5 + 1 questions for M/s Ramanathan, Misra & Co

S.S. KARNADSHA writes from Bangalore: With 45 days to go before Bangalore’s new international airport (BIAL) takes off (imagine that!), a debate distilled in the drawing rooms has spilled on to the editorial pages with effortless ease.

Former Citibanker Ramesh Ramanathan, who runs Janaagraha, and R.K. Misra, who won the Times of India‘s “Lead India” contest recently, have raised a few questions. The other usual suspect, Infosys’ T.V. Mohandas Pai, has not stuck his neck out as yet, but with omnibus idealogue B.K. Chandrashekar joining the chorus, the countdown can begin. Like, now.

The single-point raga of this band of brothers (with sister Ramya Krishnamurthy of churumuri helpfully providing the tala) is: the old HAL airport should stay.

For two reasons: One, the long commute that one will have to endure given the condition of Bangalore’s roads, what with the approach road to the new airport still to take shape. And two, the new airport may not be able to handle the volume of air traffic because it has been ‘ill-planned’.

In short, they are suggesting that it is perfectly OK for the State government of Karnataka to renege the contract with the European consortium, which is building the new airport.

There is nothing new about Bangalore’s Page 3 types getting hyper about infrastructure, because they are in the business. Urban infrastructure is a happening area and there’s a lot in it for ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’, and all their acquired and accumulated expertise.

What is new is that the suits are speaking an anti-corporate language.

Without batting an eyelid, the very people who otherwise paint themselves as priests of propriety, who treat contracts as sacred tablets, are now voicing an intriguing variety of boardroom language, by advocating the violation of contracts that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has signed with the consortium!

Yenna Ramesh machchan, yenna matter?

Chukker kya hai, Misra-saab?

Even a cursory visit to the BIAL website makes two things clear: that there shall be only one airport in a 150-kilometre radius and that there shall be a levy of user development fees. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that the traffic forecast figures are being misrepresented by these wiseheads who otherwise have all the correct facts about all other issues at their fingertips.

The sudden wisdom of these gentlemen naturally raises some doubts in the minds of Bangaloreans who too care about the City’s well-being. I place their doubts through a series of questions:

1. Why did Ramanathan, Misra & Co wait this long to ask the questions? Did the roads go bad, did they discover that the approach road (“connectivity” in their jargon-filled lingo) was not ready only yesterday? Was Devanahalli chosen as the only day before? Was the airport plan approved only last week? After all, these are sages who have positioned themselves as having all the answers for India’s future challenges. Couldn’t they have visualised this scenario six months back, a year ago, two years ago? If they had generated the heat then, wouldn’t the government have woken up in time to do something? Are they now just trying to grab headlines or is there more to what meets the eye?

2. Ramya Krishnamurthy has a problem with user fees to be levied by the new airport unlike the Hyderabad airport. But isn’t it strange that these free-marketeers otherwise swear by revenue-models? Isn’t profitability at the core of all their thinking? Don’t they speak day-in and day-out about market forces, business models and vibrant fundamentals? If they want the user fee cancelled here, can we extend the same logic to the Bangalore-Mysore expressway that the NICE company is building or for that matter all toll-ways? Wasn’t user fee again part of the contract signed a long time ago? Why have they suddenly woken up to it fact now?

3. If reneging the contract with the European consortium passes muster in the name of the “stake-holders” (World Bank/IMF jargon for citizens), then why should this same lot frown when H.D. Deve Gowda suggested that a legislation should be passed to take over the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project being built by Ashok Kheny‘s company? If Ramesh, Misra & Co can make their case in the name of Bangalore’s “stake-holders”, what is so objectionable about Deve Gowda batting on behalf of farmers? Aren’t farmers “stake-holders” in a largely rural, agricultural country?

4. Is Ramesh Ramanathan taking up this issue as a Janaagraha activist or as a technial advisor for JNNURM or as a consultant to various government panels, ministries and state governments? Can Ramanathan assure us there is no conflict of interest in what he is doing and talking? Can Misra assure us he is not taking up cudgels on behalf of inhabitants of Electronic City, who will be severely affected by the relocation of the airport?

5. Would these people have been as vocal about retaining the old HAL airport and revocation of the user development fees had Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy continued as the chairman of the BIAL project and S.M. Krishna was chief minister? Is it not the same R.K Misra who had said that Narayana Murthy had quit as BIAL chairman much before Deve Gowda had tickled him on the wrong side? Meaning Gowda’s provocation was just an excuse for NRN?

Bonus question: If India reneges its contract with the United States on the nuclear deal will the likes of Ramesh Ramanathan, R.K. Misra and Ramya Krishnamurthy welcome it? After all the Left has a set of genuine questions too?

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M’am, can I have one more of these lovely balls?