BREAKINGVIEWS - India's mission to Mars more than confectionery

MUMBAI Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:40pm IST

An aircraft prepares to land at the airport surrounded by slums in Mumbai July 20, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files

An aircraft prepares to land at the airport surrounded by slums in Mumbai July 20, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui/Files

Related Topics

MUMBAI (Reuters Breakingviews) - India has announced plans to send a satellite to Mars - just weeks after a malfunction on the underinvested power grid deprived 600 million people of electricity. It sounds like inexcusable waste. But the $80 million at stake is relatively small, and symbolic feats can pay economic dividends. Besides, it will take more than abandoning a space programme to close India's massive wealth gap.

For such a poor and populous country, space exploration might seem low priority. A British politician fumed to a tabloid newspaper that 300 million pounds a year of British taxpayers' money goes to India in the form of aid, saying: "If the Indians can afford to send high-tech missions into space, they can afford to look after their own." He has a point: half India's children are malnourished.

But such thinking is too simplistic. India is on multiple development paths, which combine aspects of wealth and poverty at the same time. Visitors marvel at the high-tech success story of Bangalore's IT outsourcers and despair at the grinding poverty and chronic lack of infrastructure that plights much of India's 1.2 billion population. India's systemic poverty isn't produced by wasteful space projects, but by an inability to channel funds into needed infrastructure and projects that create growth.

Technical feats pay dividends too. Investing in high-tech projects may help India to create world class companies, as well as giving investors and citizens a heightened sense of confidence in the country's potential. Helping the poor can go alongside creating projects for industries that can create wealth and employment.

In the same breath as the Mars announcement, the prime minister also launched ambitious plans to provide basic electricity and banking services to every household to the nation. Those are laudable, but that will take years, and will need a level of investment and economic reform that India is currently struggling to achieve.

The government estimates that it will need a trillion dollars of funding for infrastructure over the next five years. To do that it needs liberalisation of its product and capital markets. An $80 million mission to Mars is a nice bonus, but in the end it's hardly likely to tip the balance in either direction.

CONTEXT NEWS

- On the occasion of India's 65th Independence Day on August 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has confirmed a high-tech space mission to Mars which will cost around $80 million. He simultaneously announced ambitious plans to provide basic electricity and banking services to every household to the nation's 1.2 billion people.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

(Editing by John Foley and David Evans)

FILED UNDER:

Religion and Politics

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Fund Raising

Fund Raising

Flipkart raises $700 million in fresh funding.   Full Article 

Reforms Push

Reforms Push

Modi may order insurance, coal reforms if vote delayed - officials.  Full Article 

Reuters Exclusive

Reuters Exclusive

India looks to sway Americans with nuclear power insurance plan  Full Article 

To Boost Growth

To Boost Growth

Crank up public spending to revive growth - chief economic adviser.   Full Article 

Bold Steps

Bold Steps

SpiceJet rescue plan marks bold bet on Indian aviation recovery.   Full Article 

New Airline

New Airline

Tata, Singapore Air venture Vistara to take off on Jan 9.  Full Article 

Online Sales

Online Sales

Knock knock. Who's there? Amazon's best-selling holiday author.  Full Article 

Hacking Attack

Hacking Attack

N.Korea says did not hack Sony, wants joint probe with U.S.  Full Article 

Reuters Poll

Reuters Poll

BSE Sensex to hit 32,980 by December 2015  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage