Zipping past the Burj Khalifa on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai makes you wonder if you really are in Asia, let alone the Middle East. Dotted with high-rise buildings on both sides of the 14-lane highway that connects Sharjah and Abu Dhabi via Dubai, it is rather unimaginable that this part of the world was practically a desert two decades ago.
The marvels of human ingenuity and what it can achieve in a short span of time with the right policies, global talent and a vision for securing a future for the previously cocooned population of the state are on display here.
As Dubai gears up for its biggest festival ever – the Expo 2020, there are learnings galore for any developing country, including India.
It’s raining opportunities
The UAE as a country receives an annual rainfall of only 100 mm. To put this in perspective, that’s less than half the rain that the city of Jaiselmer receives in a year, or less than one percent of what Cherrapunji receives in a day!
No doubt, ground water levels are stressed in Dubai with exponential rates of development and an exploding population of expats. Water bills are high and the state imposes heavy penalty on water wastage through plumbing leaks.
But in Dubai when you pray to the Rain Gods, scientific innovation answers them.
The UAE is a leader in rain seeding (or induced-rainfall) and the art has been in the making since the 1990s. It is a process of firing salt flares in the sky and increase the chances of rain by up to 30 percent, as reported in the
India has equally challenging water woes. While there were reports of cloud seeding in Karnataka this year, there is more than ample scope of this technology making its way across India’s drought-stricken regions.
Perhaps it could also help clean the air in those few weeks in North India when pollution levels are the highest due to stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana.
All roads lead to revenue
It could take you up to two years or even more in some cases to qualify for a driving licence in the UAE. Every time you appear for a test, you pay the examination fees – whether you pass or fail. And fail you do!
In Indian rupee terms, applying for a licence to getting one could actually cost you over Rs 2 lakh. While it’s a big entry barrier for rookies, it is also a great way to guarantee road safety because every time you fail, you undergo training (at an additional cost).
Hefty fines on defaulters coupled with the driving exam fees serves as a great source of revenue for the state, reducing its already subdued dependence on oil exports as a means to sustain the economy.
It could (and often
would) cost you as much as 30,000 AED (present value of over Rs 6 lakh) for jumping a red light on a tram line in Jumeirah Beach Residence – one of the upmarket neighbourhoods of Dubai.
The new penalties under India’s Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill will seem like pocket change to those living in the UAE.
Open to development
The UAE has endeavoured to reduce its dependence on oil and open up the economy for tourism, financial services and retail. It is embracing modernity in policy and lifestyle.
Dubai’s infrastructure is truly world-class. Perhaps the only two-wheelers seen on the roads are the
Zomato delivery boys. (Yes, the Indian startup has found a market in Dubai). Everyone else drives four-wheelers – private cars or taxis, despite a well-connected metro and tram service.
The economy is built on FDI, and it is visible in the logos on the cars, the stores in the malls and the depths of variety available on the shelves of Carrefour outlets. India’s policy on FDI in retail still stresses on local produce, even if it deprives the consumer of global choices that exist.
There is no income tax, hence greater disposable income for consumers and consumers are spoilt for choice. Enough and more options exist for spending money – experiences and shopping! As a result, they buy more, they spend more and the state charges a small 5 percent VAT on their purchases.
Expo 2020 is expected to take Dubai’s VAT revenue to $8 billion (or Rs 5.6 lakh crore). This from a 4000-square kilometre city of 3.1 million people. India is a 3.3 million square kilometre country with a population of 1.3 billion.
For all its might – area and population - India’s total GST collection for 2018-19 at varying slabs from 5 percent to 28 percent stood at a mere Rs 11.77 lakh crore.
India can surely borrow a leaf from the Arab playbook!
Kartik Malhotra is Senior Executive Producer and Editor, Special Projects, at Network 18. He is an alumnus of IIM Lucknow and, when not behind the camera, indulges in armchair analysis of strategy, technology and economy.