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False Egalitarianism

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The quality of Delhi’s water has been reported to be the worst in the country by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The people of the NCR also breathe the most polluted air. This makes the region the unhealthiest in the country, despite its wealth. It is also clear that much of the problem lies at the policy level. Also, according to the Economist magazine, such conditions have existed wherever a region or country has gone through a particular phase in economic and industrial development. Better governance, improved technology and industrial processes eventually lead to improvement in the situation. It is important that government policy be in sync with these realities, instead of being caught either in outdated thinking, or leapfrogging ahead to expectations that are impractical at the present. An example of this is the policy adopted by the AAP Government in Delhi. Inspired by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s outdated socialist mindset and election related populism, water supply to the state’s residents is being provided free up to a certain amount. This has had two effects – it has caused losses to the Jal Board amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees, and also left it without the funds needed to improve supply and water quality. The same goes for his free electricity scheme. This results in changing the general population’s attitude towards governance, making it interested in freebies rather than adopting a stakeholder’s approach. Instead of taking responsibility for their consumption process, people adopt an entitled attitude. They will not, however, ask for improvements or quality as they do not wish to rock the gravy boat. An ever increasing level of cross- subsidisation just to ensure these services’ sustainability means necessary investment cannot be made in other equally important areas. (Free services also further encourage in-migration along with the other pulls, increasing the population and, consequently, the overall burden.) There cannot be enclaves of good governance, either in the country or even globally. A general basic level has to be ensured in terms of services before area or sector specific advances can be made. A lot is said about how India, after Independence, set up centres of excellence, but it seems this was done from an elitist mindset. The emphasis, then, should have been on providing piped water, electricity and other essential services to the entire nation. This would have boosted the nation’s development in a very different way. Unfortunately, this is having to be done now, at a time when technology changes almost on an annual basis and keeping up is hard. This tradition of politics has to end and difficulties must be squarely faced without trying to shield the voters from the reality.