India is a poor country. As per world bank reports there are about 450 million people living below world poverty line. (less than $1.25 or Rs 62.5 per day). Over all the World Human Development Index HDI report keeps India in the company of Sub saharan countries. We are with countries like Solomon Islands, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. But shut your eyes wide to this. Say that we have half million people working in IT industry and soon we will be a superpower.
What does it REALLY mean to be poor? I personally have not faced extreme poverty. India’s poverty can be best expressed through following facts, unless one questions World Bank and other organization’s integrity.
2. 2.5 million children in India die every year before reaching the age of five. (Gujarat Riot Victims: 2000, Tsunami Victims: 7000)
3. Literacy Rates in India today are 66% for Adult and 88% for youth while the same figures for China are 91 and 96%.The difference between male and female literacy rates is 21%
Unemployment, Healthcare, Public Transportation, Urban Waste management, Education are few more areas where I can cite that few million people are not getting even the basic structure that every human must deserve.
If we compare china with India. Take 1978 as the base year where India and China were at par. Even a century ago when United States was Emerging as a superpower, Argentina was just at par with it. Today we know the difference between US and Argentina. India’s comparison with China has been exactly the same. When in 1978 India and China were at par, today China has overtaken India by a margin too large. In fact China has beaten India squarely.
But India is democracy. Things happen at a slow rate here. I think this is the worst excuse one can give. There is no logical relation between democracy and being slow. Even Japan, England , US are fairly democratic. Democracy being slow is acceptable logically only if we use “democracy in India is corrupt” as a intermediate premise. But whatever it may be, any system that allows 2.5 children to die every year when they could have been saved is essentially useless.
We must note that all the governments right from 1947 were self professed pro-poor governments. They implements what they called pro-poor policies. Their every speech promised elimination of poverty. Despite that nothing has happened. The reduction in poverty over years has happened largely due to luck and global development. Its not a change brought by systematic planning and policies.
The roots of India’s failure in eliminating poverty (or any other failure) lie in its faulty policies. Refer to any article on India’s poverty today. In the cause one cause is never missed. That is the license Quota Raj. Despite this the Indian government was just not ready to do it. They finally had to do it in 1991. It was done because the only choice left was to go bankrupt. People responsible for this dark period not just went unpunished but were even glorified. The same license quota raj is also one primary reason of increasing corruption in India.
One decision to give up the license regime and open the markets made significant difference to India’s economy. But this was neither predicted nor wished by Indian policymakers. China did. They opened their economy in early 80s and India lost 10 important years.
As this article argues these faulty policies look at poor as a lifeless bricks. Bricks that are used to line up and build the ladder that helps to attain power. The pro-poor policies are not actually targeted at “eliminating” poverty but they actually “sustain” poverty. The best example is of NREGS explained beautifully by Atanu Dey. I think its the ignorance of masses (which is again a result of intellectual poverty attributed to our poor education system) and even the media hero that consider such schemes as pro-poor.
Let me quote from the livemint article
One of the authors of this study, Narayan, even told The Times of India in an interview: “People want a free-market economy. But they need the skills to connect with it. The government machinery needs to treat the poor with dignity and respect. This is something that they value a lot. The people also desired free and fair elections and honest leaders as it helps in empowering them.”
The true way to eliminate poverty is by viewing these people not as helpless ones but as able people. Provide them with opportunity and not outcome. Dont provide the employment but just provide them with opportunity to employment. If you dont allow to setup industries, if you dont allow private companies to setup schools you end up having an employment guaranty scheme which produces ZERO output. It help the poor to sustain for another day but doesn’t help him a day after.
If the government has stressed enough on education, urban planning, industrialization and wealth generation instead of slogan against poverty. Today India would have been a far better country. Even today we fail to recognize our mistakes.
The only reason why we hope India is developing is because of handful of industries like IT. (But India’s computer infrastructure is very weak and underdeveloped compared to that of china. ) These industries have comes into existence only due to free market policies. The planning comission had never visualised IT as an industry and outsourcing as a component adding to GDP. Still today IT has grown. In fact every aspect that the government has ignored has grown. Just compare Cricket (not controlled by government) and Hockey (Controlled by Government).
I think it is time for government to think of poor people not as lifeless bricks that deserve compassion and support but as able individuals who need freedom from cliches. Given them freedom to write their own destiny. Give them freedom to choose their own future. They are very much capable of doing well, but only if government doesnt interfere.
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