There are many new ideas being floated as Indian political history is at the cusp of an entirely new phase under a decisive national leadership and government.
Clearly, the broad thrust of the government would be to provide better governance and accelerated economic growth to benefit all sections of society.
Whilst all of these merit serious consideration by the leadership, the government and outside experts, the following three suggestions are made by way of an orientation and an approach to examine those governance and growth ideas.
CONVERSION OF EXISTING HIGHWAYS INTO EXPRESSWAYS
The biggest challenge is uncontrolled migration of population from the villages to the cities over long distances and across the length and breadth of India to crowd the cities which have become the dynamos for India’s growth.
Today, the critical requirement is to reverse the migration flows through the building of expressways. The successful reversal of these migration flows can launch India on an accelerated growth path.
It will help in better governance of the cities which are presently becoming ungovernable due to severe population pressure, inadequate infrastructure, pressure on adjoining farmland for spatial urban expansion and environmental degradation; it has created a vast underbelly of societal crime in the cities because of the conditions of living and the atomisation of families as social units.
Although the infrastructure in the cities, not just in the megalopolises like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata et cetera, but even in medium size towns, is getting better, it is always catching up rather like a dog trying to catch its tail! Whilst the problem of urban governance and of the delivery of the municipal services does not get better, the gap between the infrastructure quality in the cities and villages is constantly widening and, thereby, further adding to the pressure of migration to the cities.
The current process and dynamics of the growth of urbanisation, actually, means that even our economic growth remains demographically lopsided and unbalanced. At the same time, the agricultural sector gets poorer with shrinking rural opportunities for more diverse skills’ pattern and which needs to be maintained by massive financial subventions for an uneconomic and unsustainable agrarian sector today; it needs bearing in mind that, even today, nearly 62% of the Indian population is dependent on near stagnant agriculture or on related activities.
The current government policy of building high-profile expressways over short distances has generated its own kinds of problems. First of all, these projects require huge capital costs with considerable time-overruns and their return is not, often, realistically calculated for such capital expenditure, mostly, from the private sector.
Then, there is also the fear in the rural population that their meagre landholdings will be taken away for construction of expressways connecting major cities and bringing little economic growth in the surrounding countryside.
This is combined with the pressure from the builders who create townships along these expressways. The intensely competitive politics, surrounding such land acquisitions, complicates the process of construction of expressways the necessity of which for the country’s growth is unquestioned.
The major conundrum, as far as the reversal of migration inflows into the cities is concerned, is for the government to so contrive that an average vehicle speed of 60-80 km/h can be maintained on our inter-city roads which will remove the necessity of people from nearby towns and villages to shift residence to the big towns where they work.
The essential requirement is to separate the slow moving vehicular traffic from the faster moving and, thereby, achieve that desired average speed. It can be suggested, by way of a general approach to our road construction programme, that this can be done by converting the existing highways out of major cities.
Today, most highways out of the major cities are, at least, double carriageway in either direction. By adding a shoulder to these carriageways for emergency vehicle movement for police or ambulances, enclosing it by sturdy railing and by construction of exit-ways at suitable distances for the fast moving vehicular traffic to get out of the expressway onto the country road or vice versa, these highways can be converted into expressways.
These expressways would, basically, comprise one lane for slower traffic and another one for faster/overtaking vehicles. At the same time, since expressways have a legally enforceable minimum speed limit below which vehicles cannot be driven, a supporting, connecting network of country roads for slow-moving traffic is required for transportation at different speeds; the expressways would be closed to slower traffic once the road network, in the vicinity, for this purpose is ready.
Plugging in the gaps in the existing country roads’ network is not very time-consuming or expensive either. It can be added that, in many new members of the European Union, dual carriageway expressways are being constructed with the European Commission funding.
Yet, the creation of such infrastructure would immediately improve the quality of governance in the cities and, due to easier and extensive access to the outlying areas, including towns and villages, encourage not only the reversal of urban inflows but also the outward movement of people, from the big cities, for residential purposes and also investments for setting up factories, hospitals, schools, shopping complexes et cetera.
Constituting a critical production factor, such infrastructure would accelerate economic growth and the rural-urban connectivity would be even more transformative than the IT revolution which boosted our services sector. This would have the benefit of increase in land values for farmers and better, consequent, generation of revenues for the municipal as well as the village bodies.
The changing production pattern in the rural and semi-urban areas will create for the local population greater opportunities for employment and acquisition of skills; the agrarian operations will also get, automatically, rationalised because, in such an economic environment, farmers engaged in unsustainable farming operations would have no incentive to do that because they would find it easier to monetise their small landholdings at far better value and seek for themselves better and more diverse employment opportunities.
The growing commercialisation of agrarian operations would lead to higher value and high technology cropping pattern such as horticulture, floriculture et cetera for distant domestic or foreign markets.
This infrastructure construction approach will also be beneficial in areas affected by Naxalite violence because there are several big towns in those areas where construction of expressways, and connecting them with the rural country roads, will bring in faster economic development, industrialisation and better employment opportunities for the local people who work under difficult personal circumstances in faraway towns; for example, an expressway along with supporting countryside road network between Ranchi and Jamshedpur, about 200 kms apart, would have a transforming effect on the entire region which is beset by Naxalism.
The lack of proper infrastructure, critically in the road sector, has meant that our connectivity still remains gravely inadequate. This road connectivity would make local economic regions better integrated and linked to other such regions extensively.
Such a road transport web would be more intensive and economically efficacious than the railway and the civil aviation linkages important though the latter are for national economy. Such road infrastructure, with balanced demographic spread and well-connected urban and rural centres can, potentially, lead to creation of major international financial hubs which are, currently, located outside India but which service the Indian market.
Rural education needs a major overhaul which, currently, requires enormous sums of money from the governments at the national as well as the state levels with very discouraging results. News articles by the famous journalist, Anand Giridhardas, have highlighted the dilemmas faced by the rural people in their quest for social mobility. Rural schools, suffering from poor infrastructure, absentee teachers, inadequate tuition facilities, hold little interest for rural children who find the subjects taught there as being of little practical utility. He has pointed out that, on the other hand, teaching establishments in such rural areas, for computer learning as well as English-language coaching are highly popular even though they remain in the private sector.
The current situation, therefore, deepens the linguistic and digital divide between the urban and rural students giving them a feeling of deprivation between the haves and the have-nots – between the ‘Bharat’ and the ‘India’! One solution is that the government should adopt the policy of strengthening these computer and English-language teaching schools with capacity creation in a public-private mode, to improve both the English language skills as well as computers skills of the rural children. This is not to say that the government should not make the effort to see that the regular schools are not better run but that the youth in the rural areas see better opportunities for themselves through acquisition of English linguistic and computer skills.
With such skills being developed, it is not very difficult for the naturally enterprising and driven children to equip themselves well for the job market in the nearby cities. One must not forget that the first stage of our liberalisation was initiated by call centres where the call centre employees received high quality coaching in English-language as well as by the revolution that India witnessed in computerisation with IT.
With the rapid laying down of cables and the expanding mobile telephony, it is not very difficult that such an infrastructure for better education capacity creation can be made accessible to a huge segment of Indian young rural population.
FUNCTIONING OF LEGISLATIVE BODIES AT NATIONAL AND STATE LEVEL
One major reason of public dismay with the Indian political class as such is the spectacle of the Parliament as well as the State Assemblies being paralysed due to the disruptive tactics followed by all political parties including, regrettably, the BJP. It is becoming difficult for getting the Parliament and the provincial assemblies to be fully functional as they ought to because every political party, without exception, uses disruption of parliamentary and assembly proceedings as a tactic to achieve their political agenda of the day.
However, given that Indian politics is turning a new page in view of the massive mandate received by the BJP and its allies, it should be possible for the Prime Minister, with Presidential directive and decisive intervention on the part of the presiding officers concerned, to ensure that there is no parliamentary disruption under any circumstances.
The parties have a right to mobilise public opinion on the issues of concern from their point of view but there is absolutely no right for them to disrupt parliamentary proceedings and to make the legislative bodies dysfunctional. A functional Parliament, it hardly needs to be stated, is the bedrock of democracy and of good governance in the country as it provides a public forum to witness serious debates amongst people’s representatives on policy issues.
The existing procedure for conduct of parliamentary proceedings – such as automatic disqualification of a member coming into the well of the house or of suspension after the ‘naming’ of a disruptive member – should be applied without exception which will go a long way in restoring the dignity of such constitutional bodies.