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Average Indian Yet to Feel Impact of Economic Boom

  • Simon Marks

The decisive victory of the Congress Party in India's General Election has opened the way for the country to embrace further economic development. Economists say India is on track to achieve 6 percent growth this year - that's down from last year's 8 percent figure, but outstrips the contraction taking place in much of the developed world. India's economic transformation has already made the country a leading player in the high tech sector - but as VOA reports from Hyderabad, the vast majority of Indians have yet to feel the impact of the country's new economic activities.

At dawn in this manicured suburb of Hyderabad, Sirisha Gummaregula leaves home for another day in the office on the cutting edge of India's economic explosion. "It's always for me exciting to go to work," she said.

Gummaregula runs her own company, a legal firm called QuisLex, that she started when she returned to India five years ago after more than a decade working as an attorney in New York.

The firm offers legal process outsourcing. A stable of 200 young Indian attorneys analyze legal documents sent to them by American law firms via computer e-mail.

"Their analysis, or the skill set that they pick up in Indian legal schools is no different than an American legal school," she states.

The average attorney at Quislex earns around one-fifth of the salary their U.S. counterpart demands. And the company's founder says U.S. law firms want more of their services. "There is work that we are turning down because we're not able to handle it all."

The combination of modern technology and a low-wage, educated workforce is helping QuisLex and its rivals make sizeable contributions to India's growth. But some analysts question whether the contributions by white collar and hi-tech businesses are enough to keep India's economy on track.

Dr. Amit Mitra heads the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. It represents 1,500 leading Indian enterprises.

Dr. Mitra says every year, nine million young people seek to enter India's job market.
"For that, we need 9 percent to 10 percent growth. So 7 percent, which is what we are growing at today, for us, is not enough," Dr. Mitra said.

The majority of Indians work in agriculture. Two-thirds of India's billion-plus population live in agricultural communities such as Picharagardha, a two hour drive outside Hyderabad.

Around 500 families make a living in these fields growing ginger, watermelon and wheat.

Farmer Shakeel Ahmed says he can earn around $1,000 U.S. in a good year to support his family of five. "There's nothing here. There's not enough electricity, not enough water. One has to work very hard," Ahmed said. "And you don't make enough money. There just aren't enough rewards for the work that we do."

Some analysts say the vast majority of Indians have not reaped the benefits of their country's impressive economic growth. While the world focuses on what's been achieved in India's cities, most Indians have yet to see any improvement in their daily lives.

Suhel Seth is a New Delhi-based economist:

"Ask the guy in a village. Ask the guy who doesn't have electrification. When you tell him about India "shining," and you tell him about "Brand India," and you talk about all this hype, and, you know, Indo-U.S. nuclear deal," Seth said. "It means nothing."

But back at legal outsourcing firm QuisLex in Hyderabad, and at enterprises like it throughout India, the focus remains on forging ahead.

Some 12 hours later, Sirisha Gummaregula leaves the office, another long day under her belt, another contribution made to India's economic development. But it may take many more long days, if not decades, in their offices before Indian executives head for home knowing their country's society has fully transformed.

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