LIFE IN THE SUPER FAST LANE
Indians will be less poor, better educated and healthier in 2032. But will disparities end? No.
I should first tell you who I am. I am 10 years old. My name is Anita and I live in Delhi. My schoolteacher saddled me with a project that made me struggle. She wanted me to write an essay on what the Indian economy will look like 20 years from today, that is, in 2032. Economists don’t know that and she expected a 10- year- old to write an essay. I cheated and asked my mother, who is an economist. She said, “Use the Net. Search and you shall find. That’s what most economists also do.” Here is what I found. My mother only helped me understand some concepts. The rest was floating around.
First, different countries have incomes in different currencies. To make these comparable, they are converted to US dollars and this can be done in two ways, using official exchange rates, or using PPP ( purchasing power parity) exchange rates. As India develops, the rupee will appreciate against the dollar. But beyond that, economists don’t know how exchange rates will behave. Nor do they know much about inflation. Therefore, they state everything in today’s dollars.
In 2032, India will be the third largest economy in the world, with a total income of $ 7 trillion ( it is $ 2 trillion today). But China ( No. 1) and USA ( No. 2) will be a long distance ahead, though if the rupee appreciates, India’s income will be more than $ 7 trillion. Second, India’s population will just cross 1.5 billion and overtake China’s. Therefore, $ 7 trillion will be spread over many more people. Third, India’s per capita income will be around $ 4,500 ( it
IN 2032, INDIA WILL BE THE THIRD LARGEST economy in the world, with a total income of $ 7 trillion. But China and USA will be a long distance ahead, though if the rupee appreciates, India’s income will be more than $ 7 trillion.
is $ 1,400 now). I asked my mother whether that will make India a developed economy. She said “developed” is an imprecise term and India certainly won’t be “developed” by 2032. It will still remain relatively poor, though much less so. It will just move from the lower middle income to the upper middle income category. This didn’t much sense until I checked that Jordan and Turkmenistan have that kind of per capita income today. I hadn’t realised that these countries are so much richer than India. Nor had I realised that in 2032, on an average, India will still be poorer than what China is today.
Fourth, there will be many differences within India and today’s gaps won’t be closed. The standard of living ( per capita income) in Chandigarh, Goa, Puducherry or Delhi will be like that in developed countries today. But in Jharkhand, it will be like that in Bangladesh today. There will still be a lot of poverty in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Fifth, there is something called a poverty line, a minimum level of income required to sustain life. Today, around 30 per cent ( different people give different figures) of Indians are below the poverty line. In 2032, it will be less than 10 per cent. So Indians will be less poor, better educated and healthier. Sixth,
many more Indians will live in urban areas and agriculture’s share in national income will be around 8 per cent. Some people will still work in agriculture. But many more will work in industry and services. Almost 40 per cent of Indians will live in cities, and there will be around 70 cities with populations of more than one million. Delhi, where I live, will have a population of 40 million. I can’t imagine what Delhi will look like then. I presume Delhi will expand and extend to neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. Roads, cars and transport will improve so much that one will be able to reach Agra, Jaipur or Chandigarh in two hours. I think with those high- speed trains, one might be able to reach Mumbai in four hours too.
Seventh, what will happen to slums, the poor and prices? I see people fighting for water even today. Many of them don’t have access to electricity. There may be better schools ( perhaps even virtual) and better healthcare. The infant mortality rate will become 15 per 1,000. Every child will be inoculated and there will be no births at home. But I think people will continue to fight over water and the weather will become more variable. Are we going to see a Delhi where peak summer temperatures cross 50 º C? All of us will have UID and the government will know who the poor are, those who need to be subsidised. But everyone else must pay and the way I see it, every item of food will cost Rs 350 per kg. Power will cost Rs 15 per unit. Though our incomes will be higher, everything will be more expensive. Because I go to a good school and will probably go on to study in the US, I am sure I will get a good job when I return. But I am not sure everyone’s going to be that lucky. There will be many of us around, all getting into the job market and there may not be enough jobs to go around. ( My mother confused me by saying that everyone will get jobs. It is just that salaries won’t increase that much, on an average.) But the question I am asking is different. Let’s assume that the poor will be fine, because the government will subsidise them. Let’s assume that the rich will be fine, because they will get good jobs with good salaries. But will those in the middle be able to pay Rs 350 per kg for every item of food and Rs 15 per unit for power? My mother asked me not to worry. She said that real income growth is always positive, more than inflation.
Eighth, my friend, Adit, read this and asked about family life and career. I haven’t written about it because I don’t know. I know I will probably work in a different city, not Delhi, and people will move about much more and not stay in their place of birth. I know jobs will be uncertain and I will keep changing my employer. I know I will marry late, probably never. I know Adit will also find it difficult to marry. But that’s because he comes from a part of India where they have killed all the women. I know I will see my parents not more than once a year. If I live in any of the metros, I know it will be very difficult to get a domestic help. But then, I have seen my parents going nuts trying to deal with various public authorities. For example, there are so many things they still have to do physically. I suspect much of that will go digital and virtual. Given a choice between living the lives my parents lead and the one I am likely to, I will choose my own. I think I will have many more reasons to be proud of being an Indian than my parents do. And if I marry, I hope my daughter will say the same thing when she is asked to write a similar essay.
( This “letter” is fictional)
( ABOVE) CHILDREN ATA UNICEF EVENT IN DELHI TO DEMAND THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION; ( LEFT) PEOPLE COLLECTWATER FROM ATANKER ATASLUM IN DELHI