Originally Published 2014-08-14 00:00:00 Published on Aug 14, 2014
All that the government has to do is to focus on providing basic goods -- high quality primary education and healthcare, toilets and housing for all. When there is so much money in India in private and public hands, why is it taking so long for the government to do something to change the lives of millions of people?
Can Modi turn slogans into concrete actions?

Has India changed for the better by this Independence Day? Even though there are some positive news on the economic front such as the revival of industrial growth and core sector growth, much of India remains the same. Every so often one sees awful photos of Indian slums and cities, open defecation and garbage dumps in the western media. Around 600 million people defecate in the open and children contract diseases related to open defecation.

Many of us, like the western media, cannot understand how such things like lack of toilets coexist with modern India full of cars, shopping malls, flashy skyscrapers and a booming service sector. It is also difficult to understand why these problems which have been solved in the west a century ago cannot be solved in a country which is one of the important emerging countries in the world and a leading IT giant. It has pockets of dazzling wealth and talent.

India not only has established and famous business houses that possess internationally recognized brands, but Indian business also is increasingly becoming a big foreign investor. Indian business has spread its wings far and wide. Indian industrialists have production units in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the US. So many people of Indian origin have distinguished themselves in different countries across the globe. Yet the underbelly of India is sordid and shameful. It is lack of sanitation and toilets, extreme poverty and squalor in Indian villages and towns which shocks outsiders and even though most of us are used to living with this situation, often some terrible news item about the excluded population disturbs and shakes us all.

All that the government has to do is to focus on providing basic goods--high quality primary education and healthcare, toilets for all and housing for all. When there is so much money in India in private and public hands, why is it taking so long for the government to do something to change the lives of millions of people?

In fact, successive governments have attempted to grapple with the problems of lack of sanitation in cities and villages, lack of affordable housing for all and the growing problem in accessing reliable and good healthcare. There is a 15 million affordable housing deficit today. All past governments have allocated increasing amounts of money for social sector every year in their annual plans but even though there has been some change, the big picture remains the same. Despite increases in the allocated money, major economic problems of India not related to GDP growth but to the quality and the dignity of human life have not been solved. Perhaps it is the endemic corruption in the system that has led to money literally going down the drain.

It is not the responsibility of the government alone. People in the civil society also should work to ensure that fellow citizens have the basic needs. There seems to be much apathy among people towards the less fortunate otherwise the dismal standard of living of the slum dwellers would have improved. People splurge on themselves and indulge in fine food and the lifestyle among the upper classes in India is on par with their peers abroad but there is less and less of philanthropy to be seen. It is increasingly a selfish world. People living next to drains and garbage dumps do not evoke much sympathy from passers-by who can see the filthy surroundings from their cars. Perhaps we believe it is the fate of the poor to live in sub-human conditions.

Whatever it is, the image of India is getting tarnished all the time and Prime Minister Modi, who is very sensitive to the image of India, would perhaps be inclined to react fast. He has promised housing and toilets for all. He may even promise inclusive banking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his maiden Independence Day speech. But people are aware of the slowness in which things move in India. He would do well to act fast and see to it that there is effective implementation of his plans for the common person.Inclusive banking will allow many deprived people to access money from the banks. Only 58 per cent of India's population has bank accounts. Of course, there are sceptics who think that the loans could lead to more NPAs with public sector banks which are already reeling under their burden. The banks badly are in need of recapitalization and the government may have to give Rs 2.4 lakh crore in fresh capital to banks. If there is inclusive banking indeed then direct cash transfers instead of subsidies could be made to farmers and the very poor.

By his exemplary style of no nonsense, corruption free governance, Modi can indeed bring about a change in the country's image. There has to be faster poverty reduction and India has to reduce the percentage of people living under multi-dimentional poverty which includes many other indicators of progress like health, education, floor of the house, water etc. This can only happen if there is grass roots level monitoring of all central poverty alleviation programs. The states are responsible for many of the public goods and hence they have to be made accountable and Prime Minister Modi will have to increase his leverage on state policies and governance.

The low status of women in India and their vulnerabilities are also exposed by the western media regularly. Empowerment of women and increasing their share in the labour force from a mere 23 per cent which is below the Millennium Development goal, to at least 50 per cent. If women earn their living, they can achieve financial freedom.Jobs for all should not be a slogan only but should be an aim which is achievable by encouraging manufacturing growth. As is well known, the demographic dividend can become a liability if the 10 million annual job seeking youth are left without jobs. The level of frustration would be colossal and could lead to problems of law and order.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

Read More +