Thursday, May 18, 2017

GST in India: For Better or Worse?


Apple has started manufacturing iPhones in India. According to a WSJ report, the the iPhone SE series is being produced by Wistron, near Bangalore. Since the locally manufactured or assembled products will not attract import duties, it seems the prices are going to about USD 100 lower than imported phones.

Import duties and taxes make a big difference to a companys' fortunes. India's tax system is often cited as one of the top reasons why global manufacturers prefer to stay away from India. For instance, JCCII, a body representing Japanese corporate's, puts out every year "Suggestions to the Government of India". These suggestion have remained more or less unchanged for many years, and it is always complaints about the tax system that tops the lists.

In the latest 2016 list too, JCCII's tax-related suggestions include -
  • Removal of Permanent Establishment (PE) taxation
  • Easing of Transfer Pricing assessments by classifying Japanese Trading Companies (Sogo Sosha), not as traders but as Service Providers
  • Exemption from Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) in the SEZs
  • Exemption from Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) paid to foreign shareholders
  • Exemption of Service Tax on exports from India
In other words, the Japanese companies are saying, "If you don't let us take our profits home, we will not be able to invest more in India". In the official cover note JCCII also says, "While we await...the all-important GST bill, our concerns on the Tax system...remain."

So is the GST going to really improve our tax system and east of doing business? Much of what I have read so far has been gung-ho about GST, and about how it is going bind the whole country into one large happy market for goods and services.

An interesting contrarian view is held by Aravind Datar, who is quite convinced that GST, in its present form, is only going to worsen the ease-of-doing-business scenario in India. Here is the video -



The critical points are -

* More Laws, More Confusion: As of today, 29 states in India have their own VAT / Sales Tax laws, and separate laws for Service Tax and Excise Duty (total 32 laws). When GST is adopted by all the states we will have 29 StateGSTs (SGSTs), one Central Service Tax (CST) and one Inter-State GST (IGST). In all, 31 laws instead of 32.

* Lack of Checks and Balances: The GST Council can make only recommendations, which cannot be enforced. The state governments are free to make GST laws as they please (as per the 101 Amendment, Article 246A, and the Supreme Court judgement of 11 Dec., 2016)

* Cumbersome Reporting Requirements: Service providers currently file their returns twice a year. Now they will have to file 49 returns every year! (3 returns per month online - 10, 15, 30th + 12 TDS returns + 1 annual returns = 49)

* Discouraging Economies of Scale: Any company earning more than INR 2 million will have to file returns. So this will only encourage those who want to stay below that threshold, as in the old "License Permit Raj" days.

* Enormous potential for tax evasion, and tax-related harassment: Unlike other countries which have one single GST rate (eg. Singapore - 7%), we are going to have slabs - 0%, 5%, 10%, 28%. This encourages ambiguity, and the discretionary powers of tax officers.

* More Ambiguity, Not Less: Lack of clarity on General Anti Avoidance Rules (GAAR) and Place of Effective Management (POEM) is sure to discourage manufacturers and FDI investors.

Datar is a great communicator and his speeches, articles and arguments are quite convincing. Is there anybody in the establishment who has come up with a point-wise rebuttal of the concerns raised by him?

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LINKS:

* (2017) WSJ - https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-assembles-first-iphones-in-india-1495016276

* JCCII's Suggestions to GoI (2016) - http://www.jccii.in/Docs/0333_2016_suggestions_jccii_summary_english.pdf

* Aravind Datar on GST - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGmJyxugA2E

* (2015) Aravind Datar, IE - GST's Seven Deadly Defects - http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/gsts-seven-deadly-defects/

Sunday, May 14, 2017

To OBOR or not to OBOR




A grand summit is now on in China. Around 65 countries are participating in the One Belt One Road (ORBOR) meeting which envisages construction of international trunk passageways and an infrastructure network connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe and Africa.

There is big money promised for these projects - China has committed a total of about $100 billion to three new infrastructure funds: a $ 40 billion fund to the Central Asia-focused Silk Road Fund, a $ 50 billion fund to a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and a $ 10 billion fund to the BRICS-led New Development Bank.

India, however, has opted out. It is anything but enthusiastic about the CPEC, a highway that cuts through territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan.

What does this mean to countries that are enthusiastically participating in OBOR? Perhaps they expect a windfall by way of investments and market access. Or perhaps they will take a closer look at countries that have already borrowed tons of money from China, and ten contemplate - like Sri Lanka - whether they did the right thing.

Sri Lanka is currently in $58.3 billion debt to foreign financiers, and 95.4% of all government revenue is currently going towards paying back its loans. Of this, about $8 billion is owed to China alone, of which $1.4 billion was borrowed by the Sri Lankan government for constructing the Hambantota port.

Since these investments are not bringing in revenue as projected during the - rather hasty and secretive - planning & approval, the state is handing over its assets to Chinese companies on long-term lease:
  • 80% of its Hambantota port has been handed over for 99 years, to China Merchants Holdings.
  • Colombo’s South Container Terminal is a 35-year Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) arrangement with the same company
  • IZP, a Chinese informational technology company, has been put forward as a potential purchaser of Mattala International Airport.

So is there a pattern here? Borrow on easy terms, belatedly discover that the revenue model was flawed, and grudgingly hand over your land and assets to the foreign lender?



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LINKS & REFERENCES


* (2017) ET - http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/obor-summit-in-china-know-what-it-is-and-why-india-is-not-attending/articleshow/58656653.cms

* (2017) IE - http://indianexpress.com/article/what-is/china-one-belt-one-road-project-obor-4653564/

* (2017) IE - Belt Road Initiative - http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/china-belt-and-road-initiative-in-giant-trade-belt-road-to-new-growth-rush-4651727/

* (2017) FT - One belt, one road and many questions -- https://www.ft.com/content/d5c54b8e-37d3-11e7-ac89-b01cc67cfeec

* (2017) - Bloomberg - https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-17/can-china-afford-its-belt-and-road

* (2017) Wanda Bullish on India - http://m.indiatoday.in/story/china-one-belt-one-road-meet-india-boycott-wang-jianlin/1/955695.html

* (2017) Express edit - https://www.google.co.in/amp/indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/after-the-no-show-india-china-one-belt-one-road/lite/

* (2017) The Guardian - https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/15/eu-china-summit-bejing-xi-jinping-belt-and-road

* (2017) Dawn, Pakistan - CEPC for Pakistan - A Colonial Enterprise?  - https://www.dawn.com/news/1333244

* (2016) Wire -- https://thewire.in/40388/one-belt-one-road-shaping-connectivities-and-politics-in-the-21st-century/


Hanbantotta - China's own port in Sri Lanka

* (2017) Forbes - India Tells Sri Lanka: You Can Take Your Port And Shove It - https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2017/01/21/india-tells-sri-lanka-take-your-trincomalee-deep-sea-port-and-shove-it/#14a10f915f88

* (2016) Forbes -- https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2016/07/31/china-to-sri-lanka-we-want-our-money-not-your-empty-airport/#27d0ecb21beb



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Solar: Upstream and Downstream



Amazing things are happening in India's renewable energy market - especially solar power.

Yesterday , it was reported that at an auction of a 250 MW capacity plant at Bhadla (Rajasthan), South Africa’s Phelan Energy Group and Avaada Power bid INR 2.62 (USD 0.04) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to win contracts to build capacities of 50MW and 100MW, respectively, at Adani Renewable Energy Park Rajasthan Ltd. This is a new record low. The bidding wars seem to have now reached a point where experts are wondering if it is commercially viable to produce produce power at these rates.

If the unit price is surprising, so is the sheer scale of the new 'solar farms' that are coming up. The current world record the world's largest solar project in a single location is now held by Adani's 648-megawatt Kamuthi plant (near Marurai, Tamil Nadu), which went online in September, 2016. The second largest solar plant, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, has a capacity of 550 megawatts.



For a country that located in the tropics, India has a huge potential for switching over to solar energy. Consider these facts -

  • The solar  radiation incident over India is equal to 4–7 kWh per square meter per day with an annual radiation ranging from 1200–2300 kWh per square meter. 
  • It has an average of 250–300 clear sunny days and  2300–3200 hours  of sun shine per  year. 
  • India's electricity needs can be met on a total land area of 3000 km2  which  is  equal  to  0.1%  of  total  land  in  the country 
  • Currently  India is  generating  4.59%  of solar energy  of  total  produced  renewable  energy  installed capacity in India


Over the past few years, thanks to a concerted push by the government, India has quadrupled its solar-generation capacity from 2,650 MW on 26 May 2014 to 12,289 MW in 10 March 2017.  Yet, behind all these impressive numbers, fact remains that present and future growth is completely hinged on the import of equipment from China. In 2015-16, the value of imported solar cells and modules tripled to $2.34 billion, with China accounting for 83 per cent ( $1.9 billion).

Despite having a dedicated Ministry for New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for the past 15 years, why is it that India has not been able to it own supply chains? Why is it that Indian manufacturers have no access to domestic upstream raw material supplies of poly-silicon and wafers?

According to a KPMG report (2015), India has not been able to create economies of scale in solar manufacturing, mainly due to insufficient government support - loans, tax holidays, subsidized utility services, easy access to land and technology support.

Is that a rather simplistic view?


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REFERENCES & LINKS

* (2017) Wire - Why Increasing India’s Solar Energy Capacity Won’t Work -- https://thewire.in/116842/solar-energy-india-capacity/

* (2017) Mint - http://www.livemint.com/Industry/MKI7QvOhpRoBAtw3d4PM5K/South-African-firm-bid-takes-solar-power-tariffs-to-new-low.html

* (2017) - Solar panel imports - https://www.zauba.com/import-solar-panel-hs-code.html -- HSCode - 39209919

* (2017) - http://indianexpress.com/article/business/economy/pm-modi-calls-for-all-solar-power-city-model-stresses-job-creation-4648770/

* (2016-Dec) -- http://indianexpress.com/article/india/indias-87-per-cent-solar-cell-imports-from-china-in-april-september-piyush-goyal-4417312/

* (2016) - BL - Import of solar panels triples in 2015-16 -  http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/import-of-solar-panels-triples-in-201516/article8788743.ece

* (2016) - Adani's Kamuthi Solar Power Project - http://www.ecowatch.com/india-solar-market-2118202661.html

* (2016) - India's solar energy push to generate 1 mn green jobs -- http://www.business-standard.com/content/b2b-manufacturing-industry/india-s-solar-energy-push-to-generate-1-mn-green-jobs-116021500523_1.html
- Report by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) -- ‘Filling the skill gap in India’s clean energy market: Solar energy focus’
- The country will need new skilled workforce & training to achieve its ambitious national target to add 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar energy by 2022
- one million new engineers, technicians, solar installers, maintenance workers and performance data monitors
- International Solar Alliance (ISA) -  alliance of more than 120 solar-rich countries aims to facilitate widespread deployment of solar power and supporting knowledge exchange on manufacturing and skills.

* (2015) - DTE - WTO rules against India in Domestic Contents Reqirements for the Solar Industry -- http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wto-rules-against-india-s-domestic-content-requirements-in-solar-power-50977
- Indian manufacturing capacity of solar cells and modules is limited to 1,386 MW and 2,756 MW respectively. The Mission's target at the time of the complaint stood at 10,000 MW to be achieved in the period from 2013 to 2017.
- Since the solar target has been revised to 100,000 MW or 100 GW by the Modi government, the target now stands at 29,000 MW.

* (2015) - Research Paper - Potential of Solar Energy in India - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306034848_Potential_of_Solar_Energy_in_India_A_Review
-  The solar  radiation incident over India is equal to 4–7 kWh per square meter per day with an annual radiation ranging from 1200–2300 kWh per square meter.
- It has an average of 250–300 clear sunny days and  2300–3200 hours  of sun shine per  year.
- India's electricity needs can be met on a total land area of 3000 km2  which  is  equal  to  0.1%  of  total  land  in  the country

Potential of Solar Energy in India
- Currently  India is  generating  4.59%  of solar energy  of  total  produced  renewable  energy  installed capacity in India

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* India Solar Resource Maps - http://mnre.gov.in/sec/solar-assmnt.htm
* NREL - National Renewable Energy Lab - http://www.nrel.gov/international/ra_india.html

* International Solar Alliance (ISA) - http://intsolaralliance.org/

* (2016) Yes Bank - Compendium of Global Success Stories in Solar - http://intsolaralliance.org/docs/CompendiumofGlobalSuccessStoriesinSolarEnergy.pdf

* (2015) - KPMG Solar Manufacturing Report - http://www.energetica-india.net/download.php?seccion=articles&archivo=3Eksv7L8BosildPLOdK84G1zZk6Ew1co6BVp8hm0LThwxw9APH9HOx8.pdf

* Wiki - List of solar manufacturing companies - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_photovoltaics_companies

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Water Diviners



“There is water here,” the old man from Kasaragod said simply, after reading the landscape and its botany, and placing his hands on the earth.

I was struck by this line from recent article by Lalitha Sridhar in the Hindu. She was describing C. Kunjambu Attan, a highly regarded 76-year-old water diviner from Kerala and his visit to Bidar, a drought-prone city in Karnataka, India.

It is not uncommon in India to come across stories of great mystics who had special powers to commune with nature. The book, "Autobiography of a Yogi" contains numerous instances of sages who developed a capacity to communicate their thoughts to their people sitting thousands of kilometers away, and of yogis who could "create" fruits out of thin air. In a more recent book, "Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master", tells the story of a Muslim boy who was impelled to find his life's calling a Nath-panthi yogi.

A water diviner may not be categorized as a Yogi, but unlike the seekers of the ultimate spiritual Truth, they seem to be putting their talents to good use -  not in some distant afterlife but in the immediate here and now. What could be more useful that helping thirsty people in parched lands quench their thirst?

This also makes me wonder if there are mystics and diviners who try to prevent the colossal wastage of water we see all around us -- especially in urban areas.Take Noida for instance. Potable drinking water for the city is sourced from the distant Ganga river (80%), and from groundwater aquifers (20%).

Despite the huge expense involved in transporting, cleaning and distributing water to the cities, the UP Jal Nigam seems to care little about wastage. Users are charged a paltry one-time annual fee that creates no incentives to prevent overflowing water from literally going down the drains.



Are there any Kunjambu Attan's who can help prevent the mindless wastage of water in our cities -- especially in the scorching summer season?

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REFERENCES

* Sridhar, Lalitha - How Bidar Beat Back the Heat -- http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/how-bidar-beat-back-the-drought/article18282462.ece


Kashmir: Any Lessons from Shin Bet?


An article by Virendra Kapoor in the Sunday Guardian presents a contrarian view to the prevelant doom-and-gloom scenario painted by the usual op-ed writers in the English press. He essentially points out that the "Kashmir Problem" is centered on just five of the 22 districts in the state, covering 15% of J&K's land area and less than half of the state's population of 12.5 million.

One of the tweets that came in response, suggested a documentary for essential viewing: "The Gatekeepers", based on an interview of all the surviving chiefs of Israel's secret service, Shin Bet.

Directed by Dror Moreh, this ~90-minute video contains many elements you would expect -- grainy clips from drones following vehicles used by Hamas operatives, dramatic recreations of some famous "targeted assasinations", especially that of Yahya Ayyash, and of interrogation techniques used by Shin Bet.



What is, however, completely unexpected is that clarity of understanding amongst all the spook-chiefs' that a solution to the Palestenian Problem cannot emerge out the ongoing cycle of violence and revenge. They are all for talks with anybody who is willing to negotiate a settlement. As one of the them puts it memorably. "We need to talk to each other...it leads us to understand each other better...he may realise that I do not eat glass, I may find that he does not drink petrol."

It may not be entirely fair to equate Palestine with the Kashmir valley, but some elements are indeed common: The sense of being dis-empowered and alienated; of being under an army occupation; of midnight raids and the disappearance of young men, and stonepelters .  However, unlike Palestine, separatists in the valley are driven by an ideology inspired by radical Islam. This has resulted in an ethnic cleansing of Hindu Kashmiri's who continue to live in refugee camps elsewhere, and now the perpetrators of violence claim to be victims themselves who say, "Victory is to see you suffer!"

According to Clautzwitz, "Victory is simply the creation of a better political reality". While the Modi government finds news ways of overcoming the cycle of violence, it may be worthwhile to keep in mind Prof. Y. Leibowitz's prediction for Israel, one year after the Six Day War, in 1968:
 "A state ruling over a hostile population of one million foreigners, will necessarily become a Shin Bet state with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech, thought and democracy. The corruption found in every colonial regime, will affix itself to the State of Israel. The administration will have to suppress an Arab uprising on one hand, and acquire Quislings, or Arab traitors on the other.."

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LINKS & REFERENCES

* Kapoor, Virendra (2017) - Rest Assured, Kashmir is not lost for India - http://www.sundayguardianlive.com/opinion/9258-rest-assured-kashmir-not-lost-india
* Documentary - "The Gatekeepers" on Wiki - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gatekeepers_(film)

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Not-so-Holy Buffalo


The lunatic fringe in India now has a new avatar - "Gau Rakshaks" - the self-appointed cow-protectors who patrol our roads and highways like the thugee of yore, seeking out the weak and the meek to bully, intimidate, and kill.

Yesterday night they set upon a Gujjar family in Jammu, pulled down a police picket in which they had taken shelter and beat them up for plying their trade. Last week another mob attacked a truck suspected of transporting cows to slaughterhouses, and after beating up the driver, found out that their cargo was not cows but buffaloes.  A clear case of mistaken identity but how does one explain that to a mob targeting muslims?

What explains this sudden touchiness for the well being of cows? In the North Indian Gangetic belt, life has evolved around a pastoral economy. Wealth was measured by the number of cows you owned; Gods were created from iconic cowherds and much loved stories woven around their adventures with the "Gopikas" on the banks of the Yamuna; communities and intra-caste divisions were based on "Gotras"...and yet, even when the cows were pivotal to life in ancient India, our scriptures (eg. Taitriya Brahmana) say that beef was a special treat reserved for honored guests.

The problem with inconvenient truth's is that they lack the emotional appeal, and the political power that can be squeezed out of it. Consider this screenshot of recent tweet. Cows qualify as "harmless, giving animals", but, not other farm animals!


The mobs - and their puppeteers - choose to ignore the face that times have changed. Cows are being rapidly replaced by buffaloes on Indian farms. Compared to cows, buffaloes are a lot more valuable now the north Indian farmer for the simple reason that they provide a higher RoI. The water buffaloes do not carry the cultural baggage of "holiness" associated with cows in North India. So they are treated like the usual farm animals - valuable when they are lactating or pulling carts but easily sold off to the nearest abattoir the moment they cease to be useful on the farm.

So it comes as no surprise that buffaloes provide more than 55 per cent of the milk that Indians consume. They are also the backbone of India's thriving meat export industry. One single company - The Allana Group, processes no less than 7000 buffaloes a day. Last year, we exported about 1.2 million tons of "carabeef" worth INR 23,646 Cr (USD 3.6 billion)!

Despite being one of the original homes of the water buffalo, why is it that in India this animal considered less holy, less worthy of any of the sentiments associated with the cow?

Mythology provides some pointers and clues.  One of the many villains in Indian mythology is "Mahisasura", that unseemly combination of a demon and a water-buffalo who is ultimately slain by Durga, the celebrated Mother Goddess. In many temples there is nothing irregular about offering animal sacrifice, and the buffalo tops the list of blood offerings. At the famous Kalibari temple in Kolkata I remember being taken aback by the sudden sight of severed buffalo heads in the sanctum. Ditto for temples in the Kathmandu valley and the Kamakshi temple at near Gauhati, Assam.

Perhaps the only place where I have seen buffaloes raised to an iconic status is at the Achaleshwar Mahadev Temple in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.


On the banks of the temple pond, stand three stately buffaloes, overlooking a herd of their real-life brethren cooling off in the muddy waters. As with most historical places in India, there are no plaques telling you who took the trouble of putting up the statues, and for what reason. The tourist-guides, will, as usual, tell you some cock-and-bull story that fits the contemporary bias against buffaloes.

It is a sad sign of out times that political revival of the 'Hindu Identity' is being built on regressive, shallow symbolism.

If the celebrated Polish artist, Pawel Kuczynski,  turned his attention to contemporary India, he might have replaced the cat in this painting with a cow, and added a few people (bearded, skull-capped) into the barn! :/



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LINKS

* ENS (2017): Where Indian Meat Exports Go -- http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/where-indian-buffalo-meat-exports-go-4609512/

* Damodaran, Harish (2012): Cow Belt or Buffalo Nation? http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/columns/harish-damodaran/cow-belt-or-buffalo-nation/article3328532.ece
More than 55 per cent of the milk that Indians consume now flows from the udders of buffaloes, which are neither born holy nor have holiness thrust upon them.buffaloes constituted 34.6 per cent of the country's total bovine animal population (male plus female) as per the latest 2007 Livestock CensusAn average Murrah buffalo produces 2,000-odd litres over a 300-day lactation period, which is more or less what comparable elite indigenous cattle breeds such as Sahiwal yield. But buffalo milk also fetches higher price, as it contains 7-7.5 per cent fat – almost twice that from cows.In 2010-11, 7.1 lakh tonnes of buffalo meat, worth Rs. 8,413 crore, was officially shipped out from India.
* Bovidae Family - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bovidae
* Devdatt Pattnak: In Defense of the Buffalo - http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/in-defence-of-the-buffalo.html

* Allana Group - http://www.allana.com/proteins/
57% of total buffalo population of the world, India is considered as the home track of some of the finest breeds of buffaloes

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Zero Energy Building




A rather unusual looking building came up in South Delhi a couple of years ago. Amidst other, conventional government buildings in the Jor Bagh area, "Paryavaran Bhavan", the new office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), looks as though its wearing a graduation cap.

A  closer look reveals that the cap is actually an elongated, cantilevered roof which holds a vast array of solar panels. This seven-storied tower covering 32,000 sq.m, and accommodating over 600 government officials is India's first "Net Zero Energy" building. The solar panels generate 930 KWp of power, which is more than enough to meet its annual energy requirements of 1.4 million Units at 9KWh. The building actually generates a surplus of about 70,000 KWh which diverted back into the grid.

According to MoEF, this "Multi-storied Building with 100% Onsite Power Generation", is the first of its kind in India. Apart from those solar panels on the roof, it uses a Chilled Beam System of air conditioning which saves more than 50% in energy consumption. The building incorporates a Geothermal Heat Exchange System as well as seven "Machine Room Gearless Lifts (OTIS) that converts braking energy into electrical energy (regenerative brakes, as in automobiles). The building also has its own plants for water and sewage treatment -- in other words, it neither takes any energy from outside, neither does it dump its waste into the city's drains.

Who were the people behind such a pioneering effort? How did the usually hidebound CPWD, with its record of making dreadful looking public buildings actually undertake this leap of faith and technical flourish?

Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing in the 'public domain' that either chronicles, or celebrates this achievement. The CPWD website (accessed 19 April 2017), does have a  button titled "Click Here for Old PPTs", and this does lead to a list of projects that includes this building. None of the URLs work.

Dig a little deeper at other websites (ICFILD, CSE) and you would find that CPWD did indeed lack in-house expertise for such a project. So the government did the the next best thing - it employed competent consulting agencies for each of the specialized aspects of this project. CPWD then brought in its formidable project management skills and completed this building in just two years' time (Jan. 2011-Oct 2013). Among them was Deependra Prashad's DPAP -  the architecture firm that designed this building.

Is this new approach going to be the new norm in public works? Have we finally graduated to better designed public buildings?


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LINKS & REFERENCES

- MOEF Pamphlet - "A New Benchmark in Sustainable Built Habitat"
- CPWD - PPT - Technical Presentation - http://cpwd.gov.in/CPWDNationBuilding/InaugurationPM25.02.2014/Technical_Presentation.ppt
- Case Study (2014) - http://icfild.org/ire2014/seminar/06_deependra_prasad/spa_ipb_deependra.pdf
- Ramachandran, Smriti Kak (2012) - A Green Revolution in Letter and Spirit - http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/a-green-revolution-in-letter-and-in-spirit/article3820306.ece

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VITAL STATS

Capacity of power generation: 930 KWp
Annual energy requirement and generation: 14 Lakh Units 9KWh
Total area covered by solar panels: 4600 sqm
Building plinth area: 32,000 sqm
Structure: G + 7 floors + 3 basements
Solar Panels: Covering 4600 sqm, monocrystalline with 20% efficiency
Amenities: 440 TR HVAC Air Conditioning; Lifts, Fire Alarm System; DG Sets, UPS, IBMS and CCTV Systems; Fully automatic robotic car parking for 330 cars
Architecture, Planning and Execution: Central Public Works Department (CPWD)
Cost: INR 209 Cr. (USD 32.4 million)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Climbing Mt. Fuji



Every now and then nostalgia bumps into wobbly memory cells, leaving you a bit tongue-tied. This happened to me last week when a friend, an ultra-marathoner,  suddenly asked me -  "I want to climb Mt. Fuji - do you know anybody who can arrange it in the off-season this year?"

While trying hard to remember details of my trip in 2009, I just said, "It all depends on when you are planning to climb..."

For a moment, I could not recall the dates when I climbed that iconic mountain. Nor could I remember the route I took, or the total expense for that trip. Instead, the memories that floated up immediately were -  the taste of the most delicious hot curry rice I'd ever had, at a quaint wooden inn high above the clouds; of the long lines of climbers trudging uphill in pitch darkness at 3:00AM; the cold wind and rains, and of a spectacular sunrise we saw, perched precariously on steep, dark slopes dotted with large chunks of pale, white ice.

Memories of the trek had receded to the bye lanes of my mind. It did pop up occasionally whenever I came across a painting, a photograph, or even an emoji that featured Mt. Fuji. A fleeting thought would then cross my mind - "I have actually been to the top of that mountain!"  A sense of awe and wonder that was, perhaps, bigger than the actual experience.

I had to go back to the notes written six years ago, to be reminded that I owed the trip to a gentleman named Sakata Yoshinori, and to an organisation named JISEDAI. In July 2009, I had responded to a notice that came up at Tsukuba University. I was the only one who registered, so  Sakata-san had traveled all the way from Tokyo, just to brief a single guy.

When we met at the Tsukuba TX station, he was standing next to the ticket counter, soaked in sweat. At a Starbucks table nearby, he had carefully handed me his visiting card, and then spread out his laptop, plugged in a thumb-drive, to explain how I should prepare for the trek.

"It would be a nine-member team this year", he had said "All the others were university students from Tokyo". He explained the itinerary, detailed the expenses (~JPY 20,000 which included bus-rides, boarding, meals), and pointed out the precautions to be taken and then offered to help me find the right equipment for the trip. I definitely needed a 35L backpack, a pair of waterproof trousers and, if possible, ankle-length hiking shoes.

Mr. Sakata even insisted to helping me get the right equipment and took me to a few shops at Tsukuba Centre. Apart from being amazed at his helpfulness, I remember thinking that his well-meaning advise bordered on being fussy and over-cautious. Having done some trekking in the Western Himalaya's, climbing a gentle-looking 3776m peak did not seem like a big deal. And then there was the cost of buying all the new gear...It is only later that I realized that Mt. Fuji was different, and that each item was necessary.

Eight of the nine-member team turned up. We all met outside the Shinjiku station and discovered that an interesting mix of people -- Yeo, a dude from Singapore; Melissa, a budding dentist from Indonesia, along with her two batchmates Pat and Thuy; A South American named German (pronounced Herman), and two other experienced Japanese trekkers - Chiaki and Hiroki.

We all took a bus from Tokyo to the Gotenba (2 hours), and then a local bus to a large facility called Fujinosato, an 'education facility' right next to the JSDF Takigahara camp. It was a sprawling campus with scores of tatami-matted dormitories, forest trails, an archery complex, camping sitesi in the woods, and even a spacious Onsen (hot-spring bath). School children, baseball teams, and various other groups in assorted uniforms milled about the place, waiting for their turn to climb uphill.




Our turn was early next day morning. After breakfast we walked to the base of the 7.8 km Subashiri Trail, downed a few cups of green-tea, and started trekking on  pathway that cuth through the thick forests.



At this point the ground was gently undulating - pathways that cut through the deep, dark volcanic soil and lush vegetation. As we climbed to 6th Station (2400m), and the 7th Station (3000m), forests gave way to sparse scrub vegetation dotting the slopes, and then none at all beyond the Old 7th Station (3200m). We rested for a while at this point at the Miharashikan Hut.  By this time it was cold and windy outside, and, at a time like this, what could be more welcome than a plate of hot curry rice? :)

Shadow of Mt. Fuji on the Clouds (Old 7th Station)

Early next morning, we padded ourselves with warm clothing, fitted head-lamps and walked out into the pitch darkness, to join a steady stream of climbers going uphill. It was between the 8.5th Station - 3450m (Goraikokan Hut), and 9th Station that we noticed that we were far above the clouds. This was also the meeting point of the Yoshida Trail (Yamanishi Prefecture) and, suddenly, it felt like we were all commuters at the Shinjiku Station!

Torches and lights were switched off as everybody settled down on the steep slopes, sitting down wherever they could find some space. As the clouds gradually gathered light, we all seemed to be sitting in a massive amphitheater, waiting for the drama of the rising sun to unfold...and what a sight it was!



Within seconds of the sunrise, a blanket of clouds rolled out reducing visibility to a few meters, and drenching us all in icy rain. We continued moving up at a snail's pace now, a part of a long line of colorful raincoats slowly bobbing to the summit. The last few hundred meters were rather steep and the ropes helped. Finally, when we reached the top, got past the crowds and eateries and looked down the caldera, it seemed so... ordinary.

After offering prayers are the Kusushi Shrine we started our descent. It was a lot faster than I expected because we were just wading down ash-laden slopes. Often our legs would just dig in, right up to our knees with each step.
Wading down the ash-slopes
This is where you realise that Mt. Fuji was quite different from other non-volcanic mountains. The weather was fickle, and the terrain even more so. Each and every item listed by Sakata-san turned out to be essential - the layered clothing, raincoats, and ankle-length boots. Our friend from Singapore made the mistake of coming in shorts and sneakers, and paid the price for it. He had been shivering from the 7th Station, and now, with the ash filling up his sneakers, he was feeling quite miserable all the way down.

In a couple of hours we were down at the Subashiri base station, and then on to the comforts of Fujinosato. After a soak in the steaming Onsen, a hot meal and a nap in the bus back to Tokyo, none of us doubted that Mt. Fuji looked a lot prettier from a distance!

For friends who are trying to climb Mt. Fuji during the off season, my suggestion is simple -- please don't. During the off season, all huts, toilets and first aid stations are closed and most of signs on the trails are removed. Unless, of course, you are part of JSDF, a scientific team or a team with special permission, your are quite unlikely to get beyond the 5th Station.

The climb is not difficult, but given the way the weather changes suddenly, the chances of getting lost in the forests, rain or in the cloud-covered slopes, is quite high, unless, of course, you are travelling with experienced climbers, and following a long line of colorful raincoats all the way to the top!

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LINKS

Official Website for Mt. Fuji Climbers - http://www.fujisan-climb.jp/en/season/
  • Climbing season: Early July to Mid-September
Subashiri Trail - http://www.fujiyama-navi.jp/fujitozan/route/page/subashiri/lang/en/

For info on other trails - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gail-nakada/how-to-climb-mt-fuji_b_3693642.html