Managing resources

India’s ‘demographic dividend’ threatens to become socially cancerous unless commensurate jobs are created in the country.

Petty distractions keep intruding but should not be allowed to usurp the national agenda. Thus the NCP-Congress spat, easily settled by setting up a coordination committee for regular consultation.

Likewise, the increasingly jaded Anna circus, back in town crudely canvassing missing crowds for new stunts such as demanding an SIT to investigate 15 top Central ministers including the prime minister and the erstwhile finance minister, now President of India, for what it claims is proven corruption. Anna at least has realised that indefinite fasting is becoming an increasingly discredited tool of political blackmail.

The new Rashtrapati struck the right note on assuming the presidency by naming poverty in all its manifestations and terror (‘the Fourth World War, after the Cold War’) as the core issues that must be confronted. He pleaded for government intervention to uplift the under-privileged and rightly asserted that trickle-down policies – read mounting subsidies, featherbedding, back to nature and neo-protectionism – are not the answer.

It is for this reason that the prime minister must ignore the clamour that he remains finance minister. Fiscal management is obviously important but any great orchestra needs a fine conductor and not just a brilliant first violinist. The crisis facing India has not been well diagnosed. Look around and what does one see?

Azim Premji put it well. Manesar, to which we can now add Assam, are not merely ‘riots’ but manifestations of growing social unrest and rage from loss of direction and hope, fewer jobs from slowing growth and falling investments leading to mounting unemployment and shrinking opportunity.

India’s post-1947 geography remains what it was while its demography has multiplied four-fold and is set to increase by almost two more ‘Indias’ before population stabilises at around 1,700 million. The country is urbanising as the land cannot gainfully hold swelling numbers. The ‘demographic dividend’ threatens to become socially cancerous unless commensurate jobs are created with matching infrastructure, human resource development and off-farm opportunity through manufactures and services.

Thus Nostalgia has become the great enemy of progress. Fundamentalists of all hues want to go back in time. ‘Socialists’ tirelessly promise jam tomorrow while preventing anybody doing anything today in the name of fighting imperialism, neo-colonialism and Mammon. Many activists hug poverty as they would be out of business if the poor were to graduate to modest comfort. The environment-forest lobby does not seem to realise that poverty is the worst polluter and ameliorating the condition of the poor would itself yield an environmental bonus. Some would fight to prevent land acquisition in order to preserve farming, tribal reserves and any type of forest at the cost of manufacture, mining and infrastructure. They do the country no service by perpetuating sub-optimal economies and life styles and ignoring the huge opportunity costs of delay.

Future jobs

There is anxiety and anguish about the possibility that Maruti may shift from Manesar to Gujarat because rampaging workers and their mentors know that current and future jobs are at stake. Those opposing the Haryana and Jaitapur nuclear plants or raising the Omkareshwar reservoir level or still trying to block the Posco steel plant in Odisha are mortgaging their own future. Drought and non-development displace far more persons than planned development with proper resettlement, compensation, training and support for alternative livelihoods.

Trade-offs in time and space have simply not been considered nor bold and timely decisions taken. Time is a resource and relentlessly working against India as social explosions threaten – call them Naxalism or ethnic conflict as in Assam. In the so-called Naxal areas, the critical failure to work the 5th Schedule has simply not been understood while in the North East, Malthusian refugees from Bangladesh have put pressure on forests and livelihoods and are undermining the ethnic demography and electoral outcomes. It is these issues that need to be addressed. In both cases and across the country, accelerated development and growth with equity hold the key.

In parts of the North East like Nagaland and Arunachal, Bangladeshis are being invited to cultivate community lands that have been enclosed by new feudal lords. Old immigrants must be absorbed as naturalised citizens as they can no longer be deported while new ones must be prevented ingress by more vigilant and honest border management together with efforts to assist Bangladesh’s development.

The North East’s wealth lies in its immense water wealth -- a third of India’s total water resources and 40 per cent of its hydro-power potential – and its vast plantation, bio-diversity and tourist potential. These are not being fully exploited. Instead, there is an on-going movement against dams and water regulation which condemns Assam, the North East’s engine of growth, to low risk agriculture and annual flood ravages on which a lot of people make money.

The corporate sector must be made a partner and not treated as an enemy. It has finance, technology and management and marketing skills to contribute. True, corporates do turn robber barons in order to beat the law, which is sometimes an ass. But they can be brought around and made to play a positive role within imaginative corporate social responsibility frameworks in tandem with local communities to mutual benefit. We need to get both our priorities and diagnosis right.

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