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Archive for Problems and Warnings

The Problems With Indian Infrastructure

India has some of the worst infrastructure we’ve ever seen.  Below is a brief summary of key elements.

Transport – Rail
Rail – India Railways’ network stretches 40,000 miles, moves 7B pax per year and 830 million tons of cargo (6-7-10 IHT).  Yet it’s creaking and lightweight tracks, old cars, slow speeds and overburdened carriages mean each Indian locomotive can only haul 5,000 tons of cargo (vs. 20 for US, China or Russia). To subsidize passengers, India charges 4 times US and 2x China’s cost.  Japan is providing $5B low-cost loans to help India buy Japanese equipment for the western corridor between Mumbai and Delhi.  The World Bank is considering $2.4B loans for the eastern corridor, Punjab to Calcutta, which is projected to be completed by 2017.

Transport – Roads
Our on-site analysis:  India’s 2 million miles of roads are totally degraded, crowded, rutted, and slow.  Cattle stop in the middle of the road and driving is hazardous and largely uncontrolled by signals.  It’s “every man for himself”.  Diesel fumes, constant honking of horns mean a miserable experience getting from point A to point B.  India’s Golden Quadrilateral Project linking Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai is the only relief.  But the $1.33 toll is more than most Indians earn in a day (12-6-10 IHT)  India has the world’s highest accident rate, which rose from 80,000 in 2005 to 118,000 last year (6-8-10 IHT)

5-21-10 IHT:  Only 60% of municipal waste is collected in India.  Just 30% of urban sewage is treated.  Only 269 of 5,161 of India’s towns and cities have modern sewage systems, while roughly 33% of the country’s 1.2 B people have no access to a toilet, according to B. Pathak, founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organization.  The rural areas are riddled with roadside trash in heaps or dumped in the countryside.

4-23-10 IHT:  “India is drowning in garbage.  The cities alone generate over 100 million tons of solid waste per year.  Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that if there were a Nobel Prize for filth, India would win it!”  According to citizen watch groups, waste-energy schemes are riddled with corruption thus it is important to instill civic consciousness for everyone to clean up their space.

India relies on coal for over 50% of electric generation.  It imports over 70% of its oil needs.  400 million Indians lack reliable electricity.  India was among the largest producers of greenhouse gases according to a 2007 government report.  India is constructing nuclear plants.  It enjoys 250-300 sunny days/year but coal costs 4 rupees/kwh vs. 17 ru for photovoltaics.

Health and Poverty
The Indian government spends 5% of its $1.2T GDP on health care, focusing on primary care like immunizations.  Its per capita expenditure is $34.  Less than 33% of China (7-6-10 IHT).  Private sector accounts for 80% of total spending.  India only has .7 hospital beds/1000 people vs. world average of 4/1000.  But it’s becoming an emerging medical tourism destination.

According to Harvard School of Public Health study of 54 low and middle income countries, only 15% of Indian women 15-49 are obese.  Obesity is primarily a problem of the rich (Times of India 11-27-10).  Average body mass index is only 21, comparable to other 3rd world nations such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cameroon.  The study found an association between BMI and wealth.

India’s poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with 42% of Indian children under 5 being underweight.  The 8 poorest of 28 states and 7 territories (421 million people) have more in poverty than 26 of the poorest nations in Africa. (8-10-10 IHT).

Cities and Environmental Degradation
As April 2010 study by McKinsey indicates between 2010 and 2030, 250 million Indians will migrate to the cities, a figure that exceeds the current total population of all but 3 countries (China, India and US).  India will have 68 cities with a population over 1 million vs. 35 cities in all Europe (5-21-10 IHT)  Delhi currently stands at 14 million, with 7.5 million cars and is polluted with grey smoke of wood fires and exhaust.  According to a recent government study of 127 cities, 80% had over 1 pollutant exceeding air quality standards.

Around 25% of India’s people live along the coast.  According to Asian Development Bank, 26% of India’s shoreline suffers from serious erosion (8-27-10 IHT).  Livelihoods of fishermen, farmers and houses are threatened by rising seas and agriculture is already in crisis.  Population growth and degradation are going to make India a very polluted place in the 21st century.

CNN’s headlines last night indicated “India requires quantum leap in investment.” (12/3/10)

India most of all needs investment in water supply, sewage, roads, airports, and highways to take its rightful place in the world.  From the levels of disorganization we witnessed, we’re not sure this is going to go well.

Claudia and Gail

Interpreting India’s Caste System

In Egypt, we were constantly approached by beggars asking for “baksheesh”.  The people would create a situation which would enable them to receive a tip.  For example, one removed Steve’s sunglasses from his daypack, dropped them to the ground, and then offered them back to Steve for money.  Men commented, because he was traveling with 2 sisters “You are a rich man, you have two wives!”  Islam demands that riches be given to the poor in some measure, and he was constantly told this.

We didn’t know how Hindus would behave.  In a greatly simplified synopsis given to us by one of our guides, a caste system has grown up over the centuries.  It was originated as a way to direct kids into the proper job category, and it has now ossified.  It used to be that any bright kid would be directed to the priesthood, etc.,   Now there are many sub-castes.  But there are 4 main ones:

1.  Brahmin – originally priests, teachers, intellectuals
2.  Warrior – military, strong physically, leaders
3.  Merchants
4.  Low caste – cremate dead, clean, serve

In America, all the Indians we have ever known have been of the economist/engineer/computer scientist/doctor caste.  We have been impressed with their high intelligence, warmth, integrity and technical competence.  So, we were interested in seeing if the people here (in India) resemble the Indians we know and love.

They do not.  That is because, for the most part, we are colliding against the merchant/lower beggar class.  It seems to us that 80% of India belongs to this caste!  And we’ve taken to calling this army of touts, beggars, snake charmers, tourist guides, bellhops, maids, musicians, vendors, toilet attendants, tuk-tuk drivers, auto rickshaw cyclists, massage therapists, henna artists, elephant drivers, jeep jockeys, game guides….”The Venal Caste”!

Although we have paid (through the nose) for this tour in advance, in this culture, that is not enough.  Each time that anyone does anything for you, they have their hands out.  These activities appear on our itinerary as included.  But that is just the beginning.

We’ve read about corruption in India.  All peoples suffer greed to one extent or the other; it’s human.  But the ways in which it’s expressed to us tourists is unpleasant.  Some are doing a sullen, half-assed job, and still have their hand out.  A majority are just aggressive, loud and obstinate, refusing to take no for an answer, even when stated clearly and many times over.

Our driver’s wheedling and cajoling gave up the secret of what’s behind this.  The day after we arrived, the guide and driver asked what we did on our free day.  When we told them we’d gone for a walk and bought rugs, they exchanged angry glances.  When I confronted them, they said, you were cheated.  You should have let us take you to a reputable place.  But it had more to do with their having lost a commission on what we bought.

Thereafter, we could see our guides and driver deviate from the schedule and take us to company shopping emporiums, while saying “You buy!”  Every historical commentary was somehow commandeered, instead, into a full-fledged sales campaign describing the merits of Indian products.  The driver was also trying to get us to buy things or services we didn’t want “Whisky, rum, you like drink?”  “No, too strong”.  “Not strong, good for health, I bring you”.  “No, thank you”.  “Yes!”  “What part of NO don’t you understand???”

We had the “A-ha!” moment when the driver told us that he had a poor friend in Jaipur that could apply henna designs.  Gail enthusiastically indicated she would like to have her left hand done.

I said, “no thank you”.  He said, “she’s poor, you do both hands.  Both of you”.  I said, “I already told you no”.  He said, “Why you not like henna?”  I said, “My skin is cracked and peeling, allergic”.  The lady didn’t answer her phone ‘til we were near the next city.  The driver proposed she make a 3 hour train ride to do Gail’s hand.  Now the pressure to give to the poor was really on.

In the end, she came to Ranthambore, did a beautiful job on Gail’s hand, and was given a large tip.

What’s behind this is how India functions.  Each individual behaves as if the only reason to have contact with another is if he can get money or favors out of the interaction.  Thus, there is no human interaction that is not tainted with venality.  You can understand and see desperation in the poorest and the beggars.  But we are not free here to shop on our own.  Our day is being carefully controlled so our guides and drivers get a commission on what we buy and we are being pressured to buy.

Which, paradoxically, is making us unwilling to buy!  We see them exchanging glances of disappointment and hovering and commenting.

Then the joy of looking at the skillful work and receiving a beautiful item is gone.  Everyone is out for himself, or out to force the guest into feeling guilty that they haven’t given away everything they have to the poor.  Our driver has been asking whom we are going to give our savings to after we die (implying that we should give it to India’s poor).  He has been telling us about the dhurrie rug merchants who really needs our money.

That’s how India works:  one person uses and exploits the other (while studiously making sure the tourists give to the poor and to them).  In this way, they fulfill the Hindu sense of obligation to the poor, and receive good karma.

While I can fully see what’s going on, I don’t have to like dealing with the Venal Caste.

Claudia and Gail