December 1, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

November passed by with chaotic events everywhere; perhaps that is the ‘new normal’? Here is another round of for your perusal:

  1. The newly elected young President of Indonesia Jowiko recently reduced subsidy on petrol by 30%, against resistance from entrenched vested interests. He further promised to completely eliminate subsidy on all petroleum products in a phased manner shortly. Two factors helped him do so. First, he has just been elected two months ago as a change-making leader; you are strongest soon after the mandate. Second, he promised to directly use the additional resources so mobilised towards improvements in basic health and education services for all Indonesians; he will take the next step in subsidy reduction after his government has demonstrated so. Lessons for Prime Minister Modi?
  2. A recent drive on the much celebrated Yamuna Expressway was a great delight; the journey of 150 kilometres or so covered in less than 90 minutes. While this ride was a great experience, I am not sure if it would be the same after a year or so. Like in all aspects of  planned development, here too there is no ‘last mile connectivity’; it takes 60 minutes to cover 20 kilometres  to TajMahal after the end of the expressway. On the expressway, certain tell-tale signs of impending chaos were already visible—motorcycle riders without helmets (and 3-4 on a bike); several groups of people with baggage waiting at several locations to catch transportation on the expressway’s shoulder; groups of men and women watering plants on the divider without any signage to alert speeding cars; most small car drivers moving at snail’s pace on the top lane; and, a large truck overloaded with hay wobbling along! World class infrastructure for world class users?
  3. A young person of Indian origin born in America came over to explain his family’s philanthropic plans in one of the hilly states in India; the family has made huge money on some innovative health drink. He explained the broad contours of his plan to change the face of every village and household in the state in five years by investing in water storage, improved agriculture and accessible health care. When enquired about the methodology of achieving this dream, he said that the Chief Minister of the state is ready to do whatever he says at a call. Exciting vision or another dream? The sheer confidence and brazenness of the dreamer had me thinking if he knows something about socio-economic development that we do not?
  4. The process of bifurcation of domains, jurisdictions, assets  and liabilities of the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh into Telengana and Semmandhra is turning out to be a painful process. The Chief Ministers of two states are unable to resolve these issues, requiring constant interventions of the central government. In the meanwhile, such uncertainties, including the status of Hyderabad in ten years, have resulted in government officials relaxing afresh and private investors somewhat worried? A similar tussle had occurred 14 years ago when erstwhile Bihar was bifurcated into Jharkhand and Bihar in 2000. Why do we not learn any lessons? Why do we not create institutionalised systems and protocols so that such arrangements are handled in a routine fashion?
  5. A recent study of non-profit groups in Singapore brought out some very interesting findings. First, most companies want to donate to specific short-term projects; most non-profits would like long-term commitment to a programme with multiple components. Second, most companies prefer to help by getting their staff to volunteer; most non-profits would like cash instead. These findings of corporate giving resonate with the general pattern in many countries, including India. What can be done by all parties?

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon