Letter to the editor –How India can utilise proven British expertise from willing non-resident Indians who can invest their technical skills -Ashis Choudhury
As you know well, the UK-India Business Council and UK Trade & Investment, in association with the High Commission of India, are making considerable efforts in utilising British expertise in India’s development programmes, including the important infrastructure sector. However, in my experience, the visiting Indian officials and Ministers tend to neglect the follow-up of discussions conducted during their visit to Britain. The same happens when you meet them in India.
I participated in two UKTI missions to India in the last four years in which the British Deputy High Commissions in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai took substantial initiatives in organising meetings and seminars with Indian officials and businesses in Kolkata, Kochi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. However, small and medium size businesses, particularly specialised consultancy organisations, are yet to witness tangible results.
In my experience, written communication by post or email with the government officials and ministers, both in the States and in central government, prove to be just one-way! Sadly, West Bengal’s past and present decision-makers seem to be especially apathetic.
From what I hear from recent investigative media reports in India, it is hardly surprising that the main criterion for success is not proven technical skill, but the ability to make substantial pay-offs to people in power!
Several years ago, the Government of India set up an India Investment Centre in Britain. With their encouragement, we established a branch in Kolkata, in association with a Canadian firm of consultants. In 1996 with the unique efforts of the then President of Birla Technical Services (Dr B.N. Mojumder) and IITian Technical Services (formed by IIT-trained professionals), private sector funding was organised to prepare plans to revitalise Kolkata’s central business districts of New Market and Burra Bazar that involved my consultancy practice.
The then Chief Minister of West Bengal keenly provided administrative support, if not resources. Although considerable interest in our plan was displayed in media reports, very little was done either by the Calcutta Corporation or the State Government to implement our recommendations. Since then, we didn’t succeed in making much progress and had to wind up the operation in India. As I mentioned to you, this itself proved quite problematic! However, I would like to imagine that this situation may have improved.
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Having said that, as a non-resident Indian who, in addition to the work in the UK, has been involved in providing consultancy services to international development organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations as well foreign governments, I would certainly find it gratifying to contribute to India’s development programmes in my own modest way.
To this end, despite past frustrations, I would like to be cautiously optimistic that Mr. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, coupled with the continued efforts of the UK-India Business Council and the currently more active Indian High Commission will perhaps herald a change for the better. If so, this will prove inspiring to many more NRI professionals.
Please note that the views expressed in this letter are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of any organisations mentioned above – Ashis Choudhury.
MA(Econ), MSc(Eng), DIC, DipTP, MRTPI, AITP, CMIHT, CMILT is an urban planner, traffic engineer and transport policy analyst. He has worked with several local authorities and consultancy organisations in Britain as well as international development organisations (World Bank and United Nations) and as advisers to foreign governments.
He maintains a strong interest in India’s development programmes and participates actively in the initiatives of the UK-India Business Council.