Weekend Ruminations
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For someone in India, it seems incredible that China can set up two hospitals with a combined total of about 2,300 beds in less than 10 days, in virus-hit Wuhan. How can it be possible? The answer is that one is a hospital already being built and scheduled to open in May. That deadline was moved forward, to all of 48 hours. Another is a hospital that copies one built (within a week) in Beijing in 2003 to deal with the SARS epidemic.

But the questions don’t go away. Was there no problem with land acquisition? No, because the hospital is being built on what had been gardens next to a recreation area. Wasn’t time needed to invite bids for civil works and special medical equipment, and a committee to do a short-list and then pick the lowest bidder? Apparently not, because state-owned companies are doing the job. And what kind of construction technique can deliver vast new structures in virtually no time? Pre-fab structures, of course. Still, those hospitals are making headlines around the world.

So it might be a good idea for the next Economic Survey to deal with not just the many “What” and “Why” questions in economics, but also the “How” ones. There is no other way to understand how the impossible becomes possible — as more than a campaign slogan. India struggles with budgets and procedures, and still has a major corruption problem that can send a project off the rails. China has corruption, for sure, but no other economy with a per capita income of $10,000 is able to grow at 6 per cent, or anywhere near that rate.

Also read: Wealth creation, pro-business policies essential to hit $5-trillion target: Economic Survey

How do they do it, when in five years the Kejriwal government has been able to provide about 450 mohalla clinics in Delhi, after it promised 1,000? The latest available railway yearbook says that the organisation has been able to spend only two-thirds of its Rs 1.2 lakh crore investment budget in each of the two latest years.

Such failures to deliver make one lose patience with the survey’s debates on first principles like the importance of exports for growth and jobs; how government interventions in markets can do more harm than good; and wealth creation through privatisation. Surely, we should have imbibed such lessons long ago.

The excuses are readily available, of course. China is an authoritarian system where you can’t really go to court against land acquisition or choice of contractor; where a top-down decision-making structure helps to push aside whatever roadblocks exist; and where money never seems to be a constraint. Still, you have to marvel when a single shipyard in Shanghai is building close to the equivalent of India’s entire fleet of destroyers, plus an aircraft carrier, hovercraft, and satellite-tracking ships — all at the same time. The Indian Navy would consider itself lucky to get six technologically-dated submarines in 20 years!

Is there a solution? Yes, railway engineers of old like the Metro builder E. Sreedharan, builders of government companies like D.V. Kapur and V. Krishnamurthy, and agricultural scientists like M.S. Swaminathan have shown how they made a difference when given a free hand. Vineet Nayyar as head of Gas Authority of India was able to build a massive gas pipeline within cost and deadline in the 1980s. The officers who are in charge of Swachh Bharat and Ayushman Bharat, and the one who has cleaned up Indore, are others who, while they may not match China’s speed, can deliver. Perhaps all we have to do is spot more like them and give them a free hand.

India’s problem has never been a shortage of good advice. The survey may well be right in arguing that India’s recent growth rates are not exaggerated, as critics have argued, and that next year will see 6-6.5 per cent growth (though it is more than what other analysts have predicted). But it is almost certainly wrong in assuming that the Modi government will use its strong mandate to undertake some serious reform measures. For, unless the finance minister surprises everyone, it is fairly clear that the government’s priorities lie elsewhere, in the powerful home minister’s domain.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard

Also read: Wealth creation in Economic Survey: Slowdown forces Modi govt to shed ‘suit-boot’ fear?


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  1. China’s approach to nCoV is a case study in what not to do. Their approach is: hide, lie, deny, admit, play victim, and then take draconian measures.. China is the most irresponsible member of the world community — selfish, arrogant, heartless.
    Modi government’s approach is just the opposite. Focus on the unprivileged, bring in the culture of entrepreneurship and personal responsibility. These traits have been trampled with for decades. Taking a leaf out of PM Vajpayee book, PM Modi has laid the foundation of a prosperous, confident, and secure India

  2. If India has to learn from China, it should be about reforming Islam and effectively administering Muslim minorities. Let India follow the same policies followed by China. I am sure the leftists and sickular gangs of India would oppose it tooth and nail but are keeping their mouth shut for China.

  3. Its a himalayan blunder of Modi Govt to have dropped Reform Process and set its priorities. Justice Chalmeshwar says Reforms in judiciary was long overdue.Justice Thakur says Judiciary in India has collapsed.Justice Srikrishna says Judiciary in India has broken and there will be no stoppage of crimes like Rapes etc in India until judiciary is repaired.Justice Sudarshan Reddy says CAA is illegal and unconstitutional,is against Human rights, is against preamble of constitution, is devestatingly discrimatory and if allowed to stand will cause permenant friction between several communities.The Modi Govt has forgotten even Raja Dharma and has embarked on folly.While Kashmir issue and reduced voilence is an act of God and modi has nothing to feel proud about, the failed legislation like demonitisation,CAA,CPR have brought discredit not only in India but outside india too.Every day we are reading in your news, TV channels warning bells from foreign countries leaders, and even talk of sanctions from USA . It is also learnt that there are undeclared sanctions on India from many other foreign institutions because of lawlessness and chaos in the country.Please highlight further.thanks

    • I agree with the fact we need police officers and judicial officers. Preferably argumented with technology. Online FIR, drones for surveillance and speedy resolution of conflicts.

      The rest i disagree. Kashmir needed to be done, you cannot have special rights for certain groups.

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