By Mousumi Roy

There is lot of talk about launching of new projects – small like making toilets in each village and big like bullet train, making of new highways, metro in all major cities, smart cities etc.

The PM announced that ‘ Bullet Train‘ virtually a free gift from Japan. Loan is in Yen, Not Rupee. Hence, Cost of hedging applies, Which May be 5-6% …Machinery has to be sourced from Japan, Costs there maybe inflated. We might have got the Technology  from Japan and Cheaper Machinery from other country too…Interest rate in Japan is Negative, -0.1 reason for such low interest rate.

I wish Japan now also partners with India to upgrade our education and health by giving even bigger loans on similarly friendly terms. Such partnership will have far bigger impact. Of course ours infrastructure growth have always been aspiration driven and was never the other way round ( aspiration driven by growth in infrastructure) and therefore the bullet train is a classic example of that only. New technology should always be welcomed. Only point is that improvement and up gradation of technology and operations is the crying need of the hour for Railways as a whole.

 

My take is that the amount of money proposed to be spent on Ahmedabad Mumbai sector is too large vis a vis the distance covered and the expected tangible and intangible benefits. Wondering if that is the reason as to why Railway budget has been merged with the main budget so that the huge expediture does not look too glaring. Anyway, A 10 lakh crore loan for 50 years almost at no interest, to be used only for education and health will have a huge impact. Far more jobs, far more innovation, far more business growth are guaranteed, if such a project is taken up.

Let’s see how much our governments spend on education. In 2017, the union budget kept a total of less than Rs. 80, 000 crore for school as well as higher education. Shockingly, the UP government kept only around Rs. 700 crore of the both. Are we preparing the future citizens who can afford bullet trains? But we don’t even care. While the lack of spending and reforms in the education sector is definitely one of the biggest failures of the present government. The education and health are usually very poorly funded sectors by union and state governments in India, possibly with one exception of Delhi that has recently seen major increase in the state budgets for these. social sectors.

In the modern world, the intellectual capital is indeed the most important capital for a country. Only by building the intellectual capital, can we emerge as an economic power. Are our policies really focussed on building this capital in all its dimensions? 0.1% interest on 88 thousand Crore = 88 Crore per annum. Many manufacturers attract customers by facilitating purches of their equipment through very low interest or zero interest EMIs. Obviously their profits are already built in their price. I am sure that as smart businessmen the Gujaratis will understand it easily.

Railway needs to modernise itself big time including replacement reconditioning of bogies, quality of service. We need to come to international standards on railway as a whole. Not everyone in the developed world runs bullet trains but the quality of service. Superfast services yes but supersonic trains well. India since long is a country where technology spans from cow dung technology to advanced space and nuclear technology; and I expect the same to continue in times to come, but the mind does question sometimes about the priority of this vis-a-vis condition of government schools -particularly in villages- and pot holed roads and hospital facilities in villages. Prabhuji has made a royal mess of Railways. Finances are in disarray and to conceal this, Railway budget has been discontinued. Passenger fares have gone up by 30%, while punctuality is at a 30 year low. Coaches are filthy, stink, passengers had to open an umbrella inside the Amritsar Shatabdi coach when it rained outside. Food is unfit for human consumption. Linen is not washed,  and they stink.

Derailments and accidents have become fortnightly affairs. India has the dubious distinction of being leader is rail accidents with worst rail accident happening in 2016 in which more than 150 people lost their lives. India doesn’t need any foreign aid to purchase rail safety equipment to avert head on collision of trains etc. But precious little is done in this regard. Bullet train will run on around 500 kms but what about 66000 kms of rail line which is crying for some treatment.

The Government has started asking senior citizens to give up their rail fare concessions. Some citizens may not want concession. There are millions of senior citizens who need it, want it. This is just society’s way of saying “thank you” to senior citizens. The first thing to be withdrawn should be these concessions to MPs. By the way, they still get Rs.15,000 a month as “telephone allowance”, when…can get unlimited calls and data for less than Rs.1,000. Funds constraints are always a reflection of priorities.

Priority number one, two and three are cows. Followed by research on cow dung and urine. Followed by establishing astrology as a unique Bharatiya Vigyan. India ranks number 1 in the world in cow spend. We are creating a separate ministry for this. If cows are healthy, all Indians will automatically become healthy. There will be no need for so many hospitals. One of the ministers has already clarified that scientific research has shown that cows exhale oxygen. That will be the source of oxygen supplies in the future – no more Gorakhpurs.

Is the govt. investing well on education? Further, while it may be very practical to do so, for a country that believes in Vasudhaiv kutumbukam, is it moral to reject all helpless refugees including old people, children, women, sick people?  If not, will we be able to create and retain our intellectual capital in the modern world by loosing a high moral ground, once a hallmark of our foreign policy?

Mousumi Roy  is based in Muscat and is an author and Visiting Professor (International Relations). She can be reached at [email protected]

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