Sunday, October 26, 2014

Elevated highway is more fast and economical for Kerala - a concept paper

Government of India as a special case has reduced the width of National Highway from the national pattern of 60 metres to 45 metres for Kerala due to the stiff opposition from people. Still the Government is unable to take possession of 45 metres of land and thinking of reducing it further to 30 metres width. Even after construction, there is likelihood of strong opposition against toll collection and because of this, there are few takers for the construction of road under BOT model, when Kazhakkuttom – Mukkola stretch was tendered by NHAI.

Apart from the land acquisition and displacement, another point for opposition is against the restrictions imposed on people on both side of the road to cross over when a new highway is built. Some of them may sometimes have to travel a few kilometres to cross the road. This is a thickly populated State and such restrictions will lead to never ending public protests. Transport buses plying through the new highways stopping at regular intervals, operation of the signal systems etc will further reduce the vehicular speed. In small towns, in the normal situation itself, flyovers will have to be built in full length.

The aforesaid reasons are the main causes of delay for widening of highways in Kerala. As a solution, even though costly, it is suggested that elevated highway is a feasible option for Kerala. In 45 metres normal highway, the effective road width for four lanes is only about 24 metres, other areas left for medians and service roads. For elevated highways, the cost of construction estimated will be around Rs.100 Crores per Kilometre for roads with 24 metres width. This is not a high cost if one compares the cost with certain stretch like Karamana – Kaliyikkavila, where widening of existing road to 30.2 metres itself, which has proved very costly.

Cost estimates from Karamana – Pravachambalam stretch come to Rs. 375.93 Cr as on date. The total length of the road between Karamana and Pravachambalam is 5.5 kilometres and it can be seen that per Kilometre cost has come to Rs.68.35 Crores. In short, for a normal highway with 45 metres width, the cost of construction would be around 75 Crores per Kilometre – this may be true at least in South Kerala. It is suggested that elevated highways is the only feasible option for Kerala especially between Kazhakkuttom to Thrissur or  even upto Kozhikkode, 


# Already 30 metres of land is available in most of this stretch and it is easy to build one elevated highway of four lanes without any further land acquisition. 

# The pedestals of elevated highways will occupy only 2 to 3 metres on ground and since no land acquisition is involved, the work can be commenced immediately. Otherwise, with resistance from people, it will take years to get the land acquisition completed and by the time the present cost of Rs.75 Crore per Kilometre will double or triple.

# No hardships for anyone due to land acquisition or displacement, and therefore no rehabilitation needed.

# People can cross freely between two sides below the elevated highway.

# Slow moving buses, which stop at every bus stop, can ply through the existing highway, and this will not slowdown vehicle at high speeds moving through elevated highway.

# No service roads are also required.

#There will not be any cross roads, nor pedestrians   on the elevated highway and this will facilitate non-stop travel between ways.

# Normally Rs.100-250 per vehicle is collected as toll in newly constructed national highway. Since people can travel below the elevated highway without paying toll, there is no opposition on collection of toll for the elevated highway and therefore a higher toll; say Rs. 500 to 750 per vehicle could be collected. For instance, today, it will take 5 to 6 hours for one to travel to Ernakulam from Thiruvananthapuram during peak hours. But in elevated highway, an average speed of about 80-100 Km (minimum) could be maintained and one can reach Ernakulam in 2.5 to 3 hours. After initial threshold period of 1 to 2 years, people will prefer to travel on elevated highway by paying higher toll, since there is substantial savings in time, fuel and maintenance of vehicles to them.

# Since there is no resistance from public against toll collection, more firms will come forward to build this on a BOT model or at least under VGF option.

#  Less fuel means, less import charges for petroleum products. Remember Kerala is one state where large numbers of vehicles are registered every day. There will be huge savings in terms of fuel import bills to the nation, which will offset the initial costs.

#  Last and most important reason is the possibility of substantial reduction in road accidents. Over 3500 lives are lost every year due to road accidents in Kerala. Several thousands are crippled. Apart from loss of lives and hardships, a substantial amount is given as insurance compensation. This will be reduced substantially since there are no pedestrians. Partial funding can be obtained from insurance companies also.

Issues to overcome

#  The construction of the elevated highways in narrow roads of Attingal etc without blocking the existing traffic is not possible. Land acquisition for bypass, widening of other by lanes to direct traffic may have to be studied and feasibility to worked out. 

#  Traffic diversion during construction may be necessary in some of the stretches.

#  The Access / Exit  inter-change ways, even though in restricted numbers could be constructed only after acquiring large tracts of land.

Considering all these, it was suggested to Govt   that as a pilot, the 60 Km stretch between Kazhakkuttom to Kollam may be taken up as elevated highway on experimental basis, in continuation to the Kazhakkuttom to Karode stretch, which is already taken up as 45 metres National Highway by NHAI. Total cost for 60 Km is estimated as Rs.6000 Crores, which is not a big sum to raise for the State. Once returns are forth coming as toll in the stretch, that will instil confidence in the minds of investors, and more firms will come forward to construct elevated highways on BOT model, without any investment for Government. I request that the feasibility of this proposal for a pilot project may be studied.

 (this is note recently given to the Govt and NHAI to think about a pilot project of elevated highway)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Manivarnan - The man who saved me from a major embarassment at Palakkad

See todays Mathribhoomi Front Page. The article written by Renjith, the famous film director - the director I love most after Padmarajan

I met the lead charter in the article of Renjith at the stage of Town hall , Palakkad -- the venue for HS and HSS drama Competition in Youth Festival - Time at around 1.30 am two days back. The Town hall, not acoustically designed, compounded by the inexperience of the light and sound contractor --- was witnessing noisy scenes that led to the arrest of Sasi the Famous film director-- just because of the bad acoustics. The dialouges were not at all audible. And the drama lovers has almost forced us to stop the drama competition altogether, in its midst. I visited the venue on 20th Jan, Monday - the first day and found that it was really not possible to conduct any drama competition there. The first two days, problems were averted , thanks to the efforts of Superindent of Police and a man of practical wisdom , Sh.Somasekhar IPS, who forsaw the brewing trouble and took stern actions in controlling the crowd.

What other alternative? Every venue is full with programme upt to 10 or 11 pm every day. Sivakumar, the leading camera man of C-DIT, my right hand man , in this  crisis hours and in the establishment of VICTERS channel in 2005, when I was the Executive Director of IT@SCHOOL, was there doing all permutations and combinations on the mike system during the night of 20th. On 21st, it was Sanskrit Drama - with lesser audiance and much lesser people understanding the dialogues. But I got feed back from Mathew, the Pathanamthitta Deputy Director of Education, the Stage Manager, who met me on 21st evening and warned about the possibility of disruption of Drama competion for HSS on the next day -22nd, a more serious one for the drama lovers. The special branch also warned me. I discussed the crisis with my collegues in the department and the organising committee on 21st evening, during our daily review meeting. After discussion, I prepared myself to go to the venue on 22nd morning in case of disruption, with our PLAN B , to announce that the Drama will be shifted to Main stage and some times it may start only at 12 midnight and run through the morning of the next day. Or we will award A Grade to all and cancel the event - much to the disappointment of good audiance of Palakkad.

Sivakumar and I went to town hall by 1 am on 21st night (22nd morning hours, when the HSS Drama is scheduled to commence by 9.30 am), after the Sanskrit drama was finished.I saw there  a group of youngsters making all kind of trial and error with their proeprties for performing the drama the next day. Sivakumar called the Light and sound guy. We replaced the sound mixer unit, changed positions of the speakers, cut some big speakers. I asked the man who was leading a team on the stage--- arranging the stage--- for next day's competition, to deliver some dialogues. He delivered. I stood in the hall at various locations and listened.  We found that the mike (a highly sensitive "Shure" one ) is not picking up at distances. We tried to add more mikes. Then came more or less an abuse, but a gentle abuse by any standrads, from the leading man on the stage, against me , directly to me. It was apparent that he knew that I was some one, some way connected with the conduct of the Youth Festival, and  seemed to have appreciated that two persons took the pains to come and inspect the stage at this wee hours. The gang might have appreciated our sincereity or our helplessness also. 

The man on stage gave some valuble inputs on how to arrange a stage for Drama.  He informed , the standrad dimensions for a drama stage are 24 X 12 feet, but here is a stage with 40 Ft width . This creates problems in the timimg of entry of the actors and that more the actors move farther away from hanging mike, the sound become inaudible. He gave me so many technical lessons in the next one hour. I remembered the days when we designed the VICTERS studio in 2005, with the help of professionals from Asianet, who gave such inputs. All such information were valuble to me. I understood the reasons why director Sasi and Priyananadan, protested. I understood the frustruation of students who were practicing for 3-4 months and protesting spontaneously after seeing their efforts turn futile, because of unscientific organisation for the event.   Finally I asked, "what should I do". And he said, Can you reduce this to 24 X  12 ft size, the standard for these kind of ametuer drama. I said I will arrange. Frankly, till that time I thought that it is all a protest by an intoxicated crowd. 

I called Dinakaran Mash, the Pandal Committee convener, who came within 10 minutes along with son of Yusaf, the contractor. I enquired them wether they can make the modifications needed by the man on the stage. Every one was aware of the problem. They said, they can arrange the materials, but not have enough man power at this hour. The man said, "no problem -- we will help them". The stage witnessed a great team work in the next four hours. Sivakumar forced me to go back to my room and I left by 230 am. He stood thorugh out, with out a wink of an eye , for me - on my behalf. It was a real real team work. 

The morning, I received a message from an unknown number
" Sir we have finished the setting of the stage  by early morning. I will never forget you in my life as your intiative supported us a lot" It was from the man on the stage, to whom I shared the number before I left. He confided to me when I left that he never knew that he was speaking to the DPI and said sorry for the harsh words, he spoke. 

On 22nd Morning, I called Mathew the DDE, and asked me to give a feed back after the first drama is over. It was  by 9.40 am when Mathew told me" Sir it is going smooth, so far no problems".  The crowd can hear the dialogues. I called Mathew every hour till noon, till I got myself convinced that every thing is on track.

Today by 11 am , the man on stage called me. He was very excited to inform me that he got grades much above the first prize winners from Kollam district and that too after his team coming here on the basis of an order from court, after being denied an appeal by the department. He was so excited and was profusely thanking me . I told him I should thank you man, because you saved me from a major emabarressment. And I asked him a favour-- to be my technical director, when I arrange a stage for the next years drama competition, and he readily agreed. I told him that I will be saving his number and we need to discuss on preparing the guidelines for stage arrangement, before next season. 

I have never seen one who is so passionate about the drama or for me , in any kind of art. I asked him" Hey man , what is your back ground. He advised me to read todays Mathrubhoomi and the article wriiten by Renjith- who know him for quite some time. I read the paper by 4 pm today. I smsed him

" Great. Just read it"

He is MANIVARNAN - A CC  Goonda  - confiscicating vehciles in his "Poorvasram"- who  reformed himself,  sheerly because of his  love for art. 

Here is the article. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hub & Spoke schools - Govt schools kill Govt schools-- not the unaided CBSE and ICSE schools alone

Often every one from the teachers to the society criticizes the Govt decision to allow more private schools in the unaided sector and this is attributed as one of the main reasons for the  down fall of the Govt and aided schools. The reduction in population growth rate is also attributed as another reason. These two alone can be treated as the main reason. I have a different theory regarding schools becoming uneconomic. Thiruvananthapuram city has - Cotton Hill and

Manacaud - both govt girls Higher Secondary schools - schools faring really well. Cotton Hill has more than 6000 students and Manacaud has around 3000. At the same time there are 30 schools in the city, which are having less than or around 100 students on the verge of closure. The Jagathy High School, just a km away from Cotton hill, only 58 students.

 The parents of the students who are sending children to the the Cotton Hill or Manacaud Govt girls high schools cannot afford to send their children to an unaided school because of the fees there. If they can afford or even interested in doing that, they would have done that. Most of them are so  poor and they continue to send their children to govt or aided schools, since education is free. But having left with this as the only option, and since they want their children to get better education, they sent them to Cotton Hill or Mancaud , which has better standards than the other 30 schools in the city. When all the students in a particular catchment area move towards one or two schools, it is natural that other schools will have only lesser students and become uneconomic. In such uneconomic schools , there are only those students, whose parents do not want to take pains to send them to the two  prestigious govt schools--- may be because, they cannot travel longer distance or they may be least bothered or even illiterate or socially backward enough to bother or may be due to other reasons , which we will have to study. 

The Cotton Hill or Manacuad has a PTR of 1 :45 where as Attakulangara has 15 teachers and 64 students -- PTR 1:4. If the excess teachers from Attakulangara and other city schools are brought to Cotton Hill, then the PTR of that school could be reduced to say 1:40 or 1:30 - and we could provide better care and education at Cotton Hill .

This could be easily achieved through grouping of schools under a Hub-and- spoke arrangement. We  need to have feeder schools for Cotton Hill and Manacuad - My suggestion is to have Pre-primary section exclusively in one school (it may some times be a High school or UP school but converted as pre-primary school),  LP in another nearby and UP in another near by school. Cotton hill will have only HS and HSS and it along with Manacaud will absorb all the girl students going to HS and HSS classes from Trivandrum City- thus  a Hub and Spoke arrangement can be established. The Hub school will manage the spoke schools also, through an academic council , consisting of HMs and also PTA + Local LSG representatives of all the hub & spoke schools  . The result will be that four schools will benefit from the good management practices of Cotton Hill school. Only in remote places, schools from - 2 to +2 will have to be set up - all under one roof. In short, what the education department is trying is to raise the standards of education in all the schools using the best management practices of well run schools.  

One disadvantage of this proposal is that a student from Karamana or Peroorkada will have to travel to Cotton Hill, which can be addressed by sending more buses of Cotton hill to that area (which they already do) , and travel can be made free or subsidized with the financial assistance of Local self Governments. The department  is also thinking  of a fleet of school buses from a common pool will pick and drop students for the group of schools. This could be implemented easily if the parent teachers associations as well as local self governments also contribute towards the expenses.