An informed student of Indian politics would wish Tewari knew former prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru's liking for Robert Frost's composition, "Woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But, I have miles to go/ Before I sleep/ Before I sleep". Anyway, while UPA II claims Bharat to be smiling let's focus on some of the facts emerging from the wailing India.
India has many shades of reality. Politically and journalistically, corruption seems to be the only and the biggest problem ailing the country. But if we bend our knees a bit and get a reasonably realistic view of ground situation, we would find more pressing problems like lack of viable employment, quality education at affordable cost, quality food to all and absence of adequate health machinery. Combine this with the exponential growth (in numbers) of aspiring youth and one will see a scary picture hanging across the length and breadth of the country.
Economics and Employment
First, let's look at the economic reality of the country and see whether Bharat is really smiling.
Broadly speaking, India achieved a growth rate of 4.96 percent in 2012-13 for its 1.23 billion people, who form the largest congregation of the poorest sea of humanity on the planet. Agriculture and allied sectors are contributing the least to the GDP signaling that largest chunk of population is either economically redundant or extremely inefficient. Manufacturing sector has not been giving enough hope for the redundant populace, who are anyway not skilled and trained for industries.
Manufacturing sector though contributes over a quarter to the GDP, but finds itself in a whirlpool of government's policy paralysis. Services contribute nearly 60 percent to India's GDP, a sign of paradigm shift in development toeing the line of the developed economies. But, here it means that only a fraction of India has grown so much that it eclipses the rest. (Many believe that India is progressing and Bharat is trailing.)
Now, let's see the UPA's response and also contribution to this economic state. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) was launched in 2006, becoming fully operational in 2010. The MNREGS guarantees one hundred days of work to one person per family in a rural area.
The Comptroller and Auditor General finds the scheme flawed in implementation (by states, though) up to 96% meaning that practically all the rupees spent on the scheme flowed into drains. Further, it has failed in creating the number of jobs it was expected to during its operation. Reports suggest that there has been a 26% decline in man-days of work hitting the dalits and the tribals the worst. Their employment status has declined by 47% and 41% respectively over the period of MNREGS operation. (The government's reply to Parliament) The overall rate of unemployment in India was 9.3% in 2012 and is expected to be 9.4% in 2013.
Education and Empowerment
The worrying employment scenario could be bettered with quality education and skill training. The UPA introduced the Right to Education making education compulsory for children of 6-14 years. But, recent reports from the ministry of human resource development clearly tell that the standard of education has gone down in the past decade and that the recent policies are responsible for this decline.
Moreover, school drop out rates are also alarming for a country, which fosters the largest mass of illiterate people. The drop out rates for class five is 30%, which increases to 85% in class eight. If the monumental right to education act has achieved merely this at the cost of more than two lakh crores of rupees. The country needs to put its working heads together. Higher education is no better. Many ministers including the present HRD minister at the Centre have already cast aspersions on the ability of premier technical institutions in producing creative professionals.
India is a nation of surplus production and hungry population. Hunger and Malnutrition report (HUNGaMA) released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a couple of years ago highlighted the health of this ever-growing nation. More 42% children were malnourished in 2011. The situation has not improved much since then. India can boast of a total food-grain production of 260 million tonnes and also of the theoretical availability of food-grain per capita at 444 grams (in 20112), but the ground reality is betrayed by various media reports of deaths caused by hunger every now and then. And, this could happen even in the busy city of Varanasi.
Meanwhile, politics is in full swing over the food security bill, which could well prove to be another MNREGS. The UPA government plans to fill the stomachs of 67 percent of Indian populace with the proposed food security scheme through its defunct public distribution system. The food for all scheme hopes to cover two-third of the entire population and is expected to tax the rest 1.25 lakh crore of rupees every year. This huge amount of taxpayers’ money is at the risk of going down the PDS drains given that the system has inefficiency of 44 percent. One can imagine where the proposed scheme may be heading.
Providing wheat @Rs 2/kg, rice @Rs 3/kg and millets @Re 1/kg may sound very good for people only at face value, but it is, actually, bad management of a country which has one-fourth of the hungry people on the globe with number exceeding 230 millions. While the food production in India is breaking all records, the warehouses and storehouses fail to accommodate all the grains. Every year, lakhs of tonnes of foodgrains rot at several places in the country prompting the Supreme Court to direct the government in 2011 to distribute the grains among the poor.
India has the dubious distinction of being the world leader in maternal and child mortality despite a booming health and hospital industry, and resultant highly acclaimed and appreciated medical tourism. The official records show that nearly half of India is undernourished. According to the World Health Organization's findings, India annually records the maximum number of deaths of pre-term babies, malnourished and stunted children, anaemic women, children with birth defects, TB infections and MDR-TB cases, rabies deaths, new leprosy cases and oral cancer.
On the other hand, the country is heading to become the diabetes and dementia capital of the world in near future. The basic cause for all this is attributed to very low public spending on health. This explains why private hospitals have mushroomed all over the country, but quality treatment is still out of the reach of general masses. The government's expenditure on health is 3.9% of the GDP, which is lesser than even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Right to information
Amid the gloomy picture, the UPA government can really boast of having given the right to information to people by passing an act in 2006. It is, however, altogether a different story that the same instrument has proved to be Frankenstein's monster for the UPA. The Act has not only exposed the UPA government but many state governments as well. The UPA bosses understand the predicament of this Act much better now. This explains why most of the ministries do not provide complete information to the office of the central information commissioner.
According to one estimate, the rate of default at the ministerial level in the UPA government in replying RTI queries is over 30%. So, with an apparent intention of slaying its own angel, RTI, the UPA is hoping that the electors in India will look at Bharat smiling and refuse to see through the game.
Last, but not the least, consider this: 35.5% India still lives without electricity; the Transparency International puts India at 94th position among 174 nations on corruption perception index; large portions of farmland in the country await their share of green revolution; the area of farmers' suicide continues to widen, and comity of nations led by China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh continues to ignore India's interests. Despite all this, the UPA managers expect (may be like an ostrich) Bharat to be smiling!