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India’s basic needs

The recent blackout puts the spotlight on India’s resources. Here’s a look at how we stack up and what we need for the future.

delhi Updated: Aug 26, 2012 02:11 IST

A blackout of an apocalyptic scale last month rendered half the nation powerless; impending water wars may overtake land wars; fuel crises; an erratic monsoon, floods and droughts... the spotlight is back on India’s development trajectory. The country’s urban population is expected to increase from 340 million (2008) to 590 million in 2030. Is a growing population and rapid urbanisation the reasons for an apparent resource crunch? Is there enough to take care of people’s needs in the future?

Social scientist Dunu Roy says there are adequate resources for all in the country. "The crunch is borne out of mal-distribution. The consumption at the top — 20% of the population — is growing by 30-40% while the bottom is stagnating or going down," he explains.

Electricity, water or fuel, experts say the problem lies in distribution and management. Delhi, for example, loses half of its water in leakages, thefts and unaccountability. “The bureaucracy has failed in managing water resources. We need common people taking the lead in governance else rapid urbanisation and industrialisation are going to make us a water-starved nation in about a decade,” says leading water expert Ranjan Panda.

Environmentalist Vandana Shiva says even the Capital hasn’t looked after its resources and Yamuna, the lifeline, has turned into a drain in the last two decades. On the power side, availability is not an issue says Praveer Sinha, CEO, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. "Distribution is the biggest issue. Even tariffs are not cost reflective so state distribution companies incur huge losses."

Roy goes as far as to say that India currently produces enough for a projected population in 2050. What then could be the way forward? "Basic changes — enforce grid stability regulations and cut off states when they overdraw power," suggests Sinha. "The Centre should penalise those who don’t follow regulations and incentivise those who do." Roy feels the paradigms of the Indian growth story need to change. "We’re looking at a trickle-down approach. Equitable growth is about trickle up," he says.