- TODAY'S INTERVIEW
[ TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2003 12:00:36 AM ]
A minute's proceedings in the Lok Sabha in 2000-01 cost the
exchequer an estimated Rs 15,700. India has the
world's most privatised health care system. Central government
spending on health has declined in GDP terms over the last decade.
These and other `facts' form part of the first Social Watch Report
compiled by the Delhi-based National Centre for Advocacy Studies
(NCAS). Former NCAS director John Samuel, who co-authored
the inaugural report, spoke to Tanu Thomas K:
What is the significance of this report?
It is the first report of its kind on governance and development
part of a larger initiative to make governance in this country more
transparent, accountable and participatory. The report evaluates our
performance in four key arenas of governance Parliament, public
policy, judiciary and local self government. It is part of
a nationwide effort to revitalise democracy and
development at the grassroots level.
The report says that per capita allocation for medicine and public
health, in real terms, is ``too small''. Has there been a reduction
in the health sector budget over the past few years?
Public expenditure on health in India is one of the lowest in the
world. As a percentage of GDP, it has declined from 1.3 in 1990 to a
mere 0.9 in 2002. While the Centre's allocation on health sector has
remained stagnant at 1.3 per cent of the total budget over the last
decade, in the states it has declined from 7 to 5.5 per cent. Indian
healthcare is one of the most privatised in the world. The ongoing
trend of reduction in public expenditure on health would deprive
most adivasis, Dalits, landless labourers, and particularly poor
women and children, of the right to healthcare.
The contribution of Central government to the total public health
expenditure is just 15 per cent now. The National Health Policy 2002
proposes that this figure be increased at least to the level of 25
per cent of public spending by 2010. However, in the budget
proposals for 2002-03, the total allocation for health (both plan
and non-plan) was only marginally higher at Rs 24.27 billion
compared to the allocation of Rs 23.54 billion in the 2001-02
budget. So there is a clear gap between rhetoric and reality.
Why is the money spent on education not delivering?
Despite the rise in literacy rate from 18 per cent in 1951 to 65 in
2001, every third illiterate in the world is an Indian. Of the
around 200 million children in the age group of 6-
14 years, only 120 million are enrolled. Even by conservative
estimates, more than 60 million children are
out of school.
Though the 86th constitutional amendment guarantees the right to
education, there is no effort to increase the budgetary allocation.
There was not even a mention of the Act nor any specific proposal
towards this in Budget 2003. Plan per capita allocation on education
has declined from 30 paise per head in 2002-03 to 18 paise in 2003-
Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the allocation for elementary
education has increased from Rs 5 billion in 2001-02 to Rs 15.12
billion this year. But such an increase will not ensure compulsory
education for even a small percentage of the 60 million out of
The report talks of time and money being wasted in Parliament. What
would, in your opinion, ensure that Parliament works more
Parliament lost a substantial amount of time to disruptions last
year. In the Lok Sabha, more than 100 hours, in Rajya Sabha, 85
hours. There is declining interest in budgetary discussions. Between
1952 and 1979, the Lok Sabha devoted an average of 23 per cent of
time on the budget. This has declined to about 10 per cent now. I
feel there should be more allocation for Parliament but this should
be towards competent research and capacity building support for the
MPs. There is also a need to develop a public Parliamentary
Performance Index to monitor the MPs' performance. A citizens'
report card in each constituency will force them to be
more responsible in Parliament.
Regarding the government's water policy, you have only mentioned one
We need to make a distinction between water as a right and water as
a commodity. The attempt of the World Bank and the IMF is to reduce
water into a commodity. This takes away the people's right to safe
and accessible drinking water. There are ethical and
environmental problems when an essential natural
resource gets privatised and distributed as per
the purchasing capacity of a buyer in the market. Efficient and
economically viable use of water cannot be achieved through the
mortgaging of rivers and lakes to MNCs.
What is the future of the Report?
Future editions will seek to strengthen citizenship at the
grassroots level, by focusing on institutions at
the panchayat level. It will also include within its
ambit civil society institutions such as the media and
the corporate sector. There is an increasing threat to our democracy
from various sources. Such reports can go some way in ensuring that
the spirit of the Constitution is kept alive.