At times, it's difficult to believe that popular author Chetan Bhagat is an IIM alumnus and was a banker to boot. What has a canal in Maharashtra got to do with a statue in the middle of the sea? (He was, of course, referring to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial project with a 192-metre tall statue of the Maratha king on his horse planned 1.5km from Raj Bhavan and 3.5km into the Arabian Sea).
Why not spend Rs 3,600cr on building a Shivaji canal that runs through Maharashtra and gives water to farmers so they don't commit suicide?— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) December 24, 2016
If a canal is really that important, then why haven’t we had it yet without bringing in the Shivaji statue into the picture? Why wasn’t such an important thing done much earlier? But even if you got the Shivaji project scrapped, would the state government suddenly allocate the same amount of funds to this canal? I don’t think so.
Another TV channel outraged about Mumbai’s potholes. Again, what’s the link? The pothole problem has to be fixed no matter what useful or useless project is planned elsewhere. One website gave a list of glorious and noble things you could do with Rs 3,600 crore. So, go ahead and push those projects if they’re that good. Why bring the Shivaji project into it? India is a multi-trillion dollar economy and such projects are a drop in the sea.
|The proposed Shivaji Memorial project. (Credit: PTI photo)|
The same discussion ensued with the bullet train. “What about railway safety?” screamed one celebrity. Well, we can have both a bullet train and good safety on Indian Railways or neither or either one of them.
This outrage had reached its heights during the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi in 2010. What if the thousands of crores spent on CWG was used to eradicate poverty? That was the common refrain. Well, at that time the government of India didn’t go to the mint and take out those thousands of crores of rupees in fresh notes and hand it over the CWG organisers (which could have been easily diverted to poverty schemes).
The New Delhi CWG also had to raise money through other means. All those sports sponsors gave money to the CWG and wouldn’t have ever spent such a huge amount on poverty schemes. The people who paid for the tickets to watch sporting events could well have decided to give the money to charity, if they chose to. The TV ad revenue was also raised for the sporting event and not for poverty schemes.
The CWG was also like a business venture which could have well-made a tonne of profits or a tonne of losses depending on many complex factors. Then, what about the “infrastructure boost” that the city of New Delhi received? That was enjoyed by the rich, the middle class and the poor alike.
Finally, there is also the issue of the importance of propagating sports in the first place. Sport is great for physical fitness and builds character in youth. It can’t be all about academics. All work and no play make many a dull boy and girl.
The reason why people have this mentality is because we still imagine money the way we used to when we were kids. If your father earned Rs 10,000 a month then he would have to allocate money for rent, food items, entertainment etc. accordingly.
So, if less money was spent on rent, then more money could be spent on entertainment. If the entertainment budget was sacrificed, then you could allocate the same amount on, say, charity. And so on and so forth. Household economics is a zero-sum game.
But the government doesn’t work like that. In the old days, people used to barter, then we had the gold reserve standard and finally fractional reserve banking. Today, over and above what we have, the government can raise as much extra artificial money as it wants to.
Of course, if it does so, then we’ll have inflation and if they indulge too much of it, then we could go bankrupt. So there’s always a fine line between managing your accounts and budgets.
Raising money to tackle poverty is also much different from raising money for an infrastructure project. For example, if India hosted the popular cricketing World Cup, it would be a piece of cake to raise thousands of crores just like that, but not at the cost of some other project.
It’s not a zero-sum game in economics. One sector does not necessarily have to benefit at the cost of another. All the sectors in the country could do well or all of them could be doing badly. The country might afford all the statue projects it wants and other useful projects as mentioned above or maybe none of them at all.
But in one way the nation is like your household. Do you spend everything on food and rent and medicine? What about entertainment? Can any Indian rich or poor do away with entertainment?
That’s the case for government projects too. You can be sure that Mumbaikars will enjoy going to such an unusual place in the middle of the sea. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Monument will be a great tourist spot with an auditorium, food courts and jetties. The government has talked of 10,000 footfalls a day.
Entertainment. Tourism. Nationalism. Patriotism. History: Securing Shivaji’s legacy. It’s all necessary. There’s nothing stopping other districts in Maharashtra and other states in going ahead with whatever poverty projects they like without invoking the Shivaji statue.
Finally, with real estate being at such a premium in Mumbai, one should actually laud that such a project is being made in the middle of the sea with no land to acquire either from the middle class or farmers.
So then how do we do things like removing poverty in the long run?
The key is to choose better leaders with good governance skills. It is ironical that the very people who cheer Lalu Prasad Yadav’s "jungle raj", Akhilesh Yadav’s "goonda raj" and Mamata Banerjee’s "total lack of governance" are frothing at the mouth and shouting the loudest over the Shivaji project as a futile exercise in patriotism and asking for its funds to be diverted elsewhere.