Leaving aside fixing the 'mountains' such as land acquisition, NPAs, etc., here are some thoughts on systemic focus and action.
There’s an upbeat sense from the annual Economic Survey, and indicators such as soaring stocks and official statements.Yet, the ground realities don’t match because of gritty facts such as not being able to pay electronic tolls on a national highway near Delhi though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controls local administration1, Korean steel giant Posco abandoning a huge investment last year after struggling for over a decade, two public sector divestments, Bharat Aluminium Company and Hindustan Zinc, mired in difficulties2, or the hobbling state of services such as electricity and telecommunications despite short-term consumer benefits from lower prices, and so on. Another aspect is that so many college graduates, including engineers, law students and MBAs, compete for low-end government jobs such as peons in state governments. Clearly, something beyond talkfests and episodic discussions is needed. Leaving aside fixing the “mountains” — the land acquisition act, non-performing assets (NPAs), high component taxes — here are some thoughts on systemic focus and action.
Fix infrastructureWith rare exceptions, our governments do not appear to recognise a clear priority to fix infrastructural deficiencies. After national security and maintaining law and order, correcting critical deficiencies of infrastructure in all its forms needs to be an all-out priority. This is a basic requirement for citizens to function effectively and live well. Without infrastructure one cannot function anywhere near full capacity, because of having to spend time, energy and resources dealing with problems of living and hygiene arising from the non-availability of adequate water and sanitation, inefficient travel and logistics for employment, education or health care, communications, dysfunctional equipment because of power shortages, and so on.Instead, some misconceptions in policies and practices appear to be broadly accepted as driving factors not only in the government, but also to some extent in the public perception. One is that all foreign direct investment (FDI) is a panacea for our ills and aspirations. The second is the idea that for services such as water, electricity and communications, the public interest is best served by the lowest consumer prices for those who get such services, regardless of sustainability. Issues such as access to services for half the population living outside urban areas, high and consistent quality, sustainability, and minimising environmental impact appear to be less important criteria.
1. ‘India’s road to digital highway’, Nivedita Mookerji, Business Standard: http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/india-s-road-to-digital-highway-118012401544_1.html