One can find a bottle of cold soft drink in the rural market or a packet of potato chips, but vaccines do not reach healthcare centres. It is accountability that is missing - accountability of those who are supposed to deliver.
INDIA’S ECONOMIC growth, its expansion on many fronts and the explosion in consumerism has generated many rewards. But a majority of the said rewards has benefited only a part of India’s population. Inequalities do remain; urban, semi-urban and rural divides exist and probably have deepened. India’s urban population is growing but still a majority of India
lives in over six hundred thousand villages. It is not that Indian villages have remained untouched by this growth and it is only urban India that has grown. Villages in India are experiencing a change; literacy levels are rising, television density has increased and so has cable network; there has been growth in the telecom sector too.
But we still have many who cannot afford two square meals a day; we still hear of starvation deaths and deaths for want of medical attention. It is the pattern, the pace, the reach and the kind of development that is inequitable.
If one compares the growth in the human development sector with that in other sectors, a skewed picture emerges. We have failed to provide healthcare and education; we have not addressed poverty and hunger; we are not taking care of the vulnerable sections of the society, particularly women and children; we have not provided the right to information to all.
But if one looks at the growth of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), rural India bags the honours. But in terms of human development, particularly in rural India, we have delivered little. The rural market has grown by about 17 percent and is worth about Rs 27,369 crores, for the ten-month period of 2007. About 34 per cent of the off take in respect of FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) is accounted for by rural areas; the estimated number of households using FMCG products in rural India has grown from 13.6 crores in 2004 to 14.3 crores in 2007. Interestingly, items like batteries and iodised salt have gained a slot among the top-20 in the rural market; the consumption of these categories is higher in rural India than in urban India.
On the other hand, we still have people dying of hunger; every second a child is malnourished; India has unacceptably high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Sanitation coverage is poor; we are struggling to provide potable water to our people and hundreds of thousands die every day owing to diarrhoea and for want of information on and accessibility of ORS. An NGO in Madhya Pradesh
surveyed the secondary data available concerning the health services of the State. It showed that only one hospital bed exists for every 5.6 villages of the State. In the 21st century, a woman is paid just rupees twenty per month to clean the excreta of a family for a full month, although the Sensex has crossed the 20,000 mark and the GDP has crossed a trillion USD.
The probable answer is that it is possible for the State to deliver to its people. When corporates can reach rural markets why cannot our system, which is much more experienced, has a large human resource base and has funds too, deliver? One can find a bottle of cold soft drink in the rural market or a packet of potato chips, but vaccines do not reach healthcare centres thereby impacting immunisation of the child; food and subsidies, meant for the vulnerable sections of society, especially children, women and the poor, do not reach them. There is the issue of corruption, but it has to do with a system, which does not deliver and is not accountable to the people. It is accountability that is missing, accountability of not only the people who are supposed to deliver services but also those who support them – the people who define and influence policies.
How many political leaders have lost in an election on issues like infant mortality, malnourishment, maternal mortality, primary education or sanitation? Or for that matter how many times an explanation is called for from administrators on these issues, unless and until the media or an advocacy group highlights the issue? Water – yes, it makes a political difference but again it is not potable water that is an issue; it is availability of water. But while finding answers, here is word of caution: we normally think corporatisation is the answer and that it will make things happen. No, corporatisation has its own cost; nothing will be provided free of cost. It is business
for them; they may do their bit in the name of corporate social responsibility but if it is a matter of investment, they expect a return on investment; they are unlike the State which has a responsibility towards its people and hence its role is mandated. It has to invest in people. It is the duty of the State to provide for its people. If the State tends to shirk responsibility, all of us have to wake up. The answer lies in making sure that the system, meant for the people, delivers; we should empower people to hold the system accountable if it does not deliver. We do not reach out to our own people. We are lagging.
India is going through media boom and telecom boom; its communication sector has grown. India boasts of 266 million mobile connections as of 2007; 7.2 million new phone connections come up every month but we still have areas where the tele-density is in single digits. Television penetration is massive, but challenges obtain - India is home to 35 per cent of the global population. Only 44 per cent of all rural Indian households are electrified. We still are unable to sensitise our people towards their rights. In case the system does not deliver, corruption raises its ugly head. As we move on to a new leap year we should resolve to usher in accountability in our system and to deliver to all our people.