Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quality of Life

For last couple of years, power outages have become a big problem in India. Last summer, we had a severe power shortage situation in Pune. Things became so bad, that every day,  power was switched off  by the electricity provider for as long as  four or even six hours. Work, leisure, almost every thing, had to be rescheduled.  Rich, poor, everybody suffered equally.  Life became absolutely unbearable during those summer months with Sunlight baking us in our houses and no fans to cool us.  Luckily for me, I could  leave  Pune at that time, for a long sojourn in U.S.A.  After I had reached my destination, my sense of relief was almost beyond expression. I had never  felt so much distressed before,  in any of my previous visits to this country, by  the difference in the quality of life in the western world and India.
I returned to India and found that power situation, even now, was equally bad, but life had become bearable because of the change of the season.  My relief was however very short lived as to my utter dismay, I found that another man- made problem had cropped up. Pune city has been growing up at a very fast pace in recent years. It has also become a wealthy city. This has resulted in a big increase in number of vehicles on roads, which however continue as before.  The Municipal corporation, instead of increasing vehicle carrying capacity of roads, keeps on tinkering with traffic flows by devising strange and idiotic schemes such as ‘one ways’ and ‘ no entries’. During my absence, some brilliant traffic planner, acting on a brain wave, had introduced a nutty traffic flow scheme. The result was that the entire traffic, including those of heavy busses, which earlier flowed on a near by big street, now flowed on a narrow road around my house and  made my house a de facto, virtual traffic island. The continuous drone of vehicles, squeaky sounds of brakes being jammed and the blaring of the horns, from early wee hours in the morning to midnight, made all of us regular lunatics in few days. Desperate thoughts, such as sale of the house, became the topic of hot discussion. Meanwhile my luck smiled and I was again able to escape to U.S.A.  The tranquility, peace and quietness of living in the first world were almost impossible to believe.
These are just two little irritants perhaps in my personal life. But the fact remains that the quality of life in India was, is and will remain at least for our life time, nothing else but very poor. I recently found out that according to the Life satisfaction survey, carried out by the Economic Intelligence unit of the ‘Economist’ magazine in the year 2005, India ranks at a lowly number of seventy one out of one hundred and eleven countries surveyed worldwide. India also just about manages to get a score of 5.76 on a scale of 1 to 10 as ‘Quality of Life Score’.  This score is based on nine ‘Quality of life determinants’. These nine factors and the indicators that are used to represent these factors are as following.
Material well being –GDP per person
Health–Life expectancy at birth.
Political stability and security– Political stability and Security ratings
Family life– Divorce rate
Community life– ILO world value survey
Climate and Geography– Latitude
Job security – Unemployment rate
Political freedom– Freedom house survey of political and civil liberties.
Gender equality– Ratio of average male and female earnings.
It may be argued, that some factors like climate, are loaded against southern countries and GDP values may not be true indicators of the real purchasing power of the people. However, over all, the factors used in the survey, seem to be fair and balanced because some factors like family life, actually work in India’s favour. As expected, most countries of the west and some Asian tigers like Japan, Korea and Singapore, are ranked at the top and would be considered as First world countries.
‘Economist’ emphasizes that income of the people or GDP, though very important, is not the crucial factor. On the Macro level therefore, we do not seem to be doing so badly. But it appears to me that at the personal or micro level our performance is absolutely horrific and dismal. To my mind, the factors at micro level, which cause such poor quality of life, are as follows.
First and foremost factor is Corruption. Government or local government machinery just does not move in India. At each level, favours are expected. For a common person, this is the worst irritant.
Our total disregard for civic responsibilities. We just do not care about others.  We celebrate festivals with mega level sound and burst loud crackers at midnight. We seem to blow vehicle horns for no reason. We do not seem to have the concept of space for an individual and tend to tread on other people’s toes.
Public cleanliness is something from Mars for us. We do not mind spitting or littering the public places. We make use of public utilities such as urinals in such a way that these become unbelievably stinky and dirty.
Our traffic sense is shocking. We just do not follow any traffic rules.
Unreliable availability of goods and services. One day cooking gas is not available. On another day Petrol pumps run dry. We have no guarantee that essential goods and services would be available reliably.
Poverty of conceptualization. We just do not plan for the future needs. A new bridge near Pune was built so narrow that within just few years it was found to be totally inadequate for the traffic growth. We have power shortages because ten or twenty years back, somebody did not envisage the future electricity demand properly.
Meanwhile, things seem to have improved, back at home. The industries around Pune have decided to help people of Pune by generating enough electrical power on their own to meet the short fall. The Municipal Corporation also has since withdrawn their nutty traffic scheme. Things are quieter near my house.
I can only hope that when I return to India this time, there would be no surprises waiting for me and I do not have to make another dash abroad.

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