Monday, November 05, 2007

"Don't follow Us" - By An American to Indians

When the famous author of "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century" - Thomas L. Friedman asks us(Indians) not to follow the Americans, my interest in his regular weekly column article on New York Times notched up one or two times higher. Read the full article at No, No, No, Don't follow Us. To my surprise, he was using the quote to look at the infrastructure problems that $2500 car by TATA Motors would bring to the limelight. He wants an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility resulting in an India that will be healthier and wealthier. The article echoes Ms. Sunita Narain who wants the Indian government to tax this cheap car heavily so that a better public transit system could be put in place(Taxing will remove the competitiveness of the whole project in one stroke!!!). He uses the example of Indian mobile industry that innovated to bring one of the world's cheapest telephone system of the world.

But I beg to differ because of the understanding of the mentality of the Indian political system which caters only to the most pressing problem in a efficient manner. Indian Politicians generally choose to innovate or change them self only when they have their backs to the wall [Yeah! Necessity is the mother of the invention] and culturally not known to have a future orientation regarding the present problems.

What I believe?
$2500 car rather than removing the need for a well maintained, efficient, cheap mass transit system would actually become the major turning point that would result in a better mass transit system suited for the Indian people(if the $2500 car became successful as predicted). The impact this car would be having in the rural and semi-urban cities of India like Tirunelveli, Indore, etc.. would be much greater than its impact on the metropolitan cities. And the majority of India lives on this rural and semi-urban cities. $2500 car would make the infrastrucutre shortage in India a comman man's problem from a industry's problem, thus making it a electoral issue, increasing the likelihood of an early solution.

Thomas L Friedman is talking from a narrow perspective of places he has visited like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, etc. . These cities already have a mass transit system in place(though not a efficient one). And his perspective does not include other places like Indore, Pune, etc.. where mass transit system even if present is negligible and no government can create one in its life time. Expected a better researched article from the author of such calibre. :(


Ramesh Krishnan said...

Thats a nice news feed. The 1 lakh car does have a lot of issues and I agree with the author that it is going to cause a lot of problems due to the lack of infrasturcture in India. And your comment about the politicians is right too. They generally dont think about long term plans for the betterment of the general public and only react to the most adverse situations. I understand your logic that the problems that the rapid sales of the car would cause will force them to better the infrastructure and to the improvement in the public transport system. But I dont think they'll take that decision when they face the pressure. The issue they will face would be to solve the problems arising due to the 1 lakh car and hence their solution will also be directed at that. They will try to reduce the sales growth of these low cost cars by imposing taxes and other methods of lobbying against those companies which produce these cars. They will not pause to think why is it that the car is posing such problems and realize that till they constructively improve the systems in place the problems will continue. This is because if the 1 lakh car is successful, and I think it will be, then there will be awild rush by every player in the industry to copy the Tatas and create their own low cost car. So the issue will only grow worse since I believe our politicians aren't clever enough to understand the real issue and develop and implement plans to solve it.

Robin said...

@ Ramesh,
I accept that there is a huge possibility that politicians may take that option when they are faced with the problem of lack of infrastructure. But what the 1 lakh car has the potential to do is that turn the problem of infrastructure faced by industries(a few people) to a common man's issue, thus making it a electoral issue.. So the government viz politicians would be forced to address this issue.. Hope they do it the right way... :)

Sreeram N said...


Well written post. But yours also gives only one side of the argument.

What will one lakh car achieve? First of all, the car's on road price will be anywhere between 1.3L and 1.5L. Still it will be the lowest price for a car. If it clicks, it will bring in the second round of growth spurt in the already falling automobile sales. And coming from the Tata stable itself adds more credence to the car. Most likely, the diesel variant would have a higher demand as it will turn out to be cheaper. Now, here is where the problem comes in. First, the government is subsidising diesel a lot as compared to petrol (under the assumption that it's the lifeline for the industry and the marginal farmers who have to depend on the generators due to the erratic power supply). But who's the real beneficiary? The government effectively ends up subsidising the automakers and consumers. In stark contrast, it refused to provide the much needed sops to an electric powered vehicle like Reva which goes a long way in reducing the pollution. Consider this - even the London administration is providing sops to Reva due to its various benefits. This partiality is the real culprit affecting our country. I strongly feel that India should look at signing the Kyoto Protocol (after the modifications to remove the unjust imbalances). There is no point saying that "These developed powers can't ask us to stop polluting when they themselves were the culprit". This mentality will only lead the world to go around in circles as more and more countries move up the economic ladder.

So, what I want to say is that instead of providing sops to polluting industries try to promote alternatives. We will badly need the alternative energy sources when the world runs out of fossil fuels. This is the best chance for us to be the first mover in a potential future technology which will change the way the world will run in the future.

Sreeram N said...

Check out this BW article

Robin said...

@ Sreeram,
I accept tha fact that the chances that the pollution would increase because of the cheap cars are quite high... But who cares about the environment??? Except for a few Tree-Huggers....

Sreeram N said...

Well, that's some way me putting it for which i don't have any response, unless each and every person should have awareness... :|
btw, am in Chennai for 3 days, and browsing through mobile.
Happy Deepavali to everyone!

Robin said...

@ Sreeram, Browsing in mobile... that is awesome man.. which service? and how much is the rate?.. Update me.. Hmm.. at home.. that is good man.. also Happy Diwali.. :)

Robin said...

@ Sreeram,
Also found that my earlier comment regarding environmentalists show me as if i am against their breed... What i intended to communicate is that "But who cares about the environment??? Except for a few Tree-Huggers.... And surely not the political breed. "{