The India Story … of Missed Opportunities

India-mapIn any forum outside the country people talk (albeit with less excitement now than in the past) of the India story. Here is a slice of the India story that is not so alluring.

There was a chief minister in 1992 of the smallest state that India has had, Goa. He was a politician who had grown up the ranks and among the minority who was not corrupt and still retained a sense of the ideal.

One morning he stumbled upon a report, more a set of reflections, which an emigrant Goan who had landed back on her shores after years in Germany, had written for a local newspaper. He asked his office to summon this person and to see if he could listen to him and take his ideas further. One morning’s visit translated into Prof Dr. Daniel Albuquerque becoming his advisor on matters across the board of importance to Goa.  And so began a series of morning sessions with the chief minister. The agenda was across the spectrum of administration, law and order, development, and the future of Goa.

A project that a Japanese delegation brought at the time was for the creation of a 105-km rapid transit road from the South of Goa to the very north of Goa. A Japanese team that came to meet the CM offered this on a platter—no cost to be incurred by the Goan government, the consideration being a stretch of land being given to Japanese for a golf course that they wanted to create close to Pernem on the north. That is all that the Goan government had to give and the proposal also clearly enunciated that the project will be committed to no ecological damage through the stretch of land that would be used for such a mass transit road cutting vertically through the state.

The transit road was to be structurally elevated so that minimum land intervention or obstruction was created.Imagine a 105 km long bridge or fly-over with such breathtaking scenery along the Goan coast. This would have created a ‘Riviera effect’. Japan would have brought in the best technology and above all a work culture which would have taught the laid-back Goan a workout in work ethic that is supreme in the world.

If the experiment was economically successful and environmentally sustainable, which were both commitments offered by the Japanese, the entire coast of Goa would have seen a massive transformation.

Another project was one for the creation of an oceanarium. Somewhat on the lines of those that had already been created in Miami, Florida on the US east coast. It would have showcased Goa as a tourism destination and transformed the state’s ability to boost tourism revenue. There was a third project for the creation of an 8-lane highway that would cut across the mountains west to east till Belgaum from Panaji.

All projects were scuttled simply because of the little men within the system of politics and bureaucracy.  None of them would want it this way, for it meant no money for themselves. They raised socialist slogans that meant nothing. They did not want development of a kind that would only benefit the rich.

This story of missed opportunities of one Goa is no exception. This has been the rule across many states. In 1980 the state government in Karnataka secured a proposal from VittalMallya, a prominent broker and brewer in the 1970s, for the creation of a satellite train system that would cut around the periphery of Bangalore. The cost at the time was no more than about Rs100 crores. It would take no less than 100,000 crores to be doing such a public transportation system in Bangalore today!

There’s a certain perverse and relentless logic from the politician who’ll do all he can to retain the status quo. And the babus of bureaucracy have not had the spine to speak until they retire, or not at all for it serves their own pockets, too.

It’s a vicious spiral. Keep the supply suppressed, of all things infrastructure-related — energy, water, waste management systems, roads, parking lots, transportation, the entire gamut.

Keep the economy in a constant state of want. Push the demand so high and as artificially to a point where there’s value pricing—have you noticed how you pay Rs170 for a box of poha or upma midair on Indigo? Or a whopping Rs 100 for a cup of insipid coffee at a fancy joint that believes making you wait is part of the value-added service? Not to speak of the numbers of things denied for consumers across every social and economic spectrum.

–XO Team

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