Sunday, January 08, 2006

The right way and the easy way

In the movie "The Weatherman", Michael Caine who plays the role of a meteorologist's father once tells his son, played by Nicholas Cage, "Do you know that the harder thing to do, and the right thing to do, are usually the same thing?". Indeed, in life, there is no easy lunch. And the right choice is usually the difficult one.

As with Governance. Our country faces a multitude of problems. In fact, we are uniquely positioned to face both 'sub-Saharan problems' of tropical diseases, poverty and illiteracy as well as 'developed-country' problems of environment and social security. And every problem faced by our country today has at least two solutions, an easy one and a hard one. And usually the hard one is the correct one. For example:

Problem: People in rural areas are dissatisfied because they see that urban areas have some semblance of infrastructure, and they have none.
The right (and therefore difficult) solution: Revamp governance structures to give more responsibility and power to local corporations. Reduce corruption in government works. Curb wasteful spending and spend more money on infrastructure.
The easy solution: Starve urban areas of funding so that the infrastructure levels deteriorate. Raise emotive issues like renaming cities. Keep the urban population 'satisfied' by making regular announcements about infrastructure projects. Pretend to care for the poor while lining your and your followers' pockets.

Problem: Many disadvantaged people in the country don't even have an opportunity to dream the "Indian Dream"
The right solution: Empower individuals by focusing on education, health-care and infrastructure. Improve governance and reduce corruption. Give quotas to select individuals who are financially disadvantaged. Encourage corporates to adopt village schools for improving their infrastructure and standards. Create a meritocracy while not ignoring the truly disadvantaged sections.
The easy solution: Provide caste and community-based reservations, while ignoring the fact that most reservations are grabbed by the privileged amongst the backward communities. Raise the bogey of private-sector reservations. Ignore calls for a meritocracy by dubbing those calls as "imperialist".

Problem: Multinational companies operating in the country are mocking our food safety laws by selling pesticide-ridden soft drinks
The right solution: Strengthen enforcement of food-safety laws. Fine the companies for their negligence. Ensure that no one passes the buck by insisting on quality controls at all levels of distribution.
The easy solution: Create a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. Ignore most of its recommendations. For the rest, pass the buck onto other ministries and statutory bodies.

Problem: Farmers in the country commit suicide because they are not able to repay the debt they incurred in buying fertilizers and pesticides.
The right solution: Change the food procurement policy. Improve storage and transport facilities for food grain. Encourage farmers to grow commercially-viable crops. Provide lines of credit for the farming community. Encourage the spread of organic fertilizers.
The easy solution: Declare publicly your affinity for the farming community. Arrange a photo-shoot with starving farmers, where you proudly announce your farming roots. Rant against MNCs, against the WTO and against the US government for 'commercializing' farming or for ignoring the plight of the farmers in the developing countries. Remember to place all the blame on the governments in power.

Problem: A third of the world's poor live in our country
The right solution: Recognize that there is no way poverty can be eliminated without unleashing the enterpreneurial energies of the people. Empower the 'last man' of Gandhi's vision to realize his dream with improved education, healthcare and infrastructure. Promote private investment, and encourage companies to invest (and create jobs) in remote areas by improving physical and social infrastructure. Act with a vision, and act with speed.
The easy solution: Make announcements about a rebuilding programme without even having to worry about its implementation. Ignore all sane economic advice and initiate impractical job-guarantee schemes. Talk, talk like there is no tomorrow, but never lift a finger in action.

Problem: Energy demand is rising while supply fails to keep up with demand. Also, the country has insufficient hydrocarbon reserves.
The right solution: Implement a fast-track program to exploit alternative energy resources like solar and biomass power. Implement a programme to reduce the dependency of villages on the main grid by supplying them with power from local sources. Provide for research in future fuels, including but not limited to hydrogen, while reducing dependency on imported petroleum by switching to natural oils.
The easy solution: Increase government control on oil PSUs. Make deals with despotic countries to buy petroleum. Make the country dependent on malicious neighbours by signing petroleum pipeline deals with them.

Problem: Environmental concerns are rising with cities facing unprecedented levels of air, water and noise pollution
The right solution: Create water and garbage recycling units while utilizing the natural recycling instincts of the public. Enforce pollution control laws and clean up polluted rivers and lakes. Punish fuel adulterators and vehicles that don't confirm to pollution norms.
The easy solution: Celebrate a "Vanamahotsava" every year. Give speeches in schools and other venues. Ignore pollution control laws and implement court verdicts in word, not spirit.

No prizes for guessing which choice our governments make.


mavinakuli said...

Nice article.
but things are not so easy in country like when u say we need to provide Education to rural/poor people what do we mean by Education? is it BE,MBBS ? which might be answer of crores of middle level families but not mine.

then what is the definition for "Education"?.if i say some green words then what is the use of having such Education which never brings money/never satisifies your aspirations/dreams etc....

next one is giving more power to local bodies..once again how? do we need to have resevation there?
if not those people never sit on that chair..?if yes then it's more horrible...goes like this

OK .i am not against to anything here.but i am thinking in different ways..

according to me only one solution is we need to have very good,prompt netas.for that we have to be prompt and we need to elect prompt people irrespective of their caste,money etc etc.........

Gops said...


Thanks for taking the time to go through such a long post. Really appreciate it.

About your comments, the right things are never easy. You remember the query stuff? Well, it wasn't easy to do what our "codemonkey" did, but he did it, nevertheless, right? That is what I am talking about - taking the right measures, even when the wrong measures are easy (which they usually are).

By education, I mean educate people to educate them. Not for getting them a job. That, they can get by themselves, provided we have a sufficiently energized economy. The big thing is to learn - that should be ensured.

About giving power to local bodies...I don't mean reservation. I mean, transfer more power to the civic authorities. For ex: we know that traffic mgmt in BLR is a joint concern of the traffic police and the BMP. But the traffic police report to the state govt, and not to the mayor. So, we have the absurd situation where roads are repainted just weeks before they are re-asphalted. Such things can change - and no mayor will then be able to give excuses about state govts not funding them.

I am against reservations of every kind except the economic one. That alone makes sense in today's day and age.

And yes, totally agree that we need good, prompt netas. The post only lamented the lack of those. Here's hoping that you'll use some of your political clout to become the same :)

sandeep said...

I agree with you gopal, education doesnot necessarily mean degrees but they can be very basic things like civic sense, social manners etc...
However, I have different view when we blame the netas:
Its always easy to point out mistakes when somebody else has done the job, the same thing here. What are we guys doing other than commenting about politicians, absolutely nothing. ( Well, i don't mean we have a good bunch of politicians)
Consider the simple case that when any Indian goes abroad he follows all the rules and regulations there, but when he comes back to India he spits on the road. Whose fault is this? Should we be blaming the politicians for this?
Also, think why the politicians play with the law, its becoz they know that the educated people don't really care about what's happening and the uneducated don't know what is happening.

Gops said...

Well said Sandeep. And thanks for going through such a long post.
Yes, it is true that we (I) blame the politicians without taking into consideration other realities. But tell me, has any class of people failed the country as much as they have? I don't agree with Prakash's point that every guy on Cunningham road will have advice on how to run the country, but wouldn't want to run it. My point is that these politicians have corrupted the system so much that no honest person can hope to run (the movie Nayak not withstanding) and win.

I'll bet anything you want - let the government get its act together, and the people will follow suit in no time. If you want an example, see how people behave in PVR as opposed to how they behave on the road opposite to it. Let that road become as nice as PVR and I'm sure people will treat it the same way.

A good example is the Delhi and Kolkata metros - both extremely clean, despite the innate culture of the two cities.

Finally, about taking advantage of the "uncaring" educated lot (a judgement I don't agree with in the first place), what would you say if you left the door to your house unlocked and a burglar stole your valuables? Wouldn't you punish him? Wouldn't you punish a Harshad Mehta (of the stock scam) who cheated banks? How is this different?