The ways in which the Government of India works are indeed mysterious and mystifying. So,even as the somber mood deepens in Indian business circles and foreign investors begin to flee,our government chose to invest in a huge promotion of India in Davos this year. On the promenade of this snow covered resort,huge billboards announce that India is an ancient civilisation as well as a modern nation. I missed the point of this message but what mystified me even more was why the slogan of the campaign was India Inclusive. Most business leaders I talked to said they were not completely sure what the slogan meant,so I directed my inquiries at those who are here to represent the Government. They said the meaning was that economic growth must be inclusive. This left me even more mystified since I have always assumed that this was the fundamental motive of every government since we became an independent republic more than half a century ago. Was this not the reason why we chose to be socialist?
In any case,the inclusive idea clearly had allure. More Indian businessmen came to Davos this year than I have ever seen before,more Indian socialites fluttered about and more Indian journalists found their way here than have ever come before. Sadly,none of them showed up at what I thought was the most important session at this years annual meeting. As an old Davos hand,I have learned to look for the new things that are happening,the themes of the future. So it was here,more than fifteen years ago,that I first learned about the Internet and it was here some years later that I discovered that the Americans were going to invade Iraq. This year,the session that opened my eyes to the future was not so melodramatic,but perhaps more significant for mankind in general and India in particular.
On an icy morning,I woke at dawn and wended my way through the dark and snowy streets of Davos to attend a session on water security. I had gone more out of curiosity than concern but became concerned within minutes when almost the first thing I heard was that by 2030,the world will be short of more than 40 per cent of the water that it needs. In India,the grim realities of our water problems are already evident. More than half of rural India has no access to clean water and in our cities,water scarcity is so serious that in the slums of Mumbai they buy bottled water from desperation. But,these are things we never discuss in India because those who make policy and opinion are usually not among the water deprived.
Then,there are the political considerations that have led to water policies across India based on giving water free to farmers. It is a stupid thing to do because more than 80 per cent of our water is consumed by agriculture and much of it is wasted because farmers view it as a free gift from nature. Another mistake that our socialist leaders made was to encourage the breaking down of ancient systems of water harvesting in rural India by misleading people into believing that water would flow endlessly out of taps.
At the water session in Davos,there were two Indian officials. Karnatakas Minister for Water Resources,B. Bommai and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission,Montek Singh Ahluwalia. They both made good speeches with Montek admitting that Indias water needs were likely to double if GDP continued to grow at nine per cent and the Minister from Karnataka conceding that governments had not done enough to prevent water being wasted. We need to hear these speeches from public platforms in India if we want real change. An Indian farmer who was present,made a short,passionate intervention urging corporations to invest ten percent of their advertising budgets on creating awareness. It is a good suggestion.
But,there is only so much that the private sector can do. In the end,it is in the hands of our political leaders to make the big decisions on creating awareness among farmers about the seriousness of our water problems. Now that would really be an India Inclusive idea would it not? Alas,there is no sign that any of our political leaders are going to waste their time on doing something that would really help India. They prefer to come to Davos and distribute glossy pamphlets filled with smarmy slogans like India. Where a billion smiles spell growth. Then,they go home to constituencies in which babies die of diarrhoea every day because their mothers have no access to that most fundamental of human needs: clean water. And,this is just the beginning of a disaster that stares us grimly in the face.