Rebuttal to article "Nailing the population lie"

August 17, 2000

Dear Mr. Editor, with reference to your recent article "Nailing the population lie" , did you just write this to stir the pot a little and get some discussions going? I completely agree with your conclusion, but the premise on which you have built your conclusion is weak!! Lets start discussing some of the issues:

First of all, there was no confusion that your 'story' did not begin with India. Your essay talks about population and population density, well what about GROWTH OF POPULATION? This is the biggest demon in regards to population!! Unfortunately, demographic figures do not remain stagnant. A nation hurts badly if its cities grow more rapidly than can be handled. Our home city-Bangalore, is one of the biggest victims of this problem. Likewise, Las Vegas in the US, which has been the fastest growing city in the US for the last 8 consecutive years faces the same problem. But the difference is, LV is in the US of A, while Bangalore is in third world INDIA!! LV receives an enormous amount of funding not only from the State of Nevada, but also from the federal government of the US. Let me make my thoughts more analytical:

Rapid growth of population results in reduced time for planning which results in poor planning which results in poor infrastructure all of which consequently result in inefficient systems. Add to this, insufficient financial resources and the complexity of the Indian community and what you get is chaos!! The root cause of all the inefficient policies still remains Population (just depends on what aspect of the demographic parameter you are looking into), coupled with poverty and the complex nature of India. Having made myself clear, read on:

"One in five children live below the poverty line.." in 1994 when I was a student, poverty level in the US was household income below $15,000 per annum. I was earning about $12,000/annum and always joked about how I was below the US poverty level. I ate good food, was able to pay tuition for my Masters, had a TV at home, had a car, had central A/C, got hot water 24-7, drank rum and beer like a fish on Fridays, went to movies, ate at restaurants, wore good clothes, etc. .. remember, I was still below the US poverty level!! If you did not know this, it is only in third world countries that world organizations like WHO, etc., go in and determine the poverty level for that country. Whereas, Developed countries do their own research and give demographic data to the world organizations. So poverty level is subjective; it really depends on which country's poverty level you are talking about.

"Who speak a range of languages.." Hmm.. I really wish you could substantiate on that. What are you talking about? This 'range' of languages is spoken at the belly of the food chain in the US, but at the policy level there is only one language spoken - English (US)!! All the senators and congressmen in this country are able to converse with each other and often times are able to indulge themselves in lengthy discussions. Could Indian MPs from different states do the same? Are they not limited in their selection of friends due to language barriers? Honestly speaking, did you not limit yourself with whom you were friends with? What I am getting at here is that the US with 370 +/- million works as a single unit, India with 1 billion people unfortunately works as several different units none of which are the size of the US population. This is the complex nature of the social fabric of our country.

The US has the third largest population in the world, but let us not forget it also has three times the land size of India and an enormous amount of wealth. Furthermore, they already had a system (judicial, political, infrastructure, etc.) in place before it became the third most populous country in the world. But when India got its independence, the Brits had done poop for India to build on. Japan and Germany are not as big and complex as India is. I think you are comparing apples to oranges when you compare those countries to India. Remember, India had not ruled itself for nearly 300+ years when it got its independence and thus for all practical purposes did not have the experience to adopt and administer the most sophisticated and complex form of government -democracy! Germany and Japan might have started from scratch, but they already had experience on how to govern.... India is still learning and trying to lift itself up from what was left behind by the Brits. Also, with Japan there was a huge influx of financial help that was provided by the US. Because of those bombings, the agenda in this country for the next 4-5 presidents after the bombing was on how to make-up for what happened in Nagasaki Hiroshima. The US has done a lot for Japan ... A LOT!!!! After independence, the Brits (unlike the US) did not come back to India and say "hey we completely screwed you guys over, how about we help you regain your financial strength and glory!!" when the Brits were ruling India, did the British care if they provided adequate public facilities to Indians? How many Indians were given prominent political/administrative positions? So, they really did not have the expertise to run a complicated system of government.

London, Paris ... and all those other examples you gave are in affluent countries; they have been affluent for a while and have the financial resources to cope with the influx of population. Once again, India unlike Japan and Germany is a big country and when it got its independence was already poor, was already populous and did not have the expertise to cope up with the population growth. Japan and Germany rebuilt their economy with educated people who already had a vision of what needed to be done. When India got its independence it had no clue of what a utopian society resembled other than in few readings that referenced India's 'Golden Age' and other utopian Indian kingdoms several centuries ago.

Furthermore, India was a 'Closed Economy' until recently (you really can't call it an Open Economy even now) Why? Why did India not allow any MNCs to enter the country until recently? Probably because India was gun shy from what happened with the East India Company? Or what other reason could you think of for having a Closed Economy? A lack of confidence to allow foreign companies into domestic markets? Lack of a sense of identity? Japan and Germany were not gun shy, hell they opened their economy, invited MNCs, formed alliances and in little time got back their financial strength. Also, a war that lasted 4-5 years is no comparison to what the Brits did to India for over 300 years!! Physical damage cannot be compared to morale damage.

Dear editor, you have spoken about the City of Angels: a perfect example of what can happen to any city (in developed or underdeveloped countries) if demand on its infrastructure (i.e. is water/sewer/gas/roads/schools/municipal offices/public transportation, etc.) is not properly addressed. You might not have heard this in the UK, but LA DOES have a HUGE population problem and the state of CA does recognize this problem. This city has about 5 airports and is comprised of about 50+ jurisdictions. It also is located in a state so affluent that until recently CA was the third largest economy in the world!! CA is doing a lot to relieve the load on its infrastructure.... and most importantly it has the means to do so!! Yes, LA has a huge traffic problem and crime is rampant in this megalopolis. Why? The crime is a direct result of the population (read about the experiment on rats below). LA's traffic problem is also a direct result of its population problem, but this time it is also coupled with a lack of a system to address it. Due to the constant earthquakes, this megalopolis does not and cannot have a good public transportation system in the form of subways to diffuse the load on its roads. People love this city because of its climate and continue to move here even if it is very expensive to live in this city. This results in stress on the infrastructure and the govt. is unable to address it! Like the earthquakes in LA, it is the lack of financial resources in India. If a system is under stress and not addressed then that system will explode.... the road system in LA or the entire infrastructure system in INDIA.

Las Vegas, as I mentioned before, has been the fastest growing metro in the US consecutively for the past 8 years. This city faces huge difficulties due to its rapid growth in demand on its infrastructure. The federal govt. has been providing funds to the state of Nevada to redesign and upgrade its infrastructure on an ongoing basis. Also, the city taxes its real estate developers an impact fee that gets directed to rebuild infrastructure. Does and can India have such funds to constantly redesign its infrastructure? NO! The developers in this country in return make-up this impact fee by charging their tenants a higher price for renting/buying their structures. Can Indian residents afford to pay these fees?

You speak about Africa somewhere in your essay in reference to low population levels. Did you know that in the US, the western states of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, which are largely located in deserts, would probably suffer the same fate of African Countries if they were not part of the union!! If the handful of big metros did not spur the economy of Australia, even that country would probably suffer the same fate. Why? Because they do not have enough natural resources to support themselves and feed their people. Can African countries feed their people? No!! Why? Can sound policies, without any financial help, turn around the African economy?

Here is another good one: ".successive governments focused on creating a centralized economy focused around industry, rather than on developing villages." From my point of view, the only thing that is debatable in that statement is the word 'centralized'. The mistake they are making is not decentralizing the economy, but they are doing the right thing in focusing on industry instead of villages. Okay, lets do the converse, lets say the government instead spent the same amount of money on developing villages. help me understand how these villages could sustain themselves? Are you assuming that all the residents of these villages already have jobs? Well Dear Editor, if the residents do not have jobs these villages will not sustain on a long-term basis!! Course 101 in Urban Planning is "Industry attracts rooftops" . setup employment centers then people and money will follow. The government spending Rs. 1 on industry is equivalent (do not take me literally here) to spending Rs. 10 on developing villages. With the industries, the government earns taxes, helps create jobs and helps spur the economy. While in developing villages, which already have jobless residents, the government accomplishes nothing. With industry, the government provides loans, but to developing villages it usually has to do so in the form of a grant. Which is better, a loan or a grant? You have to have a sustaining economy to support the city. Let me give you a quick example: the Economic Development Department in Las Vegas understands that Gaming is its biggest employer, and that this city will loose its vigor if they loose incomes from the Gaming industry; so in order to diversify the economy in this city they are now talking about giving big incentives to high-tech industries wanting to locate within this city. Take a moment to think why? This could be a lengthy explanation and I have just scratched the surface. There is a reason the Indian governments are spending money on industry. And it is the right thing to do.

"we have created only a few centers of excellence." You must be kidding if you think India is doing nothing to educate its population. I paid an equivalent of $150.00 per annum in tuition fees for my Bachelors in one of Bangalore's esteem colleges!! Could you compare that to what you and I paid for our Master's? If India had more money, I am sure it could create more schools. It all goes back to poverty, goes back to what the Brits left us. The learning centers in western countries did not grow overnight; it has taken 250-300 years for the educational system to evolve in these countries. Once again, the Brits had done poop in their regime, left India in a state of Chaos and you want India to catch up with cultures that have matured and evolved over several centuries.

While in college here in the US, in one of my Urban Design classes I had taken a course in Growth of Cities ... there is an example in one of the readings about an experiment on psychology conducted on rats. First in a reasonably big cage they place two rats of the opposite sex ... the rats behaved like rats! Then slowly they started adding more rats into this cage and up to a point the rats continued to behaved like rats. As soon as that optimum population is reached the rats went nuts!! They started biting each other, some of the bigger rats killed the baby rats, some kind of diseases started spreading and there was absolute chaos in that cage! Growth of US cities is largely based on this experiment. The US directs an enormous amount of money to spread its population ... tax incentives (the state of NEVADA waives its state income tax to attract people mostly from California and other surrounding states!), capital cities of states are generally located in rural localities, MNCs are given huge rebates if they are located in Empowerment Zones, which are in rural backward states/areas (Boeing has a huge manufacturing plant in South Dakota ... why? why is silicon valley located in San Jose and not in San Francisco? why is Washington DC located where it is?) ... does India have the financial resources to develop infrastructure in rural locations to diffuse population in big cities? No!!

Therein lies the problem.... population coupled with poverty! Yes, India does not have a sound system in place as yet. But the huge population, the poverty and complex nature of the society makes it that much more difficult to set up a good system.

Dear editor, why aren't you comparing apples to apples? Why don't you compare Indian cities with lets say, Mexico City, or Beijing, or Havana, or Bogota, or any of the other South American cities? What is the problem in these cities.... population? Yes! To be more specific, it is the lack of financial resources to provide adequate infrastructure to support the large population and prepare itself for future increases to the population numbers. You can put any kind of sound policies in place, but if these policies are not supported financially, they are no longer practical.

Lastly Mr. Editor, there is no point in criticizing the systems in our native country. With your two Master's, which puts you in the top 2% (is that what you said the last time I met you?) of the educated people in the world and in the few thousands of equally educated people in India, why don't you give policy level suggestions? Why is that you are not doing anything for our country? Why is it that you can't go to the root level of the policies you think are not in place and do something about it? You seem to have identified that there is a problem in our country. You also wore your journalist hat and wrote about it. Now, how about wearing your management hat and analyzing the problems and understanding why they are the way they are? Maybe sometime thereafter you can take another step and help correct these problems.

Democracy is a self-correcting form of government and it will be a while before the various systems correct themselves and become efficient. But India is headed in the right direction! With the coalitions they have already learnt to administer with a complex government, they are learning the virtues of privatization/ decentralization, they are slowly gaining confidence and opening-up the economy to MNCs to utilize its brainpower/manpower, they are slowly regaining their lost pride, they are identifying their strengths and building a sense of identity.. there is only one way to go from where they are at and that is UP!!

- Deepak Sulakhe, Washington DC, USA

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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