Taking a leaf out of Shanghai's book

In discussions of think tanks and TV studios, participants often lament why China doesn't treat India as its equal.

In discussions of think tanks and TV studios, participants often lament why China doesn’t treat India as its equal. Some reasons are obvious: notwithstanding the current slowdown, China’s GDP has crossed $10 trillion while we are pegged at around $2.7 trillion; its foreign exchange reserves stand around $3 trillion while we fluctuate around $450 billion; its military budget of over $150 billion dwarfs India’s defence budget of $50 billion. Besides controversies, China is pursuing its long-term strategic objectives through its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative which will impact its relations with 64 countries with an estimated budget of $2 trillion, while we have been struggling to manage our relations with our prickly neighbours like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the tiny island, Maldives.

Even without these mega indicators, a short trip to Shanghai tells an Indian visitor how far Delhi is lagging behind. One can’t help wondering why Delhi can’t be like Shanghai?

After deplaning, when one arrives in the hall for immigration check, one realises it’s almost three times bigger than that of the IGI airport in Delhi. When one drives from the airport to the city, what strikes most is Shanghai’s cleanliness and its infrastructure; one doesn’t see tall cranes installed at construction sites anywhere nor any road diversions nor non-functioning traffic lights; 40 minutes-long smooth journey appears to have been controlled by computers; it makes similar journeys from Narita airport to Tokyo and from Incheon airport to Seoul and from JFK to downtown New York somewhat out of date!

When one walks around in Shanghai, one is greeted by spotlessly clean roads, streets, lanes and pedestrian pathways and well-manicured, well-maintained and artistically-arranged flower beds sans garbage, litter, graffiti, bill boards and suffocating stench. The dust bins/garbage pails for segregated litter placed at short distances look so clean as if kept for display rather than for use!

Surprisingly, for this level of cleanliness, one doesn’t see any motorised sweepers in operation on the roads as is the case in big American cities. The whole place is kept clean manually. Cleaners on duty pick up the smallest spec of paper from the ground. A combination of measures might have inculcated in Shanghai citizens the habit of depositing litter, empty bottles and other forms of garbage only in the installed garbage pails.

In contrast, India’s capital looks like a dirty sprawling village! Meerut Express, opened recently, has certainly cut driving time and made life considerably comfortable for the commuters who used to wait for a long time in the evening at the entrance of Commonwealth Games Complex. However, it looks 20 years older to the road from Shanghai airport in terms of quality, upkeep and finish.

In Shanghai, on the zebra lines, the pedestrian reigns supreme. Cars come to a screeching halt unlike in Delhi where pedestrians run the risk of being run over by the speeding cars unless they jump off the zebra lines! Why? Most probably, punitive fines might have acted as an effective deterrent.

So many shopping malls have cropped up in Delhi in the last five years. In Noida Sector 18, in a radius of half a kilometre, there are four malls which offer popular international brand names and are cleaner than shopping jaunts like Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini Nagar. But when one sees the shopping malls of Shanghai such as IFC mall, it’s a totally different world in term of sheer size, availability of world’s best brands, imaginative display and cleanliness. Shanghai’s old, traditional markets such as Yuyuan market, Tian Zi Fang, Duolun road, Chang Li Lu food market and Hongqiao pearl market beautifully mix the old with the new.

The Buddhist temples in old Shanghai such as Long Hua temple, Jade Buddha temple and Jing’an temple are a must for any tourist. Even in such tradition-bound places, if one uses public toilets, one notices American branded sanitary fittings, Japanese hand dryers and Chinese liquid shop dispensers, sparklingly clean floor minus foul smell.

If China can ensure these simple but essential public utilities in old towns why can’t we have them at world class touristic attractions like Taj Mahal, Red Fort or Qutub Minar? Compared to Shanghai’s toilet facilities at the places frequented by thousands of tourists, facilities at India’s historic monument are inadequate in number, rudimentary in standard and are invariably poorly maintained. Obviously we don’t attach the importance this aspect deserve for popularising tourism. For tourists accustomed to Shanghai’s standards, a visit to a sulabh toilet in Delhi or a toilet built under Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan is a heroic feat; it’s a psychological torture! China’s approach of maintaining and preserving the old heritage with modern technology and offering modern, clean, essential, functioning public utilities make the visit of tourists comfortable and encourage them to visit again. Obviously, happy, not hassled and harassed tourists generate huge business by purchase of beautifully displayed and attractively packed souvenirs. India’s tourism promotion needs some imaginative make over and Chinese lessons.

While in terms of length, breadth, depth and history there is nothing common between Jamuna river and Huangpu river. Delhi can take a leaf out for Shanghai to develop Jamuna’s waterfront and make it a money-spinning, environment-friendly world class touristic attraction. Huangpu divides Shanghai into two parts, new district of Pudong on the east and Puxi area on the west both developed with huge investment. A view of the two sides through Huangpu river on a Shanghai sightseeing ferry is a must for tourists. More adventurous tourists can take a trip to water villages: Hong Zhou, Suzhou, Wuzhen and Tongli to experience traditional life in these Chinese villages.

Thousands of people are evicted from Jamuna banks in rainy season in Delhi on account of flood. In summer water is so depleted, the river front stinks; deposit of tonnes of garbage, untreated sewerage and immersion of idols of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesh make it worse. Three years ago, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar organised the World Cultural Fest on Jamuna banks in total disregard to the directive of the Green Tribunal. It subsequently imposed a fine of Rs 7 crores on the organisers. The Central and state governments must pool resources to clean Jamuna and develop environment-friendly, modern waterfront on the lines of Huangpu river.

As for the illumination of India Gate, Qutub Minar and the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the breathtaking lights in the Bund of Shanghai in the evening can offer a lesson or two.

The writer is a former diplomat

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