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International bestsellers in economics and finance often use this theme. Find startling facts about the way we live. Then present a theory that can explain them. So, here’s a startling fact that appears in the papers today. As per a UN report, there are more cell phones in India than toilets. Surprising, if you have never been to India. After all, isn’t basic sanitation a far more vital necessity than mobile communication? Yes, it is. But it is not only about demand. It is also about supply. Almost anyone can today buy a mobile handset in India and get a connection within minutes. The relatively free market conditions under which the Indian telecom industry operates in ensures that.
But toilets are a different ball game. There is the question of real estate which involves the land sharks and bureaucratic local governments. The result, there are about 45 cell phones per 100 people in India today. But around 665 m Indians defecate in the open. Besides the question of human dignity, there is an economic cost. It takes a heavy toll in the form of water contamination and healthcare costs. We wonder if deregulating toilets such will be the next big reform in India?