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Budgeting for India’s poor

Budgeting for India’s poor
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First Published: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 20 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 20 AM IST
Your coverage of the interim budget exemplifies the mindset of the elite. You are more concerned about budget deficits and subjects that are far away from the reality of the grinding poverty that still exists in rural India. Your tribe’s tryst with poverty ends with an appreciation of Slumdog Millionaire.
Do you expect the poor in India to wait till the budget is balanced according to your wishes? Why do you call a party “populist” if it takes pro-poor economic decisions, and “forward-looking” only when there are more tax sops for the urban elite? Does our world end at our own selfish interests, turning a blind eye to the millions living below the poverty line such as the thousands living in squalor a few hundred metres from your high-rise penthouses?
— C. Venketaraman
Nick Schulz seems to think he’s stumbled upon great wisdom when he says that a cheap laptop can “do little to address Indian economic development” (“Laptops are not the answer”, Mint, 16 February). No single thing transforms everything. Yet anything may be a trigger for change.
Just one of these changes in itself is big. And that is how the debate over providing a technology implement such as a laptop began. That is how the questions were asked. That is how some answers emerged. And no answer is ever a complete one.
Schulz cites Mumbai as an example of an island of entrepreneurship that uses the right intangible assets for progress, much like any urban habitat that sells dreams far and wide. But that is still a small part of a vast country called India.
The institutional set-up across the country is similar. But the local cultures vary. Schulz may have taken a cue from the spread of mobile phones and how they have helped millions of people change their perspectives—this alone suggests the need to introduce more technologies that can change cultures and empower people.
Instead, he expresses the typical laissez-faire bias of letting people spend the money by themselves—that this will solve all problems. His approach is under the scanner in his own country, the US, these days.
While I agree that those proposing a $10 laptop seem clueless, Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop has already changed the way laptops are made as well as the aspirations behind it. If Schulz considers three interesting episodes of introducing technologies in India—colour TV sets, STD booths and cellphones—he may notice much of what he has to say comes crashing down.
— Satish Jha
I liked the article “‘Incredible India’ loses lustre as tourists stay away” (Mint, 17 February). In fact, I was always amazed and a little sad at the way India chose to present its tourism. Almost all the players in this game—from the government to the hotels and tour operators—were fascinated by the “white-skinned” traveller who pays in euros or dollars.
With the slowdown across the globe, these geese are no longer available for the plucking.
What everyone ignored was the large number of middle-class Indian customers, whom everyone seems to look down upon.
For instance, tour car operators, who in any case fleece tourists, lament the fact that the Indian, unlike the foreigner, does not tip. Luxury hotels look down upon Indian guests and serve us with such a condescending air that they would have us believe they are the hosts instead of the hired help. Even the government has made no effort to make travel easy for the Indian.
The middle-class Indian has the money to spend after years of careful saving; he or she is willing to spend when offered good value for money. Unless India’s tourism industry learns this lesson, it will continue to lose lustre.
— Raj Khalid
We thank our readers for some very interesting letters in response to our stories and columns. Do continue to write to us yourviews@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 20 AM IST