What People Seem to Miss About India

Development is Hard

Near Nashik, there are several tribal areas with dense forests, low education levels, and significant challenges in providing government services. One particular village lacked access to water. For 25 years, the government attempted to install a small pipeline. However, a few months after it was installed, local drunks would steal the pipe and sell it for scrap to buy alcohol. This cycle repeated over and over. Every few years, there would be significant protests, sometimes violent, demanding a water supply.

The Nashik-Yeola road was developed with a divider featuring thick plastic sheets instead of trees.1 Within six months, all the plastic sheets were stolen for various purposes such as roofing and fencing.

It is incredibly difficult to build and maintain infrastructure in non-urban areas. While government incompetence is one factor, the lack of buy-in from the people who benefit from these services is definitely important.

Protesting is Easy

There are 4-5 trees on a road connecting important industrial areas to Nashik city. When this road was developed, there were numerous protests against cutting down these trees. People, many not from Nashik, filed court cases and won. Today, these trees still stand. So far, at least ten people have died due to accidents caused by these trees, and numerous others have been injured. These accidents almost always affect people from disadvantaged groups, who are more likely to be on the road during dark hours. In Nashik, winter fog can reduce visibility to almost nothing.

For less than Rs 1.5 lakh (approximately USD 2000), you can organize a protest against almost any project you want.2 Such protests can easily get media coverage. Given India’s tight social networks around caste and the still-functioning hierarchy, it is easy to buy a caste leader and incite them to protest.

I do not remember a single project that was not delayed or affected by protests, whether it is building new schools or airports.

The presence of a protest should not be seen as a signal against the government or as evidence of a tyrannical government.

India is Diverse

India’s diversity extends beyond the number of languages, religions, and other “macro” variables. In any 1 square kilometer area of a city, you will find people from extremely diverse socio-economic strata living together. Daily wage laborers and millionaires live in close proximity to each other.

Most countries use property taxes to economically segregate their citizens, leading to vastly different qualities of services for the rich and the poor.

In India, the rich and poor alike receive the same services: bad roads, unreliable power supply, the same security, quality of education, and so on.

While the rich can spend more to access better services in some areas, it is still a hassle.

  1. The reason why this road was developed before the Nashik-Mumbai or Nashik-Pune roads is a separate issue related to corruption. 

  2. When I was 15, I somehow ended up at a protest because one of my friends got paid 5 Rs for each person he brought!