In his first address to the nation after being selected to lead the UPA-I government in May 2004, PM Manmohan Singh had famously stated, “Reforms are needed, I have always said that, but economic reforms with a human face will give India’s common man real hope.” He had gone on to reassure the over one billion listening that economic and social development would be “for all, not just for a few”.
Nine years on, alas, it is not just the poor and forgotten millions in rural India who are waiting for long-promised basic amenities like clean potable water, electricity, public transportation, working sewerage systems, good roads, neighbourhood schools, gas connections and supplies. No, all this sounds like a fantastic dream for most people outside privileged gated communities. Life in the teeming cities, especially in urban slums, poor and middle-class localities, is getting tougher—bordering on the unbearable.
Sure, everyone and their grandmother complains about the rising cost of living. And there arises a palpable anger and frustration when there’s no guarantee of quality service despite escalating charges on utilities, be it electricity, water, sanitation, transport and so on. There have been several protests across urban India. People feel let down by the very reforms that were supposed to improve essential services, eliminate wastage, serve up increased competition and thereby lower costs. Instead, people are upset at the higher user charges, the indifferent service, and the realisation that the state, in retreating in favour of private players, isn’t taking precautions to protect consumer interest.
And this is not a Delhi or Mumbai phenomenon alone—the state of affairs...