Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In the Name of Indian Poor


For the better part of sixty years of her existence, India has practiced a socialistic model of centralized economy. In early 1990s, India could not sustain her economic model any longer and went almost bankrupt. India opened her economy up partially. India responded by high economic growth for more than a decade. Jobs were created, general public became ambitious, there was hope. However, there was also clamor that not everyone in the country were benefitting from open economic model. Poor were becoming poorer, while rich were becoming richer. UPA government came to power for two successive five-year terms, based on the assumption that high economic growth does not matter. Giving dole to poor is more important. So at a time when economic growth has slowed and come down close to pre 1990 era, government want to win election by giving subsidized food to 66% of country at the cost of more than 100, 000 crore.

A reflection of our pro-poor policy can be seen in our highways and public transport system. The other day I was driving through Rajasthan. The moment I entered Rajasthan, condition of roads started to deteriorate. At many places, huge craters had roads. There was never any prior warning of impending danger. Any person unfamiliar with road conditions, or unfortunate enough to be driving in darkness, these roads can become a deathtrap. Surprisingly, these craters have been there for last 6 – 9 months. No effort has been made to repair them. Is it because shortage of funds on part of government, or government believes poor really enjoy travelling on broken roads?

I passed thorough small towns. Small townships had very poor road. Big water filled craters  had replaced roads in many places. There was absolutely no sanitation, no drainage system and no garbage collection and disposal system. Plastic bags, and sundry waste material remain strewn by roadside. It is strange that these townships have no municipalities or similar system to manage their towns. Does poor people in small townships relish living in such appalling condition?

I saw interstate bus terminals in two small towns. These bus stations deal with travellers, moving to distant parts of state and country. The entrance to both terminals was filled with water. Passengers had to haul their luggage, their family and themselves through ankle deep water. Terminals were organized in a haphazard manner. The appearance of terminal was shabby. There was not even a decent clean toilet. Public transport buses are not passenger friendly. For infirm, ladies and aged, these buses are very difficult to avail. I wondered, if I an in 2013 or in 1947. Do poor people of India not deserve a better bus terminal and better public transport for their journey?


There is no doubt there was corruption during economic growth. People close to power bagged plum contracts. There were many corruptions. However, solution to this problem is not going back on economic reform, but second generation reforms. Solution is bringing transparency in mega government deals. Solution is to bring in completion, so that people have more choice.

A clear instance of private sector success story that has benefitted common public is mobile telephony revolution. Before 1995, for every Indian owning a telephone used to be a luxury. One had to wait for years to own one. Once you have your phone, one had to beg and bribe telephone company technicians to fix your line from mal functioning, cross connectivity and improper billing. All these changed, when mobile phone became affordable. Now one can pickup a handset directly from market without government involvement. One can get connection in a day or two, without government interference. Difference between me, my driver and my employer lies in our handset price, but not in the quality of our connectivity. Earlier, only select elites had access to telephone, nowadays, every Indian who wants to own a phone can have one at his convenience and choose a service depending on his economic ability.
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