Mere talk, lack of action

Eradicating Poverty

By Oishee Mukherjee

There is much talk of development with ruling political leaders harping on what all is being done. But the way politicians talk of development at the smallest opportunity, it is necessary to analyse the reality over the years. People, who really matter, are not much bothered as they take politicians’ claims with a pinch of salt and the poor, impoverished, who obviously are supposed to be the major beneficiaries, don’t get justice.
While the 2018 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, may sound quite encouraging that around 270 million Indians moved out of poverty, the fact is that it took a full decade from 2005-06 to 2015-16. Thus, though poverty rate nearly halved during the 10-year period, it is still quite high at 28 per cent. Experts suggest the need for an assessment of the number of people who are near the poverty line and this may be around 8 to 10 per cent.
Clearly, this reflects the failure of the political system during the above period as the performance of a country like India should have been far better. Poverty eradication plans has been there since the 70s but in practical terms the rural poor continue to languish in poverty and squalor. Obviously, there is need for understanding the many ways in which people experience poverty while reminding us that eliminating it is a challenging task and far from impossible, rightly pointed out the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
The fact that mitigation of poverty has been moving at a snail’s pace is justified in another report. A recent global assessment of human capital ranked India 158th among 195 countries in investments in education and healthcare as measures towards commitment to welfare objectives. Researchers at the University of Washington, who led the study, stated that health and education advocates should fight for garnering more resources towards these two areas.
Under-investing in people may be driven by lack of policy attention to the levels of human capital, outlined Dr. Christopher Murray, Director, Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the Washington University. In India, there has been nationwide concern regarding the need to focus on the health sector and substantially increase public expenditure which has remained more or less static at 2 per cent of GDP. This happens to be much less than similar rapidly developing countries such as Brazil, China, South Africa, etc. Meanwhile, a very recent study found that 4300 deaths occur in India every day due to inadequate or ineffective diagnosis or treatment, as per a global study.
The question then arises is that mere statements or expressions of interest cannot transform the situation and improve the living conditions of the bottom 35 to 40 per cent of the population. It is not just about people living in starvation, but encompasses many areas such as gender discrimination, child marriage, violence, safe delivery and reproductive rights, the possibility of child survival on birth, breastfeeding and availability of nutritious food for children, maternity rights, protection of natural resources and community rights etc.
The low position of India in the index indicates also reflects the situation among the backward and tribal sections of society, which amount to 11 million-odd people. They have their own cultural, social identity and lifestyle and have consciously made use of natural resources to overcome starvation. But global economic policies have taken away their water, their forest and their culture based system!
According to UNICEF’s ‘Nutrition and Tribal People – A Report on Nutrition – Situation of India’s Tribal Children’, (2016-17), when there is sustained food insecurity in a family and society, the growth of children is more prone to be stunted. With this, children remain sick, the environment of school is not good due to adverse conditions and later in life they cannot play the role of a good healthy citizen. This situation is obviously created due to poverty, food insecurity, not getting adequate nutrition for women, not getting adequate mother’s milk and poor lifestyle.
In some selected States — Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and Telangana, around 50 lakh tribal children’s growth has been found to be stunted. Obviously, it is the constitutional responsibility of the government to pull tribal society not just out of starvation but also ensure it basic necessities of life. Recall, Parliament way back in 2006 had enacted the Forest Rights Act so that tribals were freed from encroachment of forest land.
According to this law, tribal and other forest dwellers were given legal rights to land up to 10 acres of their occupation. Its collective rights were also included so that they could get uninterrupted rights even on forest produce, dry wood, medicines, water, fruits and vegetables. It was a mandatory step for their dignity and freedom from hunger. What happened to its fate? As per the Tribal Development Ministry report, till February 2017, a total of 41.65 lakh claims were made for personal and community interests in India, of which 18.47 lakh were rejected! In majority of cases, as per legal provisions, the claimants were not given reasons for rejection of their application.
The whole approach of successive governments hasn’t been pro-people or geared to uplift the conditions of the poor and economically weaker sections. The lack of opportunities of the impoverished has increased with every passing day and the administration remains a silent spectator.
The lack of vision is also manifest in rising inequality and concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich in many countries, including India. According to Barclays Hurun India Rich List, the number of rich with wealth of over Rs 1000 crores has shown a quantum jump to 831 individuals in 2018 from 214 last year.
Thomas Picketty with his colleague, Lucas Chancel, World Inequality Lab delved into the subject and found that as far as India is concerned, the richest 10 per cent Indians increased their incomes more than four-fold, the richest 1 per cent seven times, 0.1 per cent 11 times, 0.01 per cent 17 times and 0.001 20 times. The bottom 50 per cent got 11 per cent of the income, the next 40 per cent got 23 per cent, the top 1 per cent got 29 per cent and the top 0.001 per cent – that is one out of one lakh – got 2.8 per cent. Besides, there were 7943 people in the top most group, each got a million and an average of Rs 188 million. Similarly, Forbes says since 2005 the share of the richest Indians has exceeded 10 per cent.
All this clearly proves that developmental strategy has benefitted the rich and partly towards the upper middle income sections. Over the years, the condition of the bottom 35-40 per cent hasn’t undergone any fundamental change. A note or warning has been sounded by the recently released ‘Special Report of the IPCC’ which has pointed that if global warning breaches the 1.50 C level and reaches 2 degrees C by 2030, of which there is every possibility, the increase may occur in poverty levels in India and other Third World Countries. Whether the situation will change in the next 4-5 years is difficult to predict, as it solely depends upon the genuine desire and political will of the nation’s leadership.—INFA