I spent a month in India recently and wanted to share some impressions.
Prima facie, India is a distressing and depressing place. The overwhelming feeling is one of criminal neglect and carelessness. This feeling needs to be tempered with the real difference in wealth between India and rich countries, but the differences are present even when in comparison to similar income countries like Vietnam.
The classic example is of driving. There are a 130 fatalities per 100,000 vehicles in India, the same number for is 55 for Vietnam and 37 for Indonesia. Drivers are reckless, contemptuous of rules, near maniacs on the road. Traffic police is nowhere to be seen.
The other apparent feature of India is trash. India actually generates very little trash per capita. But virtually none of this seems to be disposed properly. The constant sight of trash on the roads, every nook and corner eventually starts to appall one. More importantly, the health and safety implications are grave.
A newer menace is pollution. In the winter, it is a permanent fixture in the sky, casting a depressing spell. Health implications will become clearer in the coming years. Street lighting is also very poor.
Cumulatively, this series of neglects produces an urban environment that leaves one paranoid, morbid and irritated.
Our Constitution makers committed a grave oversight by allowing states to decide the structure of urban governance. Legally, cities in India exist at the whim of state legislatures. Mumbai city has no independent legal existence. Tomorrow, the state of Maharashtra can merge it into Pune if it wants. Imagine the state of Texas abolishing Austin. The central government doesnt seem to care that it hasnt appointed 37% of high court chief justices. The list of governance befuddlements goes on and on.
We actually have good urban schools (PPP or government aided), which are funded by the state and managed by independent religious, cultural or educational societies. These schools have produced a generation of excellent human capital. But it is the West and Gulf states that benefit from this excellent system, due to our own short-sightedness. Those who care about India’s future need to think seriously about why the best of India’s talent leaves at the first available opportunity.
My own hope lies with Delhi. Through sheer providence, we managed to have an urban area with a sensible model of governance. The city actually has a real mayor, who by most accounts has done a great job in the last five years. If policing responsibility was also shared with the Delhi government, rather than being in the hands of a Union minister, we will see what Indian democracy can truly achieve in an urban area.