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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK

World: South Asia

Hope for India's economy

Slums depict the reality of city life for many

By Sanjeev Srivastava in Bombay

The Bajaj automobile plant in Poona is about 200km from Bombay. It is India's largest car plant and to many, a symbol of the country's home-grown economy.

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For thousands of its workers the factory was, for many years, the only hope of a secure future.

One such a case is that of Pravin Chavan, who has been working at the factory since dropping out of school 23 years ago.

Aashish Pitale of JP Morgan, Mumbai: "The government needs to attract foreign capital in order to boost the infrastructure"
"I have now built my own house. I have a provident fund, insurance scheme and can do whatever I want with that money," he told the BBC.

"My job is secure, I feel confident and can provide good education for my children. Even in these expensive times my salary helps me to lead a contented, satisfactory life," he added.

[ image: The signs are good for India's economy]
The signs are good for India's economy
Since Pravin started work, there has been a gradual liberalisation of the Indian economy and Bajaj Auto no longer has a monopoly on the automobile market.

Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto, accepts that competition is the way forward. But he is worried about frequent elections and change of governments which result in inconsistent policies.

But despite the frequency of elections, the Indian economy is looking up.

And it is not just heavy industry which is showing signs of growth. Exports are up, inflation is at a 17-year low and the foreign exchange reserves are at a healthy $33bn mark.

The most visible signs of a booming economy can be seen in the Indian stock markets which have scaled new highs in recent weeks.

Asish Pitley is the head of research in the Indian office of JP Morgan. He says: "At this moment the Indian economy is showing concrete signs of recovery from the industrial slowdown we've seen in the last two years.

"So we're at the stage where we are seeing a turnaround, bouncing at the bottom is over. And yes, as long as there are no shocks we should see this continue."

There has also been a dramatic growth in the service and consumer industries. India's biggest shopping mall, Crossroads, opened last month in central Bombay.

[ image: India's biggest shopping mall]
India's biggest shopping mall
It has proved so popular that traffic jams have been a steady feature in the area since. But signs of such growth have been largely restricted to the urban areas and to the well-off few.

A slum in the shadow of the international trade centre depicts the reality of city life for many. Most came here to escape rural poverty but - unable to afford the high rents - ended up living in squalor.

A one-room shack here can cost $5,000. Many slum dwellers work hard but get little pay. It is easy to understand why issues like the election and economic policies seem remote to them.

[ image:  ]
One woman said: "We are not concerned with all that and would not be able to speak about these policies.

"What I can say I am telling you. We should get more facilities and civic amenities. We should have proper homes, good schools for our children and clean drinking water. Only this we want, nothing more."

Its easy to understand why these people feel let down by policymakers. Issues like economic recovery and the need for a stable government may mean a lot to the middle classes and the affluent.

But it is the question of daily survival which sets the agenda for India's poor. Until the long-term policies are drawn - and more importantly implemented - India's poor will continue to feel left out of the national mainstream.

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