Get on with it, Prime Minister

Now that the Prime Minister has expressed a desire to see the 'animal spirit' revived in the Indian economy, I feel the need to remind him of a promise he made in 2004. At his very first press conference as prime minister, he promised to implement administrative reforms, on a priority basis, and if the 'animal spirit' he wants to infuse is that of the tiger, then it is time to fulfill that promise. The animal usually associated with the Indian economy is the elephant because of the pace at which India's economy has moved. And, there is no doubt that it is because of this somnolent pace that most Indians continue to be deprived of the most basic necessities of modern life.

In my view, though, there is another more important reason why India continues to be counted among the poorest and most backward countries in the world. This reason has to do with the manner in which we are governed. Anyone who covers governance in our ancient land knows that half the work that our officials do is irrelevant and futile. Let me give you some examples.

Indian citizens are among the only people in the world who need to fill arrival and departure cards when they exit and enter their own country. But, instead of doing away with this needless paperwork, Dr Manmohan Singh's government recently made the arrival cards even more detailed. Where do these forms go after they are filled? What purpose do they serve? Here is another example. Most modern, democratic countries have passport application forms that are no more than a page long. In India, if you seek mere renewal of a passport you fill a form the size of a pamphlet. Can someone explain why?

This kind of useless paperwork is so much the leitmotif of Indian governance that India regularly features at the top of the list of countries that are business unfriendly. In the time it has taken to start building Atal Bihari Vajpayee's dream network of highways, still a work in progress, China has built a vast infrastructure of highways, high-speed trains, modern airports, cities and ports that competes with the best in the world. Indian officials like to say this is because in a democracy, land acquisition is a problem but what they never admit to are the inexplicable procedural delays that are the real obstacle.

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