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 last mile problem

R Srinivasan | Updated on May 08, 2013

There is considerable debate, particularly among economists, over whether India should be classified as a developed, or a developing nation. Using the standard economic indicators like gross domestic product (GDP) places India well below the leading nations by output -- but we shoot up the rankings if the GDP number is adjusted for relative purchasing power of the currency -- the so-called 'Purchasing Power Parity' index.There are others who argue that we do not even have the right to call ourselves an 'emerging' or 'newly emerged' economy, so long as our non-economic development indicators -- the Human Development Indicators -- place us below sub-Saharan countries on several counts!

So far does India have to travel down the development road, till it reaches the 'developed' milestone?

Not very far, asit turns out. Just one mile, in fact.

Let me explain.

We have, for instance, mobile telephony operators who provide services which are, on paper, indistinguishable from the best you can get in any developed nation. You have voice telephony, data, high-speed internet, etc. etc. On specs, they match the best anywhere. When you actually use it, the calls start dropping with alarming frequency, your internet speed drops to a crawl, and if you get out of the city, coverage can vanish over large areas. That's because there are teeny problems in 'last mile' connectivity, ranging from heavy congestion on cell towers to lack of towers in far flung areas. Except for that 'last mile', we are as good as anybody else!

Been online shopping recently? The website is as good as any international e-commerce site. The automated systems work just as fast, and as well. When it comes to actual delivery, or after sales issues? The last mile problem crops up.

Ditto for so many other things. Whether it is education, or health services, or transportation, or consumer goods, we have what everybody else has -- on paper. On the ground, the reality is that that Indian model of your car may sport the same name and badge and look identical to its counterpart sold in adeveloped market, but when it comes to the actual quality or specifications, its 'Indian-ness' becomes obvious.

Whether it's air-conditioners or airlines, cars or courier services, the Indian market is now indistinguishable from a developed nation's marketplace. The same, or identical products and brands are here, offered by the same or similr providers. It is only the actual product or service that somehow metamorphosises into a third world offering bythe time it actually reaches the end consumer.

The last mile is turning out to be the longest.

Published on May 08, 2013

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