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    Posted June 23, 2014 by
    Kolkata, India

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    India is a very noisy democracy and Indians probably the most argumentative when it comes to their own. This is quite understandable given the country’s hundred or more languages, many religions and faiths, and as a consequence of its diversity and often chaotic democracy a multi party system where political parties become the last bastion of the underemployed, unemployed and the unemployable. The government of the day faces diverse pressure groups often in direct conflict with each other putting political skills to acid test. However, on one issue that unites Indians like a super glue is the people’s reluctance and many a times refusal to pay the market determined prices for services and products particularly if the deliverer is the state. It then becomes the right of the citizen to demand subsidized prices, they would not mind if it is delivered free of cost, leading to a steady deterioration of services.
    The recent railway tariff hike has led to a huge uproar, most of it manufactured by out of work and out of power workers of various political parties and some of it genuine particularly from the not so privileged sections of society. Unfortunately it this very large group that is regularly targeted by these very political parties, with an eye for their votes, thereby derailing healthy public debate. Sections of the television media also play to the galleries by running prime time debates which are often skewed, noisy and rumbustious that the issue gets sensationalised without substantive or viewer informative discussions, motivated or otherwise, forcing the government to change its reasoned position. The print media however, has come out as more responsible in their approach but in this day and age of 24x7 TV media coverage the print media are not the opinion makers/setters in society. It is a no brainer that the Indian Railways - which has not seen passenger fare hikes for the LAST TEN YEARS (ouch!!!), is running up huge losses which is now been officially reported at $ 5 million (EVERY DAY!!!) an annual loss of approx $ 2 billion which is made up by budgetary support - desperately needs this fare hike to make it not only viable but also for expanding its network to reach out to more districts in the country besides providing quality services otherwise we could see the Indian Railways going to dust. Concerned citizens are pained to see the demands for a rollback of fare hikes just for the sake of a few measly votes.
    India is also a hugely energy deficient country and imports more than 90 % of its energy needs to fuel and drive its economy burning up precious foreign exchange. So the need to tap domestic resources takes on a totally different dimension. However, political parties and some vested interests make it a point to contort the public debate through their shrill misinformation and disinformation campaign and in the process causing great harm to the country’s cause of being less dependent on imports. The brouhaha of gas prices sourced from Indian wells have become a subject of controversy and heated debate. While there is no disputing the fact the need to safeguard against premium pricing by multinationals, corporates, conniving politicians and policy makers and no sympathies are extended to their problems but to equate the cost of drilling for both onshore and offshore deep sea wells is part of this larger disinformation campaign run by responsible politicians and some vested interests with whatever motive. Even an ordinary layman with passing interest would vouch for the fact of higher cost for gas sourced from offshore wells, given the complexities of deep sea drilling, this exercise is then turned into a pro-rich vs anti-poor debate thereby doing immense damage to the economy and its self dependence on energy. And with costs really uncertain in exploration it is but fair to fix prices to some reliable benchmark which would reflect real market prices, high on good demand low on excess supplies.
    India now has a literacy rate of nearly 74 % and its past generation in the 60s and 70s came through under great hardship of fear, scarcity and abject poverty, where the only panacea for their problems was educating their offspring under very, very trying circumstances, which manifested a generation later in the IT boom in India in the last decade of the 20th century and first decade of this century. Today the poor need to be empowered and not be dependent on dole which they have rejected in the recent elections. For this India needs a more informed public debate where Indians across the board should and must realize there is nothing like a free lunch, we have to pay a reasonable price, to cover costs and a healthy margin for future investments, for services and products even if the deliverer is the state. Responsible political parties, well known public figures and the electronic media must rise to the occasion for the sake of the country if nothing else and greatly improve the public debate and discussion for a better and prosperous India for all its citizens.
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