Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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TECH TALK: Building a Better India: Prologue

September 19th, 2005 · No Comments

A recent business trip in India was unusual for me. I covered three cities (Bangalore, Chennai and Pune) in four days before returning to Mumbai. Most of my trips are single-city trips with me returning to Mumbai in a day or two. I was away from home for four days one of the longest in recent memory for a non-international trip.

When one travels, there is plenty of time to think. The three Jet Airways flights I took all ended up being delayed two by half-hour, and the third by an hour-and-a-half (there was a bird hit on the previous sector). The road journey from Mumbai airport to Pune and then back home took almost four hours each way even though the expressway part was covered in just over an hour.

This multi-city tour gave me a better understanding of the changing India. This Tech Talk is about the new India that is being constructed around us. As I look at around, I cannot help thinking that we have an opportunity to do things much better than what we are doing. We can make our cities much more livable and improve quality of life if we are prepared to think a little before we get down to doing things. The early results, though, are very mixed.

Take our roads, for example. Even after all these decades of road construction, we dont get it right. We build roads to last from monsoon to monsoon. The first heavy downpour of the season washes away the tarred surface. It is then a few months before we get to fixing these roads. A few months of delight and it is time for the next monsoon. Of course, some roads in cities like Mumbai have been concretised. They survive.

It should have been obvious to our municipal corporations that given the hyper-growth that is happening, we do not have time to fix the same problem again and again. We need to get it done right and move on. There is no shortage of things which need attention, especially since we do not believe in planning ahead. Ours is a reactive governance. When people (or the media) make noise about something, give attention to that problem and then provide a short-term fix.

Corruption at various levels is of course the obvious answer to why problems do not get a permanent fix. But I think it is more than that. I think it is also because we as a citizenry are very accepting of the poor public infrastructure that we find around us. A few decades of steadily diminishing expectations have conditioned us to be delighted by the good stuff we find around and inured us to the not-so-good stuff. We have set the bar too low. And as individuals, we feel helpless. What weight does one voice have? Or even a few. Everyone else seem to just be going about their lives silently.

This is the part we now have to change. And for the first time, we have the tools to do so. We need to, however, reset our expectations and raise the bar of what we consider satisfactory in the things that we see around us. Citizen activism is what will help us build a better India. But before we look at the how, let me share some more of my experiences.

Tomorrow: The Bad

Tags: Tech Talk

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