Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A cup of coffee says a lot

, I had a meeting today at a branch of Costa Coffee in SouthEx (South Extension), a fairly upscale part of Delhi not far from where I live. Not having been there before, I arrived in plenty of time and (after having noted that there are a large number of rather decent-looking clothes stores there) went into Costa and ordered a cold coffee (no ice. Never ice).

It was 240 rupees.

That's £3.50, folks. Or for you international readers (of whom I have, oo, at least 2), about 5 and a half US dollars.

I was gobsmacked. I mean, I knew Delhi could be expensive, but that's more than it would cost in London. This in a country whose per capita income is less than $3,500 even at PPP, and where more than a third of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. For a substantial chunk of Indians, that coffee cost over half a week's wages.

Actually, inequality in India actually isn't all that bad. In Gini coefficient terms, the UN gives it 36.8, not far off the UK's 36. By comparison, Denmark is the most equal country in the world with a coefficient of 24.7, and Namibia comes in last with 74.3 (thanks Wikipedia). But after less than a week here I've already seen how opulence exists alongside squalor - and Delhi is a long way from having the worst poverty in the country.

India, inc. is soaring, with an economic boom based largely on high-tech industries, supported by investments in higher education and based in hubs like Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. It's quite astounding how rapidly this has come to be the story with which we're familiar when it comes to India, replacing the old image of desperate, poor and disease-afflicted India that I recall from my childhood. But the truth is that both Indias exist, and the more the economy depends on those high-tech hubs it seems the further apart the two are destined to drift.

Which is why India needs to invest in other areas of the economy and, particularly, in skilling the workforce in areas other than high-end IT, engineering and science where it has been so successful. Happily, the government seems to be taking this issue seriously (which is a lot of the reason why I'm here). So maybe, not too far from now, that coffee might be within reach of rather more Indians.

It'll still be a rip-off, though.

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