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Disruption, the big theme of our times

Liberalisation and technology penetration, while beneficial, have also deepened divisions in the country

Published: 16th July 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2016 07:19 AM   |  A+A-

Incidents happen, both serious and trivial, when we travel, but many of them are quickly forgotten. But I should record what happened during a flight from Chennai to Vijayawada last week.

As seems to be the case with most airlines these days, this particular flight too was delayed apparently because of a bird hit. Every half hour, the man at the counter would announce “further delay” making the passengers restless. Finally, close to two hours after the scheduled departure, another aircraft was arranged. Just when it was to take off, a young boy complained to his father that he was not feeling well and would not like to travel. Both were deplaned and the usual security protocol followed. This took up another 30 minutes.

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief as the doors were closed and the air hostess finished the customary safety briefing, first in Hindi, followed by English. The quietness was suddenly disturbed when a passenger, in a rather angry voice, shot a barrage of questions at her — “Why the hell are you doing the safety briefing in Hindi on a flight to Vijayawada? I can understand it being done in English or Telugu or even Tamil because the flight is from Chennai. Why Hindi? Who will understand Hindi on this flight?” Going by his accent, I could sense he belonged to Andhra but settled abroad. The hostess replied that as per the DGCA regulations, it was mandatory for them to explain the safety instructions in Hindi and English and it did not apply to any regional language. “But this is not a Hindi land,” the passenger frowned, enough to annoy a co-passenger seated in one of the front rows. “This may not be Hindi land but it is Indian land. And, Hindi is our national language,” he shouted back.

The hostess appeared perplexed but kept quiet as other passengers intervened to suggest to the warring gentlemen that the flight was already delayed by three hours and any fight would only cause more trouble to all of us.

This episode brought to mind a conversation I had with a big industrialist a month ago during which he was enquiring about the progress being made by Andhra Pradesh. The State has rich natural resources but it would take a long time to develop given the paucity of funds, he said, commiserating with Chandrababu Naidu who makes no secret of his unhappiness with the Centre for not “honouring promises” made to the residuary state. It is now more than two years since the State was separated but even government offices have not moved out of Hyderabad as the infrastructure is still being built. BJP leaders claim there is a limit to the support the Centre can offer to any State. But, what surprised me was this statement made by the industrialist: “Will the BJP-led government adopt the same care-not attitude if Chandrababu happened to be Chandrababu Singh or Chandrababu Yadav, not Naidu?”

The two episodes may appear unrelated, but a common thread links them — the North-South divide, perceived or real — and some signals as to the future.

 

 

Disruption appears to be the big theme of this century. There is hardly any facet of life which has not been arranged, re-arranged or dis-arranged by new ideas. Mobile phones have changed the way we keep in touch, with personal meetings few and far between. Malls have changed the way we used to shop and now even they are threatened by online shopping. Ten years ago, if someone had said cameras could be outdated, we would have perhaps laughed. Today, we have smartphones with built-in camera and the “selfie” culture reigns supreme.

The other big disruption that I have noticed in the recent past is travel agents almost going out of business. With taxis available at the click of an App and at competitive pricing, not many are relying on car rental agencies anymore. But, has this improved the lot of the drivers? Not so, I guess, going by the conversation I had with one of them during a drive from my home in Hyderabad to the airport. As against Rs 1,500 that a car rental agency charges, the App-based service costs you no more than Rs 400 for the 40-km ride. Even during “surge pricing”, you would still spend Rs 600 or a little more.

Car users are no doubt happy but not the driver-cum-owner. He has to invest Rs 7 to 8 lakh on a decent diesel car for which the monthly EMI would be around Rs 18,000. Add to it, the maintenance cost. For a drive to the airport, the car consumes two litres of diesel which costs around Rs 120. On a bill of say, Rs 400, he has to pay 30 per cent to the service provider, which means he is left with little less than 50 per cent. And, they have to often wait for hours to get a return trip.  Thus, four or five trips a day, on which one makes over Rs 1,000, are just about sufficient to pay up the EMI and meet household expenses (the wholesale price index is shooting up, going by the latest data).

Unlike in a conventional business entity where you have someone to pour out your grievances, there is no human equation here. The whole thing works on software. And, the drivers have to behave because a “poor rating” by the customer is good enough for the provider to knock them out of the pool.

Where this disruption in different spheres will lead us to is anybody’s guess. I happened to meet PV Narasimha Rao a couple of years before he passed away. The only non-Gandhi Congress PM regretted that liberalisation set in motion by him was not yielding the desired results because the benefits were being enjoyed only by a few. I remembered him again early this week when I read this report: The number of millionaires in India has more than doubled and ours is the only country to register such a phenomenal jump. PV is gone but he continues to stir our thought-processes.

GS Vasu is Editor of TNIE

Email: vasu@newindianexpress.com



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