Friday, August 26, 2005

Counting people

Most of us have many different ideas or models or beliefs of how India should develop. Most of us will agree on some things (clean water, clean air, sanitation, paved roads, electricity, schooling for all), but might differ on whether you need more or less flyovers, more or less public transport, more or less state intervention in various areas…the list is endless.

We also have different various ideas on India’s population (how can this large population be made an asset to the nation? How can population growth be reduced? Do we need to reduce it, and if so, by how much? What should the government do? Do we compare ourselves with China?). Another endless list of possibilities.

People, and their worth.

Ashwin Mahesh has an excellent Op-Ed in Indiatogether. Some excerpts:

” I was reminded of this reading an article in the Indian Express earlier this summer by one of India's best-known CEOs. Coming home to Bangalore from Beijing, Nandan Nilekani despaired of the crumbling state of his hometown, and wondered if it would be too much to wish for an eight lane highway from the airport, and a special safe passage for bicycles, instead of the years-late flyovers holding us up without end. Certainly, that's doable, and knowing this is doable must make his despair all the more striking. I endure the years-late flyover he referred to daily myself, and am certain that Bangalore is years away from having a safe path for alternate commuters.

But what, really, is the problem? Is it infrastructure? Or could it be that there's something else to be answered along the way to getting there from here? The more compelling question, it seems to me, is not whether India can achieve the standards of prosperity - and accompanying comfort in public spaces - seen in the West, but whether this transformation is to be achieved by the application of technological and scientific capability, or by diligently tackling the great social and economic divides of our society…..”
(emphasis mine).

Risks and skepticism:

The risk, as we are seeing daily, is that various theories of how such progress can be attained tend to distract us from such a straightforward consideration. Such distractions are inevitable, but how we respond to them need not be. So, if the government proposes a grand housing plan with Rs 17,000 allocated for each new house, we can be skeptical enough to ask if that's really workable. If the government builds one high school for every six primary schools, we can ask ourselves if that's really going to put all the children in school up to graduation. If water is to be privatised, we can ask ourselves how those who cannot afford to pay fit into our dreams of progress…..”

Basic education:
” Decades of pursuing policies to ‘uplift’ the weaker sections have produced the world’s most illiterate democracy. This was always predictable, because the education of the poor was separated at birth from the education of the middle and upper classes. From that founding mistake, the rest of the litany was assured………….If, instead, we had set out to ask how every Indian child could be educated by a system equally accessible to all, we might have done a lot better. Indeed, the experience of most East Asian nations – whose economic gains we yearn for, but whose social policies in pursuit of those gains we rarely examine – proves just this.

Read the full piece here.

The article does stop and make you think beyond the usual dreams, and about what kind of progress India needs.


At 12:42 PM, Blogger Raghav said...

Interesting article. I agree with all points, but would frame them differently.

The article seems to suggest that those who do not "count people" in their dreams are not doing so out of some innocent mistake. While their intentions are always developmental (implicitly good), their methodology has flaws.

Is there any reason to believe that? Any reason at all? To me, it seems that people who have the power would do everything it takes to hold on to it. They would of course never admit the same, instead offering ideas for development, making themselves appear well-intentioned. Of course, these ideas somehow do not "count people".

Many developmental ideas have been tried out and "failed" (British in India, US in Latin America, etc.). I have deliberately put "failed" in quotes. Was it really failure? From the point of the victims, certainly yes. But from the point of view of the doers? Hardly so - they became much wealthier in the process. I would question whether they ever intended real development in the first place.

Is there even a single example where the people who carried out the "development" lost wealth. This is no coincidence, if you ask me.

Back to the article, "we" must certainly take people into account, if by "we", we mean activists. If we mean the population, of course they would take themselves into account - all we need is ways for them to express their opinions in the policy. If we mean CEOs and the executive branch of the government, why do we expect them to take people into account? That seems naive.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger Swati said...

Sahyog publishes Conexxions & the 1st issue dealt with population control & related health implecations on women. Needless to say the articles made me think about many aspects of this issue I was not aware off.


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