As over half of Indian children cry as hunger scrapes the insides of their bellies, India prepares itself for exploring life on Mars through ISRO’s PSLV C25 that launches on 5th November 2013. As we mourn our country’s dubious distinction of being the world’s Diabetes capital, Malaria capital, Tuberculosis capital and also, according to a recent report, Slavery capital of the world, today on 31st October, there will be a dry run which will simulate the entire launch sequence to explore uncharted territories by human beings. Rs 450 crore is what is being spent on this mission which critics claim to be profligacy for a country which cannot feed its hungry, shelter its poor or provide for its unemployed.
The question arises, how do we draw a line between scientific development of a country and a senseless megalomania which does a disservice to a nation’s vast population? John Drèze, the eminent economist, believes that it does not make sense for a country to spend so much on a mission which would not bring any immediate relief to its own people when half of the children in the country are undernourished and families have no access to sanitation. It makes sense even from a macroeconomic perspective keeping in mind the high fiscal deficit targets our economy has been reeling under. It is like hosting the Commonwealth Games in your country when there is no infrastructure to support such a massive event and your officials are not morally ready as yet to handle such large amounts of transactions and still keep their pockets light. Oh wait, we already committed that blunder.
On the upside, these satellites provide us the intelligence that leads to warnings of adverse weather conditions and phenomena like tsunami and cyclones. Where lakhs of people used to die a few decades back in cyclones, this year we saw how a strong cyclone like Phailin was disallowed the opportunity to wreck human lives by a prior warning and massive preemptive programs in the form of re-locations leading to a loss of life of just 44. So these satellites do serve a useful purpose. The GPS that we use on our smartphones, the intelligence inputs related to possible terrorist movement and camps, knowing the state of people in rescue operations like Uttarakhand floods, our clear television signals are some of the purposes that these satellites serve. So the question is settled – it is a useful investment.
But for a poor country (I refuse to call it an emerging superpower) like India, where do we draw the line? Does trickle-down economics really work or do we need to revamp our systems and start at the bottom-most rung? Or is it really an attitudinal problem with our officials and ministers, rather with all of us, who, in this rat race to own more and more, are becoming immune to the hardships faced by more than half of our countrymen? The answer to these and some more questions are what be at the top of our minds as we vote for the next government at the centre. Once these issues occupy the central position in our minds, only then will the politicians sit up and take notice. The ball is not in their policy makers’ court, as we all assume. It’s in ours.