The First 100 Days : Basic Infrastructure, Or An Inverted Focus?

It was a rainy day in Kalyan, on the 31st of August & the 1st of September of this year. I was busy in shifting my luggage from Kalyan to Indore via Railway Parcel Service. I took my luggage to the parcel office, and started the procedure. The first view I got was of 2-3 people using cardboards to clear the waterlogged parcel office. Remember : this is in Kalyan, in Maharashtra. One of the most developed areas in India. 

Then, I talked to a couple of poorly clad employees who packed my luggage in the standard plastic bags. These said bags were torn in several places, and required my intervention to get things right. After this was done comes the piece-de-resistance of the memory. A clerk gave me a format to fill, which  I did. Then the person took my packages and weighed them on a mechanical scale. Thereafter, the clerk filled up a form in triplicate on his invoice book in classic 80s fashion, pasted a copy of the detailed booking on the back of the invoice, and handed a faded copy from this rather torn looking invoice book. I glanced inside, and saw rows upon rows of dilapilidated files and torn books piled up; I saw my luggage being kept in a godown which lacked even the most basic amenities... 

This was when the incongruity of the entire BJP Central Government plan hit me hard : in this scenario, when our railways lack even the most basic systems, we are planning for Bullet Trains!  The experience above is just an example; I can do the same for other areas like education, by comparing our primary and secondary education with higher education. This lack of basic systems in so vital an aspect, in addition to being a source of revenue loss and leakage, is also a glaring example of the inverted focus of our polity; what do we need first : basic infrastructure and a solid foundation, or a superstructure founded on suspect foundations? Arent we, as a nation, building the superstructure that can be the envy of all : Bullet Trains, Smart Cities, Higher Education etc without having solid functional basic systems in place? Is this model of development sustainable? Frankly, I very much fear that it isnt sustainable. 

This does not mean that the current NaMo Government has not done any good tasks so far; neither is it my contention that they are as bad as the UPA was. As a matter of fact, they have already chocked up a series of very laudable steps that have won them the admiration of the majority of the people of India, almost. But that does not mean that we ignore their weak points, or their frankly disturbing moves, neither does it mean that we over-hype them. In fact, with a Government that is visibly doing some good deeds, the onus is on us as a people to set the bar as high as we can, and bring their focus to where it should rightly be. 


THE GOOD


  • Replacement of the planning commission
  • One Government, One Voice; No Noise; United Facade
  • Iron-Clad control, as is only right : a PM should be in complete control
  • All bodies, from RBI To Commerce Ministry working in relative cohesion; any disagreements handled discreetly. This is a Government in total control of the nation, which is a pleasure to experience. 
  • This extends to every department of the Government, and this is a genuine pleasure to watch
  • House-Cleaning of the Government departments; discipline in the Bureaucracy; offices functioning; focus to some extent on implementation; some clarity in appointments; less indication of favouritism at least so far
  • FDI Cap limit raised in Defence and Insurance
  • Tax Reforms promised; efforts on to solve GST tangle 
  • Federal  Structure strengthened by promise of attention to states, and their earning and taxation shares
  • Obsolete Laws, Redundant Laws being listed for modification and/or deletion
  • Functioning Parliament
  • A stronger, clearer and far more assertive foreign policy with the proper attention to the immediate neighbourhood
  • A more business-friendly outlook, fast decision making, economy focus and unrelenting attention on developing India as a business destination. 


DISTURBING


  • Armed Forces Reforms : No sign on CDS appointment; No sign of MoD improvement
  • No sign of any movement on even one single Arms and Equipment purchase  plans, despite it being common knowledge, highlighted by innumerable Armed Forces Officers right upto CoS level - that there is a a critical shortage of weapon systems, ammunition and allied support equipment. If there has been an improvement, we havent heard of it
  • Judicial Reforms & Judicial Appointment Bill
  • No indication of political reform, or serious administrative reform, or police reform
  • No action on improving and modernising supply chain in food and agriculture, with steps such as repealing of APMC Act, or adopt some other method to reduce cartelisation
  • No sign of action on the Fertilizer Subsidy front
  • Hurried action on Gadgil Report on the environment, and undue haste in RLP despite there being manifest concerns on the ecological front
  • Excessive centralisation of decision making in the PM office - have we gone to the other extreme?

WHAT IS PLANNED VS WHAT IS MISSING

Do  we need Bullet Trains, Smart Cities, Bank Accounts and such  like? Budgetary allocations for higher education, new IITs, etc? If we do, then do we need them more than some other vital aspects, basic facilities, amenities and requirements that go completely ignored? Shouldnt there be some level of focus on the core foundation, the core building blocks of any nation? As I said on my blog before :

"And that is where the problem lies. In Skill Development, there is no mention of primary and secondary school education or its quality - let alone plans to address this. The focus lay elsewhere. There is no mention of this serious issue. The vision statement of the GoI on Independence Day was  totally silent on health issues, and lack of facilities in rural areas. It made no mention of these vital parameters, and related aspects - schools and PHCs in villages - taking education and Health to the masses; this is where the real concentration should have been. It made mention of Bank Accounts and Toilets - but no hint of education and medicine. This is worrying. No mention of rising prices : the single biggest issue facing us in the near term. 

It {The  15th Aug Address} was totally silent on Corruption - not one word. Not one single word; not even a homily to the masses to stop paying a bribe. If you can exhort the masses to treat women better, clean your cities etc- why cant you attend to this as well? It would have been a relatively easy thing to do; and yet - it was totally ignored. It made not even one observation on the quality of politicians who govern our nation and on the criminalisation of politics. Nothing, nada, zilch. I wonder why?


We are, yet again, building a vibrant superstructure, while the main problems of our society go ignored. The outlay on Education for Primary and Secondary Levels as a percentage of GDP is still abysmal; there is no hint, no mention or no intention of doing anything on the absolute basics. It seems to me that the Government has its priorities wrong, at least for now. 

  • Defence and Security needs of our country is still a cause of deep concern. 
  • Police Reforms are still forgotten, despite there being a Supreme Court Order on it. 
  • Judicial Appointments now have a Government say on it - if the bill is passed {if it already hasn't been done} . 
  • The GST still seems light years away. Major Structural reforms are still pending on the economy front.
  • No additional focus or allocation on Primary and Secondary Education
  • No focus on improving the quality and knowledge of Government Staff in key areas, one of which I shared below
  • Total silence on Health, Malnutrition, Farmer Suicides etc
  • No efforts to break down crony capitalism, middlemen in trades, or even to dismantle the laws that make this possible, like the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act, or introduce stern measures to remove cartelisation, liberalisation of agri-markets etc as an example

I could state more areas, but these should suffice. My point is simple : how will bank accounts, bullet trains, IITs, IIMs, Skill Development etc solve the problems our nation faces? Will these ensure education for all? Will these remove the cartel on food procurement at mandis? Will these remove crony capitalism? Will these solve our health problems? Will merely allowing FDI in defense solve the urgent pressing problems our Armed Forces are facing, with around 20 days ammunition only, and a manifest need - an urgent need - of weapon systems and platforms? Can the nation afford to wait that long? 

Can the police be a better, fairer organisation without freeing it from political control? Why hasnt this been done, when even the Supreme Court has called for it? Can the Judiciary function independently under the new dispensation - and has this worry been thought through, and its doubts in the minds of some people removed? Can our economic challenges be truly removed, can projects truly get implemented without core structural reform, and a focus on stringent anti-corruption measures? 

The worrying aspect is that these hard-core basic questions have not even occurred to the majority of even the most highly educated people, who are tending to eulogise the current government without sufficient cause, and on barely 100 days of performance. Few people have given thought to these serious questions that are the real challenges India faces. People are satisfied more about Hinduism, or simple cosmetic changes - or even about the most basic discipline like coming to office on time.

But no one is willing to set about asking this visibly performing and good government - one of the best we have had - to do the things we really need. No one wants to set the bar high for them, and demand what is ours by right. We are happy and satisfied with what little has been dished out to us. But the little that has been done will not suffice; the onus is now on us, the people of India, to drive this Government towards the proper  goal through direct contact with the PMO, through Media and Social Media. Let us get together and demand the basics that any Government ought to give us!

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