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Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

My second journal entry as part of the course on Infrastructure Planning and  Management.

Introduction:

The reading of the Montreal Olympics Complex case study last week made me appreciate the multifarious issues and obstacles firms must overcome in order to successfully accomplish global infrastructure projects. During the discussions that ensued in class, we went on to broadly classify the factors affecting such projects into the following categories: 1. Design-related 2. Planning-related 3. People-related and 4. Environment-dependent (including economic, political and environmental interventions).

While the case study in consideration focused majorly on issues that lacked adequate design and planning (Unique design of components, new construction technique, scheduling etc.), it also highlighted the impact of labor strikes, resource shortages and the lack of coordination between client-engineer and constructor as some of the other factors that resulted in delays and cost over-runs.

Interestingly, a review question at the end of the case study asks the reader:

If you had been in charge of the construction of the Montreal Olympics Complex, what would have been your approach?

I attempt to answer the same through this journal and seek to extend the philosophy to other global infrastructure projects of a similar nature:

My Approach:

I begin by calling into account the fact that planning for the project started about 2 years later than it should have, giving authorities lesser time to get their act together than that would have ideally sufficed. [Case Study: Course Reader] At this juncture, I would have strongly argued in favor of a relatively simplistic design which allowed the use of replicable construction members and leveraged economies of scale instead of stubbornly sticking to a complex design which understandably demanded a meticulous and carefully planned approach.

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This is the first of a series of ten journals I will be writing as part of the course on Infrastructure Planning and Management by Dr. Ashwin Mahalingam.

Infrastructure in India: Opportunities and Challenges

Introduction:

The first few classes of the course served to extend my notion of ‘infrastructure’ from merely being a set of basic civic amenities to that of an indispensable link between the economic and social development of a region. Quieroz’s study [Queiroz ‘92] of the relationship between per capita GNP and road infrastructure reinforced the ideology. Further discussions demonstrated the nature of the linkage to be strongly reciprocal – it became amply clear that while a vibrant economy will significantly contribute to adding infrastructural capacity, improvements in the quality of infrastructure will result in increased investments and greater industry-confidence leading to economic growth [Lou Harris ‘88].

Sector-wise Status:

Over the next few classes, we examined the current status of development in transport, telecom, power and urban and rural infrastructure. Each sector presents a unique set of opportunities to be leveraged for economic gain as well as a plethora of challenges which threaten to undermine the pace of socio-economic development in India. (more…)

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I am working on an academic project with Prof. Sudhir Chella Rajan (Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras) that involves constructing energy use scenarios for India. We have adopted an end-use approach to disaggregate the energy consumption and intend to analyze the impact of techno-economic policies on energy demand and green-house gas emissions from India.

The first phase of the project involves gathering data on ‘current accounts’ – figures concerning activity and energy intensity levels in a particular reference year, in our case 2005-06. As I strive to distil relevant and accurate data from a heap of papers and reports, it becomes apparent that dealing with macro-figures is no mean task. There are endless choices to make. Which data-source is more accurate? What parameter represents the variable adequately? How much detail does one incorporate?

On the way to meet Prof. Chella today, it occurred to me that our facts and figures resembled broken pieces of glass. Each with it’s own distinctive shape, tinge, size and edge.

I have to put these together.

I have to put these together.

The skill, of course is to identify each piece for what it stands and assemble all of them into a composite, meaningful portrait. One that describes the present as it is and the future as it will be.

What lies beyond.

What lies beyond.

Images courtesy DixonBaxi and Malinkrop.

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LitSoc Debate

Lit Soc Inter Hostel Debate ’08: IIT Madras

The House believes that gargantuan government schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) are a waste of taxpayer money, and the answer to making rural India more prosperous lies in enabling greater freedom for private enterprise.

Aniket Pangarkar: For the motion

Corrupt. Inefficient. Opaque. Ossified and Unaccountable. Surprising, isn’t it – how one agency – the Government – manages to be all these at once!

As part of this debate, I shall endeavor to impress upon you why ostentatious projects such as the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme ensure further poverty – and how private enterprises can truly uplift millions of rural poor.

For starters, let’s consider the colossal budgets of such projects – the REGP alone shall deprive the State Exchequer of Rs 50,000 crores every year. Further, serious reservations exist with regards to its efficacy.

A study by the NSSO says that only 42% of the allocated outlay for wages in the REGP actually reaches those engaged in the scheme – certainly not a statistic to be proud of. Reminds one of what James Reston said – the Government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.

Even if we are to trust the very institution that has embedded corruption, inefficiency and non-accountability into the fabric of Indian democracy – it still remains to be seen whether it is even competent enough to accomplish this gargantuan task.

A report from the CAG’s office found 20 states lacking the very Program Officers in charge of running the REGP – 19 states without a technical panel to approve of the proposed development projects.

There is no shortage of fallacies here – no concern for productivity; unemployment allowances – use of manual labor – are all a sure shot recipe for failure.

To quote Paul Martin – For years, the government has been promising more than it can deliver, and delivering more than it can afford.

Initiatives from the private sector have been plenty – ITC’s ‘e-choupal’ concept has been a major success – bringing the advantages of IT to more than 10 million farmers.

Numerous organizations like Harish Hande’s SELCO, the Barefoot movement and several Self Help groups have succeeded in empowering the poor by providing a sustainable means of income. Instead of doling out fish, they have taught the rural folk to fish for themselves.

One might argue that private investment shall not reach geographically remote areas. I say it is in such disadvantaged and isolated pockets that the Government must generate employment – that schemes like the NREGA should be more of an exception than the norm.

Sayan Ganguly: Against the motion

I firmly believe that that no amount of private enterprise can substitute the effect of the NREGA. The sheer number of people benefiting from it, the first time experiment of giving direct control of government funds to the gram panchayats and previous precedence of successes of such plans only reconfirms my belief that however faulty the implementation maybe, this act is essential. Private enterprise may only supplement it, not substitute it.

The NREGA assures the rural population below poverty line 100 days of work per year. Till now over 30 million people have been direct beneficiaries of the initiative. I hope the number registered. 30 million people. Name me one private initiative in India or anywhere in the world which has reached out to as many people in so short a time. Friends, scale changes everything. The cornerstone of our economy, the IT industry currently employs 2 million people countrywide. And that’s as a result of growth over the last three decades.

Rules which are relevant in the streets of Delhi become redundant in the drought afflicted villages of Andhra Pradesh and the remote villages of Ladakh. The only two things which connect all of them together is a serious need for money and familiarity with the omnipresent government.

Let’s not forget that these people need the money right now. And only the Indian government has the necessary infrastructure and means to reach out to them. While it may be prudent to initiate private schemes in areas like Gujarat and Maharashtra, what about employing the people in the insurgency hit villages in Northern Manipur or the Naxal infested forests of Chattisgarh. Which private company or entrepreneur in its right mind would venture in such areas?

And that brings us back to the fundamental differences between NREGA and private enterprises. The act does not differentiate between people from different places. And more importantly private enterprises are driven by a need for profit.

The NREGA guarantees, I repeat guarantees, that it is the most needy of the populace who will be employed. Unlike private enterprises it will not be looking at employability, profitability and cutting costs. It is a social project and we cannot have private enterprises executing social projects without a major conflict of interest.

During the Great Depression, FDR came to power promising the American people a new deal which guaranteed the huge swaths of unemployed people employment in government projects involving unskilled manual labor. A step which is held directly responsible for saving America. Sounds familiar?

In the current scenario with unprecedented low confidence in the private sector, if someone tells me that private enterprise can actually reach out to such huge numbers, in every nook and corner of the country and maintain their bottom-line, I will really be hard pressed to believe it.

The team secured 1st place amongst more than 25 participating teams at the LitSoc Debate Competition, IIT Madras on 07/11/2008.

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