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Can the Budget deliver on infra needs?

The big theme of India's economic steamroller has been development - be it at the grassroots level or even the large scale improvement in infrastructure like the much talked about Terminal Three (T3) at the Delhi Airport. Siddharth V Patankar writes.

business Updated: Feb 25, 2011 01:48 IST
Siddharth V Patankar

The big theme of India's economic steamroller has been development - be it at the grassroots level or even the large scale improvement in infrastructure like the much talked about Terminal Three (T3) at the Delhi Airport.

In that talk, there are always mixed views about whether enough is being done or not - and yes - whether enough is being planned or envisaged or not. Very often, in all that talk we miss the crucial point, about timelines.

So it is not about whether we can aim for the impressive development that China has seen, but whether there is in fact any thought being given to what is practical and really necessary in a given timeframe. How often do we complain that a new flyover hasn't helped because we still have traffic snarls even on it? Or that the new airport terminals still have us waiting endlessly for baggage at the conveyor belts or sitting on the tarmac awaiting our turn to take off?

That is where the real point lies. Not whether India can stay attractive to foreign investment by improving its infrastructure for today, but in fact whether we can hope to think long term and improve our infrastructure for tomorrow. Does India have the space for all the vehicles that are coming onto our roads?

Now that is a question often asked of the management at automobile companies, and more often than not the journalist asking the question is scoffed at for not sticking to the "business" at hand - which may be all about expanding capacities and launching new models. But it is a valid question, isn't it? Many of us think it, especially when we are stuck in what looks like an inexplicable traffic jam.

So it would therefore be nice to hear about a long term vision for India's infrastructure. Mr Finance Minister, we would love to have the superhighways and monorails of Shanghai, or indeed the train terminals of Europe. But what will our children have is perhaps the more pertinent question.

There is so much talk about India 'taking her rightful place' amongst the league of nations. Well, one way of ensuring that is by guaranteeing her people to have the sanitation, transport and utility solutions that they deserve.

So Mr Minister, we would like to know not just what you shall spend in the next fiscal, or indeed to the end of the UPA's term, but instead we would like to know whether that money shall build a foundation for the coming years.

It may sound very idealistic to make such a demand from the finance minister. But does that belittle its validity? India is a vibrant democracy; indeed one where the state and the centre are often at loggerheads over matters pertaining to infrastructure. But to move forward as a progressive and forward looking country, it is a pressing need for us to guarantee every citizen the right to infrastructure - and yes indeed sanitation, power and roads are all a part of that grand promise. So will that be the theme of this year's budget? Well for all the years we have seen infrastructure being the promised sunshine sector, we can and will continue to yearn for a more definite promise this time.