IN India, about 58 per cent of all births are unattended. What that means is that there is no doctor or nurse in attendance during 14.4 million births. Take another bit of information: India has a seemingly impressive network of 22,370 functional primary health centres. But a 2007 National Survey by the World Bank showed that the average rural government doctor was absent from his clinic two out of every five days. About 38 per cent of the doctors were absent on any one given day.
Recently The Week (September 12) carried a story which said that every year 78,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Three quarters of these deaths were preventable. The lifetime risk of material death for an Indian woman is one in 70, while it is one in 8,200 in the UK and one in 4,800 in the US. About 25 per cent of India’s billion plus population does not seek medical care because they cannot afford it. Twenty eight per cent of them live in urban areas and their number is growing at an annual rate of 3.6 per cent.
India has 3,255 urban local bodies. But unlike rural India’s Panchayats and village councils, they do not have any provision for peoples’ participation. No one knows how government funds meant for development are spent. There is no monitoring, ground level date either doesn’t exist or is unreliable. Once upon a time, during the British Raj, the men in the Indian Civil Service (ICS) were considered incorruptible. The ICS was called the Steel Frame of the British Raj. Today, the Indian bureaucracy is described as “rusty paradox of its former self”. Sixty per cent of officials trapped by a Lokayukta in Karnataka were senior IAS and IPS officials. It is virtually impossible to get a driver’s licence, an electricity connection or just a birth certificate without paying bribes. A quarter of India’s government teachers are missing from schools on any given day. The teachers know that even if they are caught skipping a class or dozing when they should be teaching, the most they will get is a rap on their knuckles.
These are some of the hundreds of stories that appear in our media and many readers feel frustrated. Yes, yes, they sound like saying, we know all that, but do you have cure for our myriad troubles? Unfortunately the media has not any. At least not as specifically as the average citizen would like to see. The complaint against the media is largely that it only knows what is going wrong, but has no time to tell how it can be set right. That, unfortunately, is mostly true, though, as always in such contexts, there are exceptions.
Delhi-based Hindustan Times was only too well aware that journalists mostly were good at highlighting problems. It confessed that it, too, was guilty of that. But recently it decided to break away from the old mould. To make the rural employment guarantee scheme more effective, it suggested expanding it to cover white-collar rural workers like teachers and midwives. To boost agriculture and food security, it suggested the setting up of special agricultural zones, where farmers would get the funding and infrastructure they need. To improve education for all, its suggestion was to reduce red tape and allow greater private participation in the school sector.
The point made is that for every problem there is a solution, only we have to search for it and then decisively implement it. Many reader genuinely concerned with seeking solutions would find this book immensely satisfying. Problems are looked squarely in the face, solutions are offered bearing in mind how similar problems elsewhere in the world were tackled. That is what is so special about this book. It is a message to all those concerned to stop crying and to get cracking. Isn’t that a remarkable offering?
(Harper Collins Publishers, A-53, Sector-57, Noida-201 301.)