Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Sewery Mindset


The gem above is an article in today’s newspaper (Deccan Herald) in Benguluru. Telecom companies have run Optic Fibre Cables (OFCs) through sewerage lines “illegally”. They had “permission” for x kms and have laid about 4 x kms instead. Response – a civic rule that will charge Rs 300 per meter for laying the cable plus Rs 120 per meter monthly rental. For the 25,000 km of cables laid in Bangalore that translates to about Rs 3 billion per month. This is in addition to a one time charge of Rs 300 per metre of cable laid. (These numbers seem pretty shady and high for the city, given optic fibre carrying capacity). The cables have been “aesthetically” laid (see pic below).  We must be an IT superpower.

The citizens of the city will now shell out Rs 36 billion per year in telecom charges. This translates into about Rs 4,500 per annum per capita, assuming everyone, including those who beg at traffic signals, is on the Internet or telephone or watching TV.  The City corporation gets another Rs 36 billion to blow on construction contracts. The DH reporter hasn’t taken sides on this issue, to be fair, and has ‘reported’.

The traditional approach

Opposition parties will scream at the “revenue” loss to the govt. In this case, the state govt is BJP led. Another “scam”. Lets forget that this approach will end up taxing usage and make services expensive.

The media will have their circus of the week, since no politician’s son is involved in a rape case or a hit-and-run. (Robert Vadra, though, is stealing the limelight this week!).

Smacking their lips will be construction contractors. The OFCs in the sewers have denied them the business of digging up the city roads and laying them again.  Now the additional revenue to the city corporation will mean more redundant flyovers that take traffic to the next jam. (Average speed of city traffic in Bangalore is 9.8 km per hour after all the fancy construction. In Mumbai, you get 200 metres further down the road at the end of the hour. Migrate to Mumbai!!!)


The telcos have saved considerable money by using the sewage conduits. They’ve also saved city dwellers and commuters a lot a heart burn, that is normally the case due to dug roads. Fuel consumption is down because the stoppages due to digging didn’t occur.  The preservation of the pavement will reduce torn ligaments and other such hazards for pedestrians and contribute to better health indicators for the city.  Okay, at least they won’t be In worse shape than they are.

Charging them a one time fee seems reasonable, as they can split their savings with the corporation. Charging them a reasonable fee to ensure their cables don’t get cut during sewage maintenance is reasonable. (Sharks got the sub-sea cable between Singapore and Chennai last year, with chaos ensuing!).   Instead, an extortion fee has been enacted.

The big crib of the corporators and some citizens is the flooding of sewage lines, for which they now blame the OFCs. The trunk sewage lines are of a size that lets “The Fugitive” escape the US Marshalls. Even the smaller dia lines get clogged primarily because of construction debris. Even the plastic cups and bags are small enough to flow through most these lines. The OFC (see picture) is small stuff.

If the telcos in B’lore report profits this year, the “scam” allegation will gain momentum. The govt will forget that 12% of gross revenue will be paid as service tax, and then taxes on profits. While citizens can access affordable service.

This attitude of “sovereign” right (ie, the king must grant permission) and the “lets have another scam” circus that media loves, is killing any attempt at optimizing capital to provide services. A few weeks ago, it was the Department of Telecom lowering the boom on telcos for using third party infrastructure to provide roaming telephony and internet. Haven’t these blokes heard of optimizing usage of resources? Its really sewery mind-set.  Meanwhile, the telcos are now “The Fugitive”.

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