R. Srinivasan

R. Srinivasan, also known as Ravi Srinivasan, is cursed with a magpie brain, which compels him to peck at anything shiny which catches his eye. Some of the bits turn out to be useful!

R Srinivasan

The air conditioning development index

| Updated on March 13, 2013

As a nation, we hate to be bottom of the heap in anything we do. We love winning so much that when our cricketers win a few games, we elevate them to the status of demigods. Conversely, when the odd demigod cricketer starts to fail, we start baying for his blood. It's no different when it comes to the economy. We love it when others call us an 'economic superpower.' We resentfully envy China its growth and achievements, want our Mumbai to become Shanghai. We insist that we be given at the top table of the world's nations, insist we deserve a full-time berth on the UN Security Council, want to be the stars of the show at Davos.. But when it comes to actually behaving like a developed nation, we suddenly want to embrace our poverty.

Don't believe me? Just take a look at the two budgets which were presented this week. Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal crowed about the Railways entering the one billion tonne club in freight, talked grandiosely of 'Anubhuti' coaches and bullet trains -- but when it came to actually raising some money, he turned to the victims of choice -- the so called 'upper class' rail traveller. Before the budget, he hiked air conditioned coach fares, and in the budget, the charges for reserving a seat in one. Why? Because those who travel in air conditioned coaches apparently belong to the affluent class of society, who are, or so the argument runs, well in a position to shell out more whenever asked.

The Finance Minister did the same thing a couple of days later. He levied a service tax on 'air conditioned restaurants', presumably because such eateries attract wealthy clients who are willing to pay to dine in comfort -- and therefore deserved to be taxed. After all, we are a poor country, so the rich have to do their bit, right? That's why we are asking the 'super rich' to pay, to quote Mr Chidambaram, "a little extra" in tough year. And the definition of the fabulously wealthy? An annual income of Rs 1 crore or over. One crore translates into $186,000, which, according to Computerworld magazine's 2012 salary survey of the technology sector, is what the average CIO/CTO makes in the US. Now $186,000 is a very good income to make in the US, and people who hold CIO/CTO designations are successfull professionals, but I daresay most of them would not even call themselves rich.

Isn't it time we revisited some of these concepts, now that we are an 'emerging' superpower? Ideas like air-conditioning equals luxury, for example. Mr Bansal should take a ride in a rural train in Thailand, and Mr Chidambaram drop in for a burger at Mc Donald's in America, and see whether these are populated by the 'rich' or the 'aam aadmi'. And then make claims about economic superstardom. In fact, instead of the usual development indices, why not have an airconditioning development index? When every traveller (and not just those on the showpiece Delhi Metro) travels in airconditioned comfort in a hot country, or when every daabha and Udipi restaurant in the country offers cool respite, perhaps we could call ourselves developed.

Published on March 13, 2013

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