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Ignominy Index India's Development Slide Show

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  • Shaji John K
    Ignominy Index India s Development Slide Show LALITA PANICKER [ SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2003 12:01:01 AM ] It s an addiction with us, the merest hint of an
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 19, 2003
      Ignominy Index India's Development Slide Show

      [ SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2003 12:01:01 AM ]

      It's an addiction with us, the merest hint of an international
      accolade and we are on a high. Which explains why we are all aflutter
      with excitement at the UNDP's Human Development Report 2003
      commending India for poverty reduction.

      But, says the report, India contains regions of intense poverty
      relieved little by overall national growth. But never mind that for
      the moment.

      As mentioned before in these columns, successive human development
      reports show that we seem to be running faster to stay in the same
      place, fairly much at the bottom of the heap. India's slippage by
      three points this year has been explained away by the fact that two
      new geographical entities have been added to the list. There are a
      number of observations in the report which should cause considerable

      Buffer stocks, says the report, especially at the local level can
      release food into the market during food emergencies, reducing the
      volatility of prices. India has such systems, it goes on. But we have
      seen over the last year the scandalous manner in which the government
      has expressed its inability to transport foodgrain to areas of need,
      citing dubious reasons like lack of transport. The result has been
      that while people starved, foodgrain rotted in godowns. So the mere
      presence of buffer stocks, of which we indeed do have plenty, has not
      translated into a reduction of hunger. India is home to the largest
      number of hungry people in the world. Nearly half our children are
      malnourished. But forget that for the moment.

      The report points out with disturbing clarity the enormous
      disparities across India's states with gaps in literacy between low
      social classes and the rest of the population being extremely high.
      Female literacy, the key to so many other development indices, was as
      low as seven per cent in Rajasthan and nine per cent in Madhya
      Pradesh in the low social classes. Yet, these two states have been
      commended as development models. This is based on a rise in literacy
      in Madhya Pradesh from a dismal 44 per cent to 64 per cent and from
      39 to 61 per cent in Rajasthan. True, both states have instituted
      schemes to popularise education but it remains to be seen whether
      people are actually becoming functionally literate or acquiring a
      notional literacy which will in no way empower them.

      Madhya Pradesh has come in for consi- derable criticism for some of
      its literacy schemes on the grounds that it has compromised severely
      on quality for the disadvantaged. The argument is that there cannot
      be two standards of education, one for the paying elite and another
      inferior one for the lesser off.

      Similarly, though infant mortality has fallen across the board, it is
      unacceptably high in rural areas and high immunisation rates are an
      exclusive preserve of the south. This is not surprising considering
      India spends only 1.3 per cent of GDP on health and an inadequate 3.2
      per cent on education, far short of the government's own target of
      six per cent. The cost of education is too prohibitive for the poor
      with, surprisingly, uniforms being the biggest cost to parents.
      Government schools which should be the educational lifeline for the
      poor are shunned even by the poor since teacher absenteeism, lack of
      infrastructure and sanitation make learning a nightmare for children.
      Yet, the government chooses to divert a third of education spending
      to support private institutions.

      Private schools' share is highest in states with the lowest primary
      enrolments and this is only likely to go up in the years to come.

      One reason for this is the tardy progress on women's rights in India.
      Though the report grudgingly refers to very small improvements on
      this front in India, ground realities suggest that even this is an
      exaggeration. The sex ratio is becoming increa-singly skewed in
      favour of men, even in supposedly progressive states like Kerala.
      Technology, remember we are very proud of our progress in this field,
      has devised ever more cunning and invisible ways to eliminate the
      girl child almost at conception. The result of a diminishing sex
      ratio has been increased violence against women and even the re-
      emergence of practices like polygamy in some areas. Of course, as
      always, the northern states lead the way in suppression of women.

      Is there any political will to reverse this? Well, certainly not
      going by the manner in which all political parties are striving
      furiously to bury the already moribund women's reservation Bill which
      would have ensured 33 per cent seats in Parliament for women. When
      the Bill was initially mooted years ago, male politicians who opposed
      it did so in an underhand manner. Today, emboldened by the fact that
      this issue is not going to cost them any votes, they pull no punches
      in their opposition to giving women more political space. The late
      prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's dream that women's reservation at the
      panchayat level would create an aspirational class of women activists
      who would eventually enter state legislators and finally Parliament
      has remained a mere pipedream.

      These aspects of the report should have policy-makers taking a
      serious re-look at these crucial human development sectors which are
      falling by the wayside. Poverty reduction in itself does not
      necessarily translate into improved human development indicators. The
      trail of death and disease which comes in the wake of the monsoon,
      the recent stoning to death of an HIV positive woman, starving
      farmers committing suicide in droves to name a few shows how
      premature and misplaced our self-congratulatory celebrations are.
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