Opinion

Tejas Express vandalised: Why are Indians incapable of preserving public goods?

Facilities meant for the public are treated shockingly in India, especially by the well-off.

People have expressed shock and horror at headphones being nicked from the Tejas Express, the new high-speed train linking Mumbai and Goa, and the first to offer airline style on-board entertainment.

There is in fact nothing at all shocking about this. It is of a piece with how public goods are treated in India, especially by the well-off.

For example, in most public parks in the country, shrubbery is stripped of blooms every morning by people who seem to come there for just that purpose. Ask them why they are stealing flowers from a public park and they will give you a horrified look and say: “I am not stealing, it is for my puja.”

The way I look at it, public parks are for the enjoyment of members of the public. Everything in them, including flowering plants, is for all of us to enjoy. When individuals pick flowers, for whatever purpose, they deprive us, the public, of this enjoyment. In my book, what the flower pickers do amounts to stealing from the public. And I also wonder about the gods who receive offerings of stolen flowers.

Privatising a public good

Pavements are another example. Public money is spent on building pavements so members of the public can safely walk down a street. But in almost every city in the country – notably in Delhi and Mumbai – public pavements have been encroached on by private car owners for use as parking, or by the entrepreneurially pious to build private temples. Members of the public are forced to walk along busy roads, risking life and limb. In my book, car owners who illegally park their cars on public pavements, as well as those who build temples on pavements, are stealing public space. They are privatising a public good.

Economists have defined a public good as having two qualities:

  1. That no one is excluded from using it, and
  2. That one person’s use of it does not reduce its use to others.

When someone pilfers flowers in a public park they are excluding the rest of us from enjoying a park full of flowers, and while flower thieves continue to use and enjoy these flowers, and possibly earn benedictions from their gods, our enjoyment of them is reduced to zero. It is the same with pavements. When a public pavement becomes a private parking space or a temple, pedestrians are excluded from those spaces. While car owners, temple managers and temple goers use the public space, their using it deprives others of its use.

Similarly, headphones on the Tejas Express are a public good in that they are placed on the train for the use of all passengers who may travel on that train. Those who purloined the headphones have deprived the passengers who will travel on the Tejas in the future of the use of the headphones and enjoyment of the on-board entertainment. We can assume that the purloiners will continue to use those headphones in private, while you and I, were we to take the Tejas Express, will have to stare at a soundless screen.

When tempers fray on the streets in India it is not uncommon to hear someone ask the local language equivalent of “Kya yeh tere baap ki sadak hai?” Does this road belong to your father? The honest answer to that is, “No, but so what?”

We are like that only. And until we start calling a thief a thief and an encroacher an encroacher, yanking out headphones from a fancy new train is not stealing – it is only helping yourself to a souvenir.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Bringing your parents into the digital fold can be a rewarding experience

Contrary to popular sentiment, being the tech support for your parents might be a great use of your time and theirs.

If you look up ‘Parents vs technology’, you’ll be showered with a barrage of hilariously adorable and relatable memes. Half the hilarity of these memes sprouts from their familiarity as most of us have found ourselves in similar troubleshooting situations. Helping a parent understand and operate technology can be trying. However, as you sit, exasperated, deleting the gazillion empty folders that your mum has accidentally made, you might be losing out on an opportunity to enrich her life.

After the advent of technology in our everyday personal and work lives, parents have tried to embrace the brand-new ways to work and communicate with a bit of help from us, the digital natives. And while they successfully send Whatsapp messages and make video calls, a tremendous amount of unfulfilled potential has fallen through the presumptuous gap that lies between their ambition and our understanding of their technological needs.

When Priyanka Gothi’s mother retired after 35 years of being a teacher, Priyanka decided to create a first of its kind marketplace that would leverage the experience and potential of retirees by providing them with flexible job opportunities. Her Hong Kong based novel venture, Retired, Not Out is reimagining retirement by creating a channel through which the senior generation can continue to contribute to the society.

Our belief is that tech is highly learnable. And learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from school. That is why we have designed specific programmes for seniors to embrace technology to aid their personal and professional goals.

— Priyanka Gothi, Founder & CEO, Retired Not Out

Ideas like Retired Not Out promote inclusiveness and help instil confidence in a generation that has not grown up with technology. A positive change in our parent’s lives can be created if we flip the perspective on the time spent helping them operate a laptop and view it as an exercise in empowerment. For instance, by becoming proficient in Microsoft Excel, a senior with 25 years of experience in finance, could continue to work part time as a Finance Manager. Similarly, parents can run consultation blogs or augment their hobbies and continue to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Advocating the same message, Lenovo’s new web-film captures the void that retirement creates in a person’s life, one that can be filled by, as Lenovo puts it, gifting them a future.

Play

Depending on the role technology plays, it can either leave the senior generation behind or it can enable them to lead an ambitious and productive life. This festive season, give this a thought as you spend time with family.

To make one of Lenovo’s laptops a part of the family, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lenovo by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.