Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"AILA" - Massive Cyclonic Storm Hits West Bengal

At least 82 were killed and more than 1,000,000 people left homeless as a cyclone spawned by a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal pounded large parts of West Bengal and coastal Orissa on Monday leaving a trail of devastation and crippling normal life in the two states. Codenamed "Aila", the cyclonic storm broke open hundreds of man-made hedges, and let the sea water surge into thousands of homes in southern part of West Bengal. The highest number of 14 deaths in West Bengal was reported from South 24 Parganas district, followed by five in Kolkata.

As on 27 May, Aila has withered away but not before the beast worked its way up the spine of Bengal and wreaked havoc till the tip of the state in Darjeeling.

By 7.30pm on Tuesday, (2.00 p.m. GMT) all that was left of the remnant of the cyclone was a low-pressure formation in a trough over north Bengal. A low-pressure formation can cause scattered rain, not widespread destruction like a cyclone.

But before Aila transformed itself into a far less potent form, it had killed at least 82 people and rendered lakhs homeless. Aila’s trail bound the south Bengal coast to the northern hills in a serpentine ribbon of destruction with as many as 20 deaths reported in Darjeeling in landslides triggered by the cyclone.

Aila also accelerated the advance of the monsoon and forced the rainy season’s early arrival in Bengal last night, 14 days earlier than usual. But weather analysts said the monsoon could be weaker for the initial fortnight because the cyclone, which covered 950km in 48 hours since it formed on Sunday evening, could have devoured much of its energy.

Climatologists and weather analysts blamed the long life and ferocity of Aila on global warming.

The tropical seas pack more heat now, compared with 15 years ago, because of global warming. “That energy is absorbed by the moisture in the cyclone which has to spend it all before dissipation. Because of the increased heat, tropical cyclones like Aila will continue to last longer and be a lot more violent than even a decade or two ago,” said geographer Satyesh Chakraborty.

Calcutta, however, saw a more or less clear day with only 2mm of rain till 5.30pm. “We had anticipated heavy rainfall over south Bengal today as well. As it turned out, Aila dragged along with it most of the rain clouds over south Bengal and cleared the sky over Calcutta and the south Bengal districts,” said G.C. Debnath, the director of the Regional Meteorological Centre at Alipore.

Going by what happened today in south Bengal, weather officials held out hope of respite for north Bengal over the next 24 hours. However, heavy rain and thundershower have been forecast at many places in the Northeast.

(With inputs from Finacial Times and The Telegraph)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reflections on Indian Democracy

Indian elections are over in five phases, within a month’s time. The largest democracy in the world has elected its leaders. All their names and votes are hidden in the electronic boxes that will reveal the number of votes each of the candidates belonging to different parties have got. Since the transit from the ballot based (paper votes) voting system to electronic voting machines, the Indian Election Commission has not seen even a single “bad” vote. No chad, no double imprint, no torn paper… All votes count, for one candidate or the other. In a democracy that is filled with illiterates and semi-literates, it is a remarkable achievement to get about 60% of entire electorate to vote. For the starters, Indian electorate (people with franchise) is above 670 million! Different States voted on different dates to elect 547 representatives from all over India, who will ultimately choose the Prime Minister and other Council of Ministers.

Recently, Indian democracy is showing signs of decline. That is only natural, because the Indian democratic system has many inherent flaws. To start with, how can one expect 600 million illiterates and semi-literates, who in any case are of average or low in intelligence to make intelligent decisions by choosing over 500 intelligent and knowledgable people? The second problem with Indian democracy is the quality of leadership that is promoted. Whereas even for a job of a peon in an office, there is a minimum educational standard prescribed, there are oral and written exams, with interviews and group-discussions…, people who are supposed to lead millions of people in their constituencies, people who are to take intelligent decisions that would affect the present and future of the country, the nations policies within and outside. No IQ tests. And we end up with more criminals, with lesser IQs, chosen on the basis of muscle power, man-power and money-power.

There is a third failure of the democratic process. Today, the Indian electorate chooses people with lesser emotional quotient (EQ), people who are not in touch with the real issues of the people, people who throw things into tantrums at their whims and fancies, and emotionally imbalanced enough to project trivial issues into major issues--putting temples ahead of poverty-alleviation, placing emotions before education, taking up communal issues before communication.  Simply to say, we cannot expect people of lower intelligence to take intelligent decisions. People of lower wisdom cannot be expected take wiser decisions. People of lesser understanding cannot distinguish people with higher level of understanding. Somewhere, someone needs to take a decision. Somewhere someone needs to rectify this process. Somewhere sometime soon we must make space for intelligent decisions. Or else, this democracy is bound to fail.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Finding Friends...

The visit to home was coming to an end. There was the baptism of my nephew Kutty's child. Then I went on a day's visit to Fr. Sarto's home town. Since he has been greatly encouraging me on various counts, and that he was at the same time at home, and that he extended this invitation warmly, I accepted. And I visited his parents, sister, brother, and their children... It is time to return back to Bengal. On the way back I stopped for three more days in Chennai to be with another nephew who is a computer engineer, and has kindly consented to help me with the database that we are building for the Disaster Preparedness project. Although I had booked my return ticket from Chennai to Kolkata in advance by the middle of April itself, my ticket did not get confirmed due to heavy rush of travelers. And so, I had to take a flight. On arrival at the airport I saw two "whites" were wandering around. Looking at them I understood that they are in need of help! I went to them, introduced myself, and they even agreed to come with me and stay at Seva Kendra in Kolkata, where I normally stay. They stayed with us for a day and then they left for Darjeeling. These were two students : Christopher from England and Jane from Wales. As were chatting for sometime on the next day, there were really surprised to know about the knowledge I had of some great British writers. They were really amiable and willing to take hardship. I liked it in them. Wherever you are, Christo and Jane, have safe time!