The Vision 2020 document put out by the Planning Commission has much to commend itself and deserves to be read by every functionary of the government to understand what kind of India we all must be building together. For an organisation that is widely regarded as wanting in ideas and energy, the Commission has produced a readable and appealing document. Its innovative adaptation of Rabindranath Tagores patriotic poem, Where the mind is without fear, to define Indias Vision 2020 is both interesting and forward-looking. It rests on Tagores shoulders to advocate a more open economy, increased investment in human development and the building of a knowledge economy and equally emphasises the importance of enhanced national security and a more humane and inclusive social and political order at home. The Vision model can be faulted for working out the consequences of 9 per cent growth over the next two decades on the grounds that this is an exceedingly optimistic view of what is attainable. If we log an average of even 7 per cent, implying greater than 7 per cent in some years, many of the goals can still be attained if that growth process is labour-intensive and regionally balanced. A higher rate of growth that is imbalanced can have its own costs that are politically difficult to manage in a large and fractious nation such as ours.
If the 7 per cent growth of the next two decades happens in the more densely populated Indo-Gangetic plains and if it can generate the jobs required, in agriculture and manufacturing, India will be a better place to live in by 2020. One can find fault with some aspects of the Vision report and its authors may well agree with some of the criticism. For example, the section on transportation envisions an India in which more people will own cars and scooters and therefore emphasises the need for public investment in roads and highways. Surely, this should also prompt the government into thinking about more investment in public transport. As the roads of most Indian cities now show, mere road-widening is not going to deal with the problem of urban chaos. Indian cities need mass rapid transport systems, like Mumbais suburban railway and Kolkata and Delhis metro. The Vision report says nothing about such public investment. Its invocation of Tagore to support globalisation and external liberalisation is, however, a master stroke!