Site Allotment

In Bangalore, you have two kinds of residential layouts, BDA Layouts and Revenue Layouts. The former are layouts that have been created by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) or its predecessor the City Improvement Trust Board (CITB). These agencies acquired land from villages which were then on the outskirts of Bangalore, planned layouts with sites of different sizes, roads, “civic amenity sites”, etc. and then “allotted” them to applicants based on certain criteria.

To get a site allotted, you had to declare that you didn’t own a house in Bangalore, pay an upfront amount and wait for a few years before you would get your plot at a fairly subsidized amount in what was then the outskirts of the city. There were also layouts that were created and allotted to different PSUs. For example, you have ISRO Layout near Banashankari where sites were allotted at low prices to employees of ISRO. Similarly there are several “bank colonies” all over Bangalore. These sites were again allotted at subsidized rates. The government would acquire land from villagers, pass it on to the PSU employee association who would then allot them to employees. Interestingly, the resultant sale deed would be between the original owner of the land (typically a farmer) and the employee. The government and PSU’s name would be absent.

Revenue layouts did not have a government middleman. Original owners of the land (typically farmers) would cut it up into plots, allot area for roads and sell it directly to people to build houses there. Initially these areas would be deemed “illegal” thanks to their violation of zoning laws. In due course of time, they would get “recognized” by the BDA or BBMP and then BWSSB would provide water supply and drainage (till then people would rely on borewells and septic tanks).

If you drive a few kilometers out of Bangalore, especially in the eastern direction, you are likely to see a few mini Gurgaons. There has been absolutely no planning here, and so you have skyscrapers (either apartments or office complexes) interspersed with vast tracts of empty land. It is a sprawl out there, and there is no way one can live in these parts without a car. The vast empty spaces also mean these areas are ripe for criminal activity, and the buildings usually have private sources for their public goods (such as water or drainage).

While this makes a case for planned urban development (with its associated “site allotments”), there is also the issue of corruption. If you look at some of the corruption cases that have been filed recently against Karnataka politicians and bureaucrats, you will notice that they mostly have to do with land use and site allotments. Yeddyurappa went to jail in a “land denotification” case – that corrupt act was made possible because the government controls zoning. Former Lok Ayukta Shivaraj Patil had to resign because he got allotted a site when he already owned a house in the city.

So on one hand you get well planned and manageable cities, but significant scope for corruption and rent seeking. On the other, you have chaos and unplanned development, and several mini Gurgaons rather than proper cities. It seems like we have a no-win situation here. How do we handle it?

PS: I know that revenue layouts also involve heavy corruption, in terms of “regularising” or changing land use. However, surprisingly given the amounts involved, this kind of corruption seems to have remained at the lower levels of bureaucracy

Two kinds of immigration

There are fundamentally two kinds of immigration – local job-creators and local job-competitors. The former are primarily middle and upper middle class people, who create jobs locally in terms of employing people (directly) to provide services for them – like maids, cooks, drivers, laundrymen, etc. The latter are primarily working class people who migrate in order to provide local services. They work as maids, cooks, drivers, etc.

Already existing local service providers welcome the immigration of job-creators. That means they now have the opportunity to push up their asking prices, since there is now more competition for their services. There is little economic opposition to the immigration of job-creators. The opposition to them is usually cultural – witness the rants of middle class “native” Bangaloreans like me against “koramangala people”.

Job-competitors, on the other hand are not so welcome. While they usually don’t contribute too much to the “culture” of the city, they compete directly economically against already existing local service providers. There is a clear economic rationale for local service providers to oppose the entry of more such providers, and since the local service providers are usually numerous and politically active, it is easier to oppose the entry of such job-competitors.

In the 1960s, for example, Shiv Sena started out by targeting South Indian middle class people. However, that campaign didn’t last long, since the “masses” (mostly local service providers) realized that it was economically counterintuitive for them to target middle class people. Hence, gradually over time, the rhetoric changed and the targets are now immigrant job-competitors. So you have Shiv Sena guys beating up Bihari taxi drivers, etc. And since this targeting of immigrant job-competitors is economically advantageous to the “masses”, it is likely to be more sustainable than the targeting of immigrant middle class people.

Making guest list

So last night I sat down to do the presumably fun task of preparing my wedding guest list. This was just the first cut, where I just put down the names of people I want to invite in an excel sheet. In the second cut, I’ll parse the sheet and figure out how each person on the list should be invited – personally, or on phone, or email, and so on.

So there can be two kinds of error while making such a list – errors of omission and errors of commission. The probability of error or commission is quite low. After all there aren’t too many people who you explicitly don’t want at your wedding. And if there exist any such people, you will remember that only too well while putting their names down in the invite sheet.

Errors of omission is what I’m concerned about. There have been times in the past when people have gotten married, and I haven’t had a clue. It’s a different matter about whether I’d’ve gone or not, but I know that there is scope for hurt feelings if certain people are left out of the list. So one must be careful.

The problem is that I’m currently not in touch with a lot of these people. I would’ve been good enough friends with them at some point of time in life that I’d want to invite them to my wedding. But the fact that I haven’t kept in touch means I may not remember their existence, but when eventually they see my wedding pics on facebook it might result in a kinda hurtful “congrats” message.

The other question I must ask is that if I’m prone to forgetting about someone’s existence, if they are worth being invited at all. That I’ve forgotten about them means that obviously they are quite low in my list of people I want at my wedding. So am I generally paining myself by trying to remember people who I wouldn’t normally remember?

So far the easiest list I’ve made is from my batch of people from IIMB. We have a google doc with everyone’s names and personal details. So one parse through that meant I wouldn’t forget anyone’s existence. Much peace ensued. The problem is similar lists don’t exist for my other social networks. Anyway I’ll try my best.

Tangentially, another issue is about how “forcefully” I invite certain people who don’t live in Bangalore and have to fly down for my wedding. For a variety of reasons I happened to bunk their weddings, and now it’s a little embarrassing to insist that they be there.

PS: This old post of mine, I think, is pertinent.

Death Ceremonies

Considering the number of times I’ve been through the death/post-death/death-anniversary ceremonies over the last three odd years it’s quite surprising that I haven’t really blogged about it. Maybe I considered the topic to be way to personal to blog about. Maybe I was so busy fighting relatives that I didn’t have the opportunity to observe things.

So most of the time during the death ceremony was spent with me shifting my sacred thread from left to right, and back, and back. The  basic idea is that for all death-related stuff, one is supposed to wear the thread from right shoulder to left waist (it’s normally worn from left shoulder to right waist). But then, considering that it’s a religious ceremony, large portions are also spent praying, and when you are praying to the gods, you are supposed to wear the thread the right way.

And then these two kinds keep alternating, so you spend a lot of time just doing that! To aid this and to save time, the upper cloth is tied around the tummy (like an auxiliary dhoti) rather than over the shoulders. And by the end of every such ceremony, you would have figured out when you’ll have to switch the orientation of the thread.

Then during the annual death ceremonies, there are two brahmins who help in officiating. Apparently there’s something special about these brahmins. Once, a couple of years back, one of these guys failed to turn up on time because of which the entire ceremony was getting delayed, and I hinted to an uncle that since he too is a brahmin he should deputise. And then this uncle (a rather religious character) gave me a long lecture about the processes and sacrifices that these “special” brahmins (who are paid a pittance – their daily rate is about half of what an average junior skilled worker (carpenter, painter, etc) makes) have to go through to allow them to perform their duty.

Now, it is as if one of these brahmins plays god and the other plays the devil (something of the sort). The “god” is always addressed with the thread in the normal position while the “devil” is addressed with the thread from right shoulder to left waist. The “god” is worshipped with rice, while the “devil” is worshipped with black sesame seeds. It seems as if the devil is somehow supposed to represent some kind of companion of the people in the afterlife – in whose memory the ceremonies are being performed.

This time we had struck a package deal (inclusive of all ceremonies, offerings, gifts, lunch, consumables, etc.) but on earlier occasions we were plagued by the priests trying to blackmail us by demanding that we give them expensive gifts, over and above the fees that we had agreed upon. And then once, by drawing upon a clever analogy, I managed to convince one of them that the gifts that I’d given earlier were like advance payment for services and that I’d pay only the balance. Unfortunately some relatives ridiculed me for fighting with the priest and made me pay him the full amount (yeah it was my money. none of these relatives coughed up a naya paisa)

The ceremonies are in general disgusting affairs and the only way to go through them is to just go through the processes. Sometimes, thinking about what kind of a blog post to write on the process can help take your mind away from random wanderings.

Women’s Reservation and Roving Bandits

There are two kinds of bandits – stationary and roving. Roving bandits (eg. Mahmud of Ghazni) attack an area, plunder it to the fullest and then abandon it and move on to another area to rape and pillage. They seldom attack the same area twice, at least not in quick succession, because of which they don’t really care about the medium-term consequences of their actions. Similarly you have shifting agriculture.

Stationary bandits, on the other hand are interested in plundering an area over a longer time period (eg. British in India). They too pillage, but given that they know that they will stick on for a reasonable amount of time, they make sure that they don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And it is a possibility that they will feed the goose well, take steps to increase production of eggs and so on. In other words, they do contribute to general development of the area (though they tend to take away a large portion of the benefits), build institutions, etc. This is more like settled agriculture.

Now, it is clear that given a choice, it is in the interest of the region for it to be attacked by stationary bandits rather than by roving bandits. Yeah, the stationary bandits do stick on for longer and pain you for longer periods of time, but the damage inflicted by roving bandits is usually so severe that it will take a longer time to recover from this.

In democracies like the UK or India, what keeps the legislators honest is the possibility of re-election. It is the possibility of re-election which incentivizes the incumbent to do good for his constituents, rather than just plundering away the region’s funds (in whatever ways possible). In other words, legislators do try to act like stationary bandits, because of which some good does happen for the region.

Now, with the new women’s reservation law in the process of coming into force, what will happen is that once in three elections, constituencies will get reserved for women by rotation. The implications of this are severe. In two out of every three parliaments, the incumbent knows that there is zero chance of him/her retaining the seat in the following election (yeah, women can still continue to get elected from their constituencies when it becomes general by rotation but I’m sure parties won’t allow that). With the possibility of re-election being taken away, this will play havoc with the incentives.

There will be more incentve now for legislators to maximize their benefits in the one term they get rather than to try and put gaaji on the constituency and take benefits off it for the rest of their lifetime. This, I think will lead to overall poorer performance by legislators, irrespective of gender of the legislator and whether the constituency is reserved or not.

This is unfortunate.

MBA specializations

During some casual conversation earlier this evening, I realized that I get irritated when people talk about ‘MBA finance’ or ‘MBA marketing’. I realized that I feel like not continuing the conversation when someone asks me my MBA specialization. Later I spoke to Baada about this, and he too agreed about the lack of respect for the counterparty when this topic gets mentioned.

I think it has to do with a lot of people assuming that “MBA” is just a set of courses that one does in order to become a manager. Maybe they assume that one can become a manager in a particular domain by reading a set of books. Maybe they think that an MBA is just like any other course where you get “knowledge” rather than change your way of thinking (ok a lot of people say MBA is useless and suchlike but my MBA certainly changed the way I think).

Or maybe it’s just that people find it easier to classify. Sometimes people overdo it, to the point of stereotyping. I’m reminded of my last company which worked on two kinds of products (let’s call them Product A and Product B – details are, er, classified). I started off doing a bit of A and soon I became “Associate for A”. Soon, I started doing some other stuff, which would easily fall under B. Yet, the CEO kept referring to me as “Associate for A”. It was ridiculous, but somehow he couldn’t get this classification out of his head – even when most of my time was spent doing B.

Anyways, point I’m trying to make is that people are used to classifications in education. For example, in engineering you have electrical, mechanical, etc. – all very easy. Similarly in postgrad for medicine – you can easily classify as ‘eye’, ‘bone’, etc. So isn’t it the duty of “management” also to get duly classified? And it did help the classifiers that there were three or four major areas in which most MBAs sought employment, and this made classification convenient.

Most local MBA colleges use this “specialization” funda to optimize on the number of electives that they need to offer. From a couple of interactions  with people from local MBA colleges, I found that they had very few electives – the major choice that they had was in specialization. And once you picked your specialization, your set of courses would get more or less frozen which made it easy for the college to organize.

Some local MBA colleges seem to have taken this specialization thing to ridiculous levels. The other day, one of my cousins had come to me for career gyaan and he said “I’m wondering whether to do an MBA in Aviation or an MBA in media”. I completely lost it at that point and blasted him and asked him to work before thinking of an MBA. Hopefully the current bust will take care of such ridiculousness that exists in the colleges.

Even a large number of good colleges had this “specialization” funda. I’m told that IIMC had this funda of “major” where if you took five electives in a particular area, that would go on your degree certi as a “major”. However, I’ve never heard anyone from IIMC (even from those days when this classification existed) describing themselves as a “MBA in XXX”.

Anyway, the next time you ask me what my specialization was during my MBA, you’ll make sure that I lose all respect for you.

Don’t use stud processes for fighter jobs and fighter processes for stud jobs

When people crib to other people that their job is not too exciting and that it’s too process-oriented and that there’s not muc scope for independend thinking, the usual response is that no job is inherently process-oriented or thinking-oriented, and that what matters is the way in which one perceives his job. People usually say that it doesn’t matter if a job is stud or fighter, and you can choose to do it the way you want to. This is wrong.

So there are two kinds of jobs – stud (i.e. insight-oriented) and fighter (i.e. process oriented). And you can do the job in either a stud manner (trying to “solve a problem” and looking for insights) or in a fighter manner (logically breaking down the problem, structuring it according to known formula and then applying known processes to each sub-problem). So this gives scope for a 2 by 2. I don’t want this to look like a BCG paper so I’m not actually drawing a 2 by 2.

Two of the four quadrants are “normal” and productive – doing stud jobs in a stud manner, and fighter jobs in a fighter manner. There is usually an expectancy match here in terms of the person doing the job and the “client” (client is defined loosely here as the person for whom this job is being done. in most cases it’s the boss). Both parties have a good idea about the time it will tak e  for the job to be done, the quality of the solution, and so on. If you are in either of these two quadrants you are good.

You can’t do a stud job (something that inherently requires insight) using a fighter process. A fighter process, by definition, looks out for known kind of solutions. When the nature of the solution is completely unknown, or if the problem is completely unstructured, the fighter behaves like a headless chicken. It is only in very rare and lucky conditions that the fighter will be able to do the stud job. As for “fighterization”, about which I’ve been talking so much on this blog, the problem definition is usually tweaked slightly in order to convert the stud problem to a fighter problem. So in effect, you should not try to solve a “stud problem” using a fighter process. Also, as an employer, it is unfair to expect a mostly fighter employee to come up with a good solution for a stud problem.

The fourth quadrant is what I started off this blog post with – studs doing fighter jobs. The point here is that there is no real harm in doing a fighter job in a stud manner, and the stud should be able to come up wiht a pretty good solution. The problem is wiht expectations, and with efficiency. Doing a fighter job in a stud manner creates inefficiency, since a large part of the “solution” involves reinventing the wheel. Yes, the stud might be able to come up with enhanced solutions – maybe solve the problem for a general case, or make the solution more scalable or sustainable, but unless the “client” understands that the problem was a stud problem, he is unlikely to care for these enhancements (unless he asked for them of course), and is likely to get pained because of lack of efficiency.

Before doing something it is important to figure out if the client expects a stud solution or a fighter solution. And tailor your working style according to that. Else there could be serious expectation mismatch which can lead to some level of dissatisfaction.

And when you are distributing work to subordinates, it might also help to classify them using stud nad fighter scales and give them jobs that take advantage of their stronger suits. I know you can’t do this completely – since transaction costs of having more than one person working on a small piece of work can be high – but if you do this to the extent possible it is likely that you will get superior results out of everyone.