The earthquake in Gujarat has drawn attention to the quality of building construction. Most of the damage—to property and people—has been due to collapse of multi-story buildings. Construction of these buildings was such that they could not withstand the shocks of the earthquake. Government engineers tell us that the buildings were not built according to the building byelaws. And now there is a clamour from government, tenants, and consumer activists for new byelaws and strict enforcement. Buildings collapsed, it is argued, because of the lack of laws and regulations. Or did they collapse under the weight of all the good laws and regulations?
India is truly a land of paradoxes. She is marching towards liberalisation and privatisation without recognising the right to property as a fundamental right. Legal protection and status of private property is weaker in India than even in formerly communist countries. The Supreme Court has accepted governments claim that any compensation is fair and just when government acquires private property. No dispute about governments payment for takings shall be entertained. There is no rule of law in acquiring and using private property for public purposes. Truly a land of paradoxes.
Almost half of our urban population lives in slums. Urban population and slums grow due to rural migration. The poor come down to the cities because the land is unable to sustain them, or because the prospects of life there are brighter.
Economic theory tells us that the root of prosperity is productivity and that productivity depends on the division of labour and knowledge. The scope for this division and specialisation is far higher in cities. Cities therefore are prosperous. But can cities exist without slums?
The great majority of school leavers in India don't have access to institutions of higher education. The ten million who do, have very few choices, which allows colleges to prosper despite providing indifferent service and poor quality education. It's quite clear that only a substantial increase in the number of higher education institutions will improve the situation. Moreover increased institutional supply will lead to greater competition among colleges, which in turn will result in sustained improvement in the quality of higher education.
After 59 years of independence, four of ten Indians are illiterate and to all intents and purposes barred from a prosperous future.
Kerala has the highest literacy rate in the nation, above ninety percent. The way Kerala spends its education money is also strikingly different from the other states. For illustration, I compare it with the state of West Bengal. Ideologically the governments of both states are equally committed to basic education and literacy. Both states have for long had popularly elected Marxist governments. The conclusions of the comparative analysis are however generally valid.
Yet again the walls will be dirty, and the loud-speakers will blare. Yes, India goes to vote, yet again! What are the issues involved, and what does it portend for the future? Here is a hard look on all sides of the cross-roads that India is at today, and where its going to go.
Calling for increased government responsibility may appear humane, but it ignores the lessons from history.