India: Problem of Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

Exports are growing. India is now one of the world’s fastest growing exports economies, with exports rising at more than 10 per cent a year since 1990, Dr. A.PJ. Abdul Kalam, representing the aspirations of the ordinary citizen, has a vision of India becoming a developed nation by the year 2020.

Reverse brain drain has started. One third seats in local governments are now being represented by women indicating women empowerment. Person of Indian origin and PepsiCo chief Executive, Ms. Indra Nooyi’s selection as the world’s 4th most powerful woman in the Forbes’ list, naming of ICICI Bank Deputy Managing Director Ms.

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Indra Kochhar, HSBC India CEO Ms. Naina Lai K dwai, and Biocon Head Ms. Kiran Mazumdar — Shaw among the 50 most powerful business women in the world by Fortune magazine, once again vindicates the conviction in woman power in India.

The Indian middle class is growing year after year. Service sector now accounts for more than 60 per cent of overall GDP and is still growing. Shrinking share of the agriculture is being taken over by both the manufacturing and service sectors, pointing to gradual maturity of Indian economy.

Banking sector has achieved a credit growth of more than 30 per cent, a never-before-seen experience. FDI is growing year after year indicating confidence of global investors in the Indian economy. BSE sense has more than doubled in the recent past months to about 13,000 marks, thus creating share holder value.

Foreign exchange reserves have reached an astronomical level of US $151.6 billion as on 31-3-2006 against an abysmally low level in 1991, which triggered the liberalisation process. External debt level at US $ 125.2 billion at end-March 2006, constituted just 82 per cent of force reserve.

The ratio of external debt to GDP has almost halved over the past decade to 15.8 per cent at end-March 2006 from 30.8 per cent at end-March 1995. Central universities viz. NTs, 11 Ms, I ISC has been accepted as a brand abroad and students graduating from these are being most sought after worldwide.

The field of IT, Indian software engineers have making their presence felt in the international arena. India has been the major hub for outsourcing of software related products.

The BPO industry is growing Overall integration of domestic economy into global markets has manifestly enhanced wealth creation generated economic dynamism and raised living standards for many millions of people in India.

Amid all the success stories, however one thing is missing and that is the failure of the country to convert wealth creation and rising incomes into a more rapid decline in poverty.

Rural unemployment is rising, agricultural output is increasing at less than 2 per cent a year, agricultural wages are stagnating and growth is virtually “jobless”. Every 1 per cent of national income growth now generates are third lesser jobs now than it created in 1980. Pervasive general inequalities, interacting with rural poverty and inequalities between the states are undermining the potential for converting growth into human development.

Death due to starvation is still rampant. Infant mortality rate in India is still the highest in the world at around 205 million annually, accounting for one fifth of the world’s total.

Even least developed countries viz., Honduras and Vietnam have far lower levels of neonatal mortality than India. Gender disparity is still pervading to a great extent. Death rate for children in the age group of 1-5 years is 50 per cent higher for girls than for boys.

About 1, 30,000 young lives are lost each year because of the disadvantage associated with being born with two X chromosomes. Inadequate public health vision exacerbates vulnerability.

Fifteen years after childhood immunization was introduced, national health surveys suggest that only 42 per cent of children are fully immunized. Coverage is lowest in the States with the highest child death rates, and less than 20 per cent in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

India may be a world leader in computer software services, but when it comes to basic immunization seines for children of poor rural areas, the record is less impressive.

Serious epidemics spread now and then in several Indian States. While the National Highways are being made 6-lane, many of the villages are yet to be linked by an all weather road. Liberalization, globalization, privatization which were promoted as the panacca for all the evils afflicting the country, have not been able to remove poverty even after more than one and a half decades of application. Only the gap between the rich and poor has increased.

Rich has become richer at the expense of the poor. Market forces have favoured the “haves” at the expense of “have-nots.” However, it must be remembered that, ignoring the deprived will result in serious repercussion which will shake the very foundation of Indian democracy.

In a positive development, the Government of India has enacted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which has come into effect in 200 districts.

The Act is a landmark initiative the Government of India which provides a legal guarantee for at least 100 days of employment to begin h on asset-creating public works programmes every minimum wages for at least one able-bodied son in every rural, urban poor and lower middle-class household. Since 2005, a $1.5 billion National rural Health Mission, a programme targeting some 3,00,00o villages with an initial focus on the poorest State in the North and North-East, has been launched Commitments have been made to raise public health spending from 0.9 per cent of national income to 2.3 p6r cent. Spending on education has also been increased Primary education has been made compulsory.

In an effort to create favourable conditions for accelerated rural growth and poverty reduction, ambitious public investment programmes have been put in place to expand rural infrastructure, including the provision of drinking water and roads (the Bharat Nirman Programme with an outlay of Rs. 1,74,000 crore for providing rural infrastructure within the next four years has been launched).

Public-private partnership in the infrastructure sector is being emphasized. Translating increased financial commitment into improved outcomes will require a stronger focus on effective delivery and measures to improve the quality of public services. Policy has to be finetuned from time to time to take care of the poverty alleviation. Garibi Hatao Abhiyaan has to be resorted to, in order to take care of the interests of these less privileged.

We have to take the problem of poverty in the midst of plenty in our stride, making it an opportunity. A booming economy along with growth of service sector which is virtually untaxed today will result in more money by way of more tax collection. (Present level is just 15 per cent of GDP for both the Centre and the States combined against around 37 per cent for OECD countries) which can be utilised in the mass poverty reduction programme.

Spending more on development activities, restricting revenue expenditure cleaner administration will help the process. In this direction, promulgation of Right to Information Act will bring in more transparency in the administration thus restricting the leakage in the expenses.

Making the lower administration accountable to the local elected bodies like Gram Panchayat and Municipality, will help on employment of the people. Common man has only three proverbial basic necessities viz. Roti, Kapda and Makan. We need to fine-tune the programmes to take care of these three and the rest will be taken care of itself.

India, with a population of 1.1 billion will become the super power of the 21st century if its youth which constitute the majority are nurtured and given proper opportunity to grow. Then Hon’ble President Dr. A.PJ. Abdul Kalam’s dream will no longer be a dream and become a reality. With this hope and belief let us march forward.