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Mars Mission To OROP: Getting India's Priorities Right

While India has made great advances in technology, as demonstrated by the Mars mission, many people in the country are living in miserable conditions

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Launching a mission to Mars is indeed a matter of pride for India. After all, India's ISRO is the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA and ESA. India became the first country to successfully get a spacecraft into the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt. But its most notable distinction was the mission's shoestring budget: a mere $73 million (Rs.450 crore). True, India did it for a fraction of what other nations have spent. The U.S. Maven satellite, for example, cost taxpayers $671 million. But to what end? To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, "how does it help the poorest man in India "? I am confused ….

I am told that one of the primary objectives of India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is to showcase amongst other things, India's operations capabilities for an interplanetary mission. So while millions of Indians starve and countless other millions are deprived of basic services like water and sanitation and roads, India will send a mission to go where no man has gone before? Or is this an insidious plot to rid ourselves of the poor by putting them aboard the interplanetary fleet vessels and getting rid of them? I am still confused.

So how else could India have demonstrated all these marvelous technological capabilities? Well … for one we could have ensured 100% power to homes and industry. We could have ensured drinking water to millions. We could have ensured primary health care to all and certainly schooling to India's demographic dividend (isn't it wonderful how we moved from saying family planning to lauding the over-population because we can't do anything about it?). Surely all this would have cost more than the mere $73 million spent on MOM. But it's all a question of optics. Let charity begin at home. The argument that this program was launched in UPA-2 diminishes none of the culpability that rests squarely on the shoulders of the Indian government. The NDA government elected in 2014 celebrated it with equal verve.

Verve reminds me of the vigour with which some retired army officers have demanded OROP. One rank one pension. Simply put, someone who retired 25 years ago wants pension to be paid at the same level as a person who retires yesterday at the same rank. So a father and son could be earning exactly the same pension! I am confused. Up to rank of Colonel, military personnel are entitled to free rations for self and family, hugely subsidized housing, reserved seats in schools and medical and engineering colleges for their children (oh yes, even a Bangalore-based Institute of Catering and Hospitality just in case the burra sahib wants his sheets turned down) all of which no non-military person is allowed to use. They are provided low cost residential plots for post-retirement use. Superb perks by any standards, wouldn't you say? Some of these army officers leave the forces and then work in private industry at competitive salaries. So they are double income families without even having working spouses. I was confused. So I asked some retired officers for the rationale. Hang to your hats … they claim the IAS officers have it so they want it! They sat for an exam to join the armed forces. No one forced them to. They take up a career like you and me. They are not a volunteer force. They could just as easily have sat the IAS exam - arguably the toughest exam in the world. They didn't because they probably couldn't. It shows in their current demand.

A quick thought: if one took away OROP or whatever it's called from the IAS, would this make the army chaps all chipper again? I am confused.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Deepak Mukarji

Deepak Mukarji, author, stage personality and management professional, has spent over 30 years creating the space for business to grow in India for various MNC brands. His last assignment was as Director and Country Head of Corporate Affairs for the Shell Group of Companies in India

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