We are on the threshold of vast changes and developments in India. It is a period of optimism for most Indians, a period when they can legitimately dream of a better life, a better country. The time is, therefore, ripe to imagine the India of the future. However, when we contemplate what the country can become, we should not lose sight of the fact that India had a glorious past, not only in terms of economic prosperity but also on moral values. I am proud of being an Indian and the values that are associated with India. Our spiritual heritage and high moral values set us apart, and we should never lose sight of this in our quest for development.
Despite its golden past, numerous wars and foreign occupation kept India behind the rest of the world for hundreds of years. Post-Independence, things started to improve. India has witnessed improvement is the last 60 years, especially in industrialization, agriculture and infrastructure development. A lot, however, still needs to be achieved.
I have noticed a welcome change in the last two decades. Call it the result of economic reforms or a new awakening, these last few years have given Indians the confidence to believe in themselves. I am proud that the Delhi Metro also played a small role in this. The construction and operation of this world-class Metro system ahead of schedule and within the budget has given Indians the confidence to believe that they can build the most challenging and technically complex projects.
I have spent decades in public transport and infrastructure and the India of my dreams will have a public transport system that can measure up to the best in the world. I know this is possible but many things will have to change before this becomes a reality.
India is a vast country with long distances and therefore quick, reliable and safe transportation systems are most essential for its economic growth. Unfortunately, our planners have not realized that investments in the transport sector come back to the nation manifold, fueling growth in many other sectors. More than 70% of the country’s goods and population move by roads. A lot needs to be done to lay new roads and improve existing ones, national highways. The golden quadrilateral project is a beginning, and I hope such projects will gather momentum.
As for the Indian Railways, an aggressive policy for modernization and improving the safety record is the need of the day. The focus of the Railways should change from dedicated freight corridors to dedicated high-speed passenger corridors, to which all mail and express trains should be diverted. Capacity thus released will be more than what is needed for freight movement.
On the aviation front also, we do not seem to be looking into the future. The country needs modern airports and at least three to four times more than the number available today. Greenfield airports are coming up at Devanahalli near Bangalore and Shamshabad near Hyderabad, but many more such projects, especially in remote areas, are required and I am hopeful that air connectivity to all corners of the country will be a reality in the future.
While our cities are growing very fast, the urban transport infrastructure is lagging terribly behind. Modern public transport systems like the Delhi Metro are essential to sustain economic activities in our cities. Measures to reduce private ownership of cars and encourage use of public transport are urgently required. Thankfully, after the success of the Delhi Metro, several Indian cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Chennai are now taking up Metro projects.
The government has recently come out with a National Urban Transport Policy, which is a good beginning. The government should also seriously think of setting up a separate ministry to oversee and expedite Metro constructions in all our cities with populations over three million. Only such measures will solve the transportation problems of our medium and large cities.
India also needs an administrative environment where decision-making is very fast. Procedural shackles slow down projects and this situation must change. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has been quite successful in this respect and there is no reason why government departments and public sector undertakings cannot follow the Delhi Metro example.
Undoubtedly, public transport is one area where vast improvements will have to be made to build a dream India. Ultimately, the benefits of the country’s progress should reach the poor and the villages. Sadly, the progress of the country that we are witnessing is largely limited to urban areas. In the India I envision, all citizens will have easy access to education, healthcare and employment. Merely pouring thousands of crore to set up schools and hospitals in rural areas will not fulfill this dream. The government must ensure that teachers and doctors carry out their duties diligently. Providing seasonal employment is also not enough. It will be better to take concrete steps to increase our agricultural output and set up hundreds of vocational training centres.
In my 75 years, I have witnessed great changes in India. Some of the changes have been for the better and some for the worse. The India of the future, I firmly believe, will take its place in the comity of developed nations and I sincerely hope that the moral heritage of my country remains in place. After all, there is no point in prosperity at the cost of ethics.
(Dr Elattuvalapil Sreedharan is the Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation)