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How can rickety cars put India on road to success?


When it comes to climate change, the environment and other weighty issues, what could the leaders of the world’s biggest democracy possibly learn from the rural Indians who cobble together rickety cars out of scrap metal and old bits of wood?

One of India’s best known businessmen says the improvised vehicles that carry crops and passengers along dusty village roads show how local people are often the best innovators, coming up with cheap and effective answers to tough problems.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of the technology company Infosys, thinks politicians would do well to remember the decentralized philosophy behind the “jugaad“. Mechanics with little money and poor access to cheap parts use whatever is at hand to build them: water pumps replace normal engines; wooden blocks stand in for brakes and old planks of wood provide the floor.

“This ‘car’ is a brilliant improvisation, nailed together from whatever parts rural mechanics can get their hands on,” Nilekani writes in a new book about the future of the world’s second most populous country, “Imagining India“. “Effective, innovative policies will depend on harnessing this ability of people at the local level to take charge and innovate.