Political desperation is evident from economic pointers. Repeated failures ~ the latest being the crippling impact of the rupee&’s collapse ~ are prompting the government to announce a slew of measures which it hopes might convince the common man (rather than the business community) that the situation is under control. With elections due a year from now economist-turned-politician Manmohan Singh is aware the voter will hold the UPA responsible for rising prices, and how all-round economic sluggishness will exacerbate the impression of policy-paralysis, misgovernance and rampant corruption. He is also aware that the sophistry and spin of his economic lieutenants has ceased to seduce even their acolytes in India Inc. And so we are now being treated to another round of “balloons”. The latest is setting of a target of Rs 1.15 lakh crore investment in infrastructure development in the private-public partnership mode. The most authentic reaction to the media splash the Prime Minister created for that was that same editions also reported that the private player had pulled out of the Delhi Metro&’s airport line. In short, it was wishful thinking to put much “reliance” on the private sector in the infrastructure sphere. And there is no need to look much beyond that line&’s western terminal for evidence of PPP moves turning bumpy. The private management of the Indira Gandhi International Airport has frequently been judicially rapped for flouting contractual obligations; just further afield there is trouble at the toll gates on NH-8. Economic experts question the Rs 1.15 lakh crore PPP serving as a wonder drug when presently similar projects worth several times that amount crore remain blocked in the bureaucratic pipeline. And the realistic in the Planning Commission indicate that only a small fraction of the game-changing 1.15 lakh crore will be expended between now and polls: in every sense of the term infrastructure development projects have a long gestation period. Similarly, what scope is there for developing another 51 airports ~ many in small towns ~ when the domestic aviation industry is struggling to remain airborne. Yes, there could be politically-loaded advantages. “Party funds” could well be boosted ahead of the electoral exercise by “donations” from those favoured in the allotment of projects. Experience also confirms that there are huge kickbacks in the process and everyone knows that the babus are not the only beneficiaries. Time was when a proposal from Mr Singh was taken in unquestionable good faith. But as the fairy tales say, that was “once upon a time…”
… And the rains came
Kolkata had a foretaste on Sunday of what to expect over the next three months when overnight rain ~ fairly normal at this time of year ~ flooded large parts of the city. And the taxpayer, his patience sorely tried over the collapse of civic amenities, expected better than the Mayor&’s utterly breathless response ~ “Nothing can be done to avoid waterlogging.” The only saving grace must be that the torrent was reduced to a drizzle on Sunday. Had the intensity of the previous night persisted, the city would have suffered another bout of urban flooding over the next few days. By throwing in the towel and before the monsoon is in full swing, Mr Sovon Chatterjee merely confirms that he is pretty much helpless, perhaps more so after his wings were clipped by the Chief Minister last year. He has confirmed once more ~ if confirmation were needed ~ that the urban renewal mission undertaken in the name of Jawaharlal Nehru has turned out to be a case-study in urban regression. The added area of Behala remains ever so vulnerable along with a vast swathe of north, south and central Kolkata. The extent of the waterlogging must make one wonder whether the nikashi project, so-called, has been executed with matching earnestness. Very probably, it hasn’t considering the unutilised allotment of funds that is returned to the Centre every year. In the event, the city makes do with sewer lines that were laid in British India! Cut to 2013, the sewer lines that converge at Palmer Bazar pumping station ~ technically referred to as “town outfall” ~ have not been cleaned and desilted for years on end. This was all too palpable on Sunday. Even contemporary totems of development have been far from effective.
Mockery of truce
There is a growing feeling that the NSCN(IM)&’s style of functioning has begun to hurt the Nagas. Last month, an organisation comprising various business, transport and medical associations observed a 12- hour bandh in the commercial town of Dimapur to highlight abnormal rise in prices of essential commodities following the imposition of “unabated” taxes by the NSCN(IM), prompting the Centre to write to the Nagaland government to take immediate action. Its letter said: “Having a ceasefire with the government of India is no excuse to go on the rampage and destroy public confidence.” The bandh assumed significance because it was for the first time that an organisation had dared challenge the NSCN(IM) which has been running a parallel government ever since the ceasefire came into force on 1 August 1997. On Monday, the powerful Kohima-based Naga Students’ Federation observed a 12- hour bandh in the state to protest against an alleged attempt on the life of one of its functionaries by the NSCN(Khole-Kitovi) at Kohima on 25 June.