In an earlier article published in Mint, I had questioned whether the Tata group strategy of overseas expansion is in the best interest of the shareholders. However, the unveiling of the Tata Nano is something for which Ratan Tata and the Tata group should be applauded.
Yes, there are detractors galore, whining about the environment, congestion, road safety and so on. What they are missing is that this car, soon to be followed by numerous others, is another step in the economic development of the country. This is similar to the introduction of the Ford Model T or the Volkswagen, which led to the building of highways and autobahns, and to the creation of thousands of jobs.
As someone who faces the issue of congestion while commuting to New Delhi from Gurgaon every day, I see, and am optimistic about, the improvements taking place and the public transportation systems under development. Unfortunately, because of the politicians we elect, India’s development model is the reverse of that of Singapore, South Korea and China, where development follows infrastructure. Here, infrastructure follows development (please spare me the “we are a democracy” refrain). When rural Indians start using the Tata Nano —given Indian creativity they will soon use it to carry farm produce and milk cans to village mandis, to visit relatives or city malls—they will demand better roads and better facilities and the situation will improve.
Road safety is obviously a concern, with or without the Tata Nano. The way to improve safety is not by beating our chests about more cars on the road, but by having the police enforce law. A recent sting operation seems to indicate that New Delhi’s Blueline buses are responsible for deaths almost on a daily basis, because the drivers are being allowed to get away. The recent move to make drunken driving a criminal offence is certainly a step in the right direction, provided it is enforced. To say that road safety will deteriorate because the Tatas might build a million more cars, is disingenuous.
The critics who probably are all comfortably middle class, with pet projects such as protesting some trees being cut by the Metro, don’t seem to understand the aspirations of the people. We all want to have electricity and running water and flushes. We all want to upgrade from bicycles to motorcycles and now to Nanos. We all want our children to get quality education.
Yes, part of that aspiration should also be to leave the world a better place for our children. But to the man who is starving, the priority is to get a job to feed his family, to have a roof over his head and to be able to educate his children.
With education will come a better understanding of the preservation of the environment—an example of this is the reduction in firecrackers during Diwali in New Delhi because of schoolchildren getting educated about the ill effects. This is the path which the developed world has gone through—remember the Industrial Revolution or the corruption of New York’s Tammany Hall era. This does not mean that one condones the destruction of the environment in the interest of development. There has to be a balance between the two. It should not be one at the cost of the other.
To Ratan Tata and his team, I say well done, and wish you the best of luck for your new dream of providing filtered water to the masses at an affordable price.
(Avinder Bindra is CEO of Arx Analytics and Advisory Pvt. Ltd, a financial research and consulting firm. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)