Ministers Promise, Bureaucrats Obstruct, Media Collaborate

The finance promised to upgrade ITIs. He also promised to repair and renovate all the water bodies spread all over the country in his first budget in 2004. He promises again for the same two items in this budget without telling the people of India how many of the promised water bodies have already been renovated or how many of ITIs have been upgraded in last three years. Why can’t he appreciate that the country need 5,000 or perhaps 20,000 ITIs to cater to all the students who after class XII don’t go for higher education in specific subjects? He also promised to cut down the time delays in procedures for doing business to make India attractive for businessmen from abroad. He never gives what he and his government have been able to achieve. The finance minister keeps on promising on outcome against outlay such as Rs 10,671 crore for Sarva Shiksha Aviyan, Rs 288 or more for teacher training, or Rs 7,324 crore for mid-day meals, but never practise it himself. He has, however, promised this year to give employment to two lakh more teachers, to build five lakh additional classrooms, and to provide 1,00,000 new annual National Means-cum-Merit scholarships. Will it ensure that the over 1.3 crore children who are still out of school will attend school, 31,468 habitations that do not have a school will have one, and 6,647 schools that have no teachers will get at least one teacher? Will he report on the achievements against this year promises while presenting the next year budget?

And let us see how the railway and its minister, who has mastered the management tricks to become expert to deliver advices to the students of IIM-A and IIT-KGP as well as those from Wharton and Harvard, keep on coming in media with promises. According to the media report, the railway signed some agreement with ICICI Bank to issue tickets from the branches of the bank and also talked of providing ticketing facilities at all the petrol pumps and post offices. Nothing has come till date. This year he promises to have 6,000 automatic ticket vending machines in metros, and to provide lower births for senior citizens and women above 45 years of age. Why doesn’t the on-line e-ticketing faculty of the railway function properly? Why can’t the software system be more robust and fast? Just last week, after failing to get my ticket booked through broadband Internet even after getting the ticket money debited from my account, I had to go to Brahmaputra to get the tickets for Varanasi for a date in April. Being senior citizen, I asked for lower birth, but couldn’t get it. One can go to the reservation center at Brahamaputra market complex in Noida and see the teeming crowd at the counters fighting to each other. Why can’t this work be outsourced to a private agency? Why should any person wait for more than 15 minutes for his ticketing? Can’t the system be put in place in a month time? And the same minister promises to transform 200 railway stations to world class standard. Why has he not been able to bring that transformation to railway stations in Delhi or in his hometown Patna?

And now look at the most critical of the infrastructures, power situation of the country without which no progress is possible, particularly in manufacturing sector. Energy-hungry India will become an electricity surplus country in next four-five years, Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde promises Rajya Sabha on Monday. Can any one take this seriously?

Bureaucrats sit complacent in their offices and keep on planning for perfecting the delaying tactics for the execution of the promises. And the result becomes devastating. Let us look at one example of the infrastructure that affects agriculture sector so critical for 60% of the population. “Cost overruns due to delayed irrigation projects have cost the Centre and states over Rs 1 lakh crore. A total of 205 irrigation projects, whose original estimated cost was Rs 20,000 crore, would now cost Rs 1,16,242 crore, according to the ministry of water resources data. The delays range from one to six years. The projects include 62 large and 49 medium scale projects. Many of these were started in the 5th and 6th Plan periods.” Will the proposed hike in the outlay for the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) in this year budget make any difference?

Bureaucrats themselves and the inter-ministerial and the center-state battles further delay the executions. The Dadri power project announced by the political bosses of UP as the largest single location power project that would have been on the way to completion by now, has not yet started construction. Why can’t the bureaucrats be paid and promoted based on the performance? Why can’t they move out of their offices to see what have they planned and why is it not getting implemented?

And then the media of the country is too happy with Nithari, Nitin, Jessica, and Matoo covering all details in pages after pages with coloutful photographs. Why should not it put its reporters in rural India where more than 60% of the people are toiling, and where the major allocation of the government is going in the name of inclusive growth? Why should not it reserve at least 10% coverage for the rural India, if not 50%? Why should it not cover the educational institutes for work being done in science and technology?

NewYork Times, Business Week, Newsweek, and The Economists may be covering the issues of India better. ‘Business Week’ has a special issue this week on the infrastructure of India- ‘The Trouble With India’ with an interesting cover page. It is revealing with number of features- ‘India’s Infrastructure Challenges’,Building Opportunity in India‘, ‘Building The Future‘, ‘A Long And Winding Road’, ‘The Miracle-Worker of the Delhi Metro‘, and ‘India: Where Shipping Is Shaky‘.

It is strange that the media abroad can come out with such an analytical issue whereas our own media are shy of it.

Why should we require Ravi Bhatia to come out with his infrastructure prescription for the double-digit growth? It will be interesting to know what he said. Ravi Bhatia, Editor, Economist Intelligence Unit said while making a presentation on ‘India 2010: What the future holds,’ “The Indian plane is flying high, but one plane is flying even higher and that is the Chinese plane. Indian economic world is growing because the term ’emerging markets’ has become redundant. India, Japan and China have together overtaken the US economy. India and China are playing a big role. India ranks third after USA and China in the economic field. But this growth is held back by lack of infrastructure,”

Even Gajendra Haldea, an adviser to the federal Planning Commission, says, “Economic losses from congestion and poor roads alone are as high as $6 billion a year.” Jagdish N. Bhagwati, a professor at Columbia University, figures gross domestic product growth would run two percentage points higher if the country had decent roads, railways, and power.

Why can’t that be expedited when there is no crunch on financial resources at least for road? Why are the GQ and NSEW corridors running years behind the schedule? Why shouldn’t the electorate ask these questions? When will the electorate be enlightened enough to put these questions? Why can’t the bureaucrats responsible for the projects be sacked?

Alas! We are to live with and tolerate the ministers, bureaucrats, and media that we have.

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