The contradiction of Progress

With India predicting or talking about matching China’s 10% growth rate in a few years time, India’s main population has a long way to go! India’s challenge is to invest not only its service offerings but also to improve is core infrastructure for the general population.

Interestingly, I remember approximately five years ago observing a comment made by the then head of Disney Corporation USA. He suggested that India’s 250 million population was a great opportunity for future markets. Unfortunately, he was talking and expressing an interest in only 25% of the population – those that can still afford to buy such products and have any idea of what Disney is.

Having recently made trips to Delhi and Bombay the contradictions are clearly on display. Shanty towns continue to be positioned as the moats of the grand palaces of hotels, skyscrapers and residencies.

One of the problems is that India is still suffering from lack of investments in its farming infrastructure. Currently more than half of India’s population work on farms yet they produce only 20% of the country’s gross domestic product. They lack the resources to develop their farmland.

India’s Finance Minister, P Chidambaram this year has promised that he will produce a ‘common man’s budget’. He adds that ‘… two out of three Indians still live on less than a dollar a day’. Mr Chidambaram says his budget will focus on agriculture, healthcare and education for the masses. The third leg of Mr Chidambaram’s plans is to ‘fuel’ education, a possible route for encouraging economic development. In last year’s budget, the Indian government set aside $1.6bn for education. More funds are expected this year. This is clearly a good direction and shows that there is some commitment to this challenge.

However, is the scale of the issue too large to resolve in a single budget? The answer is yes. India needs a sustained commitment to such initiatives. These commitments also need to ensurea common, fair and wide-spread application across all parts of the country but not as a one-off. It needs to be year-on-year.

No one said that addressing poverty is an easy task. I remember on my most recent trip that there were still power shortages – the thought of losing power during mid Summer with no back-up generator is too awful to imagine. For example, imagine also how hard it is for hospitals.

There are so many people in the world that have to walk for miles to attend school, who go hungry with many who cannot afford school fees. There are many children that also grow-up before their time. I remember walking the streets of Karol Bagh (a big shopping area of Delhi) back in December ’05 and asking why a couple of children aged approximately 7 years old, each carrying a shoe cleaning kit (see picture of one of the boy’s I took with my camera phone) were running from the police. My guide answered that they were supplementing the income of the family.

Although good progress is being made in and many argue that it everything takes time, is it not ironic that many countries in Africa and South Asia have in recent years have allowed investments in digital telephone and mobile networks. However and shamefully, their core infrastructure remains sparse. Clearly, there is a will but is the way focused on the right things?

Categories: 2006

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