6 Jul 2011

How will your $1 trillion "infrastructure" help India's people, Mr. Mukherjee?

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were part of the high-powered CII-Brookings Conference on "U.S.-India Economic and Financial Partnership" in Washington on Monday, 4 July 2011.

Mr. Geithner (I assume, politely) indicated that although the U.S. valued its strategic relationship with India, there were more important things... He apparently made no bones of the fact that (now that the $100 billion defence purchase is a done deal) the most important thing was for India to “allow a little bit more access” for U.S. firms in its financial and "multi-brand retail" sectors.

Mr. Mukherjee and R. Gopalan, the Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs, then pulled out and dangled an irresistable carrot. They both claimed that there was a $1 trillion worth of "untapped potential" for investments to meet India’s infrastructural demand. However Mr. Gopalan admitted, “There are issues such as land acquisition, environmental clearances, rehabilitation of displaced persons...” (It's them pesky peasants again!)

Let's pause and consider for a minute how "infrastructure" that would both displace people from their lands and impact their environment negatively would possibly be of any benefit to them! Perhaps, the more pertinent question would be: Is the "infrastructure" that the honourable minister speaks about even meant for the common man - a.k.a. Aam Aadmi?

Anyway Mr. Gopalan reassure the audience that there is a “sustained and continuous policy churn which is happening in these areas, with a view to resolving these impediments.” In plain English, what he meant was essentially this: "Give Infosys, TCS and other accompanying Indian oligarchs what they need - and leave the pesky peasants to us."

To conclude, the taxpayer paid for the entire trip - and the best he can hope for in return is a place in a line at a Walmart in India! Some deal.

Now let us come back to the astronomical figure of $1 trillion...

The following is what a World Bank study estimates to be "(t)he cost of attaining the Millennium Development Goals" for the entire world...

Firstly, what are Millennium Development Goals (1990-2015)?

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Halve the proportion of people with less than one dollar a day.
• Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education
• Ensure that boys and girls alike complete primary schooling.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women
• Eliminate gender disparity at all levels of education.

4. Reduce child mortality
• Reduce by two thirds the under-five mortality rate.

5. Improve maternal health
• Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability
• Integrate sustainable development into country policies and reverse loss of environmental resources.
• Halve the proportion of people without access to potable water.
• Significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

8. Develop a global partnership for development
• Raise official development assistance.
• Expand market access.
• Encourage debt sustainability.

The document puts "a rough breakdown" of the costs of achieving the goals as follows:
Educational Goals: $05 - $21 billion
Health Goals: $10 - $30 billion
Environmental Goals: $20 - $25 billion
Total: $35 - $76 billion

The World Bank document states, "(W)e conclude that a global estimate of the additional aid required to attain the MDGs is somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion a year." And that this cost estimate "was roughly consistent with estimates for individual goals obtained by other agencies (UNICEF and WHO in particular)..."

All that for $60 billion per year? Wow.

Mr. Mukherjee, what will your $1 trillion in infrastructure actually do for India's people... not counting dispossessing them of their land, turning their environment into toxic sludge, or shackling coming generations to an unpayable foreign debt burden?

Infrastructure, indeed. C'mon!

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