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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty is terrorism too

Published on :-31 Aug 2008,

Is there a direct relation between poverty and social angst? What happens when newspapers give a daily dose of page three luxuries, champaign parties and new desirable products launched in the land where one third of the world's poor live? It sows seeds of revulsion and revolt. See how people went berserk to get a packet of food in Kosi flood affected area. If it doesn't create a pain and anguish in your heart, you must get your level of human feelings checked up. Like volcano is a natural phenomenon, eruption of public angst against injustices and unfair system too is. There has to be a social upheaval against the pot-bellied politicians and officials living sinfully luxuriously and boasting of a new, powerful India in business forums keeping their eyes wide shut on 30 crore Indians living in abject poverty and 25 crores going to bed hungry every night.

Poverty is as vicious and deadly as terrorism that seeks to eliminate the unyielding. Though we worship god and bask in the glory of our scriptures that say-serve humanity, our priorities remain hooked somewhere else. The highest number of terrorist outfits and anti-national movements are being launched in areas that are reeling under abject poverty and neglect. It may be true that the most dreaded terrorists come from highly educated regime, yet their foot soldiers are found amongst the disadvantaged and the poor. Nation's gravest threats emanate from areas of tribal density and unfathomable poverty like Bastar, Telangana, Orissa and North-East.

There is a plethora of reports corroborating the link between poverty and social unrest. In its update on 'International Comparison Programme', the World Bank has revised it's international poverty line norm from $1 a day to $ 1.25 [approx. Rs 55/-] a day. Based on this, the World Bank said that "out of an estimated population of about 100 crore in 2005, the number of poor people living below $1.25 a day has increased from 42.1 crore in 1981 to 45.6 crore in 2005. This is the biggest challenge facing India." The study also pointed out that even as the number of people living on the earlier poverty line norm of less than $1 a day had come down, there was still a large number of people living just above this line of deprivation and their numbers were not falling.

On Wednesday, August 27, the Asian Development Bank offered a new measure of poverty - earning of $1.35 per day on purchasing power parity which puts more than half of India's 1.1-billion populations [54.8%] in the category of poor.

Thousands of families in India do not find enough to feed themselves and in a moment of complete dejection they commit suicides collectively. In Bihar, a story appeared that a labourer was furious to find his meals salt-less and in a fit of anger he beat up his wife causing an instant death. Moments later his daughter returned with one rupee and fifty paisa in her hands and stated her mother had sent her to market to fetch some salt, but the shopkeeper had asked her to bring more money-Rs. 1.50 was not enough to buy salt. But by that time the anger had taken life of an innocent poor lady.

The elite would find it difficult to believe that millions of Indians do not have enough to buy a piece of cloth to cover their dead and leave their village to search employment in Punjab and Haryana's serf markets. Trains to Punjab from Bihar are full of such people, compartments are choked and they travel on roof tops risking life. Even Kashmir has become so rich that it's impossible to find a Kashmiri labourer and all the malls and houses of the separatists too have been built by Bihari and Oriya labourers.

But is there anyone interested in eradicating poverty?

Newspaperpersons report only the catastrophes. Nobody has the time to report the daily struggles of the poor and their survival in an island of abysmal wealth and too great people appearing in the power list of the Forbes. And politicians have got a vested interest in keeping poor poorer so that their vote banks keep thriving.

With Shibu Soren taking oath as Chief Minister of Jharkhand with the blessings of all the decent secular elements converging around winners of nuke deal casino-club (which has a membership routed through a mechanism called elections), the only scene left to be seen is another CEO being sworn in inside a jail as he was considered so dreadful that the authorities thought it more secure to organise the function within the jail-walls. No wonder in such a situation where the sahib rules amidst pot-bellies and yawns, the basic structure of deliverance- the district unit, responsible collectively to govern, administer and help end economic disparities- remains totally neglected.

Here is a work that can help us devise some new methodology and a plan of action to achieve something positive for our people. Aruna Limaye Sharma's monumental work on converging a district's resources focuses on specific schemes for better deliverance and optimum results. I am sure it will not remain confined to academic forums because some well meaning persons like Planning Commission member Syeda Hamid have committed to take it up with as much passion and zeal as was shown by the UNDP resident representative in India, Maxine Olsen, to provide space and a window to this new Upanishadic mantra of poverty alleviation. Aruna Limaye Sharma's work has been published and named-Resource Convergence Mantra Model.
As a district collector and later as Managing Director of a dairy federation in Madhya Pradesh, Aruna got acquainted with a district resource reservoir and its multilayered usages by various micro-level agencies. She saw that while the resources at the district level are quite high, if not abysmal the real problem lies in the execution of various schemes which often overlap each other and work parallel rather than converging to effect a net benefit to larger number of people (beneficiary in the government parlance) through maximum convertibility of district level schemes focussed on specific and well defined areas.

As a member of the elite Indian Administrative Service, she found that every district in India gets, on average 1200 crore rupees every year for various developmental schemes. This is not a small figure for the development of a district with an average population of 10 to 15lakhs. If we take Planning Commission's standard five-year time frame to assess state expenses and implementation of government schemes, a whopping 6,000 crores per five-year for one district can do miracles if the money received is spent focussed and through a convergent method that ensures elimination of duplication of various grants because most of the state agencies work in isolation without any mechanism to provide information about the other hand of the government in the same locality.
Responding to why we have not been able to make optimum use of Rs 1200 cores per district she says, there is an overabundance of schemes that are similar in objective but emanate from different sources. This overlapping generates corruption too. In a Madhya Pradesh village one dug well received grants from as many as eight government departments, because every one wants an easy way to show targets achieved!
For another example watershed development programmes for an area include the Drought Area Programme, Desert Development Programme and the Integrated Wastelands Development Programme executed through the District Rural Development Agency(DRDA), Zila Panchayats and Watershed Development Programme of the Ministry of Agriculture. This duplicity of agencies and schemes results in confusion and wastage.
Hence the relevance of the Resource Convergence Mantra Model (RCMM) developed by Aruna Limaye Sharma, which aims to establish a synergy between the government, NGOs, the private sector and the beneficiaries for the progressive realization of the rights of India's poorest citizens. The methodology is to take up 4-5 thrust activities as entry points in the district, list out the components and match the schemes which can be converged.
If a group is involved in the area of child rights, it would need convergence of the efforts of as many as ten agencies, like Ministries of Culture, Rural Development, Urban Affairs and Employment, Forest and Environment, Labour, Health and Family Welfare, Education. Women and Child Development, Social Justice and Empowerment and other commissions and boards created for women, SCs and STs. Once the efforts are focussed and converged, miraculous results can be achieved and that would in turn benefit the political parties too, who won't need massive poll campaigns to promise what they can't implement. Their work already done would be enough to return them to power year after year.
Anyone listening?

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