess instead of proceeding. Following is a screen shot of a part of the opening page.



The page that opens after logging in is even more crowded. However some of the linked pages such as for FTR services is well designed but it is the first two pages that one uses most. It is suggested that IRCTC immediately seek help of International experts to remove this shortcoming. If reluctant to do so, this author will do it for them free in a spirit of public service, just send over the web master with a lap top to him for a few days for guidance (this blogger will contact if a name and contact number is left as comment to this post).

The workings of many a leading English language website is the work of Indian professionals but the man-machine interface of it is the work of western ones. This is because in general (there are exceptions) the former have the brains for the job but at the present time the latter are more likely to have  the sense of beauty, order and simplicity required to design the interface. The precise reason for these cultural differences perhaps arise from the history of their recent generations, things such as weakness in governance, poverty etc. It shall change when these things change as they have begun to now. More on this is not the subject of this blog but another one by the author

In the meantime the following tips would help

  1. Look up International websites of similar services as a guide to designs
  2. Use less information per page, moving it to addition pages if necessary and include blank spaces on the page for pity on mind of visitors.
  3. Use larger and clearer fonts and lighter colors
  4. Give large space to the services such as login area and plan my trip, not small tiny pieces of the page
  5. The captcha in clear letters as used by the website is of no use to stall robots; it is easily decipherable by machines. See google blogger for examples on how to design these
  6. Move all but a few of most used links from top to a side bar, look up facebook or twitter left side bar as an example of design. The twitter web page is an excellent example of a good web page design

Following is an example of an International website. Compare the two designs to realize what is being said in this note. These screen shots show only parts of the page because the full pages were too big to capture in one picture.

3 The Waiting List

It seems laws dating back to the past century have hung around in Indian law books and similar seems the practice of waiting lists for booking. There is no need for one in the new system that has Tatkal and computer bookings. It only creates additional work for the railways, stress for the hapless traveler and confusion for all. Here is how it can be done away with

  1. After reserving a percentage of seats for Tatkal and any special quota, release all seats for confirmed bookings. When seats are filled message that no more seats are available but a passenger may try tatkal one day before journey
  2. Transfer any bookings that are cancelled prior to a day before the journey to Tatkal quota. It may be considered if refunds should be allowed only if claimed 24 hours before scheduled journey.

No doubt some die hard traditionalists will point out the advantages of the waiting list system and try to retain it but they forget a far bigger advantage – The Joy and ease of simplicity and certainty.

4 Not Permitting Humans to sink to Animal levels

Many trains have an unreserved general portion and it seems that the Railways issues unlimited tickets for these to the extent that some have suffocated in unreserved bogies, or climbed on train roof tops. All of India’s millions should not be allowed to buy a ticket for a single train and suffocate each other in the process. Rather, common sense demands that there must be a limited number of tickets that are sold for general unreserved class, to the extent that the journey remains a humane one. This will require a somewhat complex algorithm to take care of sales at intermediate stations but it is something almost any computer science IIT graduate can do with ease.

Note: This author has been and IIT Professor and an International Professor as well. He has also been a paid consultant in past to Indian Railways Safety organization for an extensive study on bearing failure after a mishap near Mathura.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Removing a Blog post


Every once in a while it happens that after one has written a post one feels later that it may not have the best impact and then it is best to remove it. I had to do that yesterday in this blog.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Design of Indian Notes and Coins – Selection of Denominations



The denominations in which the notes and coins of any country exist have an impact on daily financial transactions of that country. Selecting the best possible denominations is by no means a random or casual process. It requires deep study and research. Not all countries have that expertise.

Fortunately there is an easy way out, learn from the experience of other successful economies and adapt their selection with any necessary modification. The largest and most dynamic economy in the world over the last century or so has been the American one and lessons may be learned from their selection. The Canadians have not only copied their model but also the design of their coins closely varying the print and logo for their own country. The present note is now confined to India. The denomination of notes and coins as prevail are:

Coins: ½, 1, 2, 5, 10 Rupees
Notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and higher values in Rupees

Compare this to the American and Canadian Selection;

Coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 Cents
Notes: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 Dollars and higher values


The Indian selection may have been an appropriate one a few decades ago when the value of a dollar was close to that of the Rupee. However since then, inflation has brought a dollar closer to hundred rupees rather than 1 and the present selection no longer remains appropriate. A correction can be made with the following changes:

  1. Stop production of 5, 10, and 20 Rupee notes and let them be extinguished naturally over time. Instead launch a production of a 200 Rupee note. Any duplication between notes and coins is not only wasteful, it is also stupid.
  2. In coins stop production of 2 Rupee coins. Instead launch a 25 Rupee coin
Under the present scheme, even the 50 Rupee note is superfluous but it may be retained until enough 25 rupee coins come in circulation. The 1/2 Rupee coin may however be retained until some time in future until inflation erodes its usefulness.
.
Japan:

The Indian Rupee, Japanese Yen and The American Cent all have a value that is of the same order of magnitude and fluctuates with market variations.  One could also look at the Japanese example to select denominations of notes and coins. Bills come in 1,000 yen, 2,000 yen (very rare), and 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen denominations. Coins come in 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen and 500 yen denominations. Counterfeit money is not an issue in Japan.

The equivalent pattern translated to India would lead to

Coins: 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 Rupees
Notes:  1000, 2000, Rupees and higher values

This shows a heavy dependence on coins rather than notes, therefore the American pattern is closer to existing Indian practice. But it may be noted that here too, there is no 2 rupee coin equivalent and it is best discarded as soon as possible to make transactions quicker and simpler.. However unlike the American quarter, 25 they have a 50 yen coin. It seems either would be just as effective. There is also no duplication between notes and coins.

Design: Aside from denominations, a proper selection of design of notes and coins is also needed. Here again the example of USA and Canada  is a good one to follow since they have not felt the need to change their designs for a century while those in India change every few years. Not changing the design would bring to an end the lucrative and corrupt industry that makes commissions from design changes likely but instead will ease machine handling of notes and promote coin operated slot machines.

For a History of Indian Coins and Currency see this excellent article:

Note: The reader may read more on the topic by the author in an earlier note of this blog on the same issue here:
http://steamcenter.blogspot.in/2016/08/indian-coinage-international-conspiracy.html

At the Present time, a remonetization drive launched by PM Narendra Modi is on in India in order to clean up the financial system, The adoption of suggestions 1 and 2 above will help ease the cash shortage rapidly.


Note: The author has used the word – stupid and mention of corruption in this note intentionally, not from arrogance but in utmost humility because the use of diplomatic language in such matters often causes the point to be missed or glossed over.


Monday, September 05, 2016

An exciting New Forest Project for India and World





Tiger Tiger
Save my Fiber

A newspaper report today (see here) indicated that villagers have expressed a desire to move out of a forest area in order to access more modern infrastructure. In fact many more villages would do so voluntarily provided they are given a good alternative. Herein lies an opportunity for India and the world to achieve three highly laudable goals

  1. Expand forests by connecting existing patches that are near to each other thereby improving climate and environment of the planet
  2. Create an expanded tiger and other wild animal reserve for rapidly disappearing animals as well as forest flora and bio resources
  3. Create model new villages based on innovative new design as suggested earlier by this author (see here)
Corridors of compassion as described in an earlier post in the blog (see here) may then be created for any highways that pass through this forest.

https://twitter.com/ADevotedYogi/status/478598643897753600

No doubt such a project requires a national level effort with International assistance from UN and other bodies too and a dynamic leader that India fortunately has presently in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Any investment by India shall return many times over as a huge tourist draw and environmental benefits.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/Marmada-villagers-volunteer-to-move-out-of-Kailadevi-Sanctuary/articleshow/54023507.cms

Note: Any reforestation of connecting patches must be with mixed varieties of trees chosen from trees natural in adjacent areas in order to provide a natural connecting belt. Due to required relocations, the project may have to be divided in several phases. The first phase may be chosen as making Ranthambore and Kaila Devi continuous so as to provide immediate breathing space to a choked Ranthambore. A natural movement of flora and fauna would then take place over time.



UPDATE Feb. 7, 2017

A news item today in Times of India revealed that Kalisil Lake may be notified as a wetland. This is a huge step towards preserving  wild life, environment and bio-diversity in India that has been vanishing otherwise.


It is also a step towards the above forestation project because it is located between two wildlife national reserves of Bharatpur and Kaila Devi. A damn stretches all the way to the town of Kailadevi and the plateau to Chambal valley while it stretches to the tiger reserve of Ranthambore to the south. A forestry project is required around the gorges in the plateau along with compassionate corridors for wild Animals to roam through.
 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to Curb Corruption in India



Countries that have low levels of corruption have a high quality of life and much beauty

It is widely recognized that corruption is a major cause that holds back development in India and perpetuates poverty. More than ten years ago, this author published a note that described a mathematical relationship between levels of corruption and levels of poverty that prevail in different parts of the world. It is in the public domain online.

The new Government of Shri Narendra Modi has been seized of the problem. One of its achievements has been elimination of big ticket top level corruption. While this is sure to have an impact over the long term, in the immediate future it seems that at lower levels corruption shall continue to increase as it has over the last several decades. Today a report in the Times of India described that it has increased by 5% in 2015. Corrupt officials at the lower level are like carnivorous animals that once having tasted human blood cannot live without it. Such corruption is what citizens face daily leading to extreme harassment and distrust in government organizations.

The TOI report says, the government amended the prevention of corruption act last year with longer prison terms for both bribe givers and bribe takers. Herein lies a trap that promotes corruption. Bribe givers become accomplices in the crime from fear of prosecution even if bribe is extorted from them as it often is. A new amendment to the law would correct this lacuna and go a long way in fighting widespread corruption in India,
“Provided that the bribe giver shall have immunity from prosecution under this act if he reports the crime within a week of the offense online or by registered letter at the following address-----.”
The act can work with lightening speed if yet another amendment is added,
If the bribe giver submits evidence of the offense that leads to conviction then he shall win a reward that is xx times the amount of bribe given.
This reward can easily be extracted from the property of the bribe taker.

Image source:
http://www.wallpaperhd.pk/austria-tourism-village-wallpaper/

UPDATE December 10, 2016:

A recent report of the 22 most corrupt countries in the world clearly shows that as it has always through human history that the most miserable countries of the world are the most corrupt ones. See:

https://in.news.yahoo.com/most-corrupt-countries-world-000101417.html

While this study considers countries as a whole, it has also been observed that within countries the most miserable parts are the most corrupt parts of that country.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Indian Coinage - An International Conspiracy?




An update on November 2016 demonetization in India added at end of this note

Having lived and worked in both the west and India, one thing has never ceased to amaze this author more than the utter chaos that prevails in the design of Indian notes and coinage ever since a decade or so after independence from British Rule.

It was not so when India was part of the British Empire. Then the design of Indian rupee coin remained essentially unchanged for decades. What changed was the image of the ruling Monarch on the coin. Ever since then, the design of the Indian one rupee coin has changed with great rapidity so many times that it is difficult to keep count. So has the design of other coins so that if one was past forty one would have to pull out one’s specs to make out which is which. It is hard to distinguish between a one and two rupee coin without reading what is on it. Compare this to the US where even a blind person or child can tell the difference between a penny, nickel, dime and quarter just by holding it. The design of coins in US and Canada are in distinct sizes and have remained unchanged for decades as was the case with the Indian Rupee in the British Era.

Chaos prevails not just in the design of coins but also in the choice of their denominations. One wonders why there is a two rupee coin in the first place or why also not a three and four rupee coin too. The choice of denomination is a matter of careful and specialized study and research. Fortunately most countries need not do it. They can just copy others who have. If US can function with a 1 cent, 5 cent and 10 cent coin only and go on to become the largest, most dynamic economy in the world, one wonders why India needs 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupee coin. USA also has a 25 cent coin called a quarter. India does not need a 25 rupee coin yet but instead needs an additional 50 paisa coin at the moment.

The first impression of this author was that this confusion and chaos in coin design is merely a matter of carelessness or enthusiasm of designers gone out of control with an element of a financial commission thrown in, every time a new die has to be cast. When Raghuram Rajan became the RBI governor this author was inspired enough to write to him about it in 2013. He has been a former student from IIT when this author was a Professor there. Moreover the Governor has lived in the west and can appreciate the matter. Therefore, this author immediately prepared a note on the issue that included suggestions on how the situation may be corrected. The communication was sent to him at more than one email address as well as a public open letter that is still on facebook. A copy will be added as an addendum to this note for easy reference. However, there was absolutely no response or action on his part and the situation has remained unchanged or become worse since then

Recently the thought occurred to this author that there may be a deep International conspiracy behind the chaos in coin designs rather than just neglect. This author is not a conspiracy theorist but when there are signs of one afoot he feels it is better to voice the concern for others to examine. One might wonder what the conspiracy could be. In a different blog that deals with philosophical and other issues this author has described that at the root of development of nations is the level of chaos or order that prevails in a nation. The earlier note describing relationship of chaos to development can be found here:


While order leads to development, disorder and chaos leads to the reverse. It has been in the interest of the developed world and money powers that dominate the world that undeveloped parts of the world remain so. If other nations too develop, it dilutes their influence in the world as also the potential to export their goods.

If one wishes to keep a part of the world undeveloped, promoting chaos and confusion is the best available tool. What better way to instill it in the psyche of citizens than through something very basic all have to deal with at all times i.e. the design of money – notes and coins

The story of currency notes is similar; their colors keep changing and are often indistinguishable so that many a citizen has lost his five hundred rupee note for a purchase worth one hundred rupees on a dusky evening or a hurried moment. One wonders why colors keep changing. The US and Canadian dollars have remained green for as long as one can remember. What is even more confounding is why the colors are not distinct when the Lord has colored our world in so many different colors. Even prehistoric man knew how to use distinct colors in man-made products they dealt with such as their pottery and therefore lack of technology is not the cause here.  

The dynamic new Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi has special expertise in the matter of colors and it is hoped that when a copy of this note reaches him and the new RBI Governor, a change will be made on the issue in the near future.Currency can be very colorful as the following image shows. it is tragic that while Australia has launched a currency that blind persons can distingusih, India has one that even those with eyes cannot.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/australia-new-banknote-5-dollars-blind-people-braille-raised-bumps-a7219396.html
Regarding Professor Swami who was this author’s Professor having taught him economics at IIT Delhi during 1970-71, may it be said that his deduction that Governor Rajan may work for International Interests is not at all far fetched. Firstly, it is impossible to attain a senior position in the IMF unless one furthers such interests; secondly, it is unlikely that one can remain a Professor of economics for long in a leading International University in the US without it (with some notable exception such as Noam Chomsky). This author has been a Professor in a leading Western University too and is fully aware of the mechanisms that come in to play.

Addendum: An old note on the topic by author at


An Open letter to Shri Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India
Dear Shri Raghuram Rajan.

For a long time now, as a concerned and educated citizen some questions have troubled me and several other citizens of India about the design of Indian currency notes and coins.

One feels emboldened to raise these queries with you now because of your IIT and International academic background. My own background is precisely similar. I too am an IITian and I too have been on the faculty of a North American University. I was an Assistant Professor at IIT Delhi in the year you graduated from there and have taught you thermodynamics (I mention this as a side because if you recall some of that thermodynamics, frequent change and chaos are the most entropy increasing processes leading to highest inefficiencies).
I have two simple questions in this connection:
  1. Why is the design of Indian coins and notes changed so frequently (in USA they have hardly changed for a century, more or less and neither did they in British India so frequently)?
  2. Why are the colors of our currency notes not distinct to avoid the possibility of confusion?
I realize that there may be possibility of reduced perks and commissions for designers of coins, dies and those authorizing it in case designs do not keep changing at great speed if corruption exists in this area but if that is the case it is hoped you will not support a perpetuation of this practice. It also paints India as a country with unstable policies in the eyes of the world. Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to rectify this in Germany. From a practical point of view it makes it impossible to design coin operated machines in India. Moreover older persons cannot tell which is which without their reading glasses and that is a real nuisance and neither can young children or the illiterate who have not yet learned to read.
In these questions, criticism of existing practice is implied therefore may I suggest a simple solution to the problem so that this note is constructive:
1.      If we are incapable of creating stable and distinct designs as indeed has been the case for more than half a century one can easily copy the design of another country for example US coinage and notes. With coins, a one rupee coin like a penny (in a cheaper metal rather than copper), five rupee like a nickel, and ten rupees like a dime. A 25 rupee quarter could be introduced in future if necessary. The fifty paisa coin in existing design may continue for as long as it is required. Or even better we can make the size incrementally increasing according to value of coin in these designs to even improve upon the US practice by swapping the nickel and the dime that are in incorrect order for historical reasons in US where they value stability and do not change on whim even if an error has been made.
2.      As regards notes, one may copy the color and design of US notes i.e. a 100 rupee note like the US one dollar bill and five hundred rupee note in five dollar bill color and so on. Similarly the 1000 rupee note may be in the color of the ten dollar bill. Whenever 2000 rupee, 5000 rupee notes are introduced the remaining colors could similarly be copied.
There need not be an issue of ego or pride in adopting successful designs from elsewhere in the world. Rather it is a mark of wisdom to do so. It goes without saying that the picture and print designs on coins and notes will be our very own national ones. Aside from sending this to reserve bank, your Chicago academic address I am also posting it as a public note in case other valuable suggestions are given by others in comments. With regards and best wishes and also a belated congratulations for your successful career from a prof to an ex-student
Ashok
Dr. Ashok Malhotra, B.Tech, IIT Delhi, Ph.D., UBC Canada
UPDATE APRIL 27, 2015
Even Coin Mix needs urgent rationalization
Indian coinage in the one to ten rupee range uses coins of 1, 2, 5 and 10 rupees on the other hand in a similar range in Canada and USA the coins are 1, 5 and 10 cents. Therefore one of these choices is faulty. Both cannot be optimal. One only has to glance at how the economy has been moving in the former countries over the last seventy years as compared to India to deduce which is a better choice. The conclusion is that there is no need for a 2 Rupee coin. Keeping both in circulation only increases cost, confusion, calculation, and banking and transaction times with no benefit at all. The minting of 2 rupee coins must be abolished immediately in the view of this author. A 2 rupee thing is easily purchased with two 1 rupee coins instead. In the years ahead though there may be a need to introduce a 25 rupee coin (a quarter) by learning from the experience of countries that have already been there



UPDATE November 19, 2016 : Demonetization in India

Around ten days ago the government of India demonetized two of highest denomination notes in order to control illicit cash flows and use. While the objective is laudable the replacement with new currency notes is causing huge problems at the time of writing this update. One of the reasons for this problem is one mentioned in the earlier note above, a careless design of notes and coins in India. The new replacement notes were of a different size to the original ones and thus existing cash dispensing machines require re-engineering. In USA they standardized the size of their currency note one hundred years ago.

Random and quick variations in sizes, denominations and designs of both notes and coins create huge logistical problems in the modern machine driven world. While the psychology of designers still remains primitive, solutions are desperately needed. As already mentioned earlier in the note, there is no shame in copying from other countries that have already done a good of it. Why reinvent the wheel? It is once again reiterated that a high powered committee be formed by the government to look into the issue even with consultants from Japan and USA and this problem be solved once and for all for the next hundred years if India has to stand  proudly as a leading nation in the world. Action is required.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A New Revised Approach to Cleaning the Ganga River



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagirathi_River_at_Gangotri.JPG
When Ma Ganga flows, pure it brings prosperity to lands it flows through, otherwise it brings misery to the same lands; the more the pollution, the greater the misery.
  
The Ganges River has been the foremost lifeline of Northern India ever since the disappearance of the Saraswati River more than three thousand years ago. Lives of millions depend upon it. However, sadly, it has become one of the most polluted rivers of the world.

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganges)

The Ganges was ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world in 2007. Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in his speeches pointed out the sad condition of the Ganges a river sacred to millionsEven before the Lok Sabha elections ended, he repeatedly mentioned that he would work towards improvement of the river. However a report in the Times of India today detailed how progress has been slow despite intense and sincere efforts. The scale of the task at hand is simply too huge. See,


Revised Approach

Seeing that efforts at cleaning the Ganges have failed repeatedly over last many decades, a fresh look and a completely new approach is now proposed in this note. It will yield immediate and excellent results. This new approach does not involve intensifying efforts to clean most of the Ganges but rather involves neglecting most of it.

The approach proposed here is that instead of trying to clean the entire Ganges in one go, all attention and resources be focused on just one section at a time, starting from its origin and proceeding downstream. Once a section has been cleaned to the highest most pristine level of excellence, only then should one proceed to the next section leaving behind a monitoring office.

The task of the monitoring office would be to monitor if the cleanliness is maintained and report violations to a central office for speedy correction so as to nip the problem in its bud. The monitoring office must have apparatus for quick inspection by land, water, air and space too and a laboratory attached to it for analyzing water samples.

Thus the river may be divided in nine such steps headquartered at the following nine locations.

Haridwar
Kannauj,
Farukhabad,
Kanpur.
Allahabad,
Varanasi,
Patna,
Bhagalpur,.
Pakur

At Pakur, the river Ganges, flowing south-southeast, begins its diversion branching away of its first distributary, the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, which later joins with other tributaries to become the Hooghly River, a cleaning of which is a separate project of its own.


The present approach is sure to produce results while the existing one of scattering attention all along the river shall fail. It is the approach that seems to have been used to restore polluted rivers of Europe to a pristine state as well despite the fact that they too flow through crowded towns and cities. On the average if each section requires one year the project would take nine years but from the first year on some portions will become fully clean. Local and state level efforts to keep their portions of the river clean may however continue as always all along the length of the river with identical results as before i.e. leading to more filth.

Improving Indian Railways

    W hile India is well known for its hospitality, relaxed and gentle people on the positive side; on the negative side it is a...