Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A tribute to one of India’s better angels

Understated, unassuming and often underappreciated, Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s current Prime Minister has in his lifetime changed a billion lives. To put that number in perspective, that’s 1/6th of the world’s population and more than twice the size of the United States. However, most of the world hasn’t even heard his name and members of the opposition party often describe him as weak.

Regardless of your political orientation we must all admit that over the last 30 years Dr. Singh has served his country in a number of roles with sincerity and excellence.

As finance minister, Dr. Singh’s policies opened up the Indian economy, which paved way for the robust growth we enjoy today. Quite ironically 12 years later as Prime Minister, Dr. Singh has been busy taming the beast; balancing corporate interests versus what’s good for the common man. Whatever your thoughts on the Indo-US nuclear pact, no one can deny that our Prime Minister stood firm for what he believed was in the best interest of our nation. He risked his credibility, his legacy and his government on that belief. After 26/11 when all of us were calling for our neighbor’s head, Dr. Singh kept his about him. Sure a couple of aerial shots of things blowing up on television would have helped us all sleep a little better but how would that play out when we woke up the next morning? Dr. Singh’s firm handling of the situation and his focus on a long term solution will yield much better results than any bomb ever could.

In my eyes, Dr. Singh embodies the very characteristics of what it means to be Indian not because of the language that he speaks, the clothes he wears or the religion that he follows but because of the values he regularly demonstrates; humility, integrity, compassion and determination. It’s quite a miracle that such a sincere individual is at the helm of such a corrupt bureaucracy. That’s not to say its smooth sailing from here on, Dr. Singh faces a sea of obstacles but in a fight between our country’s demons and her better angels, this time, we might just have ourselves a fair fight.

And yet we ask, who is India’s Barrack Obama? I’m sure mother India is looking down upon us, banging her head against a wall as her citizens frantically look for a treasure map while they tread upon a path of gold.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bandra-worli sealink, part 2 - Design concerns

Folks, good news! After the initial mad rush to get on the bridge and try it out for free things seems to be returning to normal. There are already plenty of reports hailing the Bandra-worli sealink as a God sent. Travelers most positively impacted seem to be the ones traveling from town to the eastern suburbs and beyond. However, concerns remain about the exits. Recently, we've also received reports that the second carriage-way won't be commissioned till supporting structures are built as part of the Haji-Ali extension.

Let's start by addressing concerns with the exits. The one thing to keep in mind here is that the BWSL is just one part of a much larger project to create a ring-road around Bombay. The Worli exit where all southbound traffic from the bridge currently gets dumped will merely serve as one of the ring-road's many gateways in the future. As the bridge is extended to Haji-Ali you will see a significant reduction in traffic in the area. Thus, I would ask residents of worli sea-face to be patient (definitely easier said than done) but I honestly think they would be better served by focusing their energies on ensuring that the administration builds the extension as soon as possible. No one can deny that Worli sea-face has been negatively impacted by construction of this bridge but I think it's only a temporary issue.

Things at the bandra end are a little more complicated. Traffic going northbound towards the western suburbs is funneled onto the already congested S.V. road. I don't believe there is currently a plan to address this issue. Concerns around the Bandra exit are completely valid and I think before we blame local MPs and MLAs for a mess thats been created right under their noses we should give them the opportunity to share their vision for the link. Priya Dutt is the MP for Bombay's North-Central district. Her website is and her email address is Baba Siddique is the MLA from Bandra. His website is

I think the idea of not opening up the second carriage-way till the required supporting structures are built makes sense. Why these structures were not built along with the BWSL is a mystery but now rather than cramming all 8 lanes of traffic onto 4 lanes while getting on/off the bridge at Worli we need a trumpet interchange to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. Construction of this interchange is already part of the Haji-Ali extension plan, which is just another reason to get started with the extension right away.

What I am most excited about is the impact the bridge has had on the hearts and minds of the people of Bombay. Bombayites are filled with a sense of pride at this engineering marvel built in their own backyard. The nay-sayers who predicted that this bridge would never be completed and the numerous others who denied it's usefulness have been proven wrong. Citizens are now exposed to the benefits of world class infrastructure all made in India. Just like with the Delhi metro project, the bar has been raised and voters will demand similar projects in their districts, cities and states. The fulfillment of which will generate jobs, improve quality of lives and fuel the growth of India's economy.

If you enjoy following and discussing infrastructure projects in India, the folks at Skyscrapercity do a great job of documenting the progress of such projects with pictures, lively discussion and links. Join them at:

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please message me on twitter @hvhoon.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bandra-worli sealink, part 1 - Isn't Rs. 50 too much for a one-way ride?

Personally, the opening of this bridge is huge. I've been following it's progress from 1999 till today, most of my young adult life has been spent discussing its benefits and pitfalls, meticulously tracking each pier as it is erected and dreaming of the relief it will bring to Bombay's clogged arteries one day.

Now that it's at least partially complete, I can dream about the further development of this link into a ring-road around my beloved city. It's great that the opening of this bridge was so extensively covered by the media as it truly is an achievement and, as Indians, we should allow ourselves the enjoyment of even these small victories.Through this publicity it has also become apparent that people share concerns around the design and operation of this bridge. Over the past 10 years I've shared similar concerns and have been able to address most of them, but definitely not all, in favor of Bombay's newest landmark. One by one, I hope to address most of these concerns over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Complaint: Isn't Rs. 50 too much for a one-way ride?

Maybe, let's do the math. Consider traveling from Bandra to Worli via the old route vs. the sealink

Cost of petrol (old route): Rs. 45, (sealink): Rs. 35
Time taken (old route): 45 minutes, (sealink): 20 minutes
Toll (old route): Rs. 0, (sealink): Rs. 50
Total Cost (old route): Rs. 45, (sealink): Rs. 85

Difference in Cost: Rs. 40
Difference in Time: 25 minutes

So basically you are paying Rs. 40 to get to work 25 minutes earlier and probably more refreshed. For some people this may be worth it and for others it won't. Ladies and gentleman thats free market economics and the sealink operators will now have to balance the toll price vs. the number of cars on the bridge to break even on their own investment of constructing the link. Trust me, if enough people aren't using the bridge, the toll is more than likely to come down, my guess is though that at Rs. 50 plenty of people will use the bridge.

So what's in it for everyone else? Well, have you considered that traffic diverted to the bridge will help free up congestion along the old route? Not to mention the easing of traffic on local routes between Bandra and Worli. It's actually pretty elegant how supply and demand will balance the toll rate, traffic patterns and time taken to travel from Bandra to Worli. So is Rs. 50 too much for a one-way ride? The answer is it depends but there's no doubt about the fact that overall the citizens of Bombay will benefit from the construction of this bridge, whether they use it or not :)

Comments are always welcome! Next time I'll tackle another complaint, the mad rush at both the Bandra and Worli ends!