Sunday, May 4, 2008

Broadband and Smelly Armpits

It is a funny day. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology of broadband and wireless and all that, I can sit in my bedroom and rest my aching back and arms. and still write this piece. As I write, I cannot escape the irony of it – for modern technology can enable me to write a piece and have it read across the world but it may not help me in many basic areas of life. You see, the reason that my back aches so is that I have been carting water puffing and panting up two flights of stairs from the water tanker that the government has so generously sent around because the taps have been dry for a week and not a drop flows through the taps. And this is no slum – it is a middle class colony where all (or most) of the constructions are authorized.

As someone who has benefited immensely from technology, I am at a loss to think rationally as to how technology should be best used. After all the advent of the Internet and especially e-commerce has changed my life and the lives of many others fundamentally – the manner in which I pay my bills, do my shopping, travel, deal with the government, obtain my visas, and many other things has changed, perhaps forever and possibly for good.

As important as broadband and IT all that is and for all the convenience that it provides, I still wonder at the bizarreness of a country’s priorities where bandwidth is available in plenty and is even subsidized so that more and more people can climb on which is fine; but the priorities seem skewed when compared to the fact that we have inadequate roads, inadequate drinking water, inadequate electricity, inadequate bus stations, train stations and airports- the real infrastructure is crumbling and life is getting more difficult by the day in the real world but you can zap up and down the virtual highway.

While rationing of a scare resource, be it electricity or power is but inevitable, it seems that we do not have the technology to be able to monitor its use and enforce some discipline. Electricity, for instance, is generated at various points in the country and transmitted through transmission lines and each state is allotted a quota. But states overdraw as often as they please and it seems that we have just enough to indicate that this is happening but not enough to put a stop to this.

While the virtual infrastructure is important; if the country has to have any future as a good place to live, the political eye needs to turn around to attend to these pressing needs too. Roads and airports are getting some attention but water supply and power generation is actually falling behind as demand continues to outstrip supply. Having inherited a little over 1,300 MW at the time of independence in 1947, the country today has an installed generating capacity of over 1, 15,000 MW and aims to increase it to 1, 00,000 MW of new installed generating capacity is planned to be added by the year 2012, along with the sprucing up of the transmission network to ferry power across the country but even that may be slow.

While power generation may eventually catch up, no one has any answers to water shortages. While we can wax eloquent about India having surplus water and one of the richest traditions of managing it, but still the water crisis has reached critical levels in the country, and with only important but minuscule measures like rain water harvesting can yield minimal results. Meanwhile, with about 20 percent of the global population, India is struggling to meet her water needs with just five percent of the world’s available water and the gap between these numbers is widening – figures that most people are perhaps unaware of. With people in most places seemingly apathetic to these figures and the gravity of the problem, it is time perhaps for nation wide Pulse Polio like movement to be started to at least sensitize people about water shortage and water conservation. For that moment, we wait with bated breath and parched throats.

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