Tuesday, April 15, 2008

India & The Netherlands

Applying concepts from the Netherlands in India
Published as a supplement in the Business Standard, November 2007

Tucked away in Western Europe with the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, the Netherlands is about the size of Haryana with a population of about 16 million. The Dutch are renowned for their skills in water management, and have a formidable reputation for purposive organization. This penchant, built on successes in water management from the 12th century and then trade and commerce, extends to many fields. These include logistics and markets, e.g., the flower markets of Alsmeer and Rotterdam which handle more than half the world’s cut flowers, the transportation and storage of coal, fuel, metals and finished goods through Rotterdam port that make up half of Europe’s imports and exports, and the 45 million passengers and air freight flowing through Schiphol Airport.

The Example of Flower Markets

The Netherlands is the world’s leading producer and distributor of cut flowers and potted plants, and Dutch flower auctions are the world's leading centers for trading cut flowers and potted plants. The Dutch had 59% of the market for cut flowers and 48% for potted plants in 1996. Other major producers are France and Germany in Europe, Ecuador and Colombia in South America, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Israel, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and the largest producer and consumer in recent years, China.

The auctions, established and owned by grower cooperatives, trade over 30 million flowers daily through about 60,000 transactions, worth almost E2b annually. The two largest are VBA at Aalsmeer near Schiphol Airport, and BVH near Rotterdam.

All this is managed in an excellent balance of town-and-country, with pretty towns and buzzing cities interspersed among beautiful tracts of countryside and water, blending urban and rural attractions. An attractive aspect of their approach to area planning, or spatial planning as they call it, is the integration of bicycle tracks into their transport and living space. It is a parallel road system in effect, with every effort made to encourage people to use and enjoy their bicycles. These tracks have their very own signage and traffic lights, often meandering by canals and shady, tree-lined avenues, making it an absolute pleasure for people of all ages to indulge in the simple joy of riding a bicycle through the beautiful countryside. And in few cities – although the list is growing: Copenhagen? Lyon? …and others may follow: Montpellier, Marseille, Geneva, Barcelona? -- are you likely to see people in business suits on bicycles, peddling with a typical, ‘pushing’ slouch, leaning their body weight into their pedals like veteran trekkers who seem to heave themselves up a slope from their hips, as they scoot along with practiced ease and little effort.

There are other contributory factors and conveniences: a climate where temperatures do not exceed 30°C except for a few months annually, facilities for bicycles to be taken on trains, barges and boat tours, and the ubiquitous rentals and organized parking available at all major towns near train stations.

These factors together with an extensive system of inland waterways and an outdoors-oriented tradition of boating and sailing provide the ‘hardware’ for a good work-and-leisure balance. Of course there is much more to it: sound basic education and training, a tradition of higher education and intellectual excellence in the arts, humanities – especially free thinkers -- and sciences, agronomy, dairying, floriculture, applied to integrated systems in habitation, commerce, logistics, and culture, make for a rare combination of aesthetics in living – the visual and performing arts, the excellent and ubiquitous museums and facilities for music, sport, etc., combined with economic vibrancy, e.g., of finance and insurance giants such as ABN-AMRO, ING, Rabobank and Robecco, and a blend of urban and rural sensibilities, with both feet squarely on the ground.

Some of their other traditional practices have evolved to support these strengths, e.g., the traditional use of windmills has evolved into distributed power generation, just as their traditional use of canals for water management supports cooperative organization for a variety of other purposes, e.g., markets and area planning.

Relevance to India

Two areas in India which could draw on Dutch experience to good effect -- with appropriate adaptation, and considerable education and training, of course -- are:
a) in organizing water management, and
b) in area planning with integrated transport.
These could include aspects such as:
- drinking water and sanitation with a strong public impetus;
- integrated urban transport systems with bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles and walkways;
- reviving water systems through local management and developing interconnected waterways;
- developing local power generation and integration using solar and wind power systems (the latter being a particular Dutch strength).
An example is of the efforts relating to planned bicycle use in India described below.

Bicycles & Lifestyle

The Dutch have a special affinity for bicycles that is fostered from childhood. Most children ride to school on bicycles in a country where it rains often and there are sub-zero temperatures in winter -- surprising for a nation that is generally very indulgent with its children. Perhaps this explains the Dutch ability to walk in the rain totally oblivious to it, heads high and ‘tails up’. A significant consequence of this is that people of all ages often use their bicycles leaving their cars behind, enjoying and contributing to the clean and bracing air.

Bicycle Parking in Amsterdam

Shyam Ponappa: 2006

The accompanying diagram shows how annual bike sales vary with per capita GDP and the level of bicycle use for combined utilitarian and recreational purposes. Countries above the line tend to use bicycles for both utilitarian and recreational use, while those below tend to use them mainly for recreation.

Source: Sustainable Transport, Winter 2005

Many cities worldwide are seeking to plan and develop integrated urban transportation systems incorporating bicycles for their beneficial effects on safety and the quality of life. In Delhi, the proportion of cycle traffic during peak hours has been observed to be over 30 percent on arterial roads, extending to over 40 percent on one major highway (Rohtak Road).

Applications in India

Cities like Delhi were planned with bicycle lanes, e.g., in Lutyens Delhi, but these were never properly developed, or were otherwise allowed to atrophy through disuse and misuse. Efforts at encouraging and improving facilities for bicycle use were revived in Delhi from 1992, with the visit of Dutch experts sponsored by the World Bank. Thereafter, the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, developed affiliations with a number of institutions promoting integrated urban transport systems and traffic safety, including what has evolved into the Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-CE) at Uttrecht in the Netherlands (web site: http://www.cycling.nl/frameset.htm).

In 1998, a team from IIT, Delhi presented a ‘Bicycle Master Plan for Delhi’ to the Delhi government. This team was coordinated by Geetam Tiwari, currently Associate Professor, Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP) at IIT, Delhi, with inputs from several experts including especially I-CE of the Netherlands. While the plan has been considered several times, aspects of this proposal are now apparently being incorporated in the first Bus Rapid Transit corridor project, under construction from Ambedkar Nagar to the Inter-State Bus Terminus at Kashmiri Gate; the design for the latter was also coordinated by Dr. Tiwari.

There is an area planning project currently being executed by Pradeep Sachdeva Associates at Nanded in MP. This project is expected to be completed sometime next year. It includes about 50 km of bicycle tracks designed with the expertise of I-CE of the Netherlands.

Dutch Organization For Results

Essential elements of Dutch organizing principles are:

a) Cooperation. Traditionally and thereafter by conscious choice, this is built around water management. In general, cooperative organization and collaboration are manifest in every aspect of Dutch living.

b) Unitary organizational design, i.e., one integrated organization or department is responsible for many interconnected areas; an example is the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. This handles civil aviation, rail, shipping, roads and all aspects of water usage: drinking water, irrigation, inland waterways, and ports.

c) Conscious project management at every level in all activities, whether for commerce, engineering, or social life (including a balance of work and leisure).

d) Public-private partnerships based on realistic expectations: of human frailties as much as the capacity to be educated to learn disciplined behavior, using systems with tough penalties to sustain public goods.

e) A unique form of participatory management in enterprises by all stakeholders is their system of Works Councils, organizations that are open to all employees, with strong legislated rights and collaborative practices. Anglophone countries emphasize ‘shareholder value’ and the position of the owners. In countries like Germany and the Netherlands, the accent is on a broader ‘stakeholder value’, distinguishing between the following most important stakeholders: the owners (shareholders), the management in the board of directors, the commissioners in the supervisory board, and the employees represented by trade unions and works councils. Institutions in the Dutch labor market developed on the basis of the corporation/enterprise being the community in which all participants benefit from cooperation. The Works Council Act defines the role of employment participation in governance.

The ways in which these are relevant for India are:

a) Goal-oriented organization for results, based on principles of unitary organization.

b) Project management as an operating philosophy in all areas, with open communication and collaborative action.

c) Development with an urban-rural balance, providing what we consider urban conveniences (energy, communications, water and sanitation, primary health and education, roads/waterways/rail/air) in rural areas.


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