Thursday, September 28, 2017

High speed Mass rapid transit systems vs Poverty in India




Many are of the view that high speed rapid mass transit systems in India are needless infrastructural project, merely a tool for government to clandestine its achievements in its report cards designed to woe the voters.  Such projects cost huge sum of money which should necessarily be diverted towards welfare projects for millions of starving and malnourished Indians. Apparently this claim seems legitimate but in reality it is futile.  But the moment one utters this, he/she is vulnerable to be fixed as Bhakt by  'Non-Bhakt Bhakts'. So a very value neutral and behaviorist and not a positivist explanation is expected to deal with the issue and set it into right context.      

High end rapid transit systems are very much required in India to showcase the world its infrastructural strength. India aspires to be a world class manufacturing hub for all kinds of goods. Government is working strenuously in this direction and drives like 'Make in India' are well in place. ‘Ease of doing business’ has turned into a slogan in almost all policy documents by the government. Among all this India is doing well in the arena of foreign capital inflows. Country is turning into a bright spot for big buddies in business as is clearly visible in the picture below:


As of now, India ranks tenth in world in foreign capital inflow. However scenario was different few years back. With all probability, even if not in reality,  the spectacular demonstration of economic reforms with phenomenon like Jan Dhan, GST and Demonetisation at run by incumbent government will payback and  it would improve in future. Given the situation, India needs to re-position itself in terms of infrastructural set up in order to facilitate the industrial atmosphere and its growth. For this, as we all know, transport plays a pivotal role. And we also know transport has been an aspect of our society where we are lagging far behind as compared to other nations of the world. Leave apart the miserable speed efficiency in road and waterways transport, Average speed of railways in developed countries in 250 to 300 km per hour. (See: whereas we are happy at 60 to 80 km per hour. (This speed reinforces our belief: der aaye durustaaye. Even if late, remain safe.)

Therefore, a high speed mass rapid world class transit system is the need of hour for our country.  We can’t afford postponing it further as we have already done it much. Whereas Many "Chanakyas" (local experts in economic affairs found in abundance in Indian geographical territory/landscpe) argue this to be a  wasteful expenditure of  public exchequer. Country like India should first feed her millions of hungry population instead of draining wealth into this ''anti-poor'' traffic projects. However,  Local Chanakyas generally fail to hit the point that  Loan being sanctioned by Japanese government to fund this project cannot be diverted to any other head. We cannot get this money for any other type of expenditure, neither for defense nor for cross-subsidizing hiked MNREGS wages. Here question of funding poverty elimination welfare programs using this fund itself gets eliminated.

It is evident that Japanese government seems quite generous while funding this project. Rs 90000 Cr for 50 years at 0.10% interest rate with a moratorium of 15 years to pay is a very week business model to retrieve back the profit from this gigantic investment. Would it be sensible to believe that Japs are foolishly allured by ''fifty six inches of chest'' to invest in for welfare of India? I don't  think so. There can be something more than that meets the eyes.  Analytically, this project is not primarily related with money or rail project. B
oth the sides have larger geopolitical and strategic interests than visible to the local pundits.
With a more assertive China and a new Prime Minister in India in 2014, Indo-Japan relations has touched new heights. In a way, from India Japan, there is an effort to show themselves to be an uncluttered and democratic barricade against the malafide conduct of the Rawalpindi-Beijing-Pyongyang axisAlthough bilateral relations between the two were never dormant in past decades.  In August 2000, the Japanese Prime Minister visited India and  "Japan-India Global Partnership in the 21st Century’’ was envisioned. However, recent fillip by China in south china sea and North Korean navigation tool, namely a ballistic missile, which flew over Hakkaido, a Japanese island and fortunately perished in Pacific ocean has raised Japanese security concerns. As a result, Japan is eager to "align" with a friend like India who is  in almost same shoe, with a different size. 

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Japan in December, 2001, where both Prime Ministers issued "Japan-India Joint Declaration." In April, 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited India and signed Joint Statement "Japan-India Partnership in the New Asian Era: Strategic Orientation of Japan-India Global Partnership." Fast forward in 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited to Japan. In this trip, Japan signed a treaty on Nuclear Energy. This is first time Japan signed a nuclear treaty with a Non NPT member country. After this deal Japan can supply Nuclear reactors, Fuel and required technology. This was a real breakthrough in Indo Japan bilateral relations.  

We heard much about the One Road One Belt initiative initially conceived by  ambitious China and now in pipeline with active collaboration of Pakistan  whereas “Asia Africa Growth corridor” remained away from limelight. This is another big leaf in growing Indo- Japan relationship. This is a bilateral project by both the countries where Japan is contributing $30 billion whereas India’s share is $10bn.  Project envisions a sea link corridor between Asia and Africa to boost investment, better infrastructure, digital connectivity from India and Japan in Africa. It will focus on improving Pharmaceutical industry, skill development, agro processing along with other sectors in Africa. Under this project, a sea link would be created linking ports in Jamnagar( Gujraat) with Dijouti in the Gulf of Eden. It would also connect ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar with ports near Madurai in Tamilnadu. Sittwe port in Myanmar would be connected to Kolkata. Strategically, this revival of ancient sea routes will give an upper hand in Indo-pacific regions to both the parties. 
As far as investment in transport sector in India by Japan is concerned, we must see this investment in the backdrop of competition being offered by Chinese companies. They recently snatched the deal from Japanese agencies in Laos, Indonesia and Thailand. For India also,earlier ,proposal was thrown from Chinese side. But native wisdom allowed Japan to take a lead. 

Thus such investments are loaded with multifarious aspects of international diplomacy and geo strategic needs of the parties. Debate that India should first eradicate poverty and then play for high end transit systems fueled by foreign funds is ill informed and myopic. There is no doubt that a developing nation likes India who ranks 64th in list of 79 poor countries of the world  (World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth and Development report.has a plateau of difficulties to traverse through.  But this does no where proscribe pursuing high goals in basic infrastructure as transport. This bullet train project is win win adventure for both, India and Japan. In a world chiseling itself to accommodate new power equations surfacing with Asian upsurge, India and Japan are in the process to accord true meaning to the phrase they tagged themselves recently: “Special strategic and Global partners.”

By Abhishek Kushwaha 

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