Friday, October 21, 2011

Another big expressway in Gujarat…..but it has nothing to do with Modi!

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) announced yesterday that a new expressway would be built from Mumbai to Vadodara by 2015. The cost of the expressway is estimated at some Rs 7500 crores. The construction of this expressway will make the entire distance between the two mega cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad covered by expressways. When built, the time taken to travel between these two cities will reduce to just five hours. If the Mumbai-Pune expressway is taken into account, there would be an expressway all the way from Pune to Ahmedabad. Looking into the future, when Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor gets completed, there would be an expressway from Delhi to Mumbai and onwards to Pune. No doubt, in a few years time, when Modi goes back for his election campaign, he will claim credit for the new expressway in his state. But then, what’s new about Modi claiming credit even when it’s not due!

When I wrote about the sham that Modi spins about his state’s development under his rule, many of his supporters argued that the roads in Gujarat were the best. Indeed they are! And (unfortunately for Modi) have always been! I remember living in Ahmedabad twenty years back and traveling often to Vadodara and sometimes to Surat (southwards from Ahmedabad) – the road journeys used to be delightful. I remember going on holidays to Udaipur (northwards) – again it used to be a fab driving experience. I remember going to the other side (westwards) – Rajkot – and the 200 kms long distance could be covered in a mere three hours even then. Gujarat has always had good highways – but all of them have been built by the Central government – not by the state. Even the smaller roads that fall under the state governments have always been good in Gujarat – the road between Ahmedabad and Mahudi being an example.

Many others commented on the record of the NDA with regard to construction of roads. It was indeed Vajpayee who started the Quadrilateral Highways project – linking the four major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Without doubt, that was an ambitious project. Again, Modi benefited as the highways went right through his state. For the record, the NDA government built about 8900 kms of national roadways in their six years of government. The UPA-1 built about 17000 kms and the UPA-2 will most likely build about 20000 kms by the time its tenure is over (going by the projects already awarded and likely to be awarded in the next few months). So unfortunately (again), the data does not bear out the claim made by many NDA supporters that the NDA built more roads than the UPA. Yes, their claim that Vajpayee started it all off is true.

Another damning report for Gujarat is the one of the economic data released recently by RBI. It’s actually the same data that I referenced when I wrote my post titled “Modi’s growth story is a sham…..” on Sept 17th – which said that Modi’s claims of a high growth record were all a sham. The RBI has put out stats (as reported in the TOI) which show that while the state GDP of Gujarat has increased by 79% in the last five years, the national average has also been about the same. So all the rubbish that Gujarat is growing faster than the national average is just that - rubbish. Also, the data shows that states like Bihar, Chhatisgarh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Punjab (all non-Congress states by the way) are doing much better than Gujarat and the national average. Also noteworthy is UP – given its high base of GDP. Of course, there are many Congress ruled states also – most notably the large states of Maharashtra and AP – which are doing better than the national average. If Modi supporters find the RBI data wonky, then god save them!

The Human Development Report released by the government yesterday also has some shockers in store for Gujarat. Its record on human development – especially malnutrition of young children – is quite sad. As per the report, 69.7% of children under five years of age are anaemic and 44.6% suffer from malnutrition. I am not quite sure why and how this has happened. I know for a fact that Gujarat is one of the most prosperous states – the poverty levels being much lower than national levels. Maybe it’s something to do with the food habits of Gujarati people – for many of whom the concept of “breakfast” is unfamiliar. Maybe it’s to do with the absence (or low numbers) of government sponsored mid-day meal programs etc which help the poor to get two square meals a day. One needs to look at this more closely.

One other possible reason could be that the foodgrains production of Gujarat is very low – given its size and its population. The total production of foodgrains is just 7.8 million tonnes per annum (even after achieving record growths during Modi’s tenure! I have always stated that Modi should rightfully take credit for this – but with a caveat that the low base would obviously lead to high growth rates). The population of Gujarat is about 6 crores. Compare this with UP – 47 million tonnes (population 3 times of Gujarat), Andhra (20 million tonnes – population 1/3rd more than Gujarat) and Punjab (27 million tonnes – population less than half of Gujarat). Gujarat is a leader in cotton production – and while that gives a lot of cash in the hands of the farmers – it doesn’t give foodgrains (most poor farmers and agricultural workers most consume what they produce before selling the rest to the market). One needs to see if this is indeed true.

The real truth is that Modi’s strategy is to claim credit for economic progress when it is not rightfully his. For roads, he has to thank the central government (whether NDA or UPA). For the economic prowess of the people, he must thank….the people! This is not to say that Modi is not a good CM – he is. But his claims that he is better than any that Gujarat has had or the other CMs in the rest of the country is rubbish. Also his record on non-economic matters (secular harmony most notably; human development; freedom of speech etc) is an entirely different matter!

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