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February 14, 1998


Issues '98/Professor U R Rao

'India cannot move in static mode'

I think the most important thing is to have a clean, honest and pro-active government because India cannot move in a static mode. The bureaucracy, which favours the status quo, has to be curbed by the new government.

The issues of vital importance, in my opinion, are the following:

Food security

We seem to be jumping from one year to the next depending on monsoon activity. With a growing population, we need food productivity -- we do not have the money to import food -- and therefore we must have a large buffer stock. Food production is extremely poor in India and we must opt for sustainable development strategies to enhance production.

On an average we can improve 25 per cent of food production and double it in 10 years. This will ensure we have a sustainable bumper crop. Small scale experiments limits should be increased. The present food production rate of 1.6 tonnes per hectare could be increased to 2.5 tonnes per hectare. We have the scope to accomplish this.


We have the technology that includes 'distance education' used marginally by Indira Gandhi National Open University and University Grants Commission programmes. But it is more important to provide developmental rural education because unless we do this, none of our family planning programmes will fructify.

Our regional transmission programmes must be improved. It is only in Hindi at the moment, it has to include all regional languages and its content must made more interesting.


For instance in horticulture, we have difficulty in selling our produce. The non-tariff barriers are increasing and if we have to compete in the global marketplace, we have to increase our growth rate substantially.

By substantially, I mean a growth rate of at least 10 %. For every 1% increase in population, 2.5 % is eaten away, another 3 to 5% go for education, healthcare, so you need at least a growth rate of 10%

Globalisation has brought about its problems and assets. For benefits to accrue we must have a better informational structure and policies to implement them -- technological broadcasting is in limbo. Informational technology is important -- without access to the latest information, one cannot compete in the world market today.

Globalisation can only help us in another 5 years; at the moment the gap between the poor and rich is only widening. We are unable to harness its benefits due to poor roads, lack of energy and information systems.

The East Asian Tigers allowed a free market to exist which proved very dangerous. For a few years they had fantastic economic growth after which they crashed because they were unable to absorb the increased growth; they were able to use only 20 per cent of the technology generated. We should learn from their mistakes.

No one comes here to create a heaven. If they invest something in our country, they expect returns. For every dollar invested, if you do not generate $ 1.50 then you will be in a pathetic state of affairs.

Infrastructure development

There is going to be largescale urbanisation. It is a reality you have to accept. The population will increase, land will decrease. People will come to the cities for employment and the cities will grow. You have to provide appropriate conditions for this urban growth. If you don't have infrastructure, you can't grow, none of your products will be able to compete in world markets. India has liberalised imports, but our export capabilities are sorely lacking. Unless the GNP increases, how can we produce wealth and become self sufficient?


We have gone terribly wrong with all our five year plans. We have allocated nearly 50 per cent of funds for transport, communication and power supply when these areas should have been privatised. The government should have concentrated on basic issues like sanitation, water for sustainable development. That is why except for two companies, Ahmedabad Electric and Tata Electric, all state electricity boards are in the red.

We are paying enormously for an inefficient organisation monopolised by the government. We have to stop political interference which is only used to garner votes without the national interest in mind.


Our economic policies should be pragmatic. Society can play a role in providing elementary education. Today we have the largest percentage of illiterates. Seventy per cent of the women in Bihar are illiterate. No family planning programme works and the birth rates are high -- in Bihar literacy is 36 % per 1,000 vis-a-vis 18 % per 1,000 in Kerala.

Industrial licenses

If politics spoilt our country, the bureaucrats killed it. Governments must ensure that decisions are taken fast.


Programmes suffer when governments are not transparent. The instances of Cogentrix, Enron and the Sardar Sarovar Project are all tackled with mule-headedness. Sure there are environmental problems, but there is some penalty you have to pay if you want something (power for everybody). You have to make a cost-effective decision.

Sitaram Kesri has announced a dole of Rs 500 for every unemployed youth. Does he know what he is talking about? Where is the money? The world over, this kind of social security is misused. Not even 5 % of people in our country are tax-payers, where will you get the money to pay 80 % of the unemployed? And what initiatives will they take to find a job if they are on the dole? These people come out with half-baked ideas. Why don't they calculate the logistics and the practicality of what they are saying before they do?


We can improve the quality of our professionals in the scientific and technological fields. Nothing is non-scientific. For decision making in economics you need experts -- professional or thinkers, not someone who shuffles papers or who is shuffled himself. More professionals like Dr Raja Ramanna have to enter the field.

Stability of a government is not easy. It will take a minimum of 5 years to achieve that. But with a clean administration, more than half the problems will be solved.

Professor U R Rao -- former chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation, member Space Commission and Vikram Sarabhai distinguished professor, department of space -- spoke to Madhuri V Krishnan.

Issues '98

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