Discover more from Antithesis by Shailesh Vickram Singh
Banglore Traffic, Delhi Air and usual flooding, Why India needs urgent administrative reforms rather than blame game!!
Why does India with high growth not look like a fancy, rosy picture of a prosperous civilisation and rather an ugly picture of poorly designed houses, equally messy roads and chaotic hospitals?
As Covid19 ravaged India during the second wave, messages asking for Oxygen cylinders, hospitals beds /ICUs and life-saving medicines started pouring on social media. Almost every one of these messages was tagged to either PM or CM of that state. Rarely anyone tagged the request to a local councillor / DM or district health officer.
When it comes to governance, Indian seems to be quite innocent. They think of central govt for 90% of the time and probably devote 9.9 % of their time to State Govt while hardly spend 0.01% of their energy on local governance.
And then they wonder as to why roads in their area are broken and then they click pic of broken roads and tag PMO.
But what if they start thinking about local governance?
There are some really smart people who think that if we start focussing on municipalities/ward/panchayat election, issues related to road, traffic, hospitals etc can be solved. So every time ward / municipal elections happen, a lot of hue and cry appear on social media urging people to participate in their local election.
What if they are equally innocent and naive in believing in the power of municipalities?
India is the comedy of elites, which ultimately has become a trauma for the commons.
Indian Elites live in capital cities, in large govt given bungalows, near their office without any commute time, with a retinue of servants!
They consume the majority of state resources on their living, security, transportation, education, medical, travel and hence have neither any understanding as to how the remaining 90% of India lives and most importantly nor real willingness to learn.
The elites have different education, different language, different consumption of movies, fashion, literature, music etc and different cultural values. Indian children aspire to do an internship at large corporates. Elite children do an internship at UN/IFC/World bank.
The majority of elites are more comfortable being British or American than being native.
And probably that is why that still majority of Indian policies are being made by Americans / Britishers or by American-Indian or British Indians who live in US/UK, earn their living in the US but make policies for rest of India.
So what is the collateral damage for the country?
Towns shall be in charge of local infrastructure & ecosystem - roads, power, schools, hospitals but they neither have the power/money or more importantly any ownership/accountability. Everything about a town is decided by elites sitting in a capital that is 300 km away and has no engagement or skin in the game of any sort or in a true sense no ownership.
Look at any city - hospitals, education, roads, traffic, housing are in mess. Look at any small town - mess is the same. The scenario in Davangere (town in Karnataka) or Haldwani (town in Uttarakhand) is the same. Chaos on road with traffic jams. Broken healthcare and broken public services!
Highways going through the middle of a town with small communities separated by mile-high road dividers, patients queuing up at AIIMS from far away places, and millions passing out of educational institutes without any skill or knowledge. whose ownership?
Let us look at the transport sector. There is almost unanimity among economists, policy experts, bureaucrats and political class for building transportation infrastructure and the result is that roads are being built at a super-fast pace. The whole country is dug up with roads coming up fast along with fancy toll plazas. Newsreaders track roads being built per day in every political regime. Roads are seen as a good benchmark to track economic progress and there is a reason for that. Roads did wonder for the US economy. However, the roads could do wonder on account of cheaper cars which ran on even cheaper gasoline. And the USA did not convert every local road into express way with a fancy toll plaza. In America, both exists - local roads as well as expressways.
In Contrast, the Indian establishment didn't create new roads, they are converting existing local roads with expressway along with toll plaza and in a way reducing mobility. Hence Indian roads are far more expensive (more toll roads compared to the US) but on top cars are even more expensive with the highest GST along with the costliest petrol in the world. So will roads really solve India’s transport need or create more divide.
Further are these roads solving the transportation needs of small towns/villages or just focussing on elites. With road-permit system for buses / commercial vehicles in mess with super high corruption, mass transportation ( buses) remains pretty costly and erratic while trains with perpetual waiting lists and super packed general class remain more of a trauma than anything for the minimum wage earner. So while roads might build the backbone, mobility challenges and hence impact on the economy will not be created till all niggles related to transportation ie road permit system, messy state entry permits, choked road capacity and average costs per user are not tackled but none of these issues is even being attempted despite the focus on transportation for so many years. why? The simple reason is that elites never face any of these challenges and hence don't even think about it.
India with high growth does not look like a fancy, rosy picture of a prosperous civilisation. It's an ugly picture of poorly designed houses, equally messy roads and chaotic hospitals and a broken educational system. If you ignore those fancy cars, big airports and look at the overall quality of life, if that is still a phrase, we are at par or probably worse with many sub-Saharan countries.
And no it is not a crisis of governance or issue of this political party or of that political party. It is a crisis perpetuated by elitism, centralism where some high brow elites, be it judiciary or bureaucracy or political class sitting in Delhi or any other state capital, decide things for the natives.
It's high time that rather than chasing and discussing growth figures, India shall start looking at gross happiness and design for the lowest denominator of the society and create a happy nation and not a chaotic nation.
Path of this will not come from the centre but from local government which has power, budget, ownership and most important -accountability - the missing item in Indian administrative structure or rather colonial administrative structure.
Hence more than anything else, India is in urgent need of administrative mega reforms and build an administrative structure that is designed for governance and not for the continuation of the colonial rule system.
Till it is done, every reform will be more of a band-aid and India will remain a country of elites for elites by elites while life for the rest of India will remain a journey in suffering.
— — The End ——