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Where dreams of entrepreneurs are encouraged...

Industrialist Anand Mahindra, MD of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, shares the vision he has of an economically strong India in this exclusive piece for HT. Read on... Also check out the Special: Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
None | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON OCT 08, 2007 12:06 PM IST

Over the past few months, I’ve read surveys which show that Indians are amongst the happiest people in the world, that young Indians are the most confident about the future, that the index of business confidence remains stubbornly high in our subcontinent, and that for the fifth year in a row, Indians were the most confident consumers in the world.

It’s very clear then, that when we Indians hit our pillows at night, our dreams about India’s future are not just colourful, but steroidal. All of us are finally beginning to believe that the sand castles we build in our minds are not going to be simply washed away by the morning tide.

Businessmen are not immune to building sand castles; we call the process ‘envisioning’. So what is the vision I have of an economically strong and robust India? I imagine an environment, first and foremost, in which entrepreneurs dare to dream because they are encouraged to do so. Because the financial eco-system provides them the resources to invest in cutting-edge ideas; because consumers reward novel ideas and services; because intellectual property rights are fiercely defended; because the red-tape in starting up a business has become negligible; and because failure is seen as but a milestone on the journey to eventual success.

If these entrepreneurs are to succeed, we would need to imagine an India where commerce is carried out on a level playing field, where promising areas of business are not — on the ostensible grounds of regulation — made off-limits for new entrants. We have caught the attention of the world so far because of the astonishing rise of new business barons and we should continue to measure our success by that benchmark.

And then of course, if we want to see our entrepreneurial champions turn into world beaters, that would be impossible without imagining an India that has created infrastructure to rival China’s. How can we dispatch our products to global markets without a critical support network of power stations, roads, bridges, airports and ports that hum in unison?

But this is the point at which I need to reveal the nightmare that usually accompanies dreams such as these. The nightmare comes in the form of a haze that obscures the affluence and prosperity created by this virtuous economic circle. It’s a metaphorical haze, caused not just by pollution, but the collective effects of congestion, noise, and water and food scarcity.

A good friend was recently recounting stories of a visit to China, and while filled with the expected amazement at the pace of change in Chinese cities of all sizes, he also wound up by expressing alarm at the astonishing and apparently uncontrollable pollution that was laying siege to all of them.

We all know that it’s not just the atmosphere that falls prey to rampant economic growth, but the value system as well. We’ve all read about coal mines in China that put both adults and children to work in intolerable and inhuman conditions, such is the unbridled appetite for energy. We worry, along with the rest of the world, about the unknown ecological consequences of the Three Gorges dam project, despite its obvious catalytic effect on the Chinese economy.

The ‘Gaia’ hypothesis sees the world as a living, holistic organism, in which all animate and inanimate things are intricately interconnected and any long-term imbalance in this system can only lead to the death of the organism. I cannot then, imagine an economically strong India without fervently praying for that strength to come without any sacrifice of the ‘Gaia’ principles.

For that we need to envision an India in which sustainable business solutions are championed in preference to conventional approaches. An India in which alert citizenry and judiciary foster a community-based approach to urban living that minimises the wasteful consumption of energy and water. As a country, we must aspire to the highest ratio between output and resource consumption.

I know eyebrows would be raised at the idea that someone involved in producing vehicles, which are responsible for much of the ‘haze’ is exhibiting such concerns. However, depriving people of personal transport is clearly not a solution anyone wants, hence I believe that it is precisely the responsibility of those of us in the automobile industry, to take the lead in searching for sustainable transportation devices. Which is why, at our company, we are working so hard to put bio-fuel vehicles on the road and to deliver India’s first diesel-electric hybrid.

There is therefore, one more survey I’ve read about, whose results please me the most. It’s a global survey which showed that Indians were more concerned about global warming and climate change than their counterparts in the developed world. Perhaps, what I’m imagining won’t just remain an exercise in wishful thinking!

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