Great and good things are finally happening.
New Delhi: Let us call this innovation and progress week. The Gatimaan Express got off to a flying start, covering the 200 kilometres between Delhi and Agra in the stipulated 100 minutes. Speed not only thrills but points north to a country’s engineering skills. The Indian Railways have achieved a definite milestone.
The Make in India programme is also entering the expansion and consolidation phase. Without much fanfare in end-February, Alstom India unveiled India’s first 800 kV HVDC converter transformer manufactured in Gujarat under the Make in India initiative. And this week, rivals Boeing and Lockheed Martin are in talks with the Central government to position India as a manufacturing and export base for their warplanes.
There is more. The US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Charles H. Rivkin, recently visited India. He led a high level delegation of corporates for the American Innovation Roadshow. The roadshow was held in Delhi, Gurgaon, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Rivkin has gone back impressed with the country’s entrepreneurship and the strides taken in innovation.
“India is on the verge of astounding itself and the world,” Rivkin said to an American think-tank. “In every incubator we visited, members of our delegation, especially the solar companies, identified tangible commercial and investment opportunities.’
He continued, “In every meeting, I experienced in a very refreshing way exactly what binds our two countries together: A shared passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, Americans and Indian entrepreneurs have become part of a shared culture that reveres innovation.”
Just as importantly, Charles Rivkin found a transformed political culture, albeit limited in size, which values entrepreneurship and innovation. He named the Chief Ministers of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh and a cabinet minister from Telangana who were eager for private investments in their states. He added that higher tax devolution to states had led to competition among them in a “race to the top”.
Who has put India on the world map for innovation and entrepreneurship?
And who has triggered competition among states with larger tax devolutions?
Indians have always been entrepreneurial and innovative. Centuries of foreign invasions, foreign rule and colonization took India to the bottom. At independence, the country stared at a dark future.
India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a socialist. Even so, he encouraged a mixed economy, which was a riddle for those times, and merits investigation in the present. The history handed down from that era is that private capital was scarce to industrialize India without state support.
While Nehru may be given the benefit of doubt, his daughter killed the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship with the License-Permit-Quota Raj. Except during P. V. Narasimha Rao’s term when overdue economic reforms were carried out by his Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, Congress regimes for the rest have stuck with Indira Gandhi’s formula. The 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) did her proud when economic and business policy decisions entailed a commission payout upwards of 60 percent.
The UPA took India to the bottom, perhaps the same place where the country found itself at independence.
From there to the present is a giant leap, and one man’s perseverance is finally showing results. Narendra Modi is the only Prime Minister in current times who is obsessively focussed on growth and development. He has made Indians passionate again for entrepreneurship and innovation. He is gradually making India the best place for business.
It is not a path paved with roses. Prime Minister Modi has to balance urban growth with poverty reduction especially in rural and farm communities. The government’s coffers are empty thanks to the loot of the previous UPA regime. The Congress opposition is blocking key reforms’ legislations.
But Modi is not giving up. He has hardly rested since coming to power in 2014. He works the longest and hardest of any Indian political leader. The results are coming. Running the Gatimaan Express at 100 miles an hour nonstop is a feat in Indian conditions. It symbolizes the Prime Minister’s determination to reach India to the pinnacle.
Editor’s Note: The car rationing scheme that recommences from the middle of this month in Delhi will not meet its stated objectives of decongesting roads and appreciably reducing pollution levels.
Two wheelers and diesel trucks cause the most pollution. By one estimate, one two wheeler causes as much pollution as three-and-a-half diesel cars. Solutions to truck pollution are partly in place. Green levies discourage trucks from entering Delhi. One bypass is operational for them and others are rapidly coming up.
No solution to two wheeler pollution is in sight. (The Supreme Court has banned Euro 2 two-wheeler registration in Delhi but they can be bought in other states and driven in.) Two wheelers are exempt from rationing. This is pure and simple vote bank politics.
Now consider congestion. Delhi has so many cars because public transport is awful. Delhi Metro works but it needs to be tripled in length to meet public needs. To beat the rationing scheme, people have started buying second and third cars with appropriate odd or even registration numbers.
At the same time, Delhi has seen mass conversion to CNG. CNG emits NOx which is highly poisonous and particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Its high pressure tank is potentially explosive. There has been reckless retrofitting of CNG kits increasing the risk of terrible accidents. With more CNG cars, the congestion problem is back on the table. It makes a mockery of car rationing.
And if you own a CNG car, you know the mess at filling stations where long lines form from early in the morning. Rather than waste precious hours, CNG car owners return to petrol. The CNG sticker gives them a free pass. In other words, you pay about Rs 40,000 (the cost of retrofitting CNG) just to get a CNG sticker.
Does car rationing make any sense?
There are no simple and magical solutions to Delhi’s pollution and congestion problems. To decongest Delhi roads, you need more Metro, which is expensive and time-consuming to build. You also need to relocate inessential Central government offices to other states and shift wholesale markets to the peripheries of Delhi.
Roads have to be cleared of encroachments. Parking fee has to be raised. Hefty fines must be imposed on vehicles parked on public roads with the threat of impoundment for repeated violations. Dust has to be checked. Dust is a killer. Dust carries particulate matter farther. There are a host of other measures which any traffic expert will be happy to provide.
Unfortunately, the car rationing scheme has become a political gimmick.