Subhash Bothra, a jeweller from Jaipur, the capital of the western Indian sate of Rajasthan, recalls that as a young man in the late 1960s, when he wanted to buy a car, he had only two choices - either a Fiat 1100 made by Premier Motors in Mumbai or an Ambassador, made by Hindustan Motors in Calcutta. Although both were obsolescent, he chose the Fiat, as it was more compact and cheaper to run. He had to pay the dealer full value up front in cash. Colours and extra features were out of the question. 'The car was delivered after a four-year wait,' recalls Mr Bothra. 'And people offered me double the price for the car as soon as it came. Such was the shortage.' Last year, when Mr Bothra's son went looking for a car, he could have his pick from over two dozen top of the line models from nine domestic manufacturers. Having made his selection, he walked into a dealer's showroom, signed an agreement for a five-year instalment payment plan, used his credit card for the down payment and drove the new car away. From 1950 to 1980, the Indian economy was dominated by a command-and-control structure, with a bias for public-sector investment, a plethora of licensing and controls on production, distribution and consumption of goods, a suspicion of foreign direct investments, rigid labour laws, a tight money market, stringent foreign-exchange restrictions and high import tariffs. In mid-1991, a foreign exchange crisis almost bankrupted the Indian government. For help, it turned to the World Bank, which advocated economic liberalisation. The biggest winner in the wake of these reforms has been the Indian consumer, and the transformation of the Indian market has been immense. Thirty years ago, a first-home builder had to procure a quota for his steel and cement needs from a government office. Payment of 'speed money' to obtain this quota was almost obligatory and the steel took four months to arrive. Today, a homebuilder can simply order the materials from the nearest hardware store, with the consignment delivered the same day. Venkatraman, a chartered accountant, recalls that when he applied for a residential phone connection in 1972, it took the government-owned telephone utility three years to install it. By contrast, he recently phoned the nearby franchisee of a private telecommunications utility for another residential line and it was working the same day. As far as consumer goods are concerned, the market is awash with scores of domestic and foreign brands. Jayanthi, a middle-class housewife from Bangalore, recalls that two decades ago, she had to wait for a visit from a friend working abroad to bring her a bottle of good olive oil. These days, she can have her pick from a horde of European brands in the nearest convenience store. She also has a wide variety of shops to choose from, ranging from the family-run corner store to the air-conditioned shopping centre with entertainment facilities thrown in. But while consumers like Jayanthi are happy, the opening up of imports of consumer goods has hurt domestic producers. The Association of Stone Fruit Growers of Himachal Pradesh, a state in the Himalayas, has complained that hundreds of its members have closed because they cannot compete with imports of stone fruits from more efficient producers such as New Zealand. The apple growers of Kashmir are facing a similar threat from Chinese and American apples, while the age-old silk industry of Karnataka is being put out of business by imported Chinese silk, which is of much better quality and cheaper. C.P. Rangachar, president of the Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers' Association, said while the reforms have removed the 'licence-permit Raj', a phrase used in India to denote government restrictions, the 'inspector Raj' - referring to predatory visits by government minions to industrial establishments - remains intact. According to a calculation by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a factory or business establishment is subject to an average of 37 inspections a year. N. Narasimhan, who has been running a small engineering enterprise in Bangalore for the past 32 years, points out that in the liberalised regime, while the market for manufactured products has gone up several-fold, it has also become highly competitive, spelling doom for many small enterprises.