Monday, December 20, 2010

21st century India hitting 20th century roadblocks

The announcement that the Planning Commission envisions spending 4500 crore ($1 trillion) in the 12th Plan (the period from 2012-2017) on basic civic infrastructure – roads, airports, ports, power plants – comes as welcome news to citizens who encounter the early 20th century every time they step out of their houses and attempt to drive or fly or flip a light switch and to investors attempting to set up shop here. The RBI plans to assist by developing a strong corporate bond market for infrastructure financing. Infrastructure is key to propelling Indian growth into the double digits. What the Planning Commission is promising here is effectively a "Marshall Plan"-scale effort to reduce the infrastructure deficit while providing collateral benefits. The spending will not only boost growth and reduce inflation (as transport costs will go down) but will also result in the creation of millions of new jobs and new businesses. (Tip: Investing in global infrastructure majors – cement, steel, construction – might be worthwhile at this time as this Indian spending bonanza boosts these sectors worldwide).

The problems with Indian infrastructure are many since the country has underinvested in this area for the last 60 years. Just one 5-Year Plan is unlikely to fix everything, but it should improve things.

Here in Mumbai, while we do get 24 hour electricity unlike the rest of India, other infrastructure is severely lacking. Roads are choked with millions of new vehicles as everyone, from dhobis and maids to the fisherwomen, buys new cars, scooters and motorcycles with their new-found money. Road development and public transport is lagging far behind. The new rapid-transit metro lines are behind schedule – the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar phase is now expected to run its first train end of 2011! And the other phases are still having their precise routes decided, and haven't even started with the land acquisition and environmental clearances. In the meantime, everyone's pouring out onto the streets in their scooties and cars and going every which way whenever they find a stretch of road. Roads are cemented these days and they tend to last for many monsoons, but the old ones which are still essentially just a splattering of tar are more pothole than road and provide an experience in bone rearrangement as one gets jostled around while the vehicle stumbles over the tar splatterings.

Airports are chock-a-block too, as Laloo's promise of high-speed-rail in India hasn't materialized and so everyone's flying instead. Even the new airports being built all over are expected to run out of capacity within 5 years! Landing into Mumbai these days means an hour or so of cycling overhead waiting for landing slot – the airport is choking under the deluge. And the number of gates and capacity of the airport buildings is woefully inadequate as well. Massive improvements needed here. In order to distribute the passenger load, the railways would do well to compete better as well. High-speed-rail would be a great environmentally-friendly way of transport for the new India. Imagine covering the 1180 km from Mumbai to Delhi in under 5 hours without the hassle associated with flying! Or doing the 3600 km from Srinagar to Kanyakumari in less than a day. China is planning a pan-Asian high-speed-rail network to improve connectivity and trade and is hoping to rope India in (news item). Essentially trains would run from Mumbai to Shanghai via Thailand and Indochina. Getting on board this project would benefit India a lot. But it needs a domestic network in parallel.

Finally, the story of power in India is a sad one. We're one of the most power-deficient countries in the world. All of India, aside from metropolitan regions like Mumbai, see at least a day of blackouts and brownouts every single week. The loss in productivity and GDP is unimaginable. India is literally dying of thirst for power. There are both economic and geopolitical risks associated with foreign oil (gas pipelines going through places like Pakistan and Afghanistan can be blown up by Islamic radicals, oil prices are highly volatile). Solar, wind and nuclear power are the safe clean alternatives that reduce dependence on foreign oil and are environmentally friendly (the pollution in India these days is a common concern and one needs no advocacy for environmentalism in this country today). The plans for augmenting nuclear power in particular are very bold. Today, India is not a pariah in nuclear trade. We have pacts with the US, France, Russia and other countries and this is an extremely promising area. France has 70% of its power coming from nuclear, and consequently has the best air quality in Europe. India would do well to follow this example. The Jaitapur protests are a pointer that the concerns of the local population will need to be addressed before the country builds these plants all over willy-nilly.

India is somewhat where China was 10 years ago. It had a severe infrastructure deficit that threatened growth. It launched a massive infrastructure drive that launched the country into double-digit overdrive. While India has many more challenges when it comes to infrastructure development, due to the democratic nature of decision-making and planning in our country, it is refreshing to see infrastructure getting this kind of attention at last after decades of neglect and one hopes the Plan will be able to achieve at least part of its vision over the next five years.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

सुखाचं मंत्र

This is making the email chain rounds and for once, it's both worth reading and forwarding. Very well written by Dr. Vijaya Vad.

चला सुखी होऊया…

१) रोज दहा ते तीस मिनिटे मोकळ्या हवेत चाला आणि हो! अगदी सुहास्यवदनाने.
२) रोज किमान दहा मिनिटे स्तब्ध…शांत राहा. एका जागी! शांत!
३) रोज ७ तास शांत झोप काढा. शांत झोप…सुखाचा मूलमंत्र!
४) जगताना तीन गोष्टी नेहमी लक्षात ठेवा, स्फूर्ती, उत्साह आणि दिलदारी.
५) रोज थोडे तरी खेळा. मनोविनोदन होईल.
६) गेल्या वर्षापेक्षा मी थोडीतरी अधिक पुस्तके वाचीन असा निश्चय करा.
७) खूप मुबलक पाणी प्या. पाणी म्हणजे जीवन!
८) फळे, फळभाज्या, पालेभाज्या असे शेतातले, बागेतले, डोंगरावरले पदार्थ रोज पोटात जाऊ देत. थोडे समुद्रातलेही! तन सुखी तो मन सुखी!
९) जरूर लक्षात घ्या की सकाळचा नाश्ता राजासारखा, जेवण राजकुमारासारखे नि रात्रीचे जेवण मात्र भिकारऱ्यासारखे असावे! म्हणजे काय राव? नाश्ता दमदमीत. दुपारची लंच राजस; पण रात्रीचे जेवण मात्र अगदी अगदी थोडे, पुरते तेवढेच. कारण झोपेत कुठलीच शारीरिक हालचाल नसते.
१०) रोज ध्यानधरणा करा. प्रार्थना करा. आपल्या धावपळीच्या, दगदगीच्या जीवनांत तेच एक इंधन आहे जे सुख-शांती-समाधान देईल.
११) जागेपणी स्वप्न बघा. त्याचा ध्यास घ्या. त्यांच्या पूर्तीसाठी प्रयत्न करा.
१२) खूप आनंदी राहा. हसून खेळून, मिळून मिसळून! आप चंगा… तो जग चंगा.
१३) एक नियमच करून टाका. रोज मी किमान तीन लोकांच्या ओठांवर स्मितहास्य फुलवेन.
१४) आपले चैतन्य, आपली बहुमोल ऊर्जा लोकांबद्दल वायफळ बोलण्यात, त्यांची कुचेष्टा करण्यात वाया घालवू नका.
१५) ज्या गोष्टी आपल्या अखत्यारित नाहीत, ज्या परिस्थितीस तुम्ही बदलू शखत नाही त्याबद्दल दुःख करीत बसू नका. त्यापेक्षा माझे वर्तमान कसे सुधारता येईल, ते पहा.
१६) ७० वर्षांवरील वृद्ध माणसे आणि ६ वर्षांखालील छोटी मुले यांच्यासमवेत दिवसातील थोडातरी वेळ नियमित घालवा. वृद्धांना जगण्याची उमेद द्याल नि छोट्यांकडून ऊर्जा घ्याल!
१७) हे जीवन फार छोटे आहे. दुसऱ्याचा हेवा, मत्सर, द्वेष करण्याइतके खचितच मोठे नाही.
१८) स्वतःचा फार गंभीरपणे विचार करू नका. इतरांना तुमची काही पडलेली नाही. ते तुमचा इतका विचार अजिबात करीत नाहीत.
१९) भूतकाळातील अप्रिय घटना विसरून जा. आपल्या जोडीदाराला त्याच्या भूतकाळातील चुकांसाठी टोकणे, चटकन लागेलसे बोलणे, टोचत राहणे सोडून द्या. त्यामुळे आपला जोडीदार पुन्हा पुन्हा दुखावला जाईल आणि आपले वर्तमान बिघडेल. त्याचे काय हो! सो? लॉक द पास्ट, एन्जॉय द प्रेझेंट!
२०) रोज विद्यार्थी शाळेत जातात. जीवन ही आपली शाळा समजा. एनी प्रॉब्लेम? अहो तो बिजगणिताचा तास समजा. एखादा प्रॉब्लेम नाही सुटला तरी तास संपतो! संपते ना? पण त्यातून आपण काहीतरी धडा शिकतोच! तसेच जीवन आहे. काही समस्या सुटत नाहीत; पण त्यातून मिळालेल्या धड्याने आपण शहाणे होतो हेही नसे थोडके!
२१) प्रत्येक वेळी तुम्हीच कसे जिंकणार? इतरांनाही थोडी संधी द्या ना!
२२) दुसऱ्याच्या आयुष्याशी आपली तुलना नको. त्याचे वरवरचे सुखविलास पाहून मत्सरग्रस्त होऊ नका. तो आतून काय 'भोगतोय', काय 'सोसतोय' ते तुम्हास कोठे ठाऊक आहे?
२३) क्षमाशस्त्र ज्याचे हाती त्यास काय तोटा? आनंदाच्या वाटा शोधा आनंदाच्या वाटा!…क्षमाशील झालात की सुखाची रांगोळी आपल्याच दारात!
२४) दुःखाचे, तणावाचे दिवस आहेत? संपतील राजा! परिस्थिती कायम बदलत राहाते. लाल सिग्नल नंतर हिरवा येतोच की!
२५) तुमच्या आयुष्यातला सर्वोत्तम काळ अजून यायचा आहे! हे धरा मनी. पहा… कसे आशादायी नि प्रसन्न वाटेल.
२६) तुमचे कुटुंब तुमचा सर्वात मोठा आधारस्तंभ आहे. त्यांना प्राधान्य द्या.
२७) काय वाटेल तो पसंग येवो! धैर्य सोडू नका. उठा, उत्तम वेश परिधान करा व धैर्यांने जगास सामोरे जा.
२८) तुमचा आत्मा सुखी आहे! मग तुम्ही दुःखी? का? कशासाठी? सुखी राहा.
२९) हे सारं आवडलं ना? मग आपल्या आवडत्या मित्रांना कळवा जरूर! मला हा सुखाचा संदेश माझ्या आवडत्या मित्रानेच पाठवलाय जो मी आवडत्या वाचकांपर्यंत पोहोचविलायं! बी हॅपी!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Salute to Rahat Taslim

Nothing gladdens one's heart more than a story of one woman's courage and determination to make it despite all odds. Rahat Taslim's winning the 1,00,00,000 (Rs. 1 crore!) grand prize in the 4th season of Kaun Banega Crorepati (India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire") is one such story. With her win, she's catapulted herself into the history books. She's the first and only woman to win the grand prize in all of KBC's four seasons. And thus far, the only winner in KBC4.

And her story makes one leap for joy! Rahat is from a very small town called Giridih in Jharkhand, one of the most backward and destitute states in India. Her mom thought her to be unlucky because she was born a girl. In spite of being very intelligent and smart and with grand ambitions, being from a Muslim family, she was married off at 18 and had two children in quick succession. She still graduated with honors with a BA after her marriage, while juggling house and kids and a side-business. With a fire still inside her, she studied for two government exams which she was prevented from appearing for because her husband did not want a working wife. She settled for being a housewife but still ran a tailoring school business which supplemented her husband's meager ₹8000 a month salary. Her husband worked in Kochi while she and kids lived in Giridih. They were barely scraping by running two houses and bringing up kids on his salary and the small income from her business. But Rahat had bigger dreams. On an off-chance, just as the lines were about to close, when she happened to have ₹3 worth of talktime on her phone, she decided to call up KBC to try her luck. She was quite confident she would know the answer and when asked a question about Hindu mythology, she made it in and was asked to come for an audition in Mumbai. All contestants were told they had to have a bank account and a PAN card to participate. Rahat had never had a bank account nor did she have a PAN card (a taxpayer ID card in India) and the first thing Rahat had to do when she got back from Mumbai was to open a bank account in her own name and file for a PAN card. The rest is history. On the show, filmed on November 8th and aired on the 18th, she made it to the hot seat in the nick of time before the week ended, struggled in the beginning, but made it after using her lifelines very intelligently. And beyond the ₹3.2 lakh mark, she breezed through the questions. Asked later, she said she really knew all the answers as she'd studied hard and was up-to-date on current affairs. With a final answer on who was the first African woman president, she won the big prize of ₹1 crore, catapulting herself into the history books and immediately becoming a nationwide celebrity.

Watching her on the show and afterwards, one senses a humble, genial and very straightforward woman who has become the toast of the Nation, a symbol for Indian women, a path for economic movement for the underprivileged, a lesson in how life should be lived and a heartening story for the New India establishing intelligence, smarts and merit as the path to success. Madhuri Dixit, appearing on this Tuesday's KBC, said the first thing she wanted on the show was to meet the woman who has made all Indian women beam with pride. Rahat doesn't appear to have realized (it probably hasn't sunk in yet) just what she has achieved, the full significance of what she has done and why she is now a household name and a celebrity in India. One wishes her the most success for her future plans to use the ₹67 lakh (post-tax) wisely to open a clothes boutique as a designer, and her wish to spend the money on giving her kids a good education. One hopes her husband will support her and not prevent her from the grand things she's envisioning for herself and their family.

Rahat Taslim, I salute you!