A specter is haunting India; a specter of clean, safe, and affordable access to goods and services for all. Policy makers find themselves at a cusp, not quite sure whether to follow the model of automobile-dominated urban development that characterizes twentieth century North America, or to look at contemporary cities in Northern Europe instead, where pedestrians, bicyclists, and users of public transit are given far greater priority than car drivers.
Is India a land drained by rivers in a system that begins in point sources on high grounds and flows to the sea or is it a terrain soaked and overflowed by rains that fall in complex ways across a thickened surface of soils, aquifers, life, and atmosphere? The former dominates word and image, fact and imagination. It is the taken for granted geography that provides the ground of ecology, technology, and history. This ground is, however, profoundly simplistic.
The discovery of a major new cause of climate change may provide India’s best opportunity to engage with the international climate community in a way that enhances, rather than threatens, India’s broader national interests.
In the run-up to elections, the print media has highlighted the seeming prosperity of rural India relative to the economic slump in urban areas. Favorable monsoon rains, the rise in commodity prices and public works funded by the employment guarantee scheme are cited as some of the contributory factors. However, a happy coincidence of transient features does not constitute a turn-around.
One of the problems that India’s new government will find itself confronting – a problem that is rapidly moving up the global geopolitical agenda – is the issue of climate change. This issue is extremely pertinent to India for a number of reasons. First, climate change is likely to hit India hard in the coming decades. Predicted impacts include water scarcity, decreased crop yields, increased risk of disease, and flooding of coastal areas. These problems will be most detrimental to India’s poorest citizens.
Much has been said about the fallacies in India’s energy policy-a lack of coherent planning, endemic ills of cross-subsidies, inefficiencies of state-owned companies, and so on-to argue the impossibility of India’s ability to meet the energy demands of a growing economy. Although true in past, this argument is weakening. Amidst excessive criticism of every single government action, the real, but subtle, face of Indian energy policy has not attracted mass attention yet. And understandably so:
In the national budget for 2008-2009, India’s Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has proposed that the federal government will waive loans to farmers, with the total waiver amount capped at Rs 60,000 crore ($15 billion).
The U.S.-India relationship has recently undergone a dramatic transformation, with both countries committing themselves to a global strategic partnership symbolized most prominently by the agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. This transformation is anchored in a commonality of values but, equally importantly, in the systemic changes occurring in the international order, namely, the rise of China and India as emerging great powers.
India’s lack of capacity to handle rapid urbanization is, arguably, one of its single biggest challenges. Despite much debate over the Delhi Master Plan 2021, there is still relatively little understanding of the dynamics of urbanization. The experience of our mega cities and medium size towns alike suggests that Indian cities are likely to remain besotted by serious problems. Indeed, if anything, the proposed solutions are likely to make our cities worse rather than better. This is because the preconditions for creating vibrant and dynamic cities simply do not exist.