PolicyBuff: Need for innovative governance

Tags: News

Railways & urban development are the two areas where focused intervention could help

Most of India’s economic woes are well known and chronicled. Double-digit inflation, interest rates, lack of demand for goods and services and a disrupted investment cycle are some of the issues that have dominated headlines. But, the complete list of economic issues that need the focus of the BJP government at the centre is quite long and rather unwinding.

What will perhaps set the ball rolling is trying out innovative solutions to counter the economic slowdown and revive investments as most enterprises in public and private sector continue to sit on hordes of cash.

During UPA-I and UPA-II, a large economic stimulus package coupled with hastening up approvals for huge projects worth over Rs 10 lakh crore was attempted to bring the economy back on high growth trajectory.

An objective analysis underlines the fact that barring the few years of ‘policy paralysis,’ the results of reviving the economic momentum by UPA was in any case very modest.

Having slipped into the comfort zone of ten-years in power, UPA perhaps made very little attempt at innovation to revive India’s growth story. Analysts and economists of repute have held discourses on what went wrong, the pros and cons of policy incoherence during the last ten years, even though it is true that a lot that was achieved went unpublicised.

Now that Narendra Modi has moved to the national capital, set to take charge of governance beginning this Monday, it’s time for him and his bunch of his advisors to consider innovations for a quick economic turnaround.

The innovation could be in terms of thinking, approach to get the economy moving or strategising that would go well with hands-on governance.

For instance, a lot has been made out about the $1 trillion investment into core areas like ports, airports, roads, telecom network, rural social and economic infrastructure.

Two areas where innovation with focused intervention can make a difference would be railways and urban development. Both these happen to be key areas, identified by Narendra Modi during his election campaign, as flag bearers of the infrastructure push.

Like the golden quadrilateral that changed the way we travel on roads, Modi can perhaps attempt innovation in implementing the multi-billion dollar diamond quadrilateral high speed rail network that includes bullet train services connecting the four corners of this large country. For instance, Indian Railways that lay about 500 km new tracks annually, could be quadrupled to implement 10,000 km high-speed rail network for plying bullet trains by the time Modi completes his first term.

The speed with which the high-speed rail network is put into place is what matters ultimately. Secondly, spurs and spines connecting remote villages to this network like the rural roads linked to golden quadrilateral, is perhaps what are needed.

Modi’s policy advisers could borrow an idea or two from the Chinese experience to take Indian Railways altogether to a new level. Over the last five years, China has successfully implemented the world’s longest high-speed rail network spread over 10,000 kilometres. By the time India’s first phase of high-speed rail network picks up momentum, China’s network would have expanded to 18,000 km.

Similarly, high-speed rail experience in half a dozen countries like France, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, Spain and South Korea offer eye-popping technology solutions for India. For instance, Japan National Railways’ research of the early 1960s into high-speed rail could provide valuable inputs to the Modi team to quickly realise the diamond quadrilateral that he envisions.

Innovations like bringing in special wagons to quickly move perishable farm products like vegetables, fruits, milk products and light weight wagons to transport items like salt — 76 per cent of which is produced in Modi’s home state Gujarat —would go a long way while he gets down to resurrect the fragile economy.

Apart from visions of large projects like high speed rail network, Narendra Modi will have to quickly review and prioritise all on-going traditional rail projects that were mostly conceived due to political demands. Unless it fits into the new thinking of a modern high-speed rail network that can also ply bullet trains, there’s no sense in even considering new projects when scores of sanctioned ones continue to be on drawing board for over a decade.

Massive investments by both government and private enterprises to develop business in and around the rail network like the six industrial corridors, dovetailing optic fibre network for spread of telecom and internet telephony apart from using vast tracts of railway land for commercial purposes, could bring in rich dividends through millions of new jobs and rub-off effect on the economy.

Getting seriously into the business of setting up a SAARC rail network to enhance the region’s capabilities to offer business opportunities, could give a serious leg up to India’s regional and global aspirations. SAARC leaders who are expected to converge for Modi’s swearing in on Monday, could be the ideal time to push for the region’s own rail network, owned and operated jointly.

Urban development could be yet another key area that can propel Narendra Modi’s infrastructure push and economic revival progamme. BJP’s promise to build 100 modern cities and townships was an idea borrowed from Mc Kinsey’s report of 2013.

With increased influx and over 70 per cent work opportunities to be available in these areas in 20 years, building these new cities would make sense like many European nations, South East Asian economies and also burgeoning townships in west and east Africa.

Also business, tourism and healthcare needs could make these cities the fulcrum of economic growth, especially if twin and satellite cities are planned across the country. Building specialised cities, domain townships, sustainability in terms of transport with concepts like walk-to-work, are ideas that need the serious attention of the Modi regime.

Environment-friendly cities with linkages to rural India with its own economic momentum may be the way around. Judiciously harnessing intellectual, social and demographic capital should be the easiest in these cities that Modi plans to build to give brand India a global makeover. More than all that, development of railways and urban cities could be the key to furthering infrastructure development and economic restructuring that’s not yet to be felt and seen.



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