We, as common Indians, feel pride that IT experts stride confidently up to the 21 century. The prestigious Forbes magazine list of the world'stop billionairies made room for 10 new Indian names. The four richest Indians in the world are collectively worth a staggering 180 billion dollors, greater than the GDP of a majority of member states of the United Nations. Indian newspapers have reported with undisguised glee that these four (Lakshmi Mittal, the two Ambani brothers and DLF chief KP Singh) are worth more than the 40 richest Chinese combined.
When the rest of the world, including China, is ageing, we have a great demographic advantage of maximum number of young people living under 25 years of age. There are 55 crore young Indians. This means we should have a dynamic youthful and productive work force for the next 20 years. We can feel proud about all these things. It will increase our confidence level. At the same time we must remember that we have a social and political responsibility to address the problem of poverty.
While we celebrate the prosperity of the few thousands, it is high time to pay serious attention towards the crores of Indians who are poor, sick and living a sad life. Poverty is a very sorrowful condition of life. It pains much due to lack of money or material possessions. Poverty is hunger, lack of shelter, being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.
There are many problems that people living in poverty face, such as inadequate housing, poor nutrition and poor education. Housing costs are for the most part, the single largest expenditure in a month. Unfortunately for families with low income, a disproportionate amount of income goes to paying for shelter. This makes securing adequate and safe accommodations often unaffordable.
Absolute poverty is a serious suffering without resources to maintain basic nessacities of life. People living under the bridge, with torn clothes, belly touching the back bone usually describes the extremity of the problem. We do not realise how sad it is for a person to fall into poverty: A lost job, a sudden illness, a death in the family or the endless cycle of being born into poverty and not knowing how to overcome it. As far as our motherland is concerned, the need of the hour is to address these serious issues like continued child undernourishment, lack of medical care for the poor and absence of basic schooling for a significant portion of our population.
The information that creates extreme anxiety in our mind even today is that millions of Indians go to bed hungry every night. Worse is that 40 per cent of the world'sunderweight children below five years live in India. Hunger is one of the India'smajor problems and therefore one of its most important challenges. In many parts of our country male family members eat first and women take the leftovers. This results in children of undernourished and anaemic mothers to have a higher risk of being born underweight.
By the government'sadmission even today, thirty crore Indians, nearly a third of the population, are still suffering from abject poverty and do not have even two meals a day. When the issue of poverty was first raised in Parliament in 1963, even the Prime Minister was appalled by the facts presented by Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Nehru was forced to set in motion a process for officially defining the line of poverty. Almost a decade later in the year 1973 a definition was worked out. The poverty line was set at Rs. 1.40 per day income for individuals in rural and urban areas. During 2005-06 it was revised upwardly to put the individual income at Rs. 12 per day in rural areas and at Rs. 18 per day in urban areas.
The per capita income rose by 27 times but the income for the under poverty line was pegged only eight times higher. Poor could buy two-kilo wheat and spare a few paisa for salt and other accessories in 1973 with the daily income of Rs. 1.40 but could do it no more in 2005 with the defined poverty income level.
The National Commission for Unorganised Sector, however, says nearly 77 per cent population of India lives below the income of Rs. 20 per day. Both income levels are not only inadequate to provide dignity in life but also the basic calorie needs. Latest World Bank report says that nearly five out of ten Indians are living on less than 1.29 dollor, (approx Rs. 55) a day.
On an average 40 to 45 children of tender age of eight to 12 land at New Delhi railway station every morning. They have fled their homes in search of job and food, as they do not get sufficient quantum at home. The numbers of children at tender age landing at other stations are no less staggering.
The Government'spolicies of ?backing the strong? have resulted in the total collapse of agriculture, a decimation of rural health services and a low rate of rural employment generation with the severely affected sections of society in the hinterlands either taking to the gun or committing suicide.
It was always assumed that the benefits of growth would automatically trickle down to all classes, communities and regions, including the weakest. It should be realised that market forces by themselves do not ensure equitable distribution. Government intervention is required for bringing the benefits to the poorest of the poor.
Can we make hunger history? The problems of hunger and poverty are multidimensional. Already, religious institutions are doing their best by providing free meal, annadanam etc. The responsibilities of various Ministries and Departments of Governments are to be geared up in war footing. Delivery of nutrition support programmes on a life-cycle basis, starting with pregnant women and extending to old and infirm persons, with the participation of Panchayats and local bodies, maternal and foetal undernutrition should be prevented in order to avoid incidence of babies with low birth weight. Eliminating deficiencies like iron, iodine, vitamins-A zinc through an integrated food-cum-fortification approach is very important.
National Food Guarantee Act must be enacted. This Act will be a powerful tool in achieving the goal of a hunger free India. By increasing demand for food grains as a result of increased consumption by the poor the economic conditions essential for further agricultural progress can be improved. Keeping inflation under check by making essential commodities available in adequate quantities and at affordable prices must be a national resolve. Food comes first in the hierarchical needs of a human being. Therefore eradicating hunger arising from deprivation must be a national priority and an all party endeavour.
India is likely to have the world'slargest population by 2040 or even earlier. We also have the world'slargest farm animal population, which needs food, fodder and water.
The challenge of poverty reduction is one that should arouse strong passions among people at large. If there were more better paying jobs, there would be much less poverty. While some argue that economic growth is the only remedy and that the trickledown effect will ultimately take care of the dispossessed, others consider redistributionist policies the only way forward. Without strong economic growth, there is nothing to redistribute. One of government'sprime duties is to create the sort of microeconomic environment that is business friendly and conducive to high investment rates, which in turn lead to high growth and job-creation. There will be large number of people who, for a variety of reasons, are left behind and need assistance to find their feet again. This is where social approach come in. The whole society must be involved in the eradication of poverty. While we celebrate the new prosperity of the few thousands we can not ignore the compelling needs of crores of people who remain poor and vulnerable. We must be vigourous in implementing the plan to eradicate the poverty. It is not a slogan. It should be our sankalp and determination to wipe out the tears.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])