Modernization or Merely Corporatization?
India– the biggest democracy in the world – is going through a lot of changes and turmoil, both from within and due to outside forces. As a country, it is unparalleled in its diversity – cultural, religious, social, economical as well as political. People generally ask: Is India a Poor Nation or Emerging Superpower. The Indian government is occupied with economic liberalization, privatization and globalization for last two decades — but it has only deepened the divide between the rich (hence powerful) and the poor. By design, the process is geared towards industrialization and corporatization of India in line with how the Western nations developed. This disregards the ground realities of the country; as a result, there has been 6-8 percent growth in GDP for over a decade and yet, there is no reduction in poverty. I am sure no one in the right brain would call, flooding the market with cheap Chinese goods, development.
Natural resources, minerals, water and land are all being given to corporate entities at throw away prices so that they can setup industries and modern facilities that will generate employment for ordinary Indians and India will “develop.” In reality, it can only increase GDP (the sacred silly barometer of the West to tell if the country is progressing or not), employ some educated people from the urban areas and create at best a handful of Lakhpatis (or millionaires). This faulty model is OK for the West which has all technologies and fewer people to worry about.
For all practical purposes, the new economic policies remain directed to the 25 percent population living in the urban areas. Rest of the larger India is expected to benefit only from the “trickle-down” effect. Americans are particularly proud of this Reagan- Thatcher philosophy which wants to hand over everything to the rich elites and run the country. This is also driving rural to urban migration into cities that are already overcrowded. It is height of insanity to think that 125 crore Indian can be herded into towns where they will slave the corporate houses and drive Altos, eat pizzas and buy grocery from air-conditioned Malls like the Americans do.
Unfortunately, currently India is ruled by US educated technocrats who know India and its people through books written by American authors. Text book understanding is fine for lecturing; solving real life problems is another 1-Day Cricket Game. Perhaps their only Indian connections are passports and birth certificates. Who else but an alien could say that rupees 26.80 in urban India and rupees 22.40 in rural India per day decide the poverty line. It is nothing but an offense against the poor whose life revolves around struggle for survival. Else, suicides of thousands of poor farmers would have stirred some corner of humanity in their hearts or they would have felt guilty in snatching lands and livelihood from lakhs of poor tribals for the corporate lords. Poverty or hunger are no more than number game for them: yes, another committee – the Rangarajan Committee – has been appointed after these fictional poverty lines met widespread criticism. What purpose such committees serve? They merely divert attention and solve no problem.
There is no one in the Indian government who can stop and think: Is Economic Growth Alone development? What a country like India needs is A Human Development Approach to Poverty Removal where people are at the center of development – certainly not a pro-rich GDP led model imported from the West.
Is displacing simple and naive tribals from their ancestral lands (where they also act as custodians of natural resources) and forcing them to migrate to cities to become manual labors for the industry, development? How about displacing people from New Delhi and Mumbai and forcing them to repair the ecological mess of mining activities of Vedantas, Tatas, Essars, JPs, and Ruias and clean the pollution of mega thermal power plants? I think “consumers must pay” rule should be changed to “consumers must clean”!
The tiny state, Kerala, is a unique example of the power of people development; the whole world acknowledges and admires the wonderful culture and society of Kerala. It is also unique in the respect for women; it has the best female/male ratio in the country – 1084 female for every 1000 male as per the 2011 census (highest in the Kunnur District 1136 and the lowest in Idukki district, 1006). Compare it with the national average of 940 females. The next best is way behind; it is Tamil Nadu, 996 female followed closely by Andhra Pradesh with 993 female per 1000 male. Interestingly, the economically prosperous Haryana has the lowest sex ratio, 879 females. What stops our foreign trained scholars of New Delhi to learn from Kerala? In fact, Kerala can teach a lot, both to India and China about how to look after its people and control the population.
Every patriotic Indian is feeling the pain looking at the way politician-corporate-bureaucrat nexus has taken control over policy making and distributing country’s resources among themselves.
The major issues that the government of India should be busy with are
1. Governance reforms – related to electoral processes, police and judiciary, bureaucratic and judicial accountability, and also strengthening grass-root democracy by seriously implementing the PRI and PESA Acts and making caste-based reservations history.
2. Hammering out corruption through a powerful Lokpal Bill, independent investigating agencies, and speedy justice delivery.
3. Tackling poverty and population (Population of India: What the Government should do ) by extending educational and healthcare facilities to rural areas. Just two social measures can drastically impact both poverty and population: One, prevent all marriages before legal age and Two, focus on girls education and women welfare. When it comes to healthcare India must focus on indigenous systems like Ayurveda and Yunani for two reasons: they are better suited to Indians given their food habits and life philosophy and also they are much cheaper and affordable for the poor masses. In contrast, the so called modern healthcare is procedure oriented and has no concept of “cure.” It merely manages symptoms and the patients keep emptying their pockets; it is totally anti-poor.
4. Stopping exodus of people to cities by promoting small businesses in rural India; this is in opposition to the current rich-friendly reforms. In fact, for both India and China welfare of the huge population lies in promoting the MSME sector. Handing over all resources to mega corporate houses does not suit them, although might works for small population nations of the West.
India is among the worst governed countries in the world whose leaders rely on foreign dictates more than local sane voices. This slave mentality has not died even 65 years after the colonial British left India; on the contrary it has only strengthened. All ills of the nation can be traced only to one thing: Bad Governance. The best example is the Maoist/Naxal violence which Indian Prime Minister has declared “the biggest internal security threat.”
The Red Corridor and Maoist Violence
The tribal regions of the country failed to see the presence of Indian government since the so called independence in 1947. The British left those areas isolated labeling them “excluded” from governance (for their own convenience); the brown rulers never bothered to take care of their fellow countrymen living is isolated conditions in remote hills and forests, leaving them to the mercy of forest officials who act as if they are still employed by the agents of the East India Company. The vacuum was filled by left-wing extremists and the Indian government treated kept pretending it was mere law-and-order problem.
Over the years, they carved out a vast territory covering 92,000 sq km area, called “Red Corridor” by the media. It has grown dramatically in last two decades along the East coast right from Nepal to Tamil Nadu. In the early 1990s the number of districts affected by varying degrees of Maoist violence stood at just 15 in four states. This rose to 55 districts in nine states by the end of 2003 and to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004.
Maoists are currently believed to be operating in around 200 districts (of a total of 604 districts in the country) in 17 states. The worst affected states are Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa. The poverty and backwardness of people in these forest covered areas has provided a fertile ground for the growth of Naxals/Maoists who have been gaining strength at every neglect of these people on the part of the governments.
Download the full report on Naxal/Maoist Violence: NAXAL_Report
Why the Tribal and Naxal Issue become Important?
The reason Indian government was forced to pay attention to Naxal Violence is the corporate interest in the natural resources, mineral mines, water reservoirs for ”developmental” activities under the economic reforms started in 1991. Over 75 percent natural resources, mineral mines, water reservoirs are located in the remote areas populated by the poorest of poor – Adivasis (tribals). These areas have been historically neglected by governments and Naxals established themselves. Today, rather than appreciating the eco-friendly lifestyle of the tribals and rewarding them for preserving the natural wealth, our rulers are throwing them them out so that the rich and greedy corporations can setup industries and the GDP of the country grows. [Does some one has any idea what happens after 10-20 years when all the resources have been consumed by the corporates and increased their bottom-lines? Yes, they will sell off leaving behind the trail of ecological mess in the areas which have been kept lush green and preserved by the illiterate tribals since ages. Isn't it pathetic?]
The best way to defeat the Maoists is honest implementation of the PESA Act of 1996 [Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996]. It aims to extend the Panchayat Raj system to the Fifth Schedule areas and allow the tribal communities grass-root democracy by activating the Gram Sabhas (village assemblies). The Act empowers the Gram Sabhas to take authority over local natural resources also.
If honestly implemented, it will also render the Maoists rootless. Once the tribal people get connected to the Panchayat system, they will have platforms to raise their issues and develop themselves. Unfortunately, so far the implementation of the PESA Act has been pathetic because no one (state government, forest officials, or politicians) wants to allow the poor tribals to rule themselves through their Gram Sabhas. They are more comfortable nurturing the interests of rich corporate houses.
You may like to read:
Download the Full Report: PESA_ACT_1996
POLITICAL AND JUDICIAL REFORMS
Other governance issues of vital importance are related to political, bureaucratic and judicial accountability. In fact, lack of accountability at all levels is at the core of bad governance in India and every problem emerges from it – whether Naxal violence, corruption, poverty, or even population. On the Global Integrity Index that measures governance and anti-corruption of nations, India fairs badly. It also points to weak governance due to lack of accountability of politicians and bureaucrats.
Political reforms and transparency in political funding is at the root of all corruption and bad governance. It particularly creates corruption at the top of the State hierarchy. Simultaneously, two urgent reforms are Police and Judicial Reforms. The police force is still operating in the colonial mindset and sees itself as a protector of rulers from the citizens! Poor and ordinary citizens are particularly vulnerable when they have to deal with the police and seek justice. Indian courts are atrociously slow that makes a mockery of justice. Rich can exploit loopholes in the laws and procedural aspects and can get by with practically anything.
Download the Full Report: Corruption in India
POVERTY IN INDIA
India, the largest democracy of 1.25 billion people, is also the biggest center of poverty in the world – it is both widespread and intense. India has officially 269 million (or 22 percent) people under the poverty line, as against 407 million in 2004-05. This is latest claim of India’s Planning Commission in July 2013. In 2011, it fixed the poverty line at Rs 32 per day in urban areas and Rs 26 in the rural areas. It was reduced to rupees 26.80 and rupees 22.40 in March 2012. As a result, the latest official estimate of poverty is 21.9%. A brilliant game of counting the poor! When the poverty estimates were severely criticized, the government appointed yet another committee, the Rangarajan committee, to look into the poverty line philosophy. It sure is a sick joke people of India are quite used to.
The comprehensive Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) of UK based Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gives a better and deeper insight into the extent and nature of poverty. It puts Indian poverty at about 53% (650 million).
While no one believes the official poverty data of the Indian government, it is fair to say that about 400 – 600 million people are poor in India. While there can never be agreement on poverty numbers, compare these numbers with the European Union and US populations of 500 million and 310 million, respectively. These are huge numbers, by any standard.
India holds the distinction of having the most number of poor of the world – a super poor nation! Consequently, South Asia has become the world’s biggest center of extreme poverty. On the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day, there are roughly 500 million extreme poor in South Asia – most of it in India. The only other comparable pocket of poverty is the sub Saharan Africa, with 400 million people in extreme poverty.
Counting poor on some arbitrary income line is merely an artificial number game. Poverty must be looked, beyond income. Research of past few decades has firmly established that poverty cannot be properly understood in economic terms alone – divorced of social, cultural and political perspectives. People are social beings and processes and activities of the society affect their state of well-being. Studies of the problems of poor people and their communities have led to an understanding of poverty as a situation of several simultaneous deprivations, feeding one another. The new perspective sees poverty as a human condition that reflects failures in many aspects of human life – related to nourishment, employment, shelter, health, education, social and political participation, etc.
One wonders why the Indian government does not want to adopt the MPI or a similar comprehensive measure of poverty; several nations like Brazil, Mexico and even neighboring Bhutan have adopted the MPI technique for estimating poverty. Such a measure will be highly fruitful in providing the right direction to development.
POVERTY IS A HUMAN DEVELOPMENT PROBLEM
Since 1990, the annual Human Development Reports (HDR) of the UNDP have been promoting the idea of human development (HD) which is a people focused comprehensive development model. Currently, development only means “economic growth” wherever you go. In this model people are subordinated to the economic processes; keep expanding the gross domestic product (GDP) year-after-year is the goal of this model. Hence, the business profits have occupied the center-stage – at the cost of people and environment both. Commonsense demands that people should be the goal of development, not GDP.
The HD perspective put people at the center of development. The idea of human development revolves around the basic theme: “People are the real wealth of a nation.” Thus, the prime objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy and creative life. This was stated in the first HDR published in 1990. This is a remarkable paradigm shift in thinking about the poor; it sees poverty as lack of development.
Incidentally, the foundation of the HD perspective came from Amartya Sen’s capability theory of development. Sen has argued – the purpose of development is to enrich human lives, not richness of economy which is only a part of it.
The 2010 HDR defines “human development as the expansion of people’s freedoms to live long, healthy and creative lives; to advance other goals they have reason to value; and to engage actively in shaping development equitably and sustainably on a shared planet. People are both the beneficiaries and the drivers of human development, as individuals and in groups.”
India needs to question the wisdom of the “trickle down” economic model of Reagan-Thatcher era. It is ideal if the country has to be governed by the rich elites and powerful corporations. India needs a development system that attack poverty and is labor and job-oriented. The HD model is the right medicine for a poor country with large population base. Will the Indian government show courage to adopt the HD model?
RURAL INDIA AND MNREGA
Passed in 2005, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is the Biggest Anti-poverty Program in the World! In spirit, the developmental projects under the NREGA (now renamed MGNREGA; MG for Mahatma Gandhi) are supposed to be designed, planned and implemented by the gram Panchayats. Thus, this unique Act has the potential to revitalize the PRIs, giving impetus to the grass-root democracy, and also create unskilled jobs in rural India. This scheme has become the darling of the rural poor who can LEGALLY claim up to 100 days of unskilled work at the prescribed minimum wages. However, The real Potential of MGNREGA is yet to be Realized. Unfortunately, many states have failed to appreciate the potentials of this program. If implemented in fairness and in coordination with broader plans, MGNREGA can become the catalyst for transformation of rural India.
Poverty cannot be eliminated from the country without looking after the small farmers. Fascinated by text book prescription of eliminating all subsidies by the Western lenders, the government is bent on eliminating all forms of subsidies given to the farmers. This is simply disastrous: Western nations indulge in all manners of protections for their farmers and subsidize basic food items to keep food prices low and affordable. Their farming sector is not a major livelihood provider unlike in India. Offering ever increasing minimum support price (MSP) to farmers is an inadequate and inefficient way to help the farmers or to keep the food prices in control. Indian farmers need Income support, not just MSP.
The ruling coalition passed the Food Security Bill recently in order to gather votes in 2014 general elections, there is no appreciation of the fact that the country might be heading towards water scarcity. Water shortage scenario might also develop from another angle. Chinese water resources in its industrialized northern region are fast becoming polluted and there appear to be plans to divert waters from the Tibetan region. The mighty Brahmaputra seems to be on target of Chinese plans. If and when the Chinese go ahead with such projects, both India and Bangladesh have reasons to worry. The north-eastern Indian states as well as Bangladesh are heavily dependent on the Brahmaputra waters. Melting Himalayan glaciers, due to global warming, are another source of worries for the water security of Himalayan rivers that nourish northern plains.
Why population of India does not stop growing – is a question everyone wants to ask. It is growing not because people are having large families, but simply because there are too many people in the reproductive age group – population momentum. The sterilization camps are no more the right place to tackle the population issue; the family planning battle must be now fought on social plane. The correct anti-dotes to curb population growth due to momentum are: late marriage, delayed pregnancies and spacing among children. An important factor contributing to population growth is unwanted pregnancies (accounting for one-fourth births), it requires making a variety of contraceptives easily available to people, particularly in rural areas.
There are many popular myths around population of India. At the core of it, lies the issue of women empowerment, which itself is powerful contraceptive.
Indian family planning officials will do themselves as well as the country favor, it they educate themselves on the issues of population momentum and also pay attention to what the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Cairo, 1994 laid down on the population question. For an historical perspective, please read
The British way to control population of India?!: You may also like to know how the British “ignored” famines in the colonial India as a weapon (instrument) for population management. During the shameful British Raj 30 – 50 million Indians have been estimated to have died in famines in 200 years of colonial plunder.
The good news is the birthrates are falling all over the world, not only in India. The Malthusian fear of overpopulation has gone bust already and the global population should stabilize around 2100, in the range 11 – 13 billion. Currently, people are debating how to curtail global population from reaching 9 billion by 2050, as has been predicted by some experts.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION ACT, 2009
(Download the full report: Right To Education Act, 2009)
Year 2010 also saw a historical action of the human right front when the right to education Act was pot into force. It will cover basic education for all kids in the age group of 6 – 14.
Contemporary India ‘s education statistics make dismal – indeed shocking – reading. Of the estimated 200 million children who enroll annually in the nation’s 900,000 primary schools, 53 percent drop out before they make it into secondary education (class VIII). Of the remainder only 10 million enter institutions of tertiary education, of whom some 3 million graduate annually.
It is hardly surprising considering that 20 percent of government primary schools are multi-grade teaching institutions; another one-fifth don’t have a proper building; 58 percent can’t provide safe drinking water, and 70 percent lack toilet and sanitation facilities. Moreover corporal punishment is rife in India ‘s crowded classrooms, which boast the world’s highest teacher-pupil ratio – 1:63.
The combined annual outlay of central state governments for education in India has never crossed the mark of 4 percent of GDP. Compare it with the global average spending of 5 percent of GDP per annum and 6-7 percent in the developed nations of the western world.