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The policies and programs of national development in India largely focus on infrastructure and economic development and rightly so as infrastructure development creates visibility of development to public eyes and the economic growth creates a winning ground for the Nation in the global arena. But then, when it comes to the impact of economic development on the wellbeing and happiness of the people, economic development and infrastructure alone do not measure to the level of happiness nor the wellbeing of the vast community.

India’s Impressive Economic Growth

Undoubtedly. India has done very well on economic front. It’s nearly 3 trillion- US dollar economy stands at number six in the world economies in the size of GDP and at number three on the GDP at purchase power parity. But then when it comes to happiness, India stands at 136 out of 146 countries, almost amongst the bottom 10 nations in the World Happiness Report-2022, recently published by Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a Global Initiative for the United Nations. The report measures the advancement each nation makes towards implementing the UN Resolution on “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development,” that was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 19th July 2011. The UN resolution was primarily aimed at   inviting national governments to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development”.

What Makes a Country Happy?

This is where one needs to pause and ponder on what it makes to be a happy country. Finland and Denmark are at the top of the list of the happiest countries in the world and so are most European countries. The reason is simple as the governments in the happiest countries care for its people and their wellbeing. For instance, Finland and Denmark are among the countries in the world where no tuition fee is charged for the quality education from the primary to the university levels, no matter what the discipline is. What more even the international students do not have to pay for quality education they receive in these countries. The same is the case for the Healthcare. Further, the efficacy of the civic services and the layers of internal security and safety leave no room for one to be unhappy or dissatisfied.

It needs to be acknowledged by those in power and by the architects of policy planning and those charting the strategies for growth and development that National Developments not just the GDP’. Likewise, the good governance is all about people and not just about the infrastructure and economic growth. Ultimately, for the people, it is the efficacy of the civic services, internal security, and safety and corruption fee governance that matters. 

Government for the People and Not Just by the People

Compared to the happiest countries of the world, when we look at India, we find that quality education right from primary to the university levels is at a high premium and a lot is desired in respect of the efficacy of the civic services. The governance is still far away from being the “government for the people” as is expected to be in a well-functioning democracy. When Abraham Lincoln spoke about democracy in 1863, it was assumed that the government by and of the people will work as the ‘government for the people’. But, in reality those elected by the people are often seen not as the representatives of the people and crusaders of their aspirations rather, they tend to think that they are here to rule and not to serve the people that elected them in a democracy. It is this malice of the democratic governments that was labeled as ‘Elective Dictatorship’ by Lord Hailshamlong ago in his maiden address delivered on the BBC as the Richard Dimbleby memorial lecture in 1976 during the time when one of the authors of this article, was in the UK. Much of the unhappiness besides the efficacy of civic services is related to this alienation of the elected representatives from the privilege to serve their people.

The Respect for the Laws

Further, besides the efficacy of the civic services it is the faith of the people in the laws, rules and regulations that create happiness in a democratic society. For the laws are to be a great friend of the people and the society. They are meant to be a means of great solace and satisfaction and not just the instruments to punish the guilty as is perceived by the general public. A well-functioning democracy necessitates a self-disciplined and law-abiding citizenship and not the society that is scared by the fear of the laws as at present. Afterall, the laws are here to guarantee you your freedom and liberty but without encroaching upon others liberty and freedom. Unfortunately, the freedom in a democracy like India is often misconstrued as ‘freedom infinite’ while it has to be seen as the liberty at a cost. The cost one has to pay is in respect of respecting the liberty and freedom of others. The dancing marriage processions on the roads of India blocking the traffic and creating inconvenience to the general public are a classic example of freedom infinite that India and its people enjoy in the name of democracy. The same is the case about the loss of civic sense in the society and the traffic sense on otherwise the beautiful roads of India.

People’s Behavior and Attitude Matters

It is here that those in government and at the helms of affairs of national development should recognize that merely constructing beautiful roads and highways is not sufficient to ease out congestion, least it is a recipe for improving road safety as the road safety depends not so much on road infrastructure but on the care and caution with which the traffic laws are obeyed by the drivers. We have a lot to do in respect of improving India’s record of road safety, being one of the most unsafe countries in the world in respect of road safety. Technology can do a lot of good to amend the behavior of the drivers and also making our roads and highways intelligent through integration of Intelligent Transportation Systems, ITS. One wonders why we are­­ sitting quiet when we have so much to do in respect of improving road safety in India.

Actions on War Footing Needed

Strategic actions on war footings and public awakening are to be pursued together to make rapid advancement towards creating a happy and healthy India that can cater for the monumental challenge of meeting the aspirations of 660 million Indians below the age of 25 years who are looking towards the policy planners in India to understand that along with  infrastructure development, the investment in people and strategic actions for creating a law abiding  and responsible citizenship are needed to create a happy, prosperous and  a sustainable India.

Author: Aishwarya Sharma and Prof Pritam B Sharma

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