Category: Public Policy

Is it a People’s Constitution?

“The constitution is not for the exclusive benefit of governments and states; it is not only for lawyers and politicians and officials and those highly placed. It also exists for the common man, for the poor and the humble, for those who have businesses at stake, ‘for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker'”

Justice Vivian Bose, 1956

While I was reading the book that celebrates the contribution of ordinary people in shaping the constitution of India, a heinous and brutal crime was being committed in the largest State of India. A Dalit girl was brutally raped by upper caste men in the Hatharas district of UP and she subsequently succumbed to her injury in a Delhi hospital. But the Orwellian thing about the incident is that the girl was denied dignity even in her death. Her body was cremated in mid-night without informing her family. Her family couldn’t even see her one last time. The police barricaded the area restricting the access to the family. It shows that even after the seven decades of the enactment of the Constitution of India, justice seems distant for the marginalized sections of the society. However this book paints a different picture adding that common people played an important role in transforming the Indian constitution to people’s constitution.

People’s Constitution turns out to be a unique book for me. Because I used to think fighting for constitutional rights and going to Supreme Court has always been the prerogative of the educated and the elites of our country. Rohit De changed my perspective about this fact. The book gives the subaltern perspective on Indian Constitutional Law and constitutional rights and how the Constitution of India was shaped and transformed by the marginalized sections of the society. As De puts it, ” the Constitution didn’t descend upon the people; it was produced and reproduced in everyday encounters.”

The book narrates the cases of constitutional significance led by ordinary people during the first two decades of the enactment of the Indian Constitution. It shows how the honest prostitutes, invisible butchers, Marwari merchants, vegetable vendors, and other ordinary citizens showed exceptional courage and also ‘constitutional consciousness’ in those days itself. They took the legal route to fight for their fundamental rights. The idea is that constitution was interpreted in different ways by the ordinary people of the country and it was not the only prerogative of the elites.

And the most fascinating thing about this book is that the author has taken special effort to sit in the Supreme Court archive room and go through the important government orders, notifications, documents and the arguments exchanged between both the parties and showed in his book that various things happen around a case when it is being heard in the Supreme Court.

As shown in the book, the litigation/case in the court should never be seen in terms of winning and losing. The arguments exchanged in the courtroom and the discussion outside in media and in the public have a huge significance because it brings out all the nuances of that particular issue and what was the public sentiment about it and how it was played around in the public memory.

Also, I noticed one more interesting pattern, how the Indian Constitution was being used by both the parties who were asking for their rights and other who were trying to prohibit or ban the particular activity. For instance: if Husna Bai was asking from the Court to protect her freedom of trade and profession of prostitution, at the same time, her critics and also Durga Bhai Deshmukh & Rameshwari Nehru had been instrumental in enactment of prohibitions laws on human trafficking and forced labor based on Article 23 of the Constitution. And also in the case of banning cow-slaughter on the basis of Article 28 leading to The Hanif Querishi Case displayed that proponents and opponents of the ‘cow slaughter ban’ chose the constitutional methods to fulfill their goals.

The author claims that the Indian constitutionalism is still unexplored and understudied because it defies easy explanations. The constitutionalism as a concept is based on the desirability of the rule of law rather than the arbitrary rule of men, but the irony is that both simultaneously exist in India as we can see the ordinary people going to court to fight for their fundamental rights and at the same time there is no rule of law in many parts of the country.

The important argument of the author is that these cases filed by ordinary people were mostly related to their daily lives. And they belonged to minority communities or subaltern groups. And the final argument is that these people went to court to secure their economic rights which were getting hampered as the new Indian State was trying to regulate the market.

In 228 pages the author has shown the remarkable stories of marginalized and deprived sections of the society that have already been started striving for their constitutional rights after the enactment of the Constitution of India. The book is quite comprehensive, and most of the time feels like an academic research paper 😉 However, the book is one of the unique attempts to recognize the study of constitutionalism from below and how the constitution created a platform through which the citizens and the State can communicate with each other.

However, the reach of the Indian Constitution for the marginalized sections of the society has not been substantive enough till now. Though the author celebrates the contribution and participation of the marginalized sections as well as minority communities of the Indian society in using the newly enacted Constitution to empower themselves. However, I still believe what has shown in the short story of “Naya Kanoon” (The New-Constitution), also mentioned in the book, by one of the greatest Urdu writers Sadaat Hasan Manto written in the context of the Government of Indian Act 1935. This story is still relevant because the ordinary poor people, (remember the migrant crisis during the lockdown), still treated in the same way by the State as the Ustaad Mangu, the tonga driver in this story was treated by the policeman. So the Kanoon is still the “old one”.

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A Story of Courage & Hope

Far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping, any dream will do.

Andrew lloyd Webber & Timothy Rice

“No women wants to get into sex work. It’s not that they made a choice, but rather that they had no choice to make. Their life is tough but sex workers so often just to live to create a better future for their kids. It is the single overriding reason why they carry on.”

Excerpt from the Book

I read this book last year and it hit me quite hard. We can never understand what circumstances makes someone choose the profession of sex work especially for the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. However, I didn’t get enough peace and thinking space for writing the review of this book. I know nothing about the life of sex-workers to comment on their profession. Honestly, I am feeling perplexed because this book shows that they are doing sex work out of desperation and poverty. A woman is forced to sell her body for fifty rupees or even for a meal or some milk for their infant. Thinking of this situation makes me sad and empty. Still, these people despite facing struggles and problems in their lives, show us the courage, resilience, strength, hope, and optimism towards life.

Recently I also read this book called, “A People’s Constitution” where the author has dedicated one whole chapter that talks about sex-work and freedom in the Constitution. In this chapter, many women sex-workers assert that this is their livelihood and they have the fundamental right to practice their profession guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. However, the author of this book-Rohit Dey also informed that the term ‘prostitution’ in India was entirely a creation of colonial law.

As the author of this book shows that there were many myths and misconceptions about sex work in India. There were absolute denial, apathy and stigma towards the idea of sex and sexuality. As per one survey, about five women in every thousand involved in sex work.

This book gives you practical lessons about public health and dealing with people and the community when they are in the most vulnerable and desperate situations. This book makes you realize how public health can be delivered through successful community participation. The role of people is very important in dealing with any virus. And we can see even during this current pandemic, the prevention of this virus is dependent on people’s following of some basic rules. And when people have the ownership and they are engaged in dealing with the problem, they will come up with innovative solutions.

As the author shows the successful role of the community in the Sonagachi area in Kolkata. And the best thing is that they have organised themselves to deliver services safely, addressing the root cause of their vulnerability and also emerged as prime agents of change. They have created their own association named Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Cooperative (DMSC) which has three parts: Service provision including clinics, a cooperative bank, and a cultural wing. And this association is also quite vocal about recognition of sex work as an occupation and preserving & protecting their occupational rights asserting that it’s their fundamental rights.

However, there are some revelations in the book: For instance, brothel sex is very minimal in the country. In fact, it is dominated by street-based sex work and also practiced in homes by middle-class women to keep their houses running and sometimes for funding the education of their kids. The author also talks about ‘Devadasi tradition’ and also met various Devadasis who practice sex-work. As the author finds out during his travel to these places and speaking to affected women, the Devadasi tradition has become a front for impoverished parents to get their young daughters into sex work. In fact, as per the Policy Brief on Devadasi legislations published by CLPR, shows that poverty, caste domination, patriarchy & religion are the main causes for the Devdasi system to still flourish.

The best thing mentioned in this book about the Avahan mission led by the author Ashok Alexander with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that it made a substantial improvement in the lives of sex-workers and halted the HIV virus among the most vulnerable people in the country. The Avahan movement helped India to achieve one of the Millenium Development Goals (Goal 6-To combat HIV/AIDS). However, this achievement was never celebrated due to the stigma attached to this disease.

The most touching part of this book was narration of those stories of hope and courage. Despite all odds and facing so many challenges, these people show us how to smile even if you are in the most desperate and vulnerable situation and how not to lose hope anytime. The story of Parvati ( an acid attack victim & also a sex worker), Kamla (who was raped by five men), Danny (got infected to HIV in his mother’s womb), Kavita( a sex-worker from Shimoga who later on became part of Avahan and Ashodaya), Shahid ( a HIV positive who later on became director of program for Ashodaya) and many others are stories of hope and courage. Our lives look so easy and comfortable as compared to their lives and even after this, we crib about many things but they are struggling and smiling and spending each day living a life of dignity in so much adversity.

And in the end, you have nothing but these moving & memorable stories to think about and remember.

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How to eradicate poverty from the world?

“Nothing is more dreadfully painful than poverty, and gripping poverty robs a man of the lofty nobility of his descent”- Thiruvallur

On July 10th, 2020, a six-year-old girl fell into a stormwater drain in the Marathahalli area while playing with her friends. She is the daughter of Nityananda and Boni Koli. They are migrants from Assam, living in the nearby slum area. Her father works as a security guard and mother as a domestic worker. There has been no update on this incident as of now. Who is responsible for this tragic incident? This incident shows the ‘hazards of being poor’ as also mentioned in the book. The poor people’s lives inextricably linked to huge amounts of risks not only related to income/food but also related to health, political violence, crime, and different kinds of shocks like the recently declared lock down amid the covid-19 pandemic.

This book has always been part of my reading list but when both the authors of this book won the Nobel prize last year, I decided that I have to finish this book soon. The curiosity and the zeal to find solutions how to eradicate poverty and why they do whatever they do in their lives and why policies world over fail to bring about a substantial difference in their lives, has always intrigued me.

“Poverty leads to an intolerable waste of talent. Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.”

Amartya Sen

I have always been moved by people’s lives. If I see people living in difficult circumstances, I always ask myself why life is so unfair for a few people and a bed of roses for some. And many times I felt like crying inside because I am helpless as if I can’t do anything about it. Why someone has to lose its dignity because of a lack of resources. This is inhuman. Poverty is itself so inhuman. It makes you miserable from inside and you don’t have the strength to face the world.

These are some of the pertinent questions asked by the authors in this book. Why is there still poverty in the world or India? Why well thought out policies of the government of India have been failing to eradicate poverty for a long time? Why does no one ask the poor about their choices, their priorities, and why they are making the choices what are they making? It is absolutely necessary to understand the reasons behind their choices/decisions in life to frame better policies for eradicating poverty?

It’s not that the world has not tried to eradicate poverty. However, there are different ideologies/views present in the world to solve the problem of poverty. Jeffrey Sachs in his book, “The End of Poverty” says that ‘foreign aid’ is the key. Even aid establishment institutions like the United Nations and the World Health Organization believe in spending money on aid. William Easterly, Dambisa Moyo & others are not in favor of providing aid as they both argue that aid does more harm than good. They believe that we should respect people’s freedom if they don’t want anything, there is no point in forcing it upon them. Darren Acemoglu & James A Robinson’s theory of institutions given in his famous book-“Why Nations Fail”, believes in a fundamental change of the institutions to bring about any positive change in the country. However, there is hardly any focus on understanding the choices of the people and why they do what they do.

Mostly we judge poor people about the choices they make in their lives. Why don’t they save enough for them for the difficult period? Why do they produce many kids if they can’t afford a better life for them? Why don’t they take benefits of the government schemes? Why poor people don’t want health insurance? Do the poor really have a choice to control their fertility decisions? Why children of the poor don’t learn anything despite going to schools? Why don’t they get enough nutrients?

The authors had made it clear that there is really no difference between the decision-making of the poor and other people because they are also normal human beings. They also have the same problems of temptations, lack of self-control, weak beliefs, procrastination, and the problem of ‘time inconsistency’. Through various surveys, interviews and other evidence, the authors have shown that somehow the whole system is designed or exists in a way that makes it really impossible for the poor to come out of the vicious circle of poverty. For instance, they don’t have access to formal banking institutions and if they have, they have to pay higher interest rates, they don’t have any fallback option in the condition of shocks like demonetization or the recent lockdown, poor children are not wanted in schools unless they show some exceptional capabilities and also forced to drop out, they don’t have faith in the public health system because of the combination of beliefs as well as psychological sunk cost effect. And because of all these things, the poor may become skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives, and also since they suffer from low depression, they lack the capacity to make sound decisions. And the vicious circle continues.

However, it’s not all doomsday scenario as the authors have also provided ways that can be used to bring about substantial change in the lives of the people. The fundamental argument of the authors is that ‘it is not always necessary to fundamentally change the institutions to bring about any positive difference rather change can also happen at the margin.’ According to the authors, though they didn’t find any magic bullet, they certainly found out few ways to improve the lives of the poor:

  1. Poor lack of credible information. So there is a need for innovative, credible, and simple information campaigns to make people aware of various schemes and their benefits and also their rights.
  2. Use the default options and nudges to enforce positive behaviors as they don’t have enough time & resources to think about themselves to make decisions.
  3. There are reasons like moral hazards, adverse selection, and lack of self-control that prevent markets to exist for the poor.
  4. Policies are failed in poor countries because of three Is-Ideology, Inertia and Ignorance and there is a need to realize the fact that change can also happen at the margin.
  5. There is a need to change the expectations of people. There was evidence that when villagers in remote areas of Karnataka got to know that girls can get jobs if they are skilled in computers, they started sending their girls to school.

Not only this, micro-credit, better education for their children, good jobs, insurance against health & weather disasters, social safety-net and minimum income support can help the poor to get out of the trap. And these small initiatives will bring a little bit of hope and comfort in their lives which will give them strength and courage to think about their future. However, as even authors of this book agree that there is a lot more to know and understand regarding the lives of people. The authors talked about all the basic problems that keep the poor in the vicious circle and what can be done and how we should not reduce all the problems to the same set of general principles. The time has come to listen the poor and the understand the logic of their choices.

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What matters in the End?

“Death is inevitable; Each moment is precious; Nothing matters in the End”

Recently, in a light conversation, I said, “We all are going to die” in the context of this dreaded pandemic. I could see the expression of people disliking that comment because no one wants to talk about death in our society. Death is seen as inauspicious. We all want to live in a fantasy and don’t want to think that we all have limited time. This thinking has repercussions not only on our health but also on our future. As the author says, “how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive you will live forever.”

This book is actually about the experience of death and how the medical system has failed to understand what it means to deal with a finite life and make final years a joyful experience. Do we forget the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life? When we become old, we don’t want to talk about death, we talk about living.

The beauty of this book is that it has been written by a surgeon who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School. This book has his personal accounts of dealing with terminal patients and also the death of his own father. The author has shown how the medical system has failed to educate the medical professionals about aging, frailty, or dying. Gawande speaks about the failure of medical system in informing or educating a patient about his condition? There is need to understand how the whole process unfolds and how does it make an impact on people around them.

I remember even I didn’t understand the meaning of death, and what does death means to me till someone close died in my family. The problem with us as a society is that we teach everyone, not so important things – earn a lot of money, build a big house, clear all damn exams existing in the world by memorizing all formulas, cram an entire dictionary for that GRE examination and also prepare to go abroad and earn a shit loads of money. But no one teaches us how we should live our lives. What is the meaning of death? And especially, when we become old, we don’t know what we are fighting for. What are our priorities? What are the trade-offs we are willing to make? We don’t discuss what are our fears/hope for the future. What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to lose?

How care of the elderly has changed from ‘multi-generational systems support’ provided by the family to institutionalized nursing homes in our times. Modern nursing homes act as prisons. Elderly don’t feel good in these homes. They feel restricted and chained in these nursing homes. Old people living here always felt the longing for being at home where they can have their privacy.

We are so engrossed in living this life that we forget to ask the question what’s the purpose of our lives? Did we ever ask this question to ourselves? What makes life worth living when we will become old and unable to care for ourselves? To answer this question, the author discusses psychologist Abraham Maslow‘s influential paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” which is depicted in the form of a pyramid and talks about the hierarchy of needs of people. According to Maslow, ‘safety’ and ‘survival’ remain the primary and fundamental goals of our life even in our old age.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

People in old age focus on being rather than doing and they live in ‘the present than the future’. Old age generally functions at the peak of this pyramid and focuses on ‘self-actualization.’ “Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old are achieved over time,” says the author. As per various experiments (discussed in this book by the author) conducted during some crises like the 9/11 attacks, the SARS epidemic 2003, etc., old and young both valued the bliss of life and focused on being rather than doing. This might be true for the current pandemic also. People these days from of all generation are slowly realizing the meaning of life.

This book also shows the results of experiments of assisted living done on various old people where they were given small freedoms in terms of taking care of plants, spending time with a cat, a dog or a bird, etc., helped them to live a longer life. The most important finding of the experiment was “having a reason to live” which reduced the death rate. Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce in his book, “The Philosophy of Loyalty,” inform us that people seek a cause beyond themselves. That cause could be anything: it can be small or very big. ‘We all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.’

The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror. But if you do, it is not.

Josiah Royce(The Philosophy of Loyalty)

The biggest problem in the medical sector is that they never focused on the well-being of the people, rather they focused on physical health. They concentrated on repair of body parts and not the nurturing of the human soul. Not only medical field but the society as a whole needs to understand this, as people grow old and become aware of their fleeting life, they are more interested in writing the story of their lives and believe in living in the moment.

Amid this pandemic, there is a need to remember our old traditions of the ‘art of dying’ and accept death and decline as normal and eternal truth. We must accept our lives of old age that will come along with sickness, frailty, isolation. Ultimately, we will need the support and care of others. We would rather spend last days of our lives with our family members than in ICU. In a nutshell, Gawande has said a lot of things about life and death and most importantly how medical science/field can correct the wrong committed till today not accepting the inevitability of old age and death in this book. Acceptance will lead to finding solutions that can make old people’s lives better and joyful in their last days.

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‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in a Classroom

Education is meaningless without happiness” – Manish Sisodia
Image Credit: Clicked by me

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”

Mahatma Gandhi

It took one microorganism to make us aware of the fleeting nature of this life. There is a sense of realization among all of us about a lot of things. How all of us were just running a rat race to reach somewhere which we didn’t even know? We wanted to be productive 24*7 and 365 days of the year. We were collecting all material resources but we didn’t have enough time to experience the pleasure of those things. The current lockdown forced us to slow down. This pandemic made us realize the value of happiness, satisfaction and living our life in the moment. This whole crisis is reminding us to be sensitive towards other human beings, nature and, especially towards our own lives.

However, a lot of us are not happy now. When things were so-called normal, we had other problems to talk about. Now in this ‘new normal’, we are not happy because our movement is restricted, we are not able to go out and do whatever we want. As per the World Happiness Report 2020, India was ranked 144 out of 156 countries. Why Indians do not perceive themselves to be happy? What is the reason behind it? Did we ever learn about happiness in our schools or colleges? Did someone from our family ever talked about happiness or being mindful of our thoughts and emotions?

Though whenever we touched the feet of our elders, they told us to ‘be happy’, no one taught us how to be happy and what is happiness and what needs to be done to achieve happiness. We realize the value of happiness as we grow or when we face some difficult phases in our life or maybe some people might be realizing the value of happiness during this lock down amid the unprecedented corona virus pandemic.

Nevertheless, the Delhi government’s experiment to start a happiness class in schools for class I to VIII has not only inspired the other Indian states but also other countries. During the recent visit by the US President, the first lady Millenia Trump visited one of the schools of Delhi government. She attended the happiness class and found it “very inspiring”. This book tells the story of Delhi education model. It’s written by the education minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of the Delhi government. Written in a very simple language, he covers all the radical reforms as well as innovative ideas taken by his team. He, along with his colleagues Atishi Marlena and Shailendra Sharma took this experiment of bringing radical reforms in the education system of the Delhi government.

These reforms are holistic as it covered almost every aspect be it infrastructure, allocation of the budget towards the education sector, empowering the principal to appoint estate managers and providing high- quality training to teachers, engaging parents through mega-Parents-Teacher Meetings(PTM) and School Management Committee(SMC) , and most importantly creating the education model of coexistence through happiness classes and entrepreneurship mindset curriculum.

Starting a happiness class with a curriculum in a government school of India is a path-breaking step by the Delhi government towards pursuing contentment not only as a State but as a nation. Happiness curriculum is based on the “co existential thought” (Madhasth Darshan) inspired by education philosopher A Nagraj. This thought is based on understanding all aspects of life, including spiritual, intellectual behaviour, and material. The idea is to address the mental and emotional needs of the children by creating a stimulating environment through mindfulness, critical thinking, story-telling, and activity-based discussions where children reflect on their thoughts and reactions scientifically. Through these processes, the child becomes self-aware and also towards family, society, and its surroundings.

Anecdotal evidence shows that there has been noticeable changes happening among the children. Behavior of students is changing towards their teachers and parents. They are becoming inquisitive towards learning other subjects. This book mentions some interesting anecdotes from happiness class. One child started asking his mother if there is any food for her before eating dinner and one kid became aware of his father’s financial situation and stopped asking for an expensive school bag.

It is so ironic for us as a society as well as a nation that we teach our children mathematics, science, history, geography, economics, business, etc, but we never teach them how to be happy, how to be mindful of our thoughts, how to critically analyze any issue before making any judgement and how to live in harmony with nature. We learned how to make money but we don’t know how to live our lives with satisfaction and enjoyment because it’s not about material things, a high paying job or, a big house we have but its about how we do feel inside? Are we able to understand our emotions? Why are we feeling what we are feeling?

Amid this pandemic leading to this moment of reflection, we as a family, as a society and as a nation need to realize the value of inculcating happiness, self-awareness, satisfaction, and how to live in harmony with nature. So, this is the moment we should start pursuing the feeling of happiness forever as an individual, as a family, as a society, and as a nation.

This blog has been republished by The Arm Chair Journal. Please find the link here.

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Book Review of Capital

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.

Plutarch
Migrants returning to their home walking hundreds of km due to lock down declared by the government due to corona virus crisis.

The present migrant crisis in India is a stark reminder of the economic inequities existing in our society. When rich and middle-class people are spending their time in the comfort of their homes doing various activities, poor and marginalized migrants are walking for a hundred thousand kilometres to reach their homes. Some also died on the way because of hunger and exhaustion. In this context, I thought to write a short review of the book, “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty. How income inequalities are going to hurt us in the longer-term unless some concrete steps are not taken by the State and its people.

I never read the whole book but managed to give a paper presentation on it in my final year of public policy course. Whatever critics say, this book has brought the issue of income inequality at the forefront. Income inequality is not only an issue based on some statistics but also it’s a moral issue that will always pinch the conscience of the people. This book became popular since it got published. Piketty also hailed as “the Modern Marx” by “The Economist” magazine. He is a French economist who also taught at MIT for two years. His major work is a compilation of historical data about economic inequality. He is critical of economics discipline.

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.”

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

The core concern of the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context. The author’s main argument is that in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. He also adds that the concentration of wealth at one level is incompatible to democracy and social justice.

The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms.

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

He rejects the Simon Kuznets hypothesis which says that though societies become more unequal in the first stages of industrialization, inequality reduces as they achieve maturity. However, Piketty does not think like that. According to him, demography, low taxation and weak labor organizations will fundamentally lead to greater inequality.

The author feels that unless we do something, ‘free-market economy’ will become a ‘patrimonial system’ with an entrenched hereditary upper class and the rest of the population. He is highly critical of higher compensation paid to senior executives of MNCs that is responsible for extreme inequality in the wake of 2008 financial crisis. To save the world from this ‘doomsday scenario’, the author proposes various measures namely a global tax on inherited wealth, changes in income taxes, use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards and also enforced transparency of banks.

His paper -,“Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj”? co-authored with Lucas Chancel argues that income inequality was highest in India in 2014 since the creation of Indian Income -tax in 1922. They concluded that the top 1 percent earners in 2014 earned 22% of India’s national income. Though there are various counter- arguments to it. Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Pangariya refuted this argument in their book, ‘Why growth matters’. Swaminath Aiyar also disapproved of his idea of stark inequality in India in one of his articles on the grounds of statistics and his failure to distinguish between different kinds of inequality.

Thomas Piketty’s hypothesis criticized by many economists. According to them, his approach to economics is anti-mathematical. As per the paper, “Income Inequality, Catastrophe Predictions, Thomas Piketty, How income and economic unit are defined can create significant differences in the data produced and in the interpretation of the data? For instance, Stephen Rose and Thomas Piketty reached different conclusions about the status of the middle class based on the definition of income and economic unit. Generally, there is no correlation between increasing income inequality and general welfare. His use of tax records to approximate income is convenient and allows easy comparison across different countries and at different times and he also not considered the social security payments as part of his data.

Though income inequality is a complicated issue, Piketty’s biggest contribution is to elevate the income inequality issue to the forefront of both public and scholarly attention. Whatever is the reason behind stark inequality existing in society, the issue of inequality will always be debated as a moral issue.


How COVID-19 is affecting the higher-ed students in India: Need for corrective action

COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all sections of society. However, the impact on higher-ed students is the least discussed so far. Unlike schools, where students come from nearby localities, university students come from afar. They travel across their districts, their states, and the country to realize their dreams. Thus you will find the greatest amount of diversity in these students of higher-ed institutions – rural and urban, poor, middle-class and rich, from different religions, castes, and backgrounds. During this crisis and lockdown, when classes can not be conducted on the university premises, institutions are adopting digital tools for delivering lectures to students now back in their homes.

Many instructors and universities have leveraged ICT and tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams to impart live classes to the students. Universities have already started conducting exams and taking assignment submissions online. This is a great way to make education more accessible during these tough times. However, this access is not going to be uniform across all the students belonging to different sections of society.

The poor students are going to be affected the most during this period. Their access to appropriate devices like laptops and computers is going to be very difficult during this period. According to the India Internet 2019 Report, 99% of users in the country access the internet through mobiles, not laptops or computers. Laptops and desktops usage is only 2% and 1% respectively in rural areas and 6% and 4% respectively in urban areas of the country. Further, internet penetration is still very poor and stands at a mere 27% in rural India. Under the Bharat Net program of the Government of India, more than 40% of the villages are yet to be connected to the internet grid.

Thus, lack of access to the internet and proper devices is going to negatively impact students in leveraging online platforms. Many such students will not be able to attend online classes and participate in assignments and exams that are conducted online. In such a scenario, the rural students are in a disadvantageous position and the urban and rural poor students will be highly disadvantaged.

Recognizing this challenging situation during COVID-19, many universities such as MIT and Harvard have announced that they will either provide every student with a Pass or A/A- grades during this semester. Steps like this ensure fairness and empathize with students facing difficulties due to their prevailing circumstances.

In India, however, no debate or discussion is going on this pressing matter yet. It is an important issue affecting the future of the students who are the future of the country. UGC and deemed universities must provide suitable guidelines to ensure students are promoted to the next level fairly. It is a tough situation concerning the poor and the marginalized students and it must be dealt with utmost empathy. Keeping in mind the “digital divide” all further exams and assignments during the rest of the semester must be made voluntary. All students must be promoted to the next level. Alternatively, institutions can use the tests conducted so far as the basis for final assessments in a fair manner.

Unless such corrective measures are taken urgently, COVID-19 and the after-effects are going to deepen the divide across the poor and the rich students, rural and urban students for generations to come.

This blog is authored by Chaitanya Prakash Namburi. The author has a Masters in Public Policy and Computer Science and currently works for Google India. All views expressed are personal.

Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for India

This is 4th day of the lock down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared 21 days lock down amidst corona virus pandemic all over the country starting from March 24th, 2020. The situation is quite grim. People are panic buying and many migrant workers are stranded in different parts of the country due to the unprecedented shutdown of transportation mediums.

When I sat on my desk to write this blog, India already had more than 900 cases. I have no idea, by the time, I finish this blog, how many corona virus cases will be detected in India. As per one article, India can see 30,000 Covid-19 deaths by May 2020 and there will not be any hospital beds left by June 2020.

Health has never been a priority for a diverse, heterogeneous and poor country like India. It can be ascertained with the fact that the first National Health Policy for India came in the year 1983 after 35 years of the existence of the Indian republic. Till now, we have only three National Health Policies in place released in the year 1983, 2002 and 2017.

India spends less than 2 % of GDP on health when it has 18% of the world’s population. Not only the whole country gave health a low priority but also other stakeholders. For instance- National political parties relegated the health as a non-issue when it comes to policy priorities for the development of the country.

India has a very low HDI index and high HDI rankings over the years. India was ranked 129 out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index rankings. Health(Life-expectancy at Birth) is one of the three dimensions to decide HDI rankings. HDI ranking has stagnated in recent years despite India being the fastest growing economy of the world.

The primary health care infrastructure of the country is in shambles due to lack of financing and acute shortage of medical personnel. 65% of health expenditure is out of pocket and some 57 million people are sent to poverty every year due to this expenditure. India has a severe shortage of trained medical professionals. As per the Economic Survey 2019-20, the doctor-population ratio is 1:1456 against the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. India has the largest number of malnutrition children.

The substandard performance of India’s healthcare system is out in the public amidst the corona virus outbreak. However, this crisis is an opportunity for India to make India’s healthcare system best in the world. Systematic overhauling of health infrastructure is the need of the hour. Heath as an issue needs to be prioritized. It needs to become a matter of great importance politically, economically and socially.

Politically, ‘right to health’ needs to be recognized as the fundamental right through an act of parliament. Some of India’s states have better healthcare indicators. Heath is a state subject under the Constitution of India. Best practices from different states need to be replicated across India. Panchayati Raj Institutions can play a major role in providing leadership to deal with any health crisis.

Economically, health expenditure to India’s GDP should reflect the proportion of the population living in India. The current expenditure is inadequate. The government of India must increase its expenditure at least by 5 % of its GDP from this year itself. Other measures like public-private partnership, increasing health insurance penetration etc should go on simultaneously.

Socially, awareness towards cleanliness and sanitation needs to increase in our country. Maintaining hygiene should be declared as an ‘issue of national importance’. People should also vote for those representatives who give importance to the issues of education, health, employment, etc.

This is a high time to realize the value of health as we can see, how corona virus outbreak has affected every aspect of human lives. Health is one of the most important ingredients in ‘human development approach’ Healthy human beings can only bring overall development and growth in the world.

This corona virus pandemic is an opportunity for India to create a world- class health infrastructure, strengthen public institutions, adopt best practices from other countries, increase public health expenditure by 5 % of its GDP, and declare “right to health” as a fundamental right for the people of India.

This blog has been republished by Social Development for Communities Foundation. Please find the link here.

Analysis of the National Medical Commission Bill 2019

Source: Pexels.com

Good health for people of the country is the necessity for the overall development and growth of the country. Our constitution under Article 47 of Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) thrust the responsibility to the State “to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health”. India has also committed to Sustainable Development Goals and SDG III aims to achieve “Good health and well-being” for everyone.

Developing an effective healthcare system and ensuring a universal healthcare system depends on the nature and quality of the medical manpower of the country. India has one doctor per one thousand seventeen hundred population, which is less than the international standards of one doctor per thousand. This ratio is even lesser in rural areas of the country. India’s medical manpower is not up to the mark due to various reasons as medical education and profession are unregulated, iniquitous and corrupt. The Parliamentary Standing Committee Report of March 2016 noted that medical education and profession in the country was at its ‘lowest ebb’ and suffering from ‘total system failure’ due to corruption and decay within MCI.

In light of this, National Medical Commission Bill was envisaged to overhaul and restructure the regulatory system for medical education and the medical profession thereby creating an institutional mechanism for the overall development of the healthcare sector in the country. The Bill was passed by parliament in 2019 replacing the archaic Indian Medical Council Act 1956. It also replaced Medical Council of India (MCI).

SALIENT FEATURES OF THE BILL [v]:

  • NMC with 25 members will regulate medical education and practice.
  • It will establish four autonomous boards to focus on undergraduate and postgraduate medical education, assessment, rating and ethical conduct.
  • Setting up of Medical Advisory Council by the Centre to act as a channel through which the States/Union Territories can convey their concerns and views to NMC.
  • Uniform NEET test for admission to undergraduate medical education in all medical institutions.
  • NEXT (National Exit Test), a common final year undergraduate examination for students graduating from medical institutions to obtain the license for the practice.
  • Fees of 50% of seats of private and deemed universities will be regulated.
  • Limited license to community healthcare providers connected with the modern medical profession to practice medicine.

ANALYSIS OF THE BILL:

The enactment of this bill is a much-needed reform to usher into a new era in the healthcare system. It will help in creating a cadre of qualified medical professionals to deal with India’s healthcare challenges. Creating a uniform standard of admission, training and regulation will help in establishing a robust framework for medical education and profession in the country. The bill will also curb the phenomenon of commercialization in medical education by regulating the fees charged by private medical colleges. Medical Advisory Council will create a platform for states to share their best practices as well as concerns to the NMC.

Criticism against the provision of Section 32 of the bill which allows 2.5 lakh Community Health Providers (CHP) in the villages to prescribe drugs to patients is not fair as there are various examples of community health providers playing the role of game-changer in improving the healthcare indicators in rural areas. In fact, various studies have shown that poor largely seek health services from informal service providers. For instance- ASHA[vi] workers under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) played an important role in improving maternal mortality rate and neo-natal mortality rate and similar experiences in the state of Chhattisgarh and Assam have improved the quality of healthcare in the rural areas of these States. Many developed and developing countries have adopted the concept of community healthcare providers (CHPs) and mid-level healthcare providers. In fact, India needs community healthcare providers and mid-level healthcare providers in several forms to bridge the gaps of access and quality of healthcare services in our country.

Conclusion:

Despite bringing a structural change in the form of overhauling the medical education system of the country through this bill, addressing the complex and multiple healthcare challenges of the country will be insurmountable in recent times due to various reasons. The public expenditure on health is still abysmally low. As per the National Health Profile[vii] 2019, India’s public expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP is far lower than Lower-Income Countries of the world. The healthcare system is poorly regulated and accessible to those who have better income level. Urban-rural imbalance in healthcare services had failed those people living in rural areas. There is a huge reliance on private sector with the help of insurance model after the launch of Ayushman Bharat[viii] to provide healthcare services and the problem is that these private players are not regulated properly. Therefore, along with the institutional reform in terms of establishing National Medical Commission, there is need to adopt a holistic approach to create a conducive climate to achieve the goal of “right to health” for the people of the country.


[v] https://prsindia.org/billtrack/national-medical-commission-bill-2019

[vi] http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/sereport/ser/stdy_immm.pdf

[vii] https://www.cbhidghs.nic.in/index1.php?lang=1&level=1&sublinkid=75&lid=1135

[viii] http://ayushmanbharat.co.in/ayushman-bharat-yojana-registration-online/

Ten years of RTE Act 2009

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. – Nelson Mandela
Source of Pic: i pleaders blog

Providing free and compulsory education to children has been one of the important responsibilities of the Indian government since independence. To fulfill the responsibility of providing universal education, the government of India had taken various policy actions. Right to education became a fundamental right under Article 21A in 2002 when the Constitution was amended through the 86th Amendment Act .Consequent to this amendment, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education 2009 was enacted which came into force on April 1st, 2010. This Act has set an obligation on the State to provide free and compulsory education to children under the age-group of 6-14 in a neighborhood school. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the flagship program to achieve the goal of universal education. SSA is the scheme through which the RTE Act 2009 is implemented.


IMPORTANT FEATURES OF THE ACT
• Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates unaided and non-minority schools to reserve 25% seats for underprivileged children of society through a random selection process. The fees of these students would be reimbursed by the Government.


•Section 16 of the RTE Act mandates, “No child can be held back, expelled and required to pass the board examination till the completion of elementary education”. This ‘no-detention policy’ was implemented to retain the children in the schools. However, this policy was recently abolished after the enactment of Right to Free and Compulsory Education Amendment Act 2019.


•The Sections 19 of the RTE Act lays down the norms and standards of Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs) of 1:30, buildings and infrastructure, school working days, teacher working hours, ramps for students with disabilities, provision of drinking water and availability of playground, etc. The Act also provides the appointment of appropriately trained teachers. Norms and standards of teacher qualification and training are clearly laid down in the Act.


•The Act prohibits deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to the local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.


•There is provision for the establishment of commissions to supervise the implementation of the act. All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees(SMC) with 75% of parents and guardians as members.


•The Act specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate Governments, local authority in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE ACT:

The RTE Act brought improvement in the enrollment rate for the students in primary and upper primary schools. As per the ASER report 2016, enrollment reached to 96%. Enrollment for the age-group 15-16 for both boys and girls has reached to 84.7% in 2016. Enrollment trends also suggest that the gap in enrollment rate between boys and girls are consistently reducing. However, the actual data showcases the discrepancies among the states. For instance- the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have seen an increase in the enrolment rate for upper primary section, but Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and West Bengal saw a significant decrease in the same time period.

Despite improvements in enrolment rates, the quality of education is dismal. As per the ASER reports released every year by Pratham, it was found that the learning outcomes of the students are poor. The quality of education is a cause of concern. For example-More than 50 % of Std V students can’t read Std II textbook or solve a basic mathematical problem. The real cause of concern is that learning deficits seen in elementary school in previous years seem to carry forward as young people move from being adolescents to young adults. This finding was reflected in the ASER 2018 report as in this study it surveyed students in the age-group of 14-18 years, unlike the last 12 years when it focused on students in elementary schools.

Not only this, drop-out rates are still very high. Almost one million children in the age group of 6-14 drop out every year. 75 % of them are from SC, ST and Muslim communities. As per the Brookings Institute Report on primary education in India, 29 percent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school and 43% before finishing upper primary school. As indicated by the report, there is also a huge difference between urban and rural education.

There has been a consistent improvement in the basic infrastructure facilities in schools. As per the report, 98% of the habitations have a primary school within one km and 92% have an upper primary school. The facilities of basic sanitation, drinking water, separate toilets for boys and girls have improved since the enactment of the Act. However, as per the District Information System of Education , only 13 percent of all schools in India have achieved full compliance with these RTE norms.

School Management Committees (SMC) are set up only on paper in various schools of the country. However, the quality of their engagement with schools is minimal, the amount of funding they receive is not enough and they are not empowered enough to exercise their duties and responsibilities.

As per the Economic Survey 2017-18, only 79% of teachers are professionally qualified to teach in schools. There is a huge dearth of trained teachers in the country. There are various issues related to teachers in schools like low accountability, poor quality of the teacher education manual, deployment of teachers for non-educational purposes and large vacancies. As per the data provided by District Information System, around 5.68 lakh positions are vacant. There has also been a major issue of teacher absenteeism. As per the World Bank Study 2010, a teacher in Indian schools is absent every four days.

The seats for disadvantaged students reserved in schools also are not filled completely. There is a huge gap among states in filling the seats for disadvantaged students. For instance- Where the State of Delhi was able to fill 92% of the seats allocated, Andhra Pradesh was able to fill only 0.2% and UP filled only 3 % seats.

The Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) is used for the evaluation of students under the RTE Act. However, it was found that it has not been implemented properly. Only 58.46% of the schools of the country have implemented this provision. However, the no-detention policy was removed in January 2019 after the RTE (Second Amendment) Act 2019. CCE is a pedagogical tool which does not mean the absence of evaluation but a process of continuous evaluation different from the traditional examination system.

There is a need to have systemic and structural reforms to revamp the education system in the country. The Committee on Draft National Education Policy chaired by K. Kasturirangan provided reforms proposals for RTE Act 2009 to make it more effective. India still spends less than 3 % of its GDP on education which is very low as compared to other nations. Though the goal of universal enrolment seems achievable now, there is need to focus on quality of education in the schools at primary and upper primary level. As these children are going to join the workforce and become part of demographic dividend in the near future, there is need to focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE) within the ambit of RTE Act 2009 as proposed under the Draft National Education Policy.

Health Challenges for the Modi 2.0

“Will the ‘New Government’ be able to achieve the goal of “Health for All”?

The incumbent government led by Narendra Modi got a huge mandate for his second consecutive term in the recent Lok Sabha elections 2019. The government does not have any coalition compulsions and can take any complex decisions. The compositions of the Council of Ministers (COM) and the allocations of the portfolio also reflect the focus of the government on talent and good governance. The huge mandate given to the incumbents also creates tremendous expectations.  “Health will be a topmost priority of the government”, said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister in his first official statement. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned in his speech that this victory is for those poor people who wait for years to save money and also to seek treatment. Now the poor people are covered under Ayushman Bharat. In fact, now health is going to dominate the discourse of public policy in the country as it is one of the most important components in Human Capital approach. If India has to take advantage of its huge ‘demographic dividend’, it has to bring about structural transformation in the health sector to achieve the goal of “Health for All”.

During the elections, two narratives were going on with respect to achieving the goal of universal healthcare. One narrative was to make the ‘right to healthcare’ as a legal and justiciable right proposed by Indian National Congress (INC) in its manifesto and supported by various civil society organisations. Another narrative was created by the incumbent government to achieve the goal of universal health coverage via the route of insurance schemes like Ayushman Bharat. The winning of the incumbent government led by the Narendra Modi shows that the goal of achieving universal healthcare will be led through the insurance-based model.  However, many health experts have criticized the insurance-based model. The argument here is that when the proper infrastructure related to healthcare facilities and personnel will not be available, how can the Auyushman Bharat scheme be able to provide quality services? The role of the private sector in the scheme is also criticized. Providing basic services like health which is indispensable for the survival of poor people should not be left to the private sector.

In the last five years, the Narendra Modi government has launched two important schemes namely Swachh Bharat Mission and National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) also known as Ayushman Bharat to bring about substantive changes in the health sector.  Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) aims to make India ‘open defecation free’ by 2nd October 2019 which in turn will help in preventive healthcare of the country. The government also launched Ayushman Bharat on Sept 23, 2018, as the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance scheme as a tool to achieve universal health coverage in the country. It aims to provide a Rs 5-lakh medical insurance cover to 50-crore low-income citizens. Annually, Rs 10,000 crore is the budget estimate of the scheme being touted as the biggest universal medical care program in the world. The scheme also aims to establish 1.5 lakh Health and Wellness centers to upgrade the primary healthcare infrastructure of the country. This scheme is going to solve the problem of out-of-pocket expenditure of the people. In fact, as per one report, 65 % of health expenditure is out of pocket and some 57 million people are sent to poverty every year due to this expenditure   This government launched National Health Policy 2017 (NHP 2017) in its tenure. This health policy was launched after 15 years since the last policy launched. NHP 2017 aims at increasing the public health expenditure as 2.5% of the GDP gradually.


Challenges for the New government in achieving Universal Health Coverage:

As health is one of the most important priorities, the government of India has to face many challenges in the coming five years to achieve the goals set in the National Health Policy 2017. Some of the challenges are mentioned below:

  • The most important challenge is to change the perception of the health sector. The investment in health sector needs to be seen in a positive manner as it will play an important role in building a healthy population. This healthy population will be contributing to the overall development of the country as a working population in the future. The health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is less than 2%.
  • As per the National Family Health Survey-4 2015-16, less than 10% of children receive adequate nutrition in the country. The lack of proper micro and macro nutrients to children is reflected in the high incidences of malnutrition and under nutrition in the country. As per the Global Nutrition Report (GNR) of 2018, India accounts for 23.8% of the global burden of malnourished and 30% of stunted children under 5.  
  • India has a severe shortage of medical professionals, especially in rural areas. India has only 0.62 doctors per 1000 population as opposed to the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 1 doctor per 1000 population. 74% of all sanctioned specialist doctor positions are lying vacant in community health centers across the country, including surgeons, gynecologists, physicians and pediatricians as per the Rural Health Statistics 2018.
  • There is also a need for institutional and regulatory reforms in the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors as there is no exclusive ministry governing both the sectors. The pharma sector is partly governed by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers as well as Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The Medical Devices are still governed under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Though the government has implemented Medical Device Rules 2017, there is still a need to enact a separate law for effective governance of medical devices industries.
  • There is also a lot of policy anomalies in terms of promotion of generic drugs, price control policies on drugs and medical devices, issues related to fixed drugs combinations (FDC), shortage of medical professionals and treatment of Ayush doctors with respect to the medical fraternity, etc.
  • The second component of Ayushman Bharat (Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) in terms of opening 1.5 lakh Health and Wellness Centres needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. It will give the real boost to primary healthcare infrastructure which needs to be strengthened to make the goal of “Health for All” a reality.
  • The government has also kept its momentum in making the country open defecation free to emphasize the role of preventive healthcare in the overall improvement of health indicators.

The challenges mentioned above should guide the policy actions of the government in the health sector. The government got a huge mandate to bring about change in the lives of the people. This term of the government will be very significant as India is at the cusp of change due to the high youth population, technological advancements, and most importantly, the country will be celebrating its 75 year of its existence in the year 2022. Not only this, the Government of India is obligated to achieve Goal 3(Good Health and wellbeing for all at all ages) of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). On the face of it, the government of India has a great window of opportunity to bring about policy changes with respect to the health sector to achieve the goal of “Health for All”.

Lets’s come together to achieve the goal of “Health for All”

Trends in India’s HDI Rankings

Human Development Index was created by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen in 1990. It is a composite index of three dimensions and four indicators -Health (Life-expectancy at birth), Education (Mean years of schooling and Expected years of schooling) and living standards (Gross National Income per capita). Countries are ranked into four tiers-Very High, High, Medium, Low and Data Unavailable. The Human Development Report 1995 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) describes human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices. It “must enable all individuals to enlarge their human capabilities to the fullest and to put those capabilities to the best use in all fields- economic, social, cultural and political”.

India has been ranked 130[i] out of 189 countries in the HDR 2018. India’s HDI value for 2017 is 0.640 which put the country in the “medium human development category”. Between 1990 and 2017, India’s HDI value increased from 0.427 to 0.640 an increase of nearly 50% and an indicator of the country’s remarkable achievement in lifting millions out of poverty. Between 1990 and 2017, India’s life expectancy at birth also increased by nearly 11 years. GNI per capita increased by 266.6% between 1990 and 2017 and India’s school-age children can expect to stay in school for 4.7 years longer than in 1990. However, despite huge improvement, India still lags behind all other BRICS[ii] nations on the HDI. The UNDP report also showed that when inequality is factored in, India loses nearly 26.8% of its HDI values and falls to 0.468. It means that outcomes of human development vary substantially with respect to caste, class, and gender. For instance-HDI for men is higher than HDI for women. Historically disadvantaged groups such as Dalits and Adivasis in India, also have lower human development indexes.

The ranking of India is marginally higher than its South Asian neighbors but the country has fallen behind its neighbors on key health and quality of life indicators. India’s 2017 HDI 0.640 is also lower than average of 0.645 for countries in the medium human development category.

India has a GII (Gender Inequality Index), introduced in 2014, the value of 0.524, ranking it 127 out of 160 countries in the 2017 index. The GII can be interpreted as a loss of human development due to inequality between male and female achievements in three GII dimensions of reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. In India, only 11% seats of parliament are held by women. Only 39% of women have reached the secondary level of education as compared to 63.5 % of their male counterparts. Female participation in the labor market is also very low (27%) as compared to men (78.8%).

Trends in India’s HDI Rankings:

india-in-hdi-4-638

The UNDP HDR 2013 report[i] was themed as “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World” which concluded that sustained progress in human development has led to the rise of the south in unprecedented speed and scale. For the first time in 150 years, the combined output of the developing world’s three leading economies -Brazil, China and India- is equal to the combined GDP of the longstanding industrial powers of the north like Canada, France, Germany, Italy, UK & USA, thus demonstrating a gradual convergence across the world. It also projects that by 2050, Brazil, China and India will together account for 40% of global output.

The unprecedented achievement by India in human development was recognized and praised by UNDP reports. These are the initiatives who helped India to climb the ladder of human development:

  • Affirmative Action policy- Even though it has not remedied caste-based exclusions, it has had substantial positive effects. It pointed out that in 1965 for example, Dalits held fewer than 2% of senior civil service positions, but the share has grown to 11% by 2001.
  • Right to Education Act, 2009- It helped in universalizing the primary education in India and increasing the enrolment rate almost 90%-99%.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as a prime example of combining social protection with appreciative employment strategies.
  • National Food Security Act
  • Skill India,
  • Digital India
  • Make in India
  • JAM trinity-Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile
  • Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao-To improve child sex ratio in 100 gender critical districts of across all states and UTs.
  • Stand-Up India Campaign 2016 to provide loans to women borrowers for setting up a greenfield enterprise.
  • Maternity Benefit Act[ii], 2017 has extended the period of paid maternity benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.

India’s HDI has been increasing over the years but in recent years despite India being the fastest growing country in the world, the HDI has stagnated. There is also a caveat that there have been various changes in the methodology and continuously tweaking of indicators to measure human development. That is why many experts say that it is misleading to compare the rankings of any country over the years.  There is still a long way to go to reach an adequate level of human development in the country. UNDP report also suggested various measures to improve India’s HDI.

  • To stop the subsidies going to the richest 20% of India’s population. It consists of six commodities and services in cooking gas, railways, power, aviation fuel, gold, kerosene and EEE tax treatment under the PPF.
  • There is a need to create universal access to health care. Ayushman Bharat[iii] is a path-breaking initiative of the current government. However, there is a long way to go improve the status of our primary health centers which are the backbone the whole health infrastructure. National Health Policy[iv] 2017 is also a step in the right direction.
  • There is a need to improve the quality of education and make the coming generation skilled enough to take advantage of ‘demographic dividend’ [v]of the country.
  • The gender inequality, discrimination, and violence are still rampant in our country which needs to be tackled by challenging the root of the problem-patriarchal system by changing the mindset of the people through awareness generation, sensitization of children towards gender issues since childhood by including under the school curriculum.

In fact, as per the UNDP HDR 2013, countries that have improved their HDI standing did so on account of three principal drivers: ‘a proactive developmental stage’, ‘tapping of global markets’, and ‘determined social policy and innovation’. On the face of it, Government of India should embark on a journey of the collective effort of setting developmental priorities led by inclusive development, capability approach through redistribution, social security measures and massive investment in health and education.

[i] http://hdr.undp.org/en/2013-report

[ii] https://ritambharachaitanya.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/maternity-benefit-bill-a-historic-achievement-for-india/

[iii] https://www.pmjay.gov.in/

[iv] http://cdsco.nic.in/writereaddata/National-Health-Policy.pdf

[v] https://ritambharachaitanya.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/demographic-dividend-or-demographic-disaster/

[i] https://www.livemint.com/Politics/NcyY1Zr768TEl02yaRSh4M/India-ranks-131-on-global-Human-Development-Index-Norway-No.html

[ii] http://brics2016.gov.in/content/

 

 

WHY GROWTH MATTERS ?

The book starts with “Tryst with Destiny speech” given by the first Prime Minister of India J. L. Nehru from the ramparts of the red fort in August 1947. This was the time when India started a new journey towards nation-building and fulfilling the aspirations of million Indians. The authors mentioned this to reinforce the idea that the ‘goal of poverty’ elimination had always been the part of India’s national strategy.  The whole book gives a feel of strategy document which is divided into three parts: first is about debunking various myths related to economic growth and development of India, second talks about the Track I reforms that produce growth which has a direct impact on poverty and finally, third discusses the most important reforms in the areas of health care, education and guaranteed employment under the Track II reforms.

The authors of the book: Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya are the professor of economics at Columbia University. In fact, Panagariya is a protĂŠgĂŠ of Jagdish Bhagwati and he was recently appointed as the first Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog by the present BJP government. The authors of the book believe in the ideas of globalization, free trade, and especially full-fledged reforms.

In the first part of the book, the author has tried to debunk various myths- about early development strategy, inclusion of health and education, focus on redistribution to reduce poverty as compared to growth emphasising the point that the early development strategy also focussed on these goals. The authors challenged the myths about the reforms launched in 1991 and its impact on poverty reduction, farmer suicides, development of socially disadvantaged groups, the controversies surrounding poverty lines and vociferously the impact of trade and globalization on poor.

They have debunked the myth of increasing inequalities due to reforms launched in the country in 1991. The authors disapproved the “Kerala Model of Development” saying that it had a historical advantage in terms of literacy, health infrastructure, trade linkages and the dominance of the private sector. In fact, the author mentions the account of Robin Jeffrey (1992) who highlighted the key factors- matrilineal tradition, the role of various rulers, caste and religion-based groups and trade linkages with various countries which played an important role in growth and development of Kerala. The author lauded the “Gujarat Model of Development” and quashed the myth that despite high growth, Gujarat has performed poorly in health and education.

The Part II of the book talks about the Track I reform in the areas of Labor laws, Land acquisition, Infrastructure, Higher Education & Agricultural Market reforms which are aimed accelerating and sustaining growth. In fact, the recent Economic Surveys released by the Government of India discussed these critical issues which act as an impediment in the growth process. The current NDA government has launched various labor reforms like allowing fixed-term employment in all sectors, removing the arbitrary inspection system, providing EPF number portability, six-months maternity leaves to increase the female labor force participation rate, amending the apprentice law and child labor law etc. They focused on infrastructure development launching ‘Bharatmala Project’, ‘Sagarmala Project’, UDAN scheme, rural electrification, and road development. e-NAM(National Agriculture Market) and various other agricultural reforms launched to focus on doubling the farmers’ income. It has proposed the Higher Education Commission of India bill 2018 to abolish the UGC to provide more freedom and autonomy to various universities of India to reform the higher education system in India. However, according to me,  there is still a long way to go in the areas of labor reforms and land acquisition act which are still archaic and create hurdles in the ease of doing business in India.

Track II reforms discussed in Part III of the book are focussed on effective and inclusive redistribution process through providing guaranteeing employment, adult nutrition, and food security, reforming health care and universalizing elementary education. However, the authors’ main idea is that “growth will act as an instrument for poverty alleviation”. It will help in creating substantial economic resources to fund the redistribution goals. As per the author’s reasoning, “Track II reforms can stand only on the shoulders of Track I reforms; without the latter, the former cannot be financed. The whole viewpoint of authors of the book can be seen in terms of “trickle-down theory” which is labeled as “pull-up growth” strategy in the book. 

The authors completely disagree with the model of redistribution proposed by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze because they think that it cannot be the answer to removing poverty in countries of India, Brazil, and China which has a huge population to cater. Under the Track II reforms, the author discussed the design of the redistribution programmes in terms of cash or kind transfers targeted or universal, public versus private provision, conditional versus unconditional transfers and recommends the strategy of policy mix consisting of targeted unconditional cash transfers for most needs, vouchers for elementary education and insurance for major illnesses with government covering the premiums.  In fact, the present government implemented the idea of Direct Cash Transfers (DBT) through the help of “JAM (Jan-Dhan Aadhar Mobile) trinity” for cooking gas subsidy transfers, scholarship reimbursement etc. However, targeting any cash transfers or kind transfers is a complex task in India because of lack of identification mechanism where Aadhar can play a major role.

This book came into limelight after the whole Sen-Bhagwati debate started around 2013-2014. At the same time, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics and recipient of Bharat Ratna and Jean Dreze book, “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” published. Amartya Sen has given the ‘idea of capability-based approach’ to human development and he argues that ‘redistribution as a strategy’ will help in the elimination of poverty. In fact, he proposes the participatory growth and broad-based development model where rights are given to the people and there is freedom and agency for the people to bring about development for them. That is why Amartya Sen praises the “Kerala Experience of development” where all the social indicators are equal to the developed countries of the world. They also emphasize and compare India’s growth story to Bangladesh which has improved the social indicators in less time duration than India. Women have played an important role in improving the social indicators of Bangladesh because of the increasing employment of women in labor-intensive manufacturing sectors like apparel, textiles etc. It also indicates that providing agency to women creates a conducive climate for improving all the social indicators not only for the present generations but also future generations.

In fact, Bhagwati and Panagariya have not even discussed the gender issues in their book which is the biggest criticism of their whole strategy of growth. India being a patriarchal society has a very low labor force participation rate which needs to be improved to make the growth more inclusive and broad-based. Another criticism of the whole strategy proposed in the book is that there should not be any dependence of Track II reforms on Track I reforms as the author consistently pitched that Track II reforms will be implemented with the help of resources generated from Track I reforms. What will happen when the Indian economy is not growing at all in a doomsday scenario? In that case, the Government of India should work on both the fronts stimulating the growth process as well as creating a sustainable and humane mechanism to support and redistribute the resources to the poorest sections of the society. However, the model proposed by Sen in terms of State-led development has not resulted in substantial achievements before India has turned towards the strategy of liberalization, privatization, and globalization.

On the face of it, choosing one strategy among the two is not the option but choosing the better strategy for the overall and inclusive development of the country will be the right option. There is no option to go back and adopt the state-led development and there is a danger in leaving everything for market forces to do. The pitfalls from both the approaches are very much visible all over the world where state-led development is almost abandoned by countries around the world and pure market fundamentalism has led to the severe crisis and unrest even in the developed world.

Therefore, India should find a “middle-path” propounded by the Gautam Buddha whereby India takes the help of globalization to unleash the animal spirit of market forces to create growth and development. Along with creating a mechanism of participatory development where every individual of the country develop its capabilities to achieve the goal of sustainable development because development is not a singular concept of infrastructure, economic growth, poverty reduction, education, and health but it is a multi-dimensional concept where there is a substantial change not only in material and physical aspects but also change in social structures, popular attitudes, and national institutions.

CRITICISM OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

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Image Credit: UNDP Website

The idea of “sustainable development” came into limelight in the 1980s after some extreme events like ‘acid rains’ and the human disasters of Bhopal Gas Tragedy[i] (1984), Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster [ii](1986) etc. Brundtland Commission Report titled “Our Common future” has given the idea of “sustainable development”. As per the report, ‘Sustainable Development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the international community in September 2015 under the UN Sustainable Development Summit, comprehensively covers social, economic and environmental dimensions and build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are 17 SDGs which have 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are given below :

  1. No Poverty-End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. Zero Hunger-End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Good Health and Well-Being for people– Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  4. Quality Education– Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  5. Gender Equality– Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation– Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: Build a resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  10. Reducing Inequalities: Reduce income inequality within and among countries.
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  13. Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy.
  14. Life below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  15. Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  17. Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize global partnerships for sustainable development.

These goals are very comprehensive and universal in nature. They are a big improvement over the MDGs because SDGs were developed after a long multi-stakeholder consultation process. However, the SDGs are also criticized due to various challenges in achieving them as well as their lack of focus on social issues:

  • The goals are wishful and unattainable. For instance- the eradication of poverty by 2030 will be almost impossible in the wake of low economic growth and various other issues in the conflict-ridden world. The biggest criticism came from The Economist calling SDGs as ‘worse than useless’.
  • There is also criticism regarding the definition of “sustainable” itself. There is no precise definition of sustainable development. Even UNDP has not taken any effort to define the idea of sustainable development.
  • To achieve the goal of sustainability, not only in developing countries but also the developed world will need a lot of funding. The absence of planning regarding the financing of SDGs is the biggest drawback of these goals.
  • There is also a lack of support for developing and poorer countries on the part of developed countries for the financing and technology transfer to achieve the goal of sustainable development. For instance-
  • There is also a lack of political will to deal with the issue of environmental degradation and climate change in various countries of the world. For instance- Under the leadership of Mr. Trump, USA has withdrawn from the Paris Climate agreement.
  • Natural occurrences and disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami etc can pose a threat to sustainability.
  • The government’s conflict between immediate profit and investment in sustainable technologies can also derail the implementation process of SDGs.
  • There is no proper monitoring and ownership mechanism to measure the implementation of SDGs in various countries of the world.
  • Many experts also criticized the SDGs for not putting enough emphasis on social issues whilst the goals regarding the environment and economic security are extensively secured.

Challenges for India to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • India[iii] accounts for the largest number of people living below the international poverty line with 30% (800 million) of its population living under $1.90 a day. Pulling this massive population out of poverty will be a nearly impossible task for India without international support.
  • A new study[iv] estimates that implementing SDGs in India by 2030 will cost around the US $14 .4 billion.
  • It will be a big challenge for NITI Aayog to monitor and provide innovative solutions to achieve the massive targets of SDGs.
  • India’s huge geographical as well as cultural diversity can also be a challenge to achieve the goals of sustainability because the needs and requirements of various regions are varied and they will need context-specific
  • India’s federal structure and differences among the States regarding the development indicators can also create challenges but if channelize properly in terms of “competitive federalism” can also turn into an important tool to achieve the goals of sustainable development.

In the context of India with a huge population and social challenges like massive poverty, hunger, malnutrition, acute gender discrimination, and low per capita income, these goals are nearly impossible to achieve. However, India[v] can play an important role in achieving sustainable development goals. In fact, these goals can be treated as ‘ideal goals’ which can act as a guideline for the national and international governments to measure their success in achieving inclusive and sustainable development.

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdyBy2s9I5c

[ii]http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/chernobyl-accident.aspxhttp://www.iisd.org/topic/sustainable-development

[iii]https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/can-india-meet-sustainable-development-goals-on-poverty-hunger-despite-sluggish-economy/story-8NlIxkeBp

[iv] https://www.devalt.org/images/L3_ProjectPdfs/AchievingSDGsinIndia_DA_21Sept.pdf?mid=6&sid=28

[v]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sustainable-development-goals-will-succeed-if-india-succeeds-hardeep-puri/articleshow/65035265.cms