IF one were to inquire into all the schemes introduced both by the Central and State Governments to provide aam aadmi with water, electricity and housing, not to speak of a decent wage and better educational facilities for his children and expect their fast implementation, one would imagine that India would turn out to be a living paradise. The truth is that, as Rajiv Gandhi once painfully pointed out, a bare percentage of the allotted funds reach the aam aadmi whose living condition has shown little improvement over the years. It is understood that a typical village has a budget of Rs 600 per capita per year. In contrast, Delhi has a non-plan budget of Rs 13,000 crore which comes to around Rs 10,000 per capita. That excludes equally large sums spent by the Central Government in the city.
Something is wrong with our system. One explanation is that corruption is rampant in the country. According to a nation-wide sample survey conducted by ORG-MARG in May 2002 across sixteen states and 5,127 urban and rural households, Indians were forced to pay an estimated Rs 27,782 crore in delivery of Public Service: health, education, power, police, the PDS, telecom, taxation, the railways, land administration and the judiciary. This works to about 5 to 10 per cent of India’s GDP and per capita bribery of Rs 267 a year. The three largest sectors where the citizen was forced to make illegal payments were health, power and education.
According to a study in Free Markets, Free Media, Enron Corporation of India spent about $ 20 million in “educating” Indians-a euphemism for bribing the political and bureaucratic establishment in India. The most damning indictment of the bureaucracy is to be found in Sanjoy Bahchi’s work, The Changing Face of Bureaucracy wherein he indicts both politicians and civil servants, claiming that “corruption at the political level has been seen as the main reason why the bureaucracy is steeped in dishonesty”. As he put it, ” a large part of the (Indian Administrative) Service, certainly its majority, has become politicised, has lost its moral standards and has ignored the ethical rules of conduct”. Transparency International’ corruption Perception Index places India in the 71st position among 102 countries. The Indian bureaucracy was adjudged “as one of the worst in Asia” in 1998. In 1997 the US office equipment company Xerox Corporation reportedly admitted before the US Securities Exchange Commission that it has made “improper payments” to government officials in India amounting to $ 700,000 (Rs 3.5 crore).
According to R Vaidyanathan, writing in External India (July 2009) “the average amount stashed away from India annually during 2002-2006 was $ 27.3 billion”. It means during the 5-year period, the amount parked in different tax havens, including Switzerland was $ 136.5 billion. More money, according to knowledgeable sources, was stashed away during the Nehruvian socialist regime. So the total loot would be several times what we know. It may be argued that this stashing of money abroad does not affect the Common Man. Not true. In the first place if the Government has access to these billions, it would not have to go to the World Bank to borrow money. Our Foreign Exchange situation would be favourable. Fancy how well placed we would be if about $ 500 billion stashed abroad would be at the nation’s disposal! We would be a nation to be reckoned with. And the Exchange Rate would be favourable to India. All this would have a “trickled down” effect on the Common Man. But of more immediate concern is that of rising food prices which are assuming dangerous heights.
For a lower Middle Class family of four, consisting of a husband, wife and two children, just purchasing the bare essentials of food like rice, wheat and cereal would be a tremendous drain on the wage-earner’s income that he can ill-afford. And this does not include “luxuries” like milk and coffee and sugar. Few lower middle class families can afford to provide milk to their children. Sugar is also becoming a luxury these days. India consumes 230 lakh tonnes of sugar annually but it is claimed that last year’s output was just 144 lakh tonnes. We now reportedly have shortfall of 70 lakh tonnes, but the maximum that sugar-exporting countries can provide is 50 lakh tonnes. There lies a problem. The landed price of sugar is Rs 38 per kg and the retail price should be Rs 45 per kg but the price is much higher. Why can’t India produce more of everything like rice, wheat, sugarcane etc? One reason why we can’t, it is argued, is that more and more farmers are leaving their villages to make it to the cities and urban areas. Another reason adduced is that of water scarcity and the uncertainties of the monsoon.
According to Arvind Panagariya, the share of agriculture in the total output has been declining rapidly, falling from 28.5 per cent in 1990-1991 to 16.5 per cent in 2005-2006. Between 1991 and 2001, the rural population fell from 79 per cent to 77 per cent and the proportion of population employed in farming fell from 67 to 58 per cent. And employment in the organised sector has not grown either. Panagariya says (India, the Emerging Giant) the Government of India has utterly failed “in delivery of such services as education, health and water.” But can we lay all the blame on the Government?
Take the case of farmers’ suicides. It may surprise many to learn that debt burden is about the least, percentage-wise (2.65) for suicide. Shockingly, habits like drinking, gambling and over-spending is the largest reason (20.35 per cent). Next comes failure of crops (17.81 per cent). Among other reasons are Chit funds (15.04 per cent) family problems (13.27 per cent), marriage of daughter (5.31 per cent) and price crash (2.65 per cent) and borrowing beyond repaying capacity (2.65 per cent ).
What all these indicate is that we have to take a fresh look at all the problems facing aam aadmi and look at the Common Man’s woes from many angles in order to provide him with the needed succour. And this calls for deep introspection not only in government circles but in all political parties that pretend to fight for aam aadmi. The problems are multi-faceted, and so should be the solutions. After sixty odd years of Independence, no government can afford to provide excuses.