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Sumant Sinha Image

At some point, it gets totally beyond one’s comprehension. The municipal body resurfaces the roads in your neighbourhood just before the monsoons and just as you begin to applaud their effort, they dig them up again. There is this constant activity on the same roads. Workers busily lay tar, and then sometime the very next day, new teams of workers, just as busily, dig up the roads again!

The lane behind our office is a great example of this. It gets dug up almost every week, almost as if somebody somewhere cannot tolerate smooth, functioning roads. It makes you wonder whether there is any method to this madness.

Next time you are stuck in a traffic jam in Mumbai, glance at the city around you. On the horizon, you will see new buildings coming up—tall buildings, as befits a city of the stature of Mumbai, our country’s commercial capital, soon to be a regional financial hub and a competitor for bragging rights with Shanghai. One feels like saluting the industriousness of the workers, architects and engineers as they labour to build these glass towers—these beacons to a modern India. But where are the roads, power, water supply and other civic amenities to service these buildings?

It has almost become an article of faith with us Indians that any project our government—whether central, state or local—undertakes will overshoot its initial budget estimates in terms of both time and money. If a project overshoots by less than 25%, we consider it to be great execution and applaud the effort. If a private sector company performed in the same way, it would go bankrupt in a hurry.

The point is that planning in the government is at a premium. Basic commonsense coordination between different ministries and departments does not seem to happen. Any sort of forward planning appears to be lacking among our politicians and bureaucrats. This might seem harsh, but you have only to look at the level of civic amenities and the infrastructure around us and you would have to be physically restrained from not coming to this conclusion. Some might say it is easy to pontificate and criticise, but please come and sit in our chair, understand the limitations we work under and then tell us what to do. And one does have to be sympathetic, because the system has developed the way it has over many decades of incremental decay.

Here is my 300 word recommendation.First, we need to change our mindset. We don’t have time. The world around us is changing. The needs and aspirations of our people are increasing by leaps and bounds. We have both a duty and an obligation to fulfil the desires of our billion-plus young population. The old solutions and ways of doing things do not work any longer. This is a new, assertive India that needs things to happen in a hurry.

• We need to change our mindsets; new India needs things done in a hurry
• Political parties need to rid themselves of the idea of redistributive politics
• They should have a stronger economic platform and go beyond platitudes

Second, political parties need to junk the old reflexes of redistributive politics. As Mr Chidambaram rightly said, ‘‘growth is the best antidote to poverty.” Truer words never were spoken. Quotas and reservations, which diminish the quality of our prime institutions, will never be as effective as letting pure merit count. As somebody who has studied at both an IIT and an IIM, I can assure you that 50% reservations would really mean two different classes taking place in the same room. In that case, you might as well build a whole new campus for those sought to be benefited by the reservations.

Third, there somehow needs to be more accountability within the system. The old clanger about people being the best judge for a variety of ills, from criminal misdeeds to corruption, to sheer lack of performance, etc is not tenable. The poor farmer in Badkagaon, Jharkhand, is hardly in a position to read project reports or opine on the efficacy of the judicial system or read political manifestoes and compare performance against promises. Our existing systems within the bureaucracy of accountability determination have become so fossilised that they end up killing action, rather than improving it.

Last but not least, political parties need to have a stronger economic platform and stand for something beyond “We want to be another China” or “10% growth.” The vision for India needs to be more detailed, more tiered and move beyond platitudes and homilies. We are moving towards becoming a mature and assertive nation and we do not need sermons. We need our planners and policymakers to take more accountability and to move with the times.

Source: The Financial Express