ISSN 2330-717X

India’s On The Right Track – OpEd

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So, India’s going to get her first bullet train and predictably, everyone’s upset about it. The simmering bears an uncanny resemblance to the upsurge that followed India’s maiden trip to Mars at a record cost of Rs 4.5 billion rupees (Rs 7 per kilometre) a fraction of what NASA’s own Maven cost the USA.

The cost mattered because it, in a way, muffled the cacophony a mission of this nature would elicit from “critics” anywhere in the world. So, those “What was the need to spend money on going to Mars when there is so much poverty, lack of education, lack of good roads, lack of power and so on and forth…” grouses were muffled.

Mangalyaan ensured the admiration for India only grew, particularly at a time when the nation’s Prime Minister spoke with distinct pride about “MOM (Mars Obiter Mission) not disappointing”. Of 51 missions made across the world to Mars, only 21 had succeeded. And, India got it right at the very first shot!

But that, would never impress those whose agenda was, has and will be to thrive by showcasing India’s misery to the world. Members of the Civil Society across India who supposedly represent ‘public interest’ particularly that of the ‘weakest’ sections yet refuse to be transparent about their dealings that include foreign funding, were up in arms.

Lobbies across minority communities spoke, and patronisingly too, about how India managed to make the Mangalyaan Mission possible without the intervention of IITians – India’s highly profiled technologically-driven intelligentsia. And how, the scientists responsible for MOM were, in fact, those from smaller institutions in towns across the nation and so forth. That, till recently, on May 15th 2015 the HRD Ministry received a complaint accusing the Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) at IIT-Madras of spreading ‘hatred’ against the Prime Minister. The issue was a pamphlet that reproduced the speech of Dravidian University academic R Vivekananda Gopal on Dr. Ambedkar that accused the government of a ‘Hindutva agenda’, ‘assisting multinational corporates to loot Mother India’ and ‘communally polarizing the people by the ban on cow slaughtering, ghar wapasi program and promoting Vedas’.

A week later, on May 24th, the IIT dean (for students), Sivakumar M Srinivasan sent an email to the coordinators of the APSC informing them that they had been ‘derecognised’.

Concurrently, just a day before Mumbai went to the latest polls, St Xavier’s College Principal Dr. Frazer Mascarenhas’s strongly-worded email to the students criticising the Gujarat model of development went viral and earned phenomenal flak across political strata, the letter was removed from the college website. That IIT Madras’s Study Circle students and the St Xavier’s College Principal had attempted to politicise education and generate content that transgressed election laws and bordered on defamation was conveniently lost out on the ‘progressive’ critics and the media alike who chose to flay Modi for ‘intolerance’.

And now, the bullet train is seen as a “criminal waste” of money. Spending Rs 98,000 crore on a bullet train “to connect two cities”, looks like an “absurdly wasteful” investment. But then, when viewed in isolation, that would be the case with any sort of expenditure. So, the critics put up a chart to validate their vengeance: A chart that “shows just how absurdly wasteful Modi’s Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train line is,” and maintains that the Centre allotted Rs 43,000 crore for spend on Highways in 2015-16; Rs 42,000 crore for spend on Schools; Rs 42,000 crore for spend on Railways; Rs 30,000 crore for spend on Health; Rs 25,000 crore for safety investment in Railways and Rs 2,40,00,000 crore for Swachh Bharat.

So, by that logic, a skewed-as-ever media says: “India should be on a toilet overdrive, yet the government of India is going to spend 41X of its Swachh Bharat Mission outlay for 2014-15 on building a somewhat-fast train line between two cities already superbly connected by road, rail and air”.

All of that is as simplistic as India’s ‘progressive’ media would like to water it down. Social media is, and predictably too, rabid with quips and posts by Liberals and critics on Mr Narendra Modi’s larger-than-life dreams and expenditures that risk robbing India’s masses of basics like health and education.

Now the facts: India and Japan have signed an MoU on December 12th, 2015 on cooperation and assistance in the Mumbai–Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Project (referred by many as Bullet Train project).

Japan has offered an assistance of over Rs 79,000 crore for the project. The loan is for a period of 50 years with a moratorium of 15 years, at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent. The project is a 508-kilometre railway line costing a total of Rs 97,636 crore, to be implemented in a period of seven years.

While, the bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad will cost Rs 97,636 crore and be built over seven years, the entire amount will not be spent in one year as is suggested, and with mischievous intent, across media. The comparisons with budgets of health, education, road and highways would inevitably be incorrect as a spending to be carried out over a period of seven years is being compared with spending carried out over a year. The indicators for both would have to be the same for any comparison of sorts.

More importantly, what most experts refuse to detail, as is their nature to skim over what matters, is that almost 80 per cent of the project is being financed on a very soft loan from Japan. Japan has offered a loan more than Rs 79,000 crore to be repaid over 50 years at an incredulously low interest rate of 0.1 per cent per year. This when considered against the backdrop of inflation over the years, becomes negligible!

Further, the loan comes with a 15-year moratorium which means that India does not need to start repaying the loan immediately. It will do so fifteen years down the line.

It is a win-win situation for India and she seems to be in good hands!

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Gajanan Khergamker

Gajanan Khergamker is an independent editor, legal counsel and documentary film-maker with over three decades of media-legal experience across India. He is the founder of DraftCraft – an India-based think-tank. Through strategic writings and columns across global media; niche workshops held for the benefit of police personnel, lawyers and media students as well as key lectures held at corporate venues and in Law and Mass Media colleges and universities across India, he analyses and initiates 'live' processes that help deliver social justice through the media and legal channels. He trains students, journalists, lawyers and corporate personnel to ideate, integrate and initiate the process of social justice which “isn't the sole responsibility of the State”. He holds legal aid workshops and creates permanent legal aid cells for the deprived across India through positive activism and intervention. He furthers the reach of social responsibility by initiating strategic process by offering consultancy services to corporates in the rapidly-growing CSR scenario. To further the reach of social responsibility, Gajanan Khergamker works closely with state entities, law universities, educational institutes, research think-tanks, publications and media houses, corporates and public-spirited individuals. His areas of interest include public affairs, inclusion, conflict of interest, law and policy, foreign affairs and diversity.

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