Indian Decade

Infrastructure Woes in India

A visit to a school in western Uttar Pradesh was inspiring and depressing in equal measure.

Last week, I travelled to a small village outside Bulandshahar in western Uttar Pradesh to do a story on a not-for-profit that runs a girls school in the area.

The organisation was founded by an elderly man who had moved back to this village (his hometown) after decades in an extremely successful corporate career in the United States. In fact, by the time it came time for him to retire he headed the Asian operations of a Fortune 500 company.

For the past ten years, though, he has made this village his home, and his school now has 1,100 girls who not only all study for free, but who are also provided with uniforms, books, meals and vocational skills to ensure they can earn a living.

Spending a day at the school was inspiring, of course. But, one of the things that struck me after seeing this is that many people I meet in Delhi have growth myopia. Sure, we know we have huge infrastructural problems, but the growing prosperity of our metros has convinced many of us that India really is the next big economic superpower.

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Bulandshahar isn't more than 100 kilometres from Delhi, and is the first big district town immediately after Greater Noida, a well-designed hub for housing, industrial units, sports facilities and educational institutions that the Uttar Pradesh government has developed over the last decade. But, the real distance is huge.

Managers of the not-profit told me that things are so bad in the area in terms of government delivery that they haven’t bothered with even the commonly seen billboards and wall paintings that usually publicise government schemes on health, sanitation and education. 

The managers said their school had shown it was possible to enable rural girls from even the most disadvantaged, backward communities out of the home and into school if there’s some dedication and sincerity among those trying to help. But they added that they still couldn't understand why the local government was, rather than congratulating them for their efforts and wanting to partner up with them, continuing to be an obstacle with its various bureaucratic requirements.

All this meant that when I arrived back in Delhi, rather than being energised with hope, I was actually a little dismayed. Individual effort is admirable, but the scale of our problems are so daunting that nothing can happen until our politicians and bureaucrats get cracking on doing something about them.

Unfortunately, that's a wait we know we can't hold our breaths for.