An integral part of national infrastructure is urban infrastructure. This includes housing, sanitation and water supply. It also covers special economic zones and software parks. The housing sector boom continues thanks to easily available housing finance at reasonable rates. In waste management, some cities have state-of-the- art projects with the involvement of the private sector. Several states are creating special economic zones to promote trade and industry. Both public and private projects are being developed very fast, especially in setting up SEZs.
Coming back to infrastructure as a whole, the requirements are huge — a total investment of about Rs 2.5 million crore needed over five years. To some extent this will be funded by the World Bank, loans from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) and budgetary resources. But full implementation will be only possible with the active participation of the private sector supplemented by FDI. For this though, the economy must perform well. A well-functioning economy inevitably attracts foreign investment. With a strong economic team at the helm of the country, India should score well economically. What has caused mild hiccups, though, is the undue hike in oil prices. But despite that the economy has adequate potential and should do well.
Unfortunately, though, the Congress is not being supported by its other UPA partners and allies. As a result, correct decisions are not being taken. When global oil prices go up again, consumers in India cannot escape paying a high price. If the prices are kept low by heavy subsidies, the economy is affected. Likewise, the government had planned disinvestment in a number of public sector undertakings. It has proposed placing the proceeds from disinvestments in the National Investment Fund (NIF), which lies outside the Consolidated Fund of India. The fund is to be managed professionally so that the capital remains intact and its returns are maximised. The return from this fund is to be used for social services.
There has, however, been tremendous opposition from the UPA partners of the Congress to the public sector disinvestment. This resistance can have the following serious implications:
Capital receipts of the government will be less and consequently the fiscal deficit will be higher. The government will have to borrow more, which will lead to rise in interest rates, which in turn will play havoc with industrial production and production costs.
As sale proceeds would have gone to the National Investments Fund to be used for social services, social development would be hampered for lack of resources.
Privatisation of public sector companies has already come to a stop. This will mean PSUs will continue to be subsidised.
The Congress should have acted boldly and defied its dissenting UPA partners and gone ahead with these measures. If the UPA partners decided to withdraw their support, the Congress should have faced the music. Never mind that its allies in the Left would have not actually withdrawn their support.
Despite these shortcomings, the economy is performing well. The economies of both China and India are growing fast. China is certainly ahead of us. China’s GDP in the first quarter of 2006 rose by 10.30 per cent and in the second quarter by 11.30 per cent. Another notable feat performed by China was the railway from Beijing to Lhasa. This was construction across difficult terrain. But with a will to perform, China has been able to construct the railway. Except for some minor points, the work is nearing completion. Consequently, business in Tibet has shot up. With the opening up of Tibet, there are now 4,000 additional visitors each day to Lhasa. Park Hyatt is constructing Lhasa’s first five-star hotel. Other big international hotel groups, too, are going to open luxury hotels in Lhasa. There are three major airlines in China, all of whom are extending their flights to Lhasa.
What can China achieve that we cannot? That there is no democracy in China is a fact. India is the biggest democracy in the world. We have an independent judiciary, a big asset for the country. Unfortunately, India is suffering from the malady of casteism.
Casteism is a part of Hinduism. Even Mahatma Gandhi approved of the caste system (not by birth but according to ‘karma’) in Hinduism. The idea of caste was to strengthen society and achieve unity in the service of the country. It certainly was not to encourage internal conflict. Forgetting the noble aims of ‘casteism’, struggle and conflict are taking place in the majority community based on caste. Then there are sub-castes and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. A tussle is going on for reservations in various fields based on these factors. Any action that divides the country is bad in principle. And what can be a more significant binding factor for people than pride for the country to which they belong?
Whenever there has been an emergency, we Indians have forgotten castes and sub-castes. All communities have united in such moments to work for the defence of the country and overcome the problems. The war of liberation of Bangladesh and the war to drive out intruders from Kargil are instances where all the political parties and people of all religions, castes and sub-castes laid aside their differences and got united as one nation. Emergency or no emergency, we should stand united as one nation.
At the same time, it should be the duty of the government to provide ample funds for special coaching, training and similar means to enable weaker sections of society, irrespective of caste or community, to catch up with the ones ahead. The faster we achieve the primary objective of a united India with its people having full faith and pride in it, the faster will be the growth of the country. This alone can ensure economic prosperity for all the sections of our society. And only that will enable us to unify the country as a powerful nation.
The writer is a former Rajya Sabha member