Saturday, September 20, 2014

Developing like Singapore? Go Beyond the Obvious!

This year, Singapore seems to have emerged as one of the most favored nations of Indian leaders. First, our foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited Singapore. Soon after, Mamata Banerjee - the chief minister of West Bengal and Vasundhara Raje, chief minister of Rajasthan went there. Next in line was K Chandrasekhar Rao - the chief minister of Telangana - India's newest state. And then we saw the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh playing host to  Foreign Affairs minister of Singapore. Though they all went their own individual way, there was something common about these visits: woo Singapore to invest into and engage with the development process in their respective states.

As I follow these interactions, I wonder, has any of the dialogues ever moved beyond the obvious roads and ports?  Has any of our leaders thought of partnering with Singapore in areas where the country has failed the most : sanitation, water, hygiene and safety for women?

What provoked this thought? It was this recent announcement by Chandrababu Naidu - the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh that the state's future capital would be Vijayawada.

Now, Vijayawada has good road links, rail links and is well-connected with the rest of the country. But here is another fact many aren't aware of:  Vijayawada is also the unsafest city for women in all of India. The city has the most notorious record of crime against women: 256.34 incidents for every 100,000 women.

How can the city get rid of this dubious distinction? Is it just by building some sky scrappers and roads and flyovers?  Is it just by building dozens of malls? 

Now this is where I wish Naidu would seek Singapore's help. Why not ask Singapore how they not only built good roads, but also made them safe for women? Why not ask how they not only run run high-speed, energy-efficient transports but also ensure they are not teeming with gropers and molesters?

Also, why not ask Singapore how it saves its wide, beautiful roads from men who love to turn them into puddles of urine? How does the city provide 100% sanitation for all?

Likewise, Telangana leaders could very well ask Singapore the secret of its world-famous water management system. An island, Singapore once faced recurring drought, floods and water pollution . Yet today its  providing enough safe water for all of its citizens - very much unlike Telangana - which is water stressed and is struggling to do the same.

What is so special about Singapore’s water supply? The main answer is technology.

The country uses intensive leakage control, has a full and accurate metering policy, accurate accounting of water-use and a strict legal punishment for illegal uses.

And then it has its ground-breaking waste water treatment system. Under this system, the country turns waste water into drinking water which is totally purified and absolutely safety. Finally, the government also runs campaigns to remove any fear that people may have about the water and helps  them accept it.

I was in Japan this May when the UN was celebrating World Water Day 2014. I watched Chew Men Leong - the chief executive of Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singapore receiving the award best practices in water management. Later, he showed me a bottle of water. It's called 'NEWater' and its purely recycled. And I thought, 'if only we had it in India!'

Today, when development is the buzzword in Hyderabad, there seems to be a perfect opportunity to learn and acquire a slice of this brilliance from Singapore.

For long, our leaders have sold us this idea that development is only about sky scrappers, shopping malls, speedy vehicles, wider roads.

Its not.  

True development is about improving public services and the quality of people's lives. Its about building a system that earns people's faith, make them feel secure, proud and happy!

Its time for the leaders to bring home that kind of development.  Singapore, I am sure, will agree!

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