Here it is, the stage is set at a discernible point of inflection FY 2009-10 for a self-sustained take-off for India (remember “Limits to Growth” by W.W. Rostoff?). But, going by past experience, it is necessary to introspect and take a look at our own face in the mirror, as the road ahead is fraught with dampeners. This is where my blogs under the banner DarpanaLABsdodecagon hastens to provide an introspective analytical peek into the past, into the invisible fault lines of Poles and Polarities truly atypical of India.

Advertisements

STAGE SET FOR TAKE OFF TOWARD A SELF-RELIANT, SUSTAINED, QUALITY OF GROWTH 

Here it is, the stage is set at a discernible point of inflection FY 2009-10 for a self-sustained take-off for India (remember “Limits to Growth” by W.W. Rostoff?). But, going by past experience, it is necessary to introspect and take a look at our own face in the mirror, as the road ahead is fraught with dampeners. This is where my blogs under the banner DarpanaLABsdodecagon hastens to provide an introspective analytical peek into the past, into the invisible fault lines of Poles and Polarities truly atypical of India. For example, frequent, profligate indulgence on the part of India’s Public Works/Road Building contractors in the use of “Makadam without Tar” in all of Pune Municipal Corporation’s road constructions, no doubt, puts a big question mark, as they (the builders) evince no appreciation whatsoever of the fact that a road is a public asset, and that it should have a life of at least three to five years. Despite an eminent personality like Mr Sridharan at the helm of affairs of Delhi Metro, the recent crash of Metro-Skyway girders near Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, East of Kailash in New Delhi (and several other accidents earlier while construction was in progress) represent eminent cases in point, how reckless we are about quality !.
Need for Devolution of Power to States: While in quite a few countries, awareness of what constitutes QOG is poor to dismal, in certain other countries, the issue is sidelined by bureaucratic apathy. Leave aside apathy, India’s sheer geographic size and diversity vis-à-vis “excessive centralization of macro policy making at one monolithic power centre in Delhi” has been a mismatch, out of tune with the times, precluding the possibility of growth outcomes that reflect and ensure quality of life of millions of people in the length and breadth of India. How can one monolithic Central Government deliver quality of life to a large ocean of 1.2 billion people? Its delivery mechanisms for sure will be overstretched, more often clogged in a quagmire of systemic failures of sorts. So the time for decentralization of power is now. Sometimes GOP-led GOI cites Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Financial Relations, but grants hefty allocations to favoured states, and ignores other eminently eligible states.
Need for Decentralization: Vexatious media debates on vote bank issues centring on unjust demonization of opposition Governments and upping an undeservingly high moral govt for GOP has become endemic. The recent election issue raised by the Bihar Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar, viz., shortage/ denial of Funds for building a Dam across the Koshi River (Bihar’s River of Sorrow every year), and on top of it, doing almost everything short of insisting that the Bihar Govt refund the allocated funds (just because it is an opposition BJP-ruled Government) smacks of decency in adhering to democratic norms of a Federal set up, and represents the height of negligence and bureaucratic apathy. And a recent ET Reports says that the entire Rs 1700 crores spent on cleaning up the sacred River Ganges (Ganga) has gone down the drain as experts (and The Controller & Auditor General of India included have certified that there is not an iota improvement in the level of pollution since start-up stage some two decades ago !!!. Is it highlighted now because the GOP has seized an opportunity to bash opposition Mayavati Govt. in Utter Pradesh ?
Such political machinations/ insinuations are deleterious to long-term public good; they are in total disregard to nurturing a progressive (federal) polity (ironically United Progressive Alliance “UPA” is the name of GOP-led coalition), and should not be used by politicians in whatsoever manner as they potentially are “Political Weapons of Mass Destructions (P-WMDs)”. If India wants to achieve QOG outcomes in such vital areas as food security, water security, safety security, security from natural calamities (indeed invisible “public goods” as they ought to be the Ruling Party’s responsibility) at all echelons of the Public Admin domain, be it Centre, State, District or Panchayat level, and P-WMDs have no place in discharging such constitutionally onerous responsibilities. What are public goods and what is public policy. Nobody knows, including many of the educated Law Makers retuned to Lok Sabha in May ’09, as well as those elected to State Assemblies. Why? Why? For 57 long years, our highly centralized, monolithic GOI did not want States/ District/ Panchayat Adminstrations to know neither about “Good Governance” nor about “Public Goods and Public Policy”. Squarely because, the chief architect of GOP-led UPA via the GOP that professes “Inclusiveness”, has treated “Public Policy” as the exclusive preserve of IAS boys, sons and daughters of an elite club of Rai Bahdurs and Diwan Bahadurs (RBDBs), a legacy of the British era (Raj).
To govern a population of 1.2 billion, in the past 62-yrs post-independence, we have only a handful of institutions: (a)-The Indian Administrative Academy, Mussorie (UP) (for IAS, IAAS boys); (b)-Indian Institute of Public Administration, Indri Prastha, New Delhi; (c)-The Administrative Staff College of India (generally for private sector), (d)-National Police Academy, Mount Abu (for IPS Officers), (e)-Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (for IFS boys – only commercial aspects), (g)-The Indian Railway Adminstrative Academy, Baroda et al. Cast in a unifocal mold as just training institutions, the Institutions cited above are devoid of any capacity building remit whatsoever in Public Policy making. If any value enrichment worth the salt had occurred in the Public Policy domain, it was slow, sporadic and somewhat fortuitous, e.g., the setting up of Centre for Policy Research, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi (1986); the Indian Institute of Management set up a Chair for Public Policy Research (1999-’00); and at the State level, only the Govt of Maharashtra had taken initiative in this domain by setting up Yeshvant Rao Chavan Institute of Public Administration in Pune.
GOP is intolerant to dissent and opposition. The treatment meted out to non-Congress Governments is reprehensible, and calls for public censure. It must be realized by India’s well educated, enlightened polity and civil society, that time of National level parties is passé, as no national level party, howsoever experienced and strong it may be, can resolve local problems of states. Govt’s recalcitrance in neglecting for far too long (God knows for political reasons), — and keeping under the rug funds for the two major projects, — the Ganga River Cleaning and the Koshi River valley project stretching across the Indo-Great Gangetic plane meandering through two of India’s most populous states, UP and Bihar –, will only raise their head Phoenix-like and censure the Govt’s concerned for gross negligence and inaction. It is time that the Governments concerned and the intelligentsia conceded the reality of the strong democratic upsurge at the grass-roots level, i.e., local — district and village levels, recognized the leading local players in each of the 28 States and 8 eight Union Territories, and got off with sweeping constitutional changes confering adminstrative autonomy to States.
Gradual Devolution of Power is the Key: Devolution of political power to State and the District level can be implemented gradually in five years. Many of the chronic issues plaguing the country’s development, like Uniform Civil Code, Inter-state squabbles in sharing River waters (Suresh Prabhu’s Garland Canal Project, linking all of India’s major Rivers in a River Grid — North-South-East-West if completed in 1970s (in lieu of Bangladesh War as somebody put it) — with Water Shed Management in chronic drought prone areas like Kalahandi (Orissa) would have ensured Food security for the country). Likewise, Mobile Phone Number Portability, 3-G Licensing, Goods and Services Tax (GST), Gender Mainstreaming bottom-up from Village Panchayats to District and State levels Administrations, — such guargantuan tasks have become problems bleeding the country past 62-yrs post-independence –, they can be resolved if only the GOP has the gumption (and courage) to don the mantle of this major political reform viz., Devolution of Power to States/ District Admin within a Federal Set-up, in other words plan and undertake a major Constitutional Reform of far reaching implications.
The BJP was at it in forging new states like Uttaranchal and Vananchal, Jharkhad et al in line with and encouraging the aspirations of local peoples to see Democracy sinks deeper into India’s body politic. In this context BJP’s vision and outlook, and their moves toward seeing India as Union of Smaller (State Level Administrations) make eminent sense. Decentralization brings about lot of peace and prosperity long denied to people.
In fact such a reform will catapult GOP’s credibility and sincerity as a bonafide National level party betting severally on inclusiveness, social justice and growth. Here is a tide, a point of inflexion, in the socio-politico-economic affairs of India, calling for a concerted bi-partisan big push, steeped in native Indian gravy and flavor, not an IMF-imosed Reform, a grand recipe to wash all off GOP’s erstwhile political sins. Let us celebrate Shakespeare (not MJ) again, “there is a Tide in the Affairs of Men”. And of Nations too. If missed out, Pranab Babu, there is no excuse. And if you announce a budget for this of Nilakeni proportions, and don’t perform, then people perceive that GOP-led UPA for sure does not love this country; and it is convincing proof that GOP is patently anti-progress, prepared to let down a billion people’s aspirations. Don’t be so avaricious to steal all the political lime light for GOP; look at USA, respect dissent and opposition, make a beginning in bipartisan politics., honestly, earnestly and sincerely. Devolution of powers to states/ districts/ Panchayats, Uniform Civil Code, and National River Water Grid are mighty good keys to resolve the chronic problems blighting and stifling the development of India. In fact in the first 100 days of performance of UPA-II people are expecting this kind of deliverance, and don’t let them down.
Large states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh etc., when they have crossed a population threshold of 5 crores (500 million), should have been graded as “outgrown”, and set on a special footing, nurtured and groomed as “grown up“ states, and granted federal financial support and political autonomy within the framework of the Union Budget, to manage development and growth (QOG) on their own! Decentralization i.e., devolution of power to states is the only answer; and perhaps, a Kashmir solution too fortuitously, at the current juncture, fits into such a scheme of things, and perfectly eminently at that!.

Be More Indian in Development

People don’t want to see a Michael Jackson (MJ) continuously for 15 days, nor or they interested in debates on decriminalizing Gay Relationships and Marriages as UPA-II’s performance outcomes in its first 100-days. There are many better things to do for the country. Remember, five decades ago, when GOP was a political debutant, we were recovering from famines and shortages, our country struggled, people built the country brick by brick, by the sweat of their brow, yet should we struggle for another 50-yrs ???, we were a country from Satya Jit Ray’s Pather Panchali to Bimal Roy’s Do Bhigah Jameen to Bimal Roy’s Paraahk, Shanta Ram’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath to Raj Kapoor’s Jis Desh Me Ganga Bahti Hai to Mujhe Jeene Do, Kashi Vishwanath’s Shankarabharanam, to Shivaji Ganeshan’s to Veera Pandya Katta Bomman. If you say it is politically inexpedient to carry out such a disruptive, seminal, political reform, then, sorry to say that you are no better than those Rai Bahadurs subservient to an alien rule.
Whither Quality? A Peep into Past
In 1996 when Queen Elizabeth was on a state visit to India, she commented amidst a public relations disaster at the Chennai airport, that Indian cities today are dirtier than they were when the British left India in 1947. In 1984, after Indira Gandhi assassination, when the name of Rajiv Gandhi’s candidacy was mooted as the Congress President-to– be, paving the way to take over as the Prime Minister in 1985, there was a series of newspaper articles eulogizing his technical/ engineering competencies. A Hindusthan Times article said that, Congress is like a train, and when it derails, Rajiv has the capacity to put it back on track, “Rajiv is capable of cleaning the “Aegean stables of Congress”. Soon after Rajiv took over reins as PM, the article patted Rajiv, who ordered the cleaning of the River Ganges as a major infrastructure project. But today, some 20 years later, our holy river Ganges is still highly polluted, a la Ram Teri Ganga Maili Ho Gayee. The Authorities have not provided enough, nor is there a clear cut Policy ensconced, and made sacrosanct, to ensure regular maintenance and upkeep of the river front all along its stretch.

Create Benchmarks and Learn from Experience

Groundwater levels are fast depleting in our country. But only in summer, some noises are made about rain water conservation and watershed management. whereas neighbouring China, in defiance of a United Nations Convention opposing the Construction of Dams, went ahead with its Seven Gorges Dam, a Mega River Valley Project on the Hyuyongho-Yangtsze River Link (the Rivers of Sorrow). But in India, the Sardar Sarovar dam faced opposition from Narmada Bachao Andolan for 15 long years, although its human rights dimension is challenged in the UN Fora in Geneva. When a river is in flood, the level of turbulence will be high, and any attempt to construct a dam on a turbulent river proves to be futile. Kolkata had taken 18-very very arduous long years to complete just a 25-km stretch of its prized “Underground Metro”. The metro authorities had to wade through a jungle of administrative, urban development and legal roadblocks before they could progress to reach it even to the first 10-km stage, often resulting in cost and budget overruns.
In the thick of this maze, a “cut and sue” approach was adopted as a way out, which was later discovered and vetted by experts as an eminently workable solution. After eighteen long years of travails and tribulations, the Kolkata metro was flagged off. Being a shoe piece, Kolkata metro was spick and span at least initially. Bengalis are proud of it as it was the outcome of the “sweat of their brow”, an outcome of Bengal’s very own painstakingly rote manual labour. Native imprint of whatever nature creates pride in ownership and maintenance, certainly not a pervasive Rajiv-Indira footprint all over whether people want it or not.
India’s huge FY 2009-10 Budget deficit of 6.8% looks askance in this context. It is symptomatic, not just only of non-performance in the past, but, viewed in the absence of funding (raising revenues) (no mention whatsoever in the Budget on how the UPA Govt intends to raise/ put in place funds for Mega projects) could be perceived, by the public eye, as what might have ostensibly been an open license for sleaze, making the JUNURM and NREGA Projects just wishy-washy-on-paper exercises. Probity and transparency should be of utmost concern in such projects. FM Pranab Babu’s evasive approach, coupled with lack of clarity lays bare GOIs chronic penchant for slyly passing off present Gen Public Debt to GenNext.
Not long ago in his FY 2006-07 budget speech, Ex-Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram asserted that “outlays should lead to outcomes”, and mooted a Pieces Budget as a remedial measure. Let the ex-FM Chindambaram speak up and show just five out of the one million ponds he had promised to develop in lieu of shelving off (negating) Suresh Prabhu’s “Garland Canal Project” in his 2004-05 Budget speech. Today in Pune, because of delayed monsoon, people are burdened on the one hand with hefty water cuts, and since water supply depends on power availability, Puneites are caught up in a vicious circle of water-power shortages; there is no redemption either from chronic power cuts anytime soon. How much people have wished to see the announcement of the long overdue “Garland Canal Project” which is an “investment” in contrast to a “dissipative” farmer’s loan waiver of a mind boggling Rs 78K crores in budget year FY2008-09. The cascading effect of such oversight on the part of the powers that be is heavily impacting perhaps on the ballooning 2009-10 budget deficit.

Is anybody assessing the cost and budget over runs of planned and sanctioned projects over the past twenty years begging for funding in the “eminently non-performing Maharashtra”, whose rulers evince considerable alacrity only to get Techno-economic Feasibility Studies done repeatedly, honestly, at ever escalating costs, which money, — itself so huge –, if spent earlier, would have brought some projects into reality ?

The Indian Railways’ Research Designs and Standards Organization (RDSO), Lucknow, a CSIR laboratory, developed the double-decker coaches in 1978, which were tried for over 15 years (1983-98) (Panchavati Express (Mumbai-Nasik) and Simhagadh Express (Mumbai-Pune), but eventually they were phased out by 2000. It thus appears that the RDSO has never undertaken any real R&D. Would privatization of CSIR laboratories change all this? It was only after the travelling public had witnessed as many as seven train accidents in 2002, that the then Railway Minister Nitish Kumar got into action (not Laloo Prasad) to realize and reiterate the importance, if not order for the automatic safety/ collision prevention systems for the Indian railways.

There is a tide in the affairs of Nations, but time and again India misses out on the development bus! It seems to be more often on its own volition!. Is it the Freudian transference phenomenon of “death wish” morphed and internalized as a “virtue” (by propaganda) on a gullible majority polity who take pride in the ancient wisdom of desirelessness?. Or, is it perhaps because an invisible power is behind, rationalizing past non-performance (deficits) as traceable to some onerous burden of commitments of yester years (old unhappy far off things and battles long ago ) in the name of “poverty alleviation”, “token of gratitude to farmers who feed the nation” et al. Yes, very true, but downright rationalizations, they are potentially dissipative, in a 15-Paisa delivery context.

THE SHRILL OF DEVELOPMENT OUTCRY REVERBERATES

We respect Pranab Babu for his long years of experience with the GOP. But well into his mid seventies, we are afraid a pussyfooting Pranabda just could not articulate the television projectiles required to address an avid National and International audience comprising Captains of Industry, CMs/FMs of State Governments and other sub-national dispensations, intellectuals and think tanks, major Western Govts, FIIs and Rating Institutions like (Standard & Poor) –all awaiting India’s FY 2009-10 budget with bated breath! Though rich in content, — the FM gave a lousy impression of an India still lazily trudging along, slumbering and smarting under the commanding heights of public sector, and lay shackled in a command and control economy mold of the seventies -– sorry the FM just can’t articulate and deliver. Certainly, he is not India’s deliverer of 21st century infrastructure, education and healthcare!
It is obvious then that India still wishes to maintain a tortoise like pace even during the “meltdown times”. Why so? ETNOW says, it is not the 6.8% Budget deficit, Stupid, but the more alarming, 400% ballooning Revenue deficit. So blame it on meltdown ! The USA, UK, Japan, Germany et al — all without exception — reeling under meltdown have been happy, that at least India and China have been “decoupled”, and that hereafter they will deliver by following import-led growth policies. But look at Pranab Babu’s Budget-2009-10, indeed it has belied all expectations, and the PM has gone to G8 Meeting in Italy to lecture USA/ UK to perform better and deliver, so that India can continue to “export”. People are asking how long would India, at a retiring age of 62-yrs post Independence, ask USA/ UK to hold its hand, lest it fall, as it is, still at 62-yrs, not ashamed to say that it is still taking “baby steps” towards development. Shame indeed. How long will India need this handholding by the West? Till the poverty of all Indians is wiped out ? Whose poverty and who is responsible for such state of affairs nobody seems to bother.
We will soon be into 2010, just a decade away from our avowed dream of a World Class India by 2020. Only New Delhi gets the lion’s share of development, chosen again and again as the venue for all prestigious international events. Even so, it is pathetically unprepared to stage the Asian Games Oct 2010. In contrast, look at what happened in a small non-descript, big-brother dependent, small island country “Bahrain”, that as early as in 1984! The Arabian Gulf’s smallest and big-brother duo, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia announced a 25-km Bahrain-Saudi Causeway across the Arabian Gulf waters, then “showcased” as a space age project. They completed it in a record 18-months’ time and inaugurated it by Dec 1985. In contrast, our most third rate “Ganesh Khind” Flyover has taken 6-long years; and already digging for eternal repair and re-repair is going on. The contractor has literally left no stone unturned both on the main road and the pavements in this effort. The Bandra-Worli-Sealink (BWSL) –had a gestation period of l8-long years–, no sooner inaugurated, the very next day–, it was the site of a trawler tango (entanglement). Neighbouring Dubai and Singapore have beautiful, aesthetically designed undersea causeways. Malaysia has better, spruced-up infra-structure. There too the accent is on “aesthetics” looks. Neither India’s Mumbai (Shanghai is a far cry), nor the eternally dirty Calcutta, nor the poor Chennai has none of that gleam in 62- long years of independence. Are we half a century behind even the tiny Arabian Gulf countries?. Here is India today where as many as 100,000 people die every year because of road accidents. Does the Urban Development Minister and the Central Road Research Institute realize that there should be, by Statute a Policy, to cap the tolerance limit for Road Accident in India? What are they doing every day. Either the Planners are incapable of putting in place a Short-term Vision, repeat Short-Term not Long-Term Vision and visualize how that fits into an ambitious Long-Term vision of a World Class India. You subservient Politicians and British Time IAS Officers go to hell for cheating India on Infra-structure spends by cutting corners every time for 62 Budget years on Infra-Budgets, sometimes drawing down money without any project visible for people to touch, feel and smell.
Thanks to builder-politician nexus, both planners and builders are patently unconcerned about even the minimalest of minimal quality standards, what to talk about “world class”! Gung ho on qualitylessness in infrastructure spends, and the planning and funding processes, preceding and interceding, with a plethora of unending techno-economic feasibility studies, citizens of this country, especially of Maharashtra are fed up with Congress then and GOP-led UPA pussyfooting every time, every time indeed. The Foreign owned Indian media aids and abets this process. For every Policy Intervention, and Major Infrastructure Project Initiative announcement, the Times India is notorious for its anti-development schema, the TOI immediately within a week after the Project Announcement publishes a contrarian view and pours water on the initial enthusiasm. For sure people of this country have been meted out a step-motherly treatment past 62+ yrs. Look at India’s Railway stations, Bus Terminals, even in metro cities, stink, dirt and squalor, uncouth, unkempt roads without pavements, and where there are some, they are dug up, with litter of vegetable skins and plastic bags swept, dumped and strewn all over, a national disgrace is an understatement. The great Indian metros with populations in excess of 10 million have no good safe “Public Places”, nor “Town Halls”, what to talk of “High Profile Iconic Public Places”, where people can go and relax.
Pune, the Oxford of India, has the most third class eyesore of a Flyover (on its main arterial Gnash Kind Road), Look at its hotch-potch pavements, dug up at least five times since completion of that “Prestigious Road” in Oct 2008 preparatory to Commonwealth Youth Games. They have used Rs 2.5K crores (escalated to Rs 3.8K crores) of JUNURM funds meant for urban renewal for this. Urban renewal does not mean laying a new cement road on a good old road, flouting all conventional wisdom on road building.
Mumbai’s stinking, rickety, ram-shackle Railway Stations with suffocating low-level asbestos roofs without proper air circulators, some roofs converted as homes, for riff-riffs right from the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus to the busy Churchgate. Dadar, Mahim, Bandra, Andheri, Jogeshwari, Malad, Borivali, Virar on Mumbai’s West Suburban Railway, and Chinchpolkili, Koliwada, Wadala, Kurla, Vikhroli, Thane, Dombivili, Kalyan on the East, thereon Karjat, Lonavla and Pune, in all these places (remember people, even common people — Mumbaikers and Puneites — read English newspapers) — where we should have, by now, seen a Maglev Bullet Train zooming past connecting Mumbai-Pune, the list is endless –, all our Railway stations, without any exception, are third rate “eye sores”. The Station Area Development Projects planned as recently as in 2003 obviously have’nt worked, or probably, not seen the light of the day yet.
The Dhabhol Power Plant “reportedly” will reach its rated capacity in 2010; after 20 long years of wait; even that too is uncertain considering that the project has gone through a decade long process of flip flop negotiations, and election time announcements. In the meantime Maharashtra’s hinterland reels under power cuts on an average of 3 hours every summer for the past 20 years. Don’t the policy makers know that one day without power means so much loss of state GDP? The seafronts of Mumbai, Balasore, Chandipur (Berhampur, Orissa), Vizag, Kakinada Machilipatnam, Pondicherry, Tuticorin, Cochi, Mangalore and Goa should have been developed by now. It is the CACOON- like syndrome, being played by the GOP to the hilt time and again, that is causing irreparable damage to India’s bid to arrive in the comity of developed nations.
A far too long, protracted wait even for meeting the basic minimum infrastructure needs of the people of the country is taking so much time, when will India get World Class infrastructure? 2050? Sorry, by that time India might see yet another meltdown. A Russian theorist on business cycle phenomena postulated that world economy will be frequented by what secular (long-term) business cycles known as “Khondra Tieff Cycles” once in a 50-70 yr cycle causing “upheavalistic changes” (as happened in the Great depression of 1930s), which continued over a prolonged, arduous 11-yr period of turmoil culminating in the Second World War (1939-43). India therefore can ill afford to miss out on the growth opportunities presented by the 2008 meltdown. Shall we remember again, the great Shakespearean quote, “there is a tide in the affairs of men (so for nation states too), which, taken at the ebb, lead them on to prosperity, missed out, they will plunge them into untold depths of despair, misery and disappointments. So from now on India shall have zero tolerance to tardy growth, yes, from now on.
India’s FM Pranab Mukherjee’s 2009-10 Budget needs to be “x-rayed” in this context. Instead of seeking a landmark reforms (that are long overdue, like, say, the McInsey Commission recommendations on Land Reforms) budget was a damp squib! Reason? A ballooning 400 % increase in revenue deficit! By remaining silent on how he intends raising resources and not announcing any Capital-Forming Mega Projects, nor any Institutional Reforms, Pranab Babu has chosen to relegate India to the lowliest status (?) as though “India is perpetually a sort of haven for the slumdog poor.” and on top of it praised Madame Gandhi 1966-67”Bank Nationalization” as a visionary reform, sort of mother of all reforms. And it requires only a fortuitous confluence of circumstances only — a worldwide financial meltdown-combined with India’s dire need to throw FRBM norms to winds to make up for past five years of non-performance. What kind of call one can take on that! It is this lack of vision that sparked gloom starkly in the 2009-10 Budget that has disappointed the stock market, resented by all as it has almost taken the entire nation by surprise. Indeed some people condemned it as they had felt they were just taken “for a ride” to a state of utter despair and disappointment. It appears GOP is enveloped by a collective psychosomatic disorder viz., a state of “Paranoia of sorts”, necessitating a shock treatment, the very medicine, viz., belt tightening when it comes to “capital spends”, to lull the nation into a Cacoon like shell, relegating “growth and development” to the back burner. This seems to be the consistent pattern in most GOP-ruled states. Surely GOP-led UPA does not want to develop the country. The longer people remain in poverty and ignorance the better for the GOP as it will be a offer great “Plunder without Danger (PWD)” opportunity.
Persistence with hefty direct tax burden (33% on an average), that at a time when growth and quality of development was most needed (1980-2000) stifled people’s aspirations. Budgets had traditionally certain characteristic underlying drivers to stimulate: growth, investment, contains inflation etc such short-sightedness smacks of total bankruptcy in GOIs ability to feel the needs and moods of the people with a sense of urgency, alacrity and circumspection. Last but not the least, GOP is evincing an utter lack of sense of proportion again in appreciating the IDRC’s MIMAP that has been GOP’s patently compulsive anathema resulting from an unending series “serial” legacies of past non-performance. The GOP has thereby killed people’s enthusiasm and enterprise for development time and again remorselessly in the name of “Garibi Hatao”, and made them risk averse.
Such chronic proclivity to non–performance/ inaction brought forward to current Budget year has badly dented GOI’s transparency in terms of degrees freedom with optimal, prioritized resource allocations in the 2009-10 budget, which certainly is inimical to growth. The year 1977 was a landmark year for the antagonists of GOP. Post emergency (1977) alleged corruption in loan disbursements during (1977-85), Reliances’ Convertible Debentures’ scam, leading later on, at a high macro level, to unearthing the Bofors scam, the Harshad Mehta Scam, Subrahmaniam’s (UTI) scam, Sukh Ram’s Telecom scam, and pre-1977 Mundhra-TTK-LIC scam, V. Krishna Murthy (BHEL) scam, Sanjeeva Reddy (strictures on steel imports1962) — scam after scam ~ the list is a veritable blueprint !; and researcher’s delight to comprehend what is transparency about, and what needs to be done to ensure it for good governance. We shall talk about smart Governance later.
The Nation’s economic landscape during the decade 1976-85 was characterized by excessive credit squeeze that stifled growth. At that time, there was no talk of reform at all, as the World Bank/ IMF were still researching and debating whether or not, in the first instance, to make those policy prescriptions available to developing countries. And that was the time when Maharashtra CM Abdul Rahman Antulay introduced a “No Objection Certificate” in the real estate sector, especially the residential housing sector, when there was no need for such a certificate at all, and he made it compulsory. Thus looking back, one might aver “often this was a process of superficial shortages “created” where there was none, and camouflaging GOI’s “inaction” with continually invented “spectres of doomsday scenarios” for public consumption e.g., they said bank NPAs was a major problem—all articulated so well to administer the “CACOON PILL”, and GOP’s addiction to it so well rationalized in unison by GOP politicians of all stripes, that addiction to the “CACOON PILL” has become more a rule than an exception, and such addiction was internalized, professed and asserted as a virtue. That it is just a “lullaby” attuned to camouflage GOP’s non-performance – their policy flip-flops, lack of long-term vision, the big picture etc. is starkly evident. If GOP is indeed transparent, they should explain not their present performance, but the past non-performamce.
The lesson is India should come out of its cocoon like shell, of an image where “Garibi Hatao” (Indira Gandhi) and “Garib Desh” were virtues (After enjoying patronage for a 37-yr long innings as a GOP Cabinet Minister, Jagjeevan Ram said “India Garib Desh hai “ in his opening speech when he ditched Congress and joined Janata Dal in 1977 General Elections, whence Madame Gandhi had met with a humiliating defeat in UP’s “Rae Bareilly”, the citadel of dynastic power, in the wake of a sudden burst of popularity of a ubiquitous Raj Narayan).
The Short Shrift: A major factor responsible for the dismal absence of “quality of growth” and so “quality of life” in India is poor Governance. Large-scale corruption has allowed domestic elites and people wielding transnational lobbying power, influence Governments to steer policies and bend the laws to their advantage. Which indeed has stifled and blighted the development of our country. The lobbyists have appropriated huge resources wholesale at a a huge cost to the nation under the very nose of a toothless surveillance authority, the one and only Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who never indicted any builder for non-performance? This is utter prostitution of the constitution of Institutions, supposed to be pillars of democracy.
Post 2009 General Elections, the recent din of Rs 750K crores of India’s public money alleged to have been stashed away in Swiss Banks has subsided; but the shrill of its hue and cry still rankles in the minds of common men of India, who, for 62 long years as of now, have been made to wait for better infrastructure, — you the powers that be, get pushed into at Ghatkopar Railway station any of the day, travel in Mumbai’s crowded suburban trains and experience the stink around the railway stations!. Utterly sadly even now Mumbai’s sub-urban railway is still smarting in suffocation without any light at the end of the tunnel. Does it require a Narayan Murthy to tell you that the common men of India need safe comfortable travel from home to office and back? And you want to award all these infra-structure contracts to local builder sharks, who have no concern whatsoever for quality? When will you make Mumbai a Shanghai? OR, Shanghai is not your benchmark?
Three major issues rocked the country in 2002: The “Armsgate” (the Tehelka expose on corruption in defense deals, still under investigation), telecom policy, and introduction of eco-friendly CNG buses in the national capital, New Delhi; and more recently the state government subjects: e.g., The Development Plan of Pune, the Cable Service operators, and the imbroglio on Enron’s Dhabhol Power Project. At a time when Western Maharashtra region which contributes to significant FX earnings to the exchequer, is reeling under power shortages, the government was groping, between 1999-2005, with Enron, USA bogged down by litigation with international lenders’ consortium. The Maharashtra Govt is blissfully unaware of the economic consequences, the extent of daily loss to the State GDP and Exports.
All the above follies and policy flip flops are of Government’s own making as the policy vision is unclear, the issues were fuzzy. In all these, Governments have been increasingly prone to politicizing the issues, flip-flopping invariably in policy formulation and implementation. In the telecom sector and CNG, the GOI policy makers put the free market economics on the back burner, with the result that the average consumer got a short shrift. Some of the politicians seem to be blissfully ignorant of the micro impact of macro economic policies, and in core sectors critical to the long-term well being of its people. policy making principles and long-term interests are cavalierly compromised and abdicated to vested interests. Often the situation is that bad policies are imposed top down. They are now severing the country’s debt management responsibility from the RBI, yet another anti-reform measure, a n avoidable debilitating interference in a well functioning Reserve Bank of India (RBI), like this the list is endless. At times it might be true that both Ministers and their Secretaries in India’s key economic ministries are honest; but some are proud, arrogant and ill equipped to understand the complexity of economics of modern high technology.
Recently the Bangalore Municipal authorities were taken to task by the captains of industry in Bangalore for its poor municipal water and road infrastructure. The captains of industry in Mumbai pressed for the enactment of a “political responsibility law” after the Mithi River Infrastructure Disaster in Mumbai in 2005 monsoon, and have now forgottten about it. At least the Media shrewdly ignored and under reported it. So Finance Minister, Sir, what would you choose? Prudent Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) ? Political Responsibility Law? or blissful ignorance? How about the 400% ballooning Revenue deficit in fiscal 2009-10. These questions beg for an X-Ray look. We agree with you in soft-pedalling FRBM in the interest of growth. But people need to know why the 6.8% budget deficit has occurred in the first instance.
Influence pedalling by industry lures politicians into their orbit, and citizens get a short shrift again. Politicians need to be educated and sensitized to the economic implications of their lackadaisical policy interventions. In contrast to the above, the Chinese experience with transition to market economy and how they achieved it through SEZs with a resounding success, offers quite a few lessons for India.

<The above is one of my pre-poll 2009 blogs prompting BJP into action >

Nyayapati Balramdas, Pune, India 

TOURISM, e-GOVERNANCE AND QUALITY OF GROWTH

Tourism is an exchange earning industry with a high potential for providing “stimulus” for overall multi-pronged development. As a core industry, tourism evinces propensity to engender pronounced forward linkages; and combined with e-Governance and Quality of Growth delivery mechanisms, Tourism triggers fast breeder multiplier effects setting the development process on an even keel. While Internet can drive the delivery of governance solutions online, offering substantial benefits to communities and the agencies providing them, the key to success for India getting catapulted into the comity of world class nations lies in Tourism-centric Special Economic Zones (T-SEZs) as underlined in this blog. Primed by infrastructure and complementary support services, T-SEZs can help secure “Quality of Growth (QOG) Outcomes”. The effort involved, however, requires in-depth understanding of public policy making, and a Web-based Research Portal with a suitable business model might deliver in the context. Such a Portal, it is envisaged, should identify different sets of contextualities and conditions, brain-storm to diagnose/ prognose issues at hand, undertake research to establish public policy prescriptions and delivery mechanisms, and communicate the same to steer development efforts toward Quality of Growth Outcomes.

Continue reading “TOURISM, e-GOVERNANCE AND QUALITY OF GROWTH”