Infrastructure in a way is the essential “inners” of any development plan. Without it there is no progress; but with its right support you can achieve whatever you wish to build upon. However, infrastructure is expensive and eats away much of your ‘capital’.
A country progresses with its investment – and maintenance – of its infrastructure. A political party thrives with its colourful propaganda of their infrastructure plans like NREGA or
JNNURM or lately ‘the smart city’ or Swaach Bharat. Huge amount of public money is pumped into these infrastructure schemes. But there are different interpretations about their implementation processes and finally their successes. The NREGA scheme for example is interpreted by many as
something which has destroyed the labour force by granting ‘free’ money for no work; while others interpret it as the only scheme for the poor which guarantees some employment in this vast ocean of unemployed masses in the country.
Few questions the ‘good intentions’ of the government behind these ambitious infrastructure-building schemes but the implementation part of all these scheme need to come under serious public scrutiny. We sometimes hear about the existence of a “ministry of implementation”. But does it work? Then why should the prime ministers and chief ministers often talk about taking action against corruption and ‘cut-moneys’? All these so-called ‘scams’ - in telecommunication, coal, commonwealth games, bofors, rafale et al – are associated with infrastructure.
If the money so far invested in infrastructure in the country was well spent, we all would now have been living in a better world. But that is not to be. When we experience a metro rail being implemented for over 20 years we understand something seriously wrong in the process and it is not just efficiency. We have also experienced a metro in the capital city being completed within three years. We have also experienced roads being built and then repaired almost every year after the monsoons. And all the pain is on the common people. In a country like Australia for example when something goes wrong with the rail communication we find immediate ‘replacement’ buses for the commuters – free of charge. Can we ever think of such ‘care’ for the commuters in India?
Diversion of infrastructure funds is the source of all evil.
And the diversion creates a network which, people say, reaches the highest level. We all know how the infrastructure required for media is forever changing and it needs a good deal of investment to build a media house and keep it updated. We notice today two major television channels in trouble for diversion of infrastructure funds – in one of them the owner is in the dock while in another a former finance minister is implicated. The funds in these cases may not be public funds but have been taken or borrowed on condition of doing public good.
Accountability at every step today is the need of the hour. Once a Prime Minister who was instrumental in implementing the three-tier administrative system in the government, famously said that he would consider a panchayat effective and honest if 30% of its funds were spent properly. The constitution now has changed and social audits have been made mandatory at every panchayat level. Accountability has improved but corruption has not been eliminated. All the countrywide over-arching infrastructure schemes today need to have a built-in strong monitoring system – and it needs to come from an independent outside -the- government agency. The present ‘porous’ system in which the infrastructure funds operate really shows little respect for the beneficiaries.