Thursday, March 15, 2007 11:23:19 IST
Thousands of crore rupees of taxpayers money is being wasted on a public distribution system for the poor that serves not to alleviate poverty but to enrich corrupt officials
Every now and then the horror that is India gets exposed from under the shining statistics that tell us that at over 9% annually we are the second fastest growing economy in the world and on the verge of becoming the world’s next economic superpower. Last week the horror came through in two unrelated stories.
First, we had the Minister of Agriculture, Sharad Pawar, admit in Parliament that all the wheat that the government sends to our Northeastern states through the Public Distribution System (PDS) is stolen. ‘Up to 100% of the wheat in six of the eight North-Eastern states is being diverted from PDS’, he said. After marveling at the frankness of this admission let us examine its implications. What it means is that thousands of crore rupees of taxpayers money is being wasted on a public distribution system for the poor that serves not to alleviate poverty but to enrich corrupt officials. As someone who has long argued that all anti-poverty programmes must be scrapped and reinvented from scratch I feel sadly vindicated by the Minister’s admission but would he like to now tell us why we continue with a programme that should have been modified decades ago.
A country of desperate shortages
At the time when the public distribution system was invented India was a country of desperate shortages. The fifties, sixties and even the seventies were a time when there was always something in short supply. At festival time sugar and milk was rationed because there was never enough and at other times there would be a shortage of rice or wheat or something else or other so the government in its socialist wisdom created a system of ration cards and ration shops where your card could give you at least a minimum amount of whatever it was that you needed. Even then the system should have been designed to help only those who were too poor to pay market prices but today does it make any sense to have a PDS that includes rich and poor? It is an absurdity that we still need ration cards to prove domicile and identity and yet the system continues.
What is worse is that even when we know that our anti-poverty Programmes leak like sieves we continue to invent new ones. This government has given us the massive, unwieldy rural employment guarantee scheme. It is supposed to guarantee a hundred days of employment to the desperately poor which is a sweet, thoughtful idea but as someone who has met those who get fifteen days of work a month may I confirm that the scheme will serve mostly to keep the poor desperately poor forever because what it amounts to is providing about Rs 10 a day for a family to live on. Having been in the homes of families who live on that much money I can assure you that even by India’s abysmal standards that is about as poor as it is possible to be. In Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district where children die routinely of what we like to call ‘malnutrition’ it is in families living on Rs 10 a day that these deaths occur. Yet, we are spending more than Rs 40,000 crores on the ruralemployment guarantee scheme.
The second horror story from last week relates to children. We also Spend thousands of crores on the welfare of children living below the poverty line through such well-intentioned schemes as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) yet, according to a story in the Asian Age newspaper, Adivasis in Andhra Pradesh kill baby girls on a daily basis by starving newborns to death because they fear future dowry problems. The story comes from a village called Parigi in Ranga Reddy district, just eighty kilometers from Hyderabad, where Lambada tribals admit that when baby girls are born their mothers refuse to feed them so that they die slowly and painfully of starvation.
What kind of peopleare we?
It sometimes takes two days for a baby to cry itself to death, then her little body is buried in dirt graves in the fields. Sometimes dogs dig the graves up and eat the bodies. What kind of
monsters must their mothers be to be able to do endure this? And, how is it that schemes like ICDS do not reach villages that are less than a hundred kilometers away from the capital of one of India’s more progressive states? What was Chandrababu Naidu doing in the days when he was regarded as one of India’s best chief ministers and what does Andhra’s Congress chief minister have to say about the Asian Age story?
Sonia Gandhi never loses a chance to tell the country how concerned she is about the
‘aam aadmi’ yet infanticide continues to exist in a state ruled by her own party and she
The shame, though, is not just hers it is ours. What kind of peopleare we that we remain unaffected by the horrors of India? What kind of people are we that we do not demand some answers from governments that claim to rule in the name of the poorest of the poor? The only way forward is for all anti-poverty schemes to be scrapped so that they can be reinvented for thetruly needy and not for all of us.