Follow us on

|

A study in contrast

Print edition : Apr 01, 2000 T+T-
P.V. INDIRESAN

FOR an engineer, the extent of civil construction work that is going on in China is what first strikes the eye. There are hundreds of tower cranes operating in Beijing airport - something to be found rarely in India. It has been said that when it was ask ed what should be the symbol for China, it was the tower crane that was suggested - there are so many of them. Because of their high degree of mechanisation, the quality of construction in China appears to be distinctly superior to that in India. Their r oads, at any rate those that came into view, are comparable to the best in the world. At the same time, traffic lights were as quirky as in India and the escalators in the Kunming department store were also temperamental. So, although Chinese technology is impressive, it is not yet awesome.

India has nothing to show compared to the horticultural Expo in Kunming which is far superior to Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. That six-month-long Expo was drawing crowds estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 persons each day. The entrance fee of 100 yuan (Rs.550 ) is steep considering that a university lecturer gets a monthly salary of 1,200 yuan. A single day's family outing with children and parents would have burnt a big hole in their purse. The lavish dinner and traditional dances with which the conference d elegates were entertained had entry tickets that cost 1,000 yuan (Rs.5,500). It is a wonder how so many people can afford them. It was explained that the Chinese get their basic needs (including housing) so cheap that they have large disposable incomes e ven if their total income is no more than that of an Indian - a plausible but not a satisfactory answer.

There are few cars to be seen either in Beijing or in Kunming. Most people use cycles but public transport is extensive and in far better condition than in India and less crowded. In the Kunming Expo Hotel, there were over 300 parking places for cars, an d not even one car was parked there. Apart from official cars and taxis, private vehicles are few and far between. Two-wheelers and three-wheelers too are conspicuous by their virtual absence. So the traffic moves smoothly unlike in India. Apparently the Chinese have over-invested in road infrastructure while India has overspent on private vehicles. On balance, the Chinese appear to have committed a less serious error.

Goods in the department stores are by no means cheap. Local markets are different. It appears that a dual economy operates, one for the rich and another for ordinary people. Even then, consumer durables such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, television sets and washing machines that litter Indian markets are not seen in the profusion one notices in India. Not surprisingly, the Chinese who visit India go gaga at the sight of the Indian bazaar. But it a different story altogether with regard to telephon es - the Chinese are way, way ahead of India in telecommunication connectivity. It is also noticeable that ordinary people are better fed, better clothed and better groomed than Indian people are even in rich Delhi.