News

India’s infrastructure woes

by guest contributor ADHVITH DHUDDU

The political and bureaucratic classes of India have finally manned up to accept the dilapidating state of our infrastructure. With all the right noises coming out of a rejuvenated Congress led UPA, the big question now is how words, plans and promises are translated to concrete action with long lasting impact. The Achilles Heel for policy decisions taken in India is the poor implementation of objectives, inefficient use of allocated resources and a lack of accountability. Whether its funds earmarked for rural food schemes or urban development of roads, capital often drips out unaccounted, from the leaky pipelines. What is originally envisioned by lawmakers and policy wonks seldom materializes on the ground.

Anyone would accept that a government cannot and should not function with profit as their motive; it’s just irresponsible and immoral. But an ironical observation here is the excellent accountability evident in every public-private partnership project with little or no leakage of funds. When private players are stakeholders with profit as their goal, accountability and responsibility reappears like magic. Government at all levels needs to take notice of this and try to replicate successful practices enforced in these partnerships. But delving into the critical infrastructure needs, one can easily identify many areas where long overdue development and improvement is needed.

Electricity (residential and industrial): India is replete with inefficient and outdated electric grids, a fatigued electricity transmission network and mediocre rural penetration. A lot of progress has been made in the power sector but its insufficient compared to what is required. Our archaic power transmission and dissemination methods contribute to huge losses in power, increased cost and needs desperate modernization. In many big metros, electricity is not a major concern as uninterrupted supply is somewhat reliable but rural areas continue to suffer as power generation and transmission still lags demand and power theft is rampant.

Industries bear the brunt of this problem as their costs surge and margins become slender. Manufacturing is a critical sector in any economy and its success depends heavily on how well the state abets them with uninterrupted and affordable electricity. Unfortunately many industrialists have shifted expansion plans abroad, and foreign players have scratched India off the list citing unreliable and expensive power as the deterrent.

Our government needs to recognize the tremendous benefits of having cheap, uninterrupted and reliable electricity. If the Congress led UPA can achieve this, it can usher in a new era of manufacturing in India as international players will relocate their bases to leverage inexpensive power with all the other advantages we already posses, i.e. affordable labor, language, technical skills, a growing market, etc.

Roads and highways: It’s a pity that the previous government’s brainchild and the NDA initiated Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) project was not pursued with rigor since 2004. This is why it’s important to leave political affiliations at the door when important national infrastructure issues are deliberated. The sluggish progress was evident after the NDA was voted out of power, which is disappointing.

Although the project is nearing its completion, tremendous amount of investment is required to maintain and expand the GQ and our complete highway network. Close scrutiny is required for all highway and road projects as contractors often try to make a quick buck by using cheap and low quality materials. Roads and highway networks need to be built for the future, keeping in mind the ever rising vehicular population and increasing dependence on highways for transporting goods.

Internet and broadband: Internet connectivity, broadband penetration and IT saturation is pivotal to the success of any nation in the 21st century. If India’s vision is to be a superpower in the coming decades, we need to equip our rural and urban population with the ability to leverage the internet in the most optimal way. Trying to win in this century without the internet is like trying to win a 21st century war with pitchforks and knives.

The internet is a productivity multiplier and the sooner it’s embraced by the population the better for the country. With this in mind, it’s disappointing to note that the rural penetration of computers and internet is poor and internet infrastructure in the urban areas requires extensive upgrading. Besides providing top quality IT infrastructure, tremendous investment is also required in training our rural masses.

City planning: There’s little talk about this in the mainstream media, but urban infrastructure planning is pivotal to the success of any large city. Many of our metros don’t even have up to date maps of sewage, drainage and sanitation lines, and rely on outdated maps for water and electricity lines. This often results in little or no coordination between different departments when roads are dug up for various reasons. Planning when it comes to the rural areas is downright appalling, as millions in villages still struggle to get basic sanitation facilities, good drinking water and electricity.

Infrastructure now: And for those still unconvinced about investing in infrastructure, here’s what a new, improved and modern India will look like: we can boast of efficient resource consumption, better capital utilization, soaring productivity which will lead to a higher GDP and incomes, accelerated growth, smart and agile supply chains for industries, faster movement of goods and equipment across the country, elimination of slack in the system, affordable travel for all, a highly educated population, an efficient marketplace, soaring foreign investments, and a country where superior infrastructure becomes so commonplace that citizens will finally focus on their jobs and stop complaining about the massive lags presently inherent in the system.

Our guest blogger Adhvith Dhuddu writes regularly for various publications in India and US about the economy and politics. He blogs regularly at http://www.AdhvithDhuddu.com and can be contacted at adhvithd@gmail.com.

4 Comments on India’s infrastructure woes

  1. Harsh Doshi // August 9, 2009 at 10:32 pm // Reply

    This is an extremely well written article. As Adhvith points out, infrastructure is one of the biggest problems faced by modern India.

  2. Rohan Mathur // August 10, 2009 at 3:18 am // Reply

    Adhivth..good article. i agree that the last congress govt lost the momentum started by the BJP govt. I am sure now that the left is out of the picture, they will be able to focus on infrastructure more. It is seldom noted that infrastrcture like roads, electricity are like veins of an economy. clog them and everything collapses. we need to get that fixed to truly grow at 10-12% per year

  3. Mr. Dhuddu,

    I think you delineate well the infrastructure woes of India. And as you and I both know, these points are only the tip of the iceberg. I do want to stress, however, the importance of focusing on the rural communities. While health and infrastructure are like debating the chicken and the egg, I feel health issues should be placed first.

    As you mentioned, running water is a delicacy in many areas of India and almost an impossibility in some rural areas. It seems that a balanced collaborative that included the power of the government and the efficiency of the private sector, could prove helpful to begin meeting the basic health needs (i.e. drinkable water) of rural communities and perhaps even prove profitable (in the sense that business and infrastructure could grow in tandem to meet the health needs of the people).

    Were the rural communities to become the focus, fewer people would have to leave their community. Which means fewer people migrating to the major Indian metropoles and outskirts of metropoles. Which then translates to less overpopulation, less urbanization, less crime, less wear on current inner-city transportation, less dense electricity consumption, etc.

    But that’s just a thought.

    For now, I think people will continue to migrate to the cities and wear out the infrastructure until their hometowns are fixed and provide opportunities equal to that of the metropoles.

  4. Prachi Sharma // August 23, 2009 at 3:51 pm // Reply

    This articles hits the jackpot in the description of India’s “Achilles Heel,” in particular the “poor implementation of objectives and inefficient use of allocated resources.” Words and promises can only go so far as to bring hope, and a false hope at that, in a nation where 40% of its people are illiterate and the majority of the population lives on an income of under a dollar a day. How can India begin to see itself as a developed nation when inequality and poor living and health conditions impede the growth of weak communities?

    In October 2008, India launched its first mission to the moon. Was this really a good use of India’s resources? I think not! It seems that India’s government sees such endeavors as a big step forward, when in reality India has bounced two steps back. Investing into a space program or building malls is like flushing money down the toilette. In a country where millions lack basic services, focusing on community centered programs such as Plan India would certainly be a more sensible and practical investment.

    For more information on Plan India please visit: http://www.planindia.org/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: