The Tune of the Empire

The British national anthem is in crisis. There is a loss of clarity on what the official anthem is. Most of us know the first line – God Save the Queen and the opening chords that we can identify when Lewis Hamilton wins a race, the English football team takes to the field or, notably, at the last London Olympics. But ever heard it at cricket test match? They’re humming a different tune – which on closer introspection I discovered was ‘Jerusalem’, originally a poem by William Blake – a song that is now often substituted for God Save the Queen at state functions. In fact two other songs are increasingly being the preferred anthem for the English over GSTQ – “Land of Hope and Glory” and “I vow to thee, my country”. As it is Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own versions and England finds itself with a bit of an identity crisis.

The problem? Here is the standard version of the English national anthem:

God Save the Queen

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Three stanzas in all. Universally, it is accepted that only the first stanza maybe be sung or played. The following two are simply not acknowledged – and it’s not hard to see why.

Take the second stanza. God has been asked to assist in scattering England’s enemies and make them fall (heads must roll! Literally!). That the ‘enemies’ are but knaves with only tricks (and no God) up their sleazy sleeves and are to be politically confounded. Somehow it doesn’t fit. England has had mighty wars with France, Spain, the Scots, and the Dutch – hardly to be judged (even by England’s own exacting standards) as humble knaves.

No. The reference is to their colonies.

I recently learned that pre-1947 in English convent schools of India, the Indian and Anglo-Indian students were made to sing the English anthem in its entirety. There was however, one small difference from the now-standard version and the second stanza went thus:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her colonies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Now we see it in proper perspective. From Barbados to the Bahamas, from Sudan to South Africa, and of course, India, here was where the ‘knaves’ were – humble servants of the mighty Empire, here is where the natives were illiterate (and to be kept continually in the dark) and up to no good – where half-baked political ambitions were mutinies and ploys to be crushed (rather than simply confounded) – here is where there was no God to save them – only rulers to lead them to salvation. The choicest gifts too (stanza 3) – no doubt a result of all the relentless pillaging of the people and lands.

Can you imagine the English making Indian students sing this in their own schools? And only a few decades ago?

Still heartening to note is that fervor for the anthem by English citizens is on the wane. Even Prince Charles has publicly denounced it and called it “politically incorrect”. The second verse is never heard and citizens are calling for outright scrapping.

America though, might be interested in borrowing this scrapped version – given their new-age imperialism – confounding politics and picking up the choicest gifts from their new found colon-, uh, neo-liberated countries – that the Brits are decidedly ashamed about. Maybe the Brits should gift it to them.

Killed Before Birth? India’s EV in Jeopardy

Since its launch half a decade ago, Reva, India’s only electric car manufacturer, has sold 3000 cars in 24 countries. Not bad for a product that (unfortunately) looks like a glamorous rickshaw and is still having teething problems (fuse box issues, slow, safety issues, et al). Issue no. 1 seems to have been addressed at the Frankfurt International Motor Showlast week when Reva put on display the NXG – an appealing, futuristic looking version of itself designed by that one man army – Dilip Chhabria. There’s even a 4-seater version – the NXR. It costs under 10 lacs, works on electricity, has no emissions, can seat 4 people (and in India 4 is really 5), and looks better than all other small cars. This could be the car that saves the world.

However. Barely a week after the announcements at Frankfurt we see General Motors is getting into a JV with Reva. The idea is to use Reva’s production capabilities in India to produce an electric version of GM’s current small car – the Spark. The question is – Why in the world would GM need Reva’s help?

Having promised myself that my next car is going to be electric (or hybrid at the very least), I have been following developments on the electric vehicle (EV) front in India for a while. GM has been making cars since 1908. It’s was the first company to mass produce an EV in 1990, before it self-sabotaged and killed its own initiative for diabolical reasons – see http://ev1.org for the whole story. It’s fascinating. Better still, watch the documentary – Who Killed the Electric Car?

GM was the world’s largest car producer until Toyota recently overtook it, but it is still global warmer no. 1.

GM has – barely covertly – gone about promoting and ensuring the continued use of fossil fuels and has literally crushed every single attempt (even its own) at EV production. This is not hyperbole. GM has worked in tandem with the US Federal government and lawmakers to make this happen. The Volt, priced at a ridiculous $40,000 is not going to make a dent in any way to the cause. It will remain a trophy car, a pathetic cover up for the damage already done.

GM doesn’t need Reva! In 2007 GM sold close to 30,000 vehicles per day. That’s 10 times the number of cars Reva has sold ever. And at many, many times the price! Bailout or not, GM still sells many more cars in a day than all of Reva is worth. Since the late 80’s, GM has had the technology to build EV’s that are superior tech to Reva’s current products. Given its size and economies of scale, if they wanted to, GM could corner any car market with EV’s overnight. GM is out to kill Reva and that’s the obvious conclusion.

My great hope was that any development and pro-environment policy change in developing countries such as India would be under the radar. To hell with US and Japan – China and India could lead the way. All that bickering at trade meets about the US polluting its way to economic success in the ‘70s and now enforcing a carbon emission cap (Kyoto, et al) on India being unfair is stupid. Instead of whining about it, this is our chance to lead the way and show the world that renewable sources of energy is the only way ahead. If there is any place on the planet where alternate energy can succeed, it’s India with its abundance of natural resources – and we’re only talking of tidal, geothermal, wind, and water. The only catch is, the movement had to be under the radar – at least until the point where it was too late for the big oil and associated cartels to cripple what would’ve turned into mass economics by then.

Unfortunately Reva’s NXG and NXR has turned heads and GM’s going to nip this one in the bud.

Reva represented that private player initiative in India – the small independent firm that stuck to its guns against all odds and made the EV possible for a small group of people. But then it seems to have come up with a product that might actually sell large numbers. And not one week later GM calls them and announces a JV? GM’s CEO is here shaking hands with Reva’s CTO. It’s unreal. I bet if Obama called him, he’d have put him on hold, just to show who’s boss.

How does one interpret this news except that GM is going to steam roll Reva into the ground and crush yet another honest attempt at the EV?

Bad move Reva. It’s a deal with the devil. Whose next? Ratan Tata has promised an electric Nano by 2011 – mass produced in ’12. Will GM buy them out too? We’ll have to wait and watch. But the future of the EV in India has taken a mighty blow.

The Cost of Social Service – A Closer Look at the Tata Memorial Scam

Here are the stats: Rs. 80 crore is what Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) spends on cancer-related drugs annually. They buy this medicine at a subsidized rate (upto 30% less than market price) and sell it at cost in their basement dispensary. Hundreds of people – from all over South Asia and spanning the cross section of society – wait in distress for their case numbers to be called out so that they can collect the drugs and rush back to the patient they are attending. They wait in stifling heat, with almost no accommodation to sit, and without any cellular signal for sometimes up to 3 hours for these drugs that might a) have a discount of only 2-5% or b) are not there at all. Yes, sometimes you have to wait a couple of hours before they call your case number and say that they don’t have it. You should see the desperation and defeat on some of the faces. Please note that these are the attendants of the cancer-afflicted patients we’re talking about. Imagine the state of the patients.

Anyway. Here is the question—

How is it possible that a hospital that spends Rs. 80 crores a year on meds a year, notch up a drug pilferage and sale scam to a tune of Rs. 100 crores involving only 6 people who work here?

The CBI says this has been on for ‘a few years’. For argument’s sake let’s make an assumption that this figure is 5 years. 5 years is a respectable amount of time to not get caught. So essentially, at an average, 20 crores has been filched every year.

That is:
•    25% of the amount that TMH spends on buying drugs
•    25% of drugs missing from the shelves of the dispensary
•    25% patients denied medicines or, another way to look at it, all patients denied 25% drugs at subsidized rates
•    No. of surgeries annually: About 9,000
•    No. of patients at TMH OPD daily: 1000

That’s hundreds of thousands patients suffering from cancer. Most of these patients are so poor, they can barely afford to get to the hospital in the first place. TMH promises free treatment (surgery and drugs included) to those who can’t afford it. TMH says that 70% of its patients are treated free, a claim that should be questioned further. People pour in from everywhere, notably the east. Of course, it is an insanely difficult process to actually qualify for free treatment, but what hope are these people living on anyway? Their families can’t afford to book a room in a hotel or even a seedy ‘lodge’ (there are several in the area catering to exactly this clientele) so they rent a 6×4 space on the pavement opposite the hospital for a ‘price’ paid to some enterprising Mumbaikar. They sleep, cook, live here while their loved ones – already suffering from a possibly fatal disease are trying to overcome a scary-looking general ward and OT redtapism that delays surgery.

Medicines from the dispensary – indented by the nurses – have turned up at the bedside of patients packaged as if new but empty inside. And these are medicines that are paid for by the patients in the private ward. What are the ‘free’ patients getting? No amount of logic or cajoling can convince the authorities to get replacement drugs for the damaged/missing goods. It is your bad luck, they say. You got to buy them again. And cross your fingers and hope they haven’t been sold to pharmacies on the outside. It’s sickening.

There are notices plastered all over the hospital walls asking people not to bribe staff. You wonder about that – what could the bribes be for? A bed? A quicker ticket to the OT? Just being accepted as a patient? Probably all of the above. And the notices prove the prevalence of the practice. But that’s another story. 100 crores? That’s just a whole new level.

Again – How is this possible?

If you have been to TMH at any point in the last year, you would know that there is always, always a posse of cops and police van posted in the driveway. There is no going in or out the main entrance without dodging the nakabandi barricades. Of course, given the sheer number of people (sick and attending) entering and exiting the building and the stress levels of the guards at the door, all you really need to do is wear a white coat and you’re all but invisible to all authority.

How is it that no one but 6 people – four pharmacists, an office-in-charge of the dispensary, and a clerk – are involved in cheating the hospital, patients, their families, the government, and the dignity of human beings? One would imagine it would take a lot, lot more. Could the Director of TMH, Dr R A Badve be blind?

What about the ones immediately under him? All blind? The cops who’re fanning themselves outside? The other people working in the dispensary (they’re a close-knit family, I assure you – laughing and joking in their AC section as people’s faces jam against the glass counters, staining them with sweat)? What about the doctors, the nurses, the politicians? It is important to note that TMH is not a private hospital but one under the aegis of the state government. What about the pharmacies that the drugs are sold to? Who are they in cahoots with? It’s hard to imagine almost Rs. 5.6 lacs (20 cr / 365) worth of drugs are hauled by 6 people in the dead of the night and distributed to various locations across the city on a daily basis. Where is the network?

And how did this information leak to the CBI after all these years? My theory is that one of the higher-ups didn’t get their ‘cut’ and in an act of retribution, decided to spill the beans.

The 6 people named had already been investigated in 2008, duly suspended, but reinstated within a few months! Topping this, the CBI has said on record: “Whenever these instances were being probed by the hospital’s own vigilance department, either the operations were stopped or the officials transferred,”

And we are to believe that only 6 lowly employees are the cause for this?

The modus operandi is even more stomach-churning. The drugs are charged to paying patients or attributed to dead ones. Patients, most who’ve lived in poverty and spent their last few months in pain fighting cancer, help fill TMH employees’ pockets and find no dignity even in death. Is this the price of hope?

Corruption in the health sector is not uncommon. Since independence, the system has allowed – perhaps even forced – doctors and associated staff of government hospitals to moonlight. And that’s being euphemistic. Public hospitals from the smallest towns to the prestigious TMH allow for patients to be cheated monetarily and denied basic healthcare. But it’s one thing to charge a consultation fee when you aren’t supposed to, and quite another to make a 100 crores off the dead and dying.

If you think that’s crossing the line, think about all those people who were duped and didn’t get the drugs on time. As we have seen, even paying patients are defrauded; how expendable are the ‘free’ ones? How many people died waiting for drugs or timely treatment? That’s the number that scares me. That’s the number that should wake people up.

This is not just another scam, this scam has cost lives. There is no line for the crooks.

PS – I’ve spent a major part of last two months attending to my ailing grandmother in TMH. I’ve stood in those endless queues at the dispensary and seen the plight of patients who’re hanging around for days waiting for an overdue surgery; she has received medicine bottles with nothing in them and has suffered a taxing time in this hospital that has no heart. And all for nothing: her surgery was a failure and they couldn’t fix her. The only thing giving her temporary comfort now, she says bluntly, is “being out of that goddamn hospital.”

Of Court We Are On a Break!

The wily Mr B Ramalinga Raju of Satyam couldn’t have timed his confession admitting to embezzling Satyam Computer Services to the tune of USD 1.5 billion. He had an ample 4 days to go into hiding, analyze the aftermath, and resurface. If news channels are to be believed (an entirely different debate) it gave ample time for the YSR government to do everything in their power to ‘shield’ Raju. Shield against justice, mind you.

So what is this timing I’m talking about? The court was on a 3-day holiday for Makarsankranti, followed by the weekend and no action could be taken. And since was primarily a SEBI case and not a criminal offence (trying telling that to Satyam’s 53,000 employees) he went scot-free until the AP CID (on the insistence of the opposition) stepped in and slapped charges of criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy, cheating, falsification of records and forgery and took him into custody the day before he disposes before the SEBI. While all this is continued proof of information exchange between agencies being in total disarray, only one thing really jumps out in all this: the court was taking a 3-day break for Makarsankranti? Are you kidding me? How many til-ka-ladoos can judges possibly eat? Further excavations reveal the following:

Total number of holidays the Supreme Court has in a year: 189

Total number of working days for the Supreme Court: 176

Besides the fact that there are more holidays than working days, it equates to officers of the court spending over half the year on a hammock. Just for the record, Pakistani courts have 43 days off + Sundays and the American courts have only 10 days off.

Why? Besides ridiculously extended offs for non-events such as Makarsankranti, courts in the country take, hold your breath, a summer vacation, a diwali vacation, and a winter vacation. Yes, these judges get more holidays than kids in school for the same reasons and with full pay. The summer vacation alone is over 2 months!

You know how usually they put a list of holidays at the bottom of every calendar? Not the calendar on the official site of the Supreme Court of India (http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/new_s/cal.htm). These guys have a separate parallel box of holidays for each month!

And as if that wasn’t enough, judges can take full paid leaves over and above these holidays. And combining these offs and adding a few more ‘absent’ days the judges are off on their foreign jaunts. One CJI took 7 trips abroad traveling first-class with wife with the central government picking up the bill of 39 lacs for airfare alone. Here is the detailed story.

What’s similar between a school kid and a the Chief Justice of India? They’ve both got uniforms, they’ve both got textbooks, and they’ve both got summer vacations. And what’s the difference? The kid actually attends school.

And we all know there is a massive number of pending court cases. Just a reminder of the number: 30 million! Here’s a breakup court- and region-wise.

Right. Why exactly aren’t these systems changing? There was a sense of pride when we spoke about the Indian judiciary right from when we were in school. We were taught about their no-nonsense attitude; independent of the legislative and executive branches and morally upright. Later, when the Supreme Court started entertaining PIL’s we were given to believe that the future of this country could only be course corrected by the courts. And now these are the same guys who say the RTI doesn’t apply to them, and that 30 million cases is far too many too handle. Really, it’s the public that needs a holiday.