Tuesday, November 6, 2007

8.COMMENTARY. Security Lapse. Is it?

In a recent outburst the Delhi High Court echoed the subdued sentiment of the millions. No wonder, one of the rarest judicial indictment of the state was flashed on front pages of newspapers, with a majority giving the judiciary a `thumps up'. Arguing that politicians were not a `national asset' to be protected by so many security personnel Justice T S Thakur had told the counsel of the central government."You should not let these men (politicians) come out. Their presence in public places itself threatens the common man."

While the judgement on the matter should be some hearings away, the harsh observations are nevertheless significant on two accounts. One, the court shows them (politicians) their limited worth and two, that protecting them denies security to the common man. Though it may sound painfully amusing on one account, it unfolds a glaring anomaly of democratic polity in the world's largest democracy. Should peoples' representatives be (over)valued above the general public they seem to serve?

So, it seems. As a Z+ security cover guarantees no less than 75 police personnel with a fleet of vehicles including a bullet proof car. Remove the plus and the Z security translates to 39 persons in uniform with a medium fleet of jeeps. At the third tier, there is Y category that engages some 13 police personnel round the clock. Multiply it three times to get the actual number of men in uniform engaged in VIP security in three daily shifts.

Undoubtedly, security of important persons in the capital of the country is worth Rs 20 crores each day, with thousands of police personnel on duty. Not satisfied with the counsel's contention that these people need security the court painfully pointed out the irony that "People are being murdered but it does not bother you. You are failing to provide proper security to them but you deploy a contingent of security personnel with lethal weapons for the politicians."

Out of total available police force available in Delhi, 55 per cent are engaged in VIP's security, 3.6 per cent are involved in managing traffic and merely 32 per cent are in active policing for a population in excess of 100 million people. It must however be noted that a significant proportion of the force in active policing is engaged in regular investigations. If this is the state of affairs in Delhi, peoples' security in other cities and small towns can be easily inferred.

The police to people ratio is clear reflection on how indeed common man's security has been systematically undervalued. The police to people ratio is a pathetic 10 to 10,000 persons in India while countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia & Thailand have a ratio of 47, 34 & 33 respectively. Unless this skewed ratio gets addressed the police jeeps plying on the roads with the inscription `with you, for you always' will remain a mere statement of intent.

With the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals having grown hands-in-glove, the degeneration of democracy in the last six decades has reached an all time low. About half the members of the parliament hold criminal records against them and letting them out in the public places, as the court rightly observed, may amount to threatening the security of the common man.

In its defense, the government informed the court that it was revising the policy pertaining to personal security provided to important people and submitted a document in a sealed envelope, understood to be containing such details.The court was scathing in its attack:`There is nothing secret in these documents. You have got a habit of putting everything under cover. Can the security of these men be protected by putting these papers in sealed cover?' It couldn't have been more embarrassing!

Whether this judicial tirade transform the situation on the ground is a matter of deep conjecture! But the fact that the issue of grave social concern has been raised to expose the self-serving nature of peoples' representatives should be indicative of the process of degeneration that the governing structure has gone through. That the judiciary has to reprimand the government on matters like these reflect an abject failure of its self-corrective mechanism.

Watching a heavily protected politician passing by during one such traffic diversions, my five-year son was wondering whom the police was protecting? Before I could articulate my considered response to match his nascent thinking he quipped: `isn't there a criminal being escorted by the police'? It reminded me of one such moment several years ago when as a young child I was witness to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru moving about in an open car waving to the roadside crowd on a visit to Hyderabad!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

7.ANALYSIS. Is it worth an idea?

This new 60-second television advertisement has the potential to undo what the politicians of all hues have successfully accomplished in the the last 60 years - to divide the country along caste and religion. The imaginative advertisement, also released as half-page print ad, features Abhishek Bachchan as a young sarpanch who takes a bold decision to settle the ongoing feud between two warring factions in his village by replacing peoples' names with their mobile numbers instead. The sarpanch makes a profound statement: `neither any cast and creed, nor any disparity and discrimination.'

Obliterating the inevitability of caste by skipping second names from identity plates in favor of mobile numbers, the ad sends a strong message to the democratic polity of the country. Haven't unsuspecting masses been long exploited for narrow political gains? The ad takes a step further by dedicating roads to mobile numbers at the cost of names that smell of political appeasement. The suggestion is not to re-invent mobile number for the greats like Gandhi but to avoid unnecessary politicization of inaugural ceremonies at the cost of public exchequer.

Without doubt, politicians will discount such far-fetched implications of a commercial. But for an overheated democracy that sustains itself on caste and religion divides and remains in perpetual election mode therefore, the advertisement comes with a whiff of fresh air. Says the ad agency's creative director: ''the question was to position the brand as a better idea when it struck us that if everybody had a number and not a name, it should put to rest a lot of our problems.'' Pitching its message around social harmony, the mobile telephony route to social change may seem a bargain by any standard.

In a country where a million new subscribers become mobile phone owners every week, dismissing the inherent power of this handy gadget to spur a new social order may seem somewhat perilous. Haven't there been umpteen stories of mobile surprises - from fishermen in Kerala earning more money and wasting less fish by phoning different coastal markets to the use of mobiles in improving relief planning in the wake of recent Peruvian earthquake, and to the poor women in Bangladesh who surprised the world by making a new living through activities like re-selling airtime and prepay cards..

More surprises should be on offer once mobile phone makes inroads into far flung areas. Undoubtedly, technology is an empowering tool that brings about social equity and provides equal opportunities to the poor to gain access to services and to support livelihoods. It may have surprised E F Schumacher, the celebrated author of the Small is Beautiful, who was of the view that new technologies widen the gap between the rich and the poor. The fact that of the half of the world's 6.5 billion people who now use mobiles more than twice as many mobile owners are found in developing countries suggests that mobile phones are as much a pro-poor gadget.

Mobile phones growth has been unprecedented. In less than a decade since its launch, over 200 million users are hooked to mobile phones in the country and the number is growing relentlessly. Though it is half the number of users in China, the fact that owning a mobile goes beyond the notion of social status augers well for its rapid expansion into unchartered terrain. The challenge however remains as over a third of the country's population, an estimated 350 million, survives on less than a dollar a day. Achieving social harmony without economic emancipation will remain a far cry!

However, the advertisement seems to have taken a good measure of reality before proclaiming mobile phone as the ultimate change agent. If caste discrimination was akin to racism in regarding discriminated groups as `biologically inferior and socially dangerous, the idea of a mobile phone decimating such social disorder can best be described revolutionary. While the overriding intent is clear, the means to deliver the content may need social awakening. Without doubt, it is worth an idea!


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

6.INTERVIEW: Ageing Agriculture

The 300th issue of Alive (Oct 2007), one of the Delhi Press Publications' quarterly magazine established in 1940 as Caravan, interviewed Sudhirendar Sharma (your host) for its introspection of Indian agriculture in the 60th year of country's independence.

How do you rate the growth of agriculture sector in India during the 60 years of independence?
Poor or should I say `very poor'. The irony is that the sector that fed the country cannot feed itself anymore. With farmers' suicides more of a norm than exception, the parliament was informed about over 100,000 farmers' suicides in the last ten years, what more can be said about growth of agriculture?

How much successful have been the land reform programmes of the government so far?
Land forms! Heard of this term after a long time. Literally, no significant progress has been made. Interestingly, however, what the government could not move forward in 60 years has an interesting parallel. It is called SEZ, the Special Economic Zone. The government has now advised states to acquire 30 per cent land for SEZ.

Why there is so much disparity found among various states in terms of agriculture development?
Farmers have been lured through loan waivers, free power, cheap rice - all electoral gimmicks. Nothing serious!

What is the future of agriculture in India? Will India conitnue to be an agricultural country (Krishi Pradhan desh)?
A million-dollar question! National Sample Survey (NSS) shows farmers are losing interest in farming; demographic trend indicates rural:urban population will be 40:60 in next 15 years; urban industrial growth is pulling people out of farming; no let down in farmers' suicides; and corporate agriculture gaining precedence. It may remain `Krishi Pradhan' sans farmers.

What are the main problems facing the Indian agriculture today?
Simply put, a skewed input-output ratio with no social protection scheme for farmers.

Does the government keep the promises made to the farmers?
The problem is that the `problem' hasn't been diagnosed properly.

Is opening up of agriculture trade as per the WTO norms beneficial for the Indian farming community?
Not really, because WTO is not a level playing field. While we have reduced farm subsidies, EU has high subsidies. The farm prices cannot compete.

Can't ground level agriculture be promoted as a lucrative career option for the youngsters? Currently, there are various courses in agriculture and rural development. But all of them aim to produce managers, not farmers. Cannot we encourage our youths to take up farming as a career?
Retailing in farm products, yes! It suits urban lifestyle of the young. Taking up farming as a career. a big NO - so I think.

After the Green Revolution of the 60's and 70's, there are now talks of second similar revolution. Why?
It will be even more disastrous as the focus will be on serving the market'.

India is importing food grains once again. What is or who is responsible for this condition?
Policies of the State! Lal Bahadur Shastri had resigned following a train mishap, when he was the minister incharge during the 60's. Today, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar informs Lok Sabha about 100.000 farmes' suicides and then proceeds to attend the all important BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India, of which he's the current President) meeting. The ethos and values are gone!

Mr Chandrshekhar Shrivastava had conducted this freewheeling interview.

Monday, October 22, 2007

5.REFLECTION: Nobel Peace Prize for re-inventing toilet!

Common flush toilet with its numerous opulent versions has outlived its relevance! Undoubtedly cynical, it is time that this sixteenth century invention is taken back to the drawing board before it turns out to be a seat of inconvenience. It is neither a outrageous suggestion to shun the existing toilet nor a weird provocation to go back-to-the-cave, but a considered reflection on the flip side of a toilet.

Without doubt, flush toilet has evolved into essential convenience of modern living. No wonder, governments and aid agencies are flushing additional resources to meet the millennium development goal of bringing sanitation to all by 2015. Indian's rural development ministry is working overtime to meet its target of making the entire countryside free of open defecation by 2012.

Without disrespect to those who have yet to possess it, the fact that toilet eludes over a couple of billion potential users worldwide is good news for the planet! How could the world justify the intended conversion of precious freshwater into brown water at each flushing of human excreta? The original toilet design may have gone through several iterations ever since Sir John Harrington had drawn a patent in 1595, the fact that a pre-determined quantity of water makes it functional may turn out to be its nemesis.

It better be so, else the task of providing sanitation to over 66 per cent rural and some 24 per cent city dwellers will be at the cost of cutting down on water supplies from yet-to-be-covered population of over 400 million, scattered across villages and cities in India. However, with each use of the toilet, be it modern push button or the low-cost pour flush version, flushing anywhere between 6 to 15 litres of water providing sanitation is more than just building toilets.

In no way should it be construed that the idea of toilet be ignored. However, the pathologisation of sanitation has seriously overlooked the plain fact that toilet is a function of water that is getting scarcer by the day. Be it the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) or India's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC), the focus on number crunching aims at achieving targets only. Whether or not there is water to keep the system in operation remains at the periphery!

Until this water guzzling technology is reinvented, its recurring cost will exceed the cost of building a toilet in the first place. And the cost will invariably get externalized, either on the ecosystem or on those who await their share of water. Unless sanitation is backed by treatment of wastewater, young children will continue to bear the brunt. Improper disposal of human excreta pollutes water which, coupled with lack of personal hygiene, takes daily tool on some 1,000 children in India.

Need it be said that water management is not only about managing fresh water but about protecting it from getting polluted too. A recent World Bank report laments that only 30 per cent of the wastewater generated in the country is put to any form of treatment. The incremental cost of wastewater polluting additional freshwater sources, be it surface or ground water, may prove costly in the long run.

Designing water frugal toilets with suitable wastewater treatment can no longer be ignored. Attempts at designing waterless and low-water consuming toilets have already been made. Incinolet is one such toilet design that utilises electric heat to turn the fruit of your labours into a tablespoon of germ-free ash. By using microwaves this American invention replaces flushing with incineration. However, its prohibitive cost is deterrent to its mass scale adoption.

Inventor's Peter Soulsby more benign aerobic toilet promises drastic cut down in water use in the loo. Using saw dust and an electric fan to create aerobic conditions, this design consumes 2,500 litres of water per 40,000 sittings, as against 600,000 litres in a conventional flush. However, none of these inventions have been able to replace the conventional toilets that are not only cheap but less complicated too.

Research on creating alternate toilet designs need to be taken on priority such that the 21st century becomes the `century of alternate toilets', much like the 19th century that was called the `century of toilet' when new patents were drawn to help improve the quality of WC that launched several attractive designs in the market. However, this time around a Nobel Peace Prize may be in the waiting for anyone developing an alternate toilet design for widespread adoption. Any takers!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

4.ANALYSIS: Leaving it to the US will be disastrous!

If you are one who is worried about illicit drugs afflicting your college-going children you have a profound reason to be so, as farmers in Afghanistan have began sowing seeds of what is expected to become the biggest and most lucrative opium poppy crop yet. For the poor farmers in this war-ravaged country, poppy harvests secure their livelihoods. It is however another matter that field upon field of beautiful bloom also fuels $ 400 billion worth of global trade in illicit drugs and several billion worth in arms trade.

Should Afghan farmers be held responsible for misuse of opium that has medicinal properties? Can they be dissuaded from growing poppy? They might oblige provided alternate crops are as lucrative! Researchers have burnt their fingers with alternate crops like saffron and mint, none fetching as much as US$ 122 to a kilo for poppy. For negligible input costs and a longer shelf life, poppy remains the best bet. No surprise that opium's export worth at US$ 3 billion contributes 40 per cent to Afghanistan's GDP.

Undoubtedly, there are good reasons for farmers to grow opium poppy and for the rest of the world to be uneasy at the same time. Does this not leave the world exposed to the menace of drugs? So it seems, as the political economy of a country weakened by ongoing war finds itself vulnerable to the divisive forces that exercise control over peoples' lives and livelihoods. With its growing influence, the Taliban have encouraged poppy cultivation to obtain a large part of their funding through trade in illicit narcotics.

And, they have indeed been successful as neither the $ 100 billion a year war been successful nor the piecemeal efforts to wean farmers from growing poppy. The crucial question remains: If Afghanistan were to somehow able to reduce opium production, who would benefit? The Taliban and black market entrepreneurs, whose stockpiles of opium would skyrocket in value. Thousands of Afghan peasants will plant illegal harvest, utilising guerrilla farming methods to escape eradication efforts.

It is good time for the Afghan farmers though, as the world debates its strategy to control opium growth. The crop of 2007 was up by more than one-third from 2006. It is quite likely that the current annual harvest of 8,200 tonnes, over 93 per cent of the world's harvest, will be bettered the coming year. Afghan farmers make profit but the problem is that they are producing 3,000 tonnes in excess of the global demand, fueling illicit opium trade worth US$ 20 billion....more

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

3.CAMPAIGN: Neither do they emit fumes nor ignite road rage

When improved cycle rickshaw, with speed gears and ergonomic design (see picture), was launched in Agra in 1997, the future of poor man's public transport had started looking up. Ten years later, the status of rickshaw is that of abject ridicule as many cities have banned the movement of this environment-friendly pedal-powered convenience from municipal limits. While the historic Chandi Chowk in Delhi had banned the ubiquitous rickshaw following high court orders (a petition challenging the court's orders is in India's Supreme Court) five years ago, the adjoining satellite township of Noida has recently curtailed its movement from busy sections of this fast developing city. Many cities in Asia, like Dhaka and Jakarta, too are forcing rickshaws off the streets.

Unlike in these countries where rickshaws are symbols of poverty, they are seen as symbols of the future in the developed nations - an environment friendly means of transport. And, they could be cheaper and less polluting public transport in congested areas of big cities in the developing world if municipalities would stop treating them as a nuisance. The number of cars in cities is not restricted but cycle rickshaws are. In contrast, on New York's fifth avenue people could be seen looking around for cycle rickshaws in the evenings. Elsewhere in North America and Europe, cycle rickshaws are finding favor with the commuters.

The India Cycle Rickshaw Improvement Project, undertaken by the New York-based Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) , was borne out of the realisation that improving the design efficiency of human-powered public transport could be a win-win situation. From improving city environment to providing gainful employment, rickshaw could be a cheaper mode of public transport. The ITDP designers had deployed tubular body to reduce rickshaw's weight by 30 per cent ; designed multi-gear system for easy pulling; and had created low height passenger friendly seating features. All this, within the cost of a traditional rickshaw - an estimated US $ 150 only.

Though several rickshaws plying across cities do resemble the improved version, the clones do not carry the essential elements of the design. Says designer Shreya Gadepalli, who had worked on the project, "... as the principal designer it does pain me to see that not all vehicles are as light, safe or comfortable as they could have been; features like multiple gears, which were seen as an extra cost, were done away with." With support from the USAID, the India Project had contributed to improving no less than 300,000 rickshaws in as many as 100 cities. However, the spread of the revolutionary design has ceased since the project came to a close in 2003.

Thanks to an indifferent policy environment and an irresolute rickshaw industry, the innovation aimed at benefiting as many as 4-5 million cycle rickshaws in India has literally been squandered. As developing countries go through economic boom, the nature and growth of road network does not take rickshaws into account. With elevated corridors being one convenient way of avoiding traffic congestion in the cities, the rickshaws gets excluded as a result. Against the powerful automobile industry, the unorganized human powered vehicle industry stands little chance to impact change.

Much ado about climate change and yet this non-polluting mode of transport gets a raw deal! The modernization of cycle rickshaw in India has already proven to be a more cost effective way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions alongside securing better livelihoods for millions, at no extra burden to the state. The launch of improved rickshaw in Agra was aimed at reducing harmful emissions from polluting auto rickshaws and cars from the periphery of the one of world's seven wonders. However, in the absence of political patronage the inherent potential of cycle rickshaws in generating elusive carbon credits for the resource-crunched municipalities is being missed.

Earning carbon credits may not be far-fetched but the fact that rickshaws generate gainful employment for millions should be reason enough for developing countries to be empathetic towards it. The results of the revolutionary design changes had led to an appreciable increase in income for traditional rickshaw, from a low of Rs 75-80 to Rs 110-120 per day. After deducting the rental costs, the previous earnings were only marginal higher. Interestingly, the new design gave the poor rickshaw drivers a chance to earn more by spending less energy. However, for manufacturers and contractors the enhanced income to poor rickshaw drivers has been of little consequence.

Without doubt, there is space and scope for integrating cycle rickshaw into the urban transport plan. Banning rickshaws on the pretext of congestion on city streets is irrational, cars and auto rickshaws owe much more to it. Cycle rickshaws hold distinct advantage over motorised transport: these are non-polluting and non-violent form of public transport. Neither do these emit fumes nor ignite road rage! Unless public policy allows cycle rickshaws to negotiate their position, an opportunity to impact change in the city environment in light of ensuing climate change will be missed.

(this blog has been published under the title `Eco-friendly vehicles crushed under motor wheels' in the Bangalore-based multi-edition daily Deccan Herald)
http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Oct252007/panorama2007102432135.asp

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

2.CONCERN: Is the Earth getting on the corporate balance sheet?

It is an imaginative advertisement that unleashes the power of wireless communication. Reliance Communications advertisement on the television uses three distinct frames - majestic snow clad mountain peak, sprawling sea with a swinging boat, vast desert with an insect moving across - to mirror the absence of air, land and water in that order. Nothing is lost, the musical tone forming the background score reassures that there is indeed `network' to proxy for everything else! Like a bikini, this amazing ad conceals more than it reveals. If clean air is not a marketable good with a price then the market places no value on it, the ad seems to suggest! However, if land and sea could fit into the corporate balance sheet the same must be appropriated using the emerging `network' albeit of politicians, bureaucrats and businesses.

From the Tata's controversial mini-car project that has displaced farmers in Singur to the Sethusamundram canal that will run across Ram's mythological bridge at the cost of fishermen's lifesaving catch, the fissure between what is good for `growth' (read `network') at the cost of `people' has been widening by the day. Yet, each of these projects and several upcoming ones being cleared by the `democratically' elected governments across the country (and even in other growing economies in the region) claim big gains for the poor. Despite the fact that doubts about benefits from such projects remain unanswered, bad policy making and insouciant politicians always pull such projects against all odds in India, purportedly to nurture the fledgling `network'.

Skim through the published reports and it would be hard to get a single credible report on the benefits of the Sethusamundram project, the project to dredge sand across the so-called Adam's Bridge in the Gulf of Manner region. Yet, there is unstinted support to the project from powers-that-be in Delhi and in Chennai. One wonders if the Union Shipping Minister and the Tamilnadu Chief Minister have access to information that most others don't or that they haven't read most of what is available in the public domain? It is either a case of hiding strategic information from the public or about making ill-informed decisions on someone's behest, a shameless breach of trust of the public by its elected representatives that may hold the livelihoods and the ecology in the region to ransom!

Politicians may play ignorant to published facts but do the babus (bureaucrats) help doctor such project reports to suit the vested interests? Whether or not they do so, the babus form an important link in the policy-planning process. The critical question is: are they better informed than their political masters? N C Saxena, a widely respected former senior bureaucrat and a member of the National Advisory Council constituted by the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, considers bureaucrats to be as poorly read, if not worse. According to Saxena, `one would find only three books in the house of an officer of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) - a railway time table because s/he is always on the move, a film magazine because that is the only book s/he reads, and of course, the civil list - that describes how many in the system are above him.'....more

Friday, September 21, 2007

1.TREND: Is stripping a new form of non-violent protest against oppression?

One could have easily let it pass but the frequency of such occurrences leave you wondering if a trend is beginning to take shape amidst the civilized society. While it is tough to ignore it, the image nevertheless gets itched in your memory. Many may have missed it and rightfully so but the sheer coincidence of similarity between two diametrically opposite events of recent occurrence rattled my mind to take a dig at it.

As skimpy clad models get paid to walk the ramp in Delhi, transport employees in Jammu stripped to their bare essentials for not being paid adequately. Hasn't shedding clothes become a familiar human expression, though people strip for cross purposes. From stripping on the streets of Rajkot (above) to walking with bare minimum at the Lakme show (below), the art of stripping holds distinct currency for its protagonists. It seemingly varies between `catching attention' to `catching the eye'!

While designers bring out their creative best to uncover female skin, stripping as a form of protest has something no less innovative either. It is not a matter of choice for the protesters but the inevitability of being forced to shed clothes. Interestingly, both forms of stripping hog the limelight. Not only do the pictures grab column inches, these take precious air time too, becoming essential part of the media archives to be replayed for scoring better TRP ratings.

Why it doesn't matter to either of the sexes to outsmart other in the art of stripping? They have descended from the same moral high ground anyway, the proverbial Garden of the Eden! The crucial question: is there a psychological switch or a biological trigger that forces people to strip? With some of the most conservative people in ordinary life resorting to such extreme step, one wonders if it is in response to being `driven to the wall'.

Psychiatrists may have to split hair to get down to the psychology of stripping. So, it may be for the sociologists. But biologists have some sense of it as they consider men `left-brained' and `logical' and women `right-brained' and `emotional'. What amazes is the fact that despite using different portions of the brain to arrive at crucial decisions, there is gross similarity in the end result - at least in the matter of stripping. What is seemingly logical for men may indeed be emotional correct for women!

One might argue if stripping in public is worth the analysis. People do resort to stripping to grab attention but it's sociology may provide some interesting insights. It's inherent value lies in it being a non-violent expression against atrocities and violence. The likes of Pamela Anderson strip to stop violence against animals. Hundreds of young Greenpeace strippers braved chilling winds to highlight the impact of global warming on shrinking glaciers.

Does stripping empower the protagonist? I'm beginning to think so, as stripping is used as a medium to convey the message. Be it on the ramp or in the streets, there is a method in the madness of stripping. While it may project creativity and glamour on one extreme, it does reflect courage and defiance on the other. The power of stripping was at show recently during a one-day cricket match in England when youngsters stripping to unveil a brand of bikini had cost India the match!

Without doubt, the female form grabs more attention than men on the streets! Men offer a pathetic display of unruly bodies and there is something eerie about their last piece of cloth too. It is no surprise therefore that an enterprising woman in the UK trains people on the art of stripping. What to wear, how to strip are essential elements of this new art form. It may not be too long before street stripping becomes a gainful engagement. Watch out!

FOLLOW UP

On March 26, 2008, 41-year old Atali villager Indravadan Patel, an employee of a firm in Karjan which had closed last year, stripped down to his underwear in the provident fund office at Akota in Gujarat to protest against the delay in payment of his provident fund dues of Rs 50,000. Patel's claim that a clerk asked for bribe and delayed the release of his fund made him to take the extreme but a peaceful step. The clerk was suspended and the officials promised to settle the matter at the earliest. Does life not imitate art? In Lage Raho Munnabhai, a bollywood film released in 2006, an old man's pension was held up by a clerk under similar circumstances. The hero advises the old man to go to the office and practice Gandhigiri by taking off his clothes and handing them over to the clerk. And the work gets done. The only surprise in the present case is that it worked in Gujarat.

Stripping can get you a lot! Did Madam Carla Bruni, the French First Lady, say this? Your guess is as good as mine!