Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Missing State?

One of my other Blogs has a post titled "India's richest shrine goes green" (, that talks about the efforts of the temple at Tirumala towards sourcing energy from sustainable sources. While the effort HAS to be lauded, this also raises some very serious questions about the role of the State in the nation's development. 

For the uninitiated, the establishment at Tirumala is the richest shrine in India, supported solely on donations by devotees. It also has footfalls that would be the envy of any retail giant. It has leveraged on this equity to implement sustainable development in its neighbourhood & hopes to influence the wider public opinion in this direction.

The establishment claims "
In a religious place like Tirumala, we can set the example by going green. Probably the impact will be much more than normal government advertisements or publicity". Wow!!

Global wind power giants Suzlon and Enercon have donated turbines to the shrine (7.5 MW generating capacity). The cost of these turbines would be recovered from the ones they sell to the public & private sector power producers. This results in a higher power cost to ordinary citizens, while the richest shrine (annual revenues of Rs. 1700 crores!!) gets it for free. If these & other corporates donated renewable energy generating equipment to individual villages, just imagine the the population that would experience a bright night for the first time in their lives. To  get the real import of the question, you may pls visit another of my post: 

A local company, Green Energy Solutions aims to develop multiple wind farms to supply the entire temple's energy & plans
 "to tap into the pool of devotees worldwide, asking them to make a donation of green power to the temple". Here is another entrepreneur seeking divine help!! But, he is not looking at passive support from god this time... He plans to exploit the religious emotions of the people for commercial gains. Fortunately, there are others in India who are employing similar means (read: religious) for noble gains. One of these is Morari Bapu, who convinced the fishermen in Saurashtra to protect the whale shark. His intervention has made the fisherfolk an unlikely protector of endangered species!! What does he gain? Nothing. What do the fishing community gain? Nothing. What does the human race gain? Survival of a fellow inhabitant of this planet.

Just like others in India, this temple also gets devotees who make generous donations of both cash and resources, including diamonds, sheets of gold or bundles of cash. "We have found that a lot of non-resident Indians are interested in donating sustainable technology instead" says Madhu Babu of Green Energy Solutions. One admires the connect the NRI's have with their country of birth. But why can't they exhibit towards their home town or native village, the same philanthropy that they display towards religious shrines? The national power deficit would reduce significantly if the NRI's (and the local population too) make material donations to their home towns, rather than the sundry religious shrines. Perhaps, they may not get a receipt for claiming tax benefits, but that would be a small price to repay for their janmabhoomi. 

What does this tell us? We find that a religious organisation has taken over & is guiding the development agenda in its neighbourhood (something akin to the naxalites discharging the dual functions of administration & justice in their areas of operations). It is being actively helped in this direction by large corporates as well as small time entrepreneurs. The expat philanthropy is also converging towards this direction. The local devotee also makes his own individual contribution for this noble task. Many of these devotees would also not be paying the due taxes! Who is missing in all this action? The State!! Where is the government in the above story? It is too busy missing its solar targets by a two-thirds. 

The government is taking several steps to achieve its stated goals of sustainable development. But the steps do not count when the need of the hour is giant leaps. Thus, we find other public funded organisations, who are not accountable like the government (the largest public funded organisation) occupying the space vacated by the State. The result of this abdication of responsibility can be seen in areas controlled by the naxalites & the government’s futile efforts to reclaim lost territory.

If this is going to be a consistent feature of the State’s performance, it would be better to hand over the administration to the religious, cultural, social organisations. They definitely can plan, execute & manage better than those in power. They are also better at raising resources. Perhaps, they would stop taxing the incomes of individuals & compensate this by donations! That would put an end to generation of additional black money in the economy, while the individuals would be left with more of their incomes for themselves. I would definitely love it. So would you too. But Anna Hazare would be deprived of the raison d'etre of his existence.

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