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What went wrong with Indian Independence? chapter - 9

What went wrong with Indian Independence? chapter - 9

                   In the 50 years after Independence, all the reins if of Economic planning were concentrated in the hands of the Central Government. Excessive protection to the Industry, imposition of the entire burden of the capital formation on the Agriculture, and the commanding heights location of the Public Sector these three fundamental tenets of planning of course had serious consequences for both the Agriculture and the Industry. It would be important to examine adverse consequences of the Governmental intervention in other fields linked with Industry and Agriculture. Let us start with the Transport Sector. 

                   India is a nation of continental proportions. Till the arrival of the Muslim invaders, local artisans had little skills and had not mastered the engineering of constructing arches or domes. The rivers would be classed in the fair seasons by passages at the level of the river bed. The movement of the troops had to be planned in the light of forecast of monsoon and floods. Sadashiv Bhau Peshwa failed in transporting his forces across the Jamuna River before the advent of the monsoons with the disastrous defeat at Panipat, as a consequence. The Company Government commenced construction of bridges on major rivers. Governing a country of continental proportions and extension of the trade network pre-supposes safe and rapid means of transport. In their own interest, the Company Government went ahead with a very ambitious programme of the development of transport. During the same period Lord Bentinck had established law and order suppressing the Pendharis and the Thugs. The Post Office was established so that letters could reach even to inaccessible villages. Very shortly after the first steam engine pulled the train on English railway tracks, the train started running between Bombay and Thane. Railways were the dial secure and dependable mode of transport, which the British Rulers and the Traders required for establishing their dominance. 

Network of railways

                   The British Rule saw the development of the world’s largest network in India. When the Independence came, the link of railway tracks admeasured 25,000 miles. The English left this network behind them. It is remarkable that this network was hardly extended at all in the post-independence period. The creation of Pakistan and separation of the rest-while East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) cut-off the railway link to Assam. A very narrow strip of land connected the North East Region to the main land. The Government was required to lay the railway track through this narrow strip as a matter of ;urgent military necessity. With this solitary exception, the railway network remained as it was at the dawn of Independence. This gave rise to some obviously ludicrous oddities. Cities like Bombay and Pune in Maharashtra are connected by rail to the major cities in the country. Often, the track is circuitous. The journey from Pune to Delhi in the north starts by the train moving firstly in the direction of the South towards Daund before turning towards Manmad in the north. The entire western strip remain untouched by railway services till recently. The intention appear to be that the road transport should replace railways as the basic mode of transport. It is true that laying of the railway track involves large initial expenditure. It also pre-supposes some long term planning but most of this expenditure is on local factors, like land, labour and primary instruments. Little foreign exchange is required. If the government of independent India had sustained the tempo of spreading the railway tracks maintained by the British it would have helped greatly in resolving the difficult problems of rural unemployment and over-burdening of the agricultural land. The experience during the period of extension of railways shows that the areas and agglomerations touched by the railway track starts on a developmental spurt. Cities like Dhule, Osmanabad and Latur in Maharashtra are eloquent examples of how cities can built if untouched by railways. Jalgaon and Bhusaval were small villages before the railway line gave its golden touch 

                   A bare touch of the rail track, and the Commerce started flourishing. Dhule, which was at a distance from rail line started building. Aurangabd, Parbhani, Nanded had the good fortune to find themselves on Manmad-Kacheguda line. Hence, they prospered by comparison. Beed, Latur Osmnabad trailed behind. Government of India had done nothing but maintained the tempo of the rail construction of the last date. The tempo of development of the last 50 years would have been higher even if it had given up all other forms of plan investment. The choice between Road Transport on one hand and the Railway on the other which have been made and in the light of yet another factor. No doubt, part of the money spent in even days of railway extension would have gone abroad. Otherwise, most of it would have been used for remunerating domestic factor of production,. Levelling of land, construction of dams, digging of tunnels, laying of wells most of these items of work are predominantly labour intensive. On the contrary, automobile technology is capital intensive. A large part of investment benefits economics of the other countries father than that of the country of origin. A large portion of aggregation population that stays on agriculture, simply because there is no alternative. This under employment, or concealed employment would have mopped up labour intensive projects, like Railway construction, were happening over the length and breadth of India’s territory. Not that Road Transport has no place in the modern infrastructure, which serves the same purpose of complementing the railway network. If the Government had concentrated on the efforts on railway construction supplemented by a proper feeder of road network, India would certainly not have been remained at the bottom of international community as it is today. The intensity of economic development of the most developed countries of today, like England, USA, Germany etc. provide voluminous evidence about the role Railways led transport revolution can play. In all these countries, Railway led transport revolutionised and this in turn facilitated the advent of both, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolution. Construction of railways appears to have put some money, albeit, small in the hands of large masses, which proved to be the subject of real capital formation for the Trade, Commerce and Industry.

                   The entire townships and the regions scattered from the railway lines declined. Those that felt the touchstone of the railway tracks experienced this golden epoch. It is understandable that in the flush of independence, somebody committed blunder and decided against the Railways. There are ample reasons to believe that mistake. Substantial vested interests wished to promote expenditure on Cement as also on automobile vehicles. The suspicion is further strengthened by what is happening now. The Railway Ministry appears to concentrated its energy on two items: one: providing SHATABDI or RAJDHANI like services on the lines joining metropolitan cities in major cities. For example, A/C coaches, catering services, and to some extent, speeding up the time schedule. Most of Engineering work undertaken by the Railway Ministry relates to broadening of Gauges or electrifying tracks. Upgrading of tracks has certain justification, no doubt. It facilitates through journey over long distance without having to change trains. But upgradation of existing services clearly indicates that bosses in the Railway Ministry are more interested in the comforts of urban population that have already benefited by the magi touch of railways over the last century. Millions of people that stay in areas that are ill-served by Railways is not a matter of much concern for them. Majority of villages are connected by Roads and are cut-off from the world every time the monsoon starts causing untold miseries. Clearly, that is not high on the agenda of the Rulers. For them, higher priority is to meet the expectations of the urbanised elite, who wish to have the comforts and perquisites they have seen during their journey abroad. 

Gauge broadening

                   The theory that the railway lines in the country as a whole should have common gauges is advocated by many Traders, Industrialists etc. Army pitches in very strongly for uniformity of gauges to facilitate fast movement of troops. Uniformity of gauges certainly is an advantage as regards manufacture of Engines, Coaches and signalling equipment. The railways lines of the pre-Independence era have not been of the broad gauge. It would appear that advantage of uniformity of gauges is a recent discovery. ;It must be said in the defence of the Railway Planners that it was..... prepared by..... limits of budgetary allocation, longest rail tracks possible, keeping aside advantages of uniformity of gauges. On the other, the present campaign for logically to convert into Broad gauge appears to be not entirely bona fide. An illustration will clarify this point. 

                   The Marathwada region of Maharshtra was convulsed by the mass agitation to broadening of railway gauges in the region. It became a matter of regional pride and prestige. Most of the participants came from the region served by Manmad Kacheguda railway line. Though the agitators have taken the name of the whole of Marathwada region, in fact, they were agitating for only a part that was already served by the metre gauge line. The districts of Beed, Osmanabad and Latur, which suffered a setback by comparison, had little voice in the matter. Rather than give Aurangabad Nanded advantage, converting MG line serving it into BIG line, it would have been more advantages to leave MG line un-altered and construct a fresh BIG line to connect Beed, Osmanabad Latur onwards to Hyderabad. This would have. brought the net additional benefit to the Marathwada Region ;as a whole. More advanced Aurangabad Naded would not have suffered any disadvantage while all the new region would have come under the railway network. It is surprising that it was the voice of the people from the already urbanised area that prevail. he old rails became scrap metal and new BIG rail rails were laid.

                   In a way the reasons for preferring broadening of gauges to laying of new rail tracks is understandable. Laying through tracks pre-supposes advanced planning and foresight. This certainly was not the strong point in the post-independence era. Ad-hocism clearly tilted in favour of urban, affluent section can only go to favour upgradation of existing tracks than laying new ones.


                   In the 50 years of Independence, Roads became the principal means of transport. Vehicles running on petroleum or Diesel held centre stage. Shri S K Patil recounts in his autobiography a very entertaining but critical episode. Cement was imported on large scale during the first and the Second Five Year Plan period. Domestic production too was encouraged. It was supposed to be used for construction of irrigation and power generating dams which Nehru described as the Temples of Modern India. The country had ample stocks of cement while Iron and Steel components failed to keep space. Piles of bags of cement were stored all over the country. If stocks remained un-utilised, cement would become useless within a few months. Cement had to be found some use other than construction of dams. Alternatively, utilisation of cement needed to be such as would require little or no use of iron and steel components. Some genius in Delhi had a streak of brilliance. Road construction requires very little steel. Construction of cement road should be undertaken on massive scale. In the last decade, we have seen all over the country spectacle of cracked cement roads being dug up and replaced by tar roads. Most or these cement roads were constructed during the epoch of S K Patil’ s anecdote. Construction of roads rather than railways serves eminently the convenience of post-independence rulers. and their crony capitalist industrialists. Roads do not need detailed long term planning If you put up a factory at Bhilai all that is necessary by way of transport infrastructure is to build an auxiliary road connecting Bhilai to the nearest highway. or transport junction. If Bhilai had to be put on the rail map, it would be necessary to foresee ;development of railway network for over 40 to 50 years. Soon came the spectacle of truck transport taking goods across the length and breadth of the country, from Punjab to Kerala and from Saurashtra to Assam. Road transport is less expensive. Its energy requirements from domestic production and generation. Trucks, cars, two wheelers that abound of recent, use small engines that are energy expensive and comparatively speaking less efficient. A truck starting from Punjab in the direction of the South is required to halt every 80 to 100 kms for payment of octroi duty. Truck drivers ;stops every time. Energy consumption of transport of this type is comparatively.higher. Vast number of energy expensive vehicles are running over the roads, which are full of pits and potholes over long distances present the country with catastrophic crisis.

                   In USA, Railways formed at one stage the very backbone of the economy. That continent size nation was traversed from one end to the other by trains carrying goods and passengers with utmost safety and punctuality and with comfort.. It is a fact that in USA railway system are gradually replaced by even a superior road network. Situation in the erstwhile USSR is very similar. 

                   For the many English educated upper class elite in India, whatever happened in the western countries, particularly USA, can go on. The Planners blindly copied America and Sovietic pattern of epoch and neglected development of what was the world’s longest Railway network at the time of Independence. It would appear that the people failed to realise a very significant difference between the situation in India and that in the USA or USSR. Both these later countries are rich in petroleum resources USA imports petrol ;in sizeable quantity from the Middle East. They import petroleum because it is cheaper to do so than that taken out of less promising domestic wells. They wish to conserve their own resources for the day when the international price of petroleum will over-rich the cost of petroleum extracted from domestic wells.

                   The position in India is very different. India has abundant coal reserves. Coal is of poor quality but good enough for railways, if not for smelting. Our petroleum resources, on the contrary, are very poor. Presently, India need to import petroleum worth billion Dollars to keep its rattling fleet of vehicles running. This is posing a serious drain on our foreign exchange resources. We have been singularly lucky to make some finding of petroleum reserves from time to time. The erstwhile colonial rulers generously hand over Sterling Balance to “Government of India” thus reimbursing expenditure incurred by the British Raj in India towards the Second World War. USA wrote off a huge amount towards payment of PL.480 shipments of wheat. Non -resident Indians have been sending funds on large scale back home. Scarcity of foreign exchange has remained nevertheless remained the sword dangling on the head of the economy throughout the period after the Independence. Rupee has been perilously declining because India has a very little to sell to the world, while it needs so many things that the rest of the world produces. Deficit in balance of trade is primarily due to the fact that India is required to purchase large quantity of petroleum products in pursuit of its ill-conceived decision in neglecting railway network and promote road transport to the detriment of the mass transport system.

                   At this distance, it is really difficult to manage what kind of considerations must have weighed with the rulers and who deliberately decided to de-rail the train that was put on the track with assiduous efforts by the colonial rulers. That, this transport policy contributed gradually to decline and fall of India is incontrovertible.
                                                                                                                        -Sharad Joshi