Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Lessons from India


Gurgaon: Just as I was wondering, while cruising down a world-class expressway connecting Gurgaon and Delhi, what was behind India's booming prosperity, I hit a kilometre-long queue at a toll plaza.

The cars are being held back by unscrupulous drivers criss-crossing lanes, many using cash in the RFID pass lanes. As a result, it takes more than 20 minutes to drive through the toll plaza. So much for the time I saved on the expressway.

The point is, the benefits of the best roads and technology count for nothing if you can't change people's attitudes. So, lesson No.1: hardware and technology upgrades have to be backed by changes in mindset, which are always the hardest to achieve.

The skyscrapers may have given Gurgaon a look that puts some of the west coast developments in the US to shame, but the streets are dotted with shacks, cattle and garbage. Every cop wants to pull you over to make a quick buck. To be sure, cops, car mechanics and politicians may be the same all over the world, but how can a city claim to drive the Indian economy when its residents remain the same as their brethren in Jogbani or Raxaul?

If the government makes lots of money collecting taxes from multinationals and other companies operating in the cities, it has a duty to provide better citizen services too. Lesson No. 2, the government must invest the taxes it collects in a particular area or service back in the same area or service. For instance, at our own airport, while airport tax collected from a mere 25 passengers could pay for a luggage trolley, we still rely on other organisations to give them to us.

Gurgaon's world-class housing and golf courses arrived in advance of public infrastructure, fancy bathroom fittings preceded a reliable water supply and expensive, sensor-aided, hygienic WCs were given priority over sewer lines. In the absence of public transportation, the choice is between driving a BMW to the mall, and a subsequent 20-minute wait for a parking slot, or riding a man-pulled rickshaw. Lesson No. 3 for Nepal, we should build efficient service infrastructure before satellite cities.

Perhaps there should be a system of collecting high infrastructure development fees from builders to be put into a fund managed according to public-private partnership models. This could ensure basic service delivery.

During every visit to India's National Capital Region, this Beed is struck by the realisation that distance kills. While it takes minutes to confirm a meeting on one's Blackberry and respond to emails, it takes hours to get to the meeting that has been so easily set up. The Beed keeps wondering how this hurts productivity. When most services are outsourced, it becomes more important that the outsourced service is delivered on time. When computer networks go down or when physical delivery of items is impeded by traffic, what is the effect on productivity?

A well-managed city, therefore, has enormous advantages. Would it be better to have a city where distances are manageable or one where distances are managed well? Lesson No. 4, does Nepal have the opportunity to leverage this and use it to attract businesses?

Living between nervous giants - FROM ISSUE #475 (06 NOV 2009 - 12 NOV 2009)
Nepal's Mr Nepal - FROM ISSUE #465 (21 AUG 2009 - 27 AUG 2009)
Nepal and India - FROM ISSUE #465 (21 AUG 2009 - 27 AUG 2009)

1. anarthabeed
so what's your point?

2. Kabin
I find this raising premature concerns given Nepal's current political, social, and economic crisis. The prosperity of India, in recent decades, can be attributed to two major factors: 1)its lucrative market of over a billion people, and 2) its plentiful supply of well-educated individuals skilled in English language. These two factors have helped India to attract a large amount of foreign direct investment and to become a major exporter of software services and workers. Nepal's comparatively negligible population of just over 28.5 million does not grab attention of large, multinational companies, especially when 30.9 percent of the population live below poverty level. The constant bickering and power struggle between ever-expansive, political factions has created such an environment of uncertainty that Nepal is the 25th most vulnerable country of becoming a failed state, according to the Failed State Index 2009. The very diverse ethnicity that used to be a source of pride has become one of the most divisive issues currently facing the country. Armed struggle for power and ethnic violence by themselves can be detrimental to a country as evidenced by the examples of each in Somalia and Iraq. The possibility of both happening in Nepal cannot be easily dismissed with the way things are going. A perfect storm of doom might just be brewing in the horizon and waiting for the right moment to inflict havoc. With such a perilous outlook, the concern is not whether we have well managed cities to leverage for attracting foreign investors. The question is can we prevent Nepal from meeting the same fate as Somalia and Iraq?

3. Kabin
My point is that before we start planning far ahead into the future, we need to address the crisis on hand. India faces same challenges as we do in terms of corruption, ethnic tension, political bickering, etc. Yet, their outlook doesn't look as bleak as ours. The lesson we need to learn from them is how are they able to keep their system running despite the same challenges when ours seem to be falling apart.

4. Abhinav
@ Kabin - couldn't agree with you more, especially on your second comment!

5. Sargam
@Kabin, You guessed spot-on. And if Nepal wants to catch up the lost time she must open some English teaching centers at least in Kathmandu city rightaway as India did so in early 1990s 'cause everyday we realize that Nepalese percentage of English speaking population is really negligible. It's therefore imperative that more Nepalese could proceed further with their higher studies so as to get rid of their so called pidgin English at the quickest. Ciao!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)