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Elections 2019: Why are unfulfilled social needs not being debated fiercely?

By Prof Anil Gupta*
The shower of promises has not cooled the tempers of electoral rhetoric yet, though real rains are still some time away. Several models of poverty alleviation are being discussed, some rely on providing infrastructural support in various ways so that entrepreneurial, risk-taking people among the poor can rise above the poverty line. Millions have indeed come up like this in the last decade.
Others offer minimum income guarantee to each of the poor households whether identified through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) registers or other means. There will be some poor who cannot pursue any viable occupation, will need to survive only through state support. But there will be some who can try to bootstrap if given a fair, easily accessible, corruption free, social entrepreneurial option preferably based on an innovative idea.
Where is the critical debate on lessons learned from various poverty alleviation schemes? When northeastern states can provide up to 80-90 days out of promised 100 days of employment, the average in the country is just around 40-46, less than fifty percent. It is not because of low demand but mainly sticky supply. Further, the work-ethic without which no country can ever progress has never been brought into sharper public debate.
So how do we proceed further?
a) Should we consider employment guarantee works not only to deepen ponds, but also make farm bunds, desilt irrigation channels etc., on priority in every single village where needed so that not a drop of rain water or irrigation water goes waste, water being so critical for human, animal or agricultural purposes and groundwater table declining almost everywhere?
b) The sanitation program will be continued but not in the present mode but only with modified location specific waterless or low water needing toilets (a country which is not able to provide average 40 liters drinking water to around 20 per cent rural people of the country as per the information provided to the Parliament last July just cannot provide say five litres minimum water for draining per day per capita using current designs of toilets. Many African countries are experimenting with waterless toilets with a system to collect and process excreta to make briquettes and fertilizer).
c) The public distributions system needs further streamlining and prioritization;
d) Public preventive health incorporating AYUSH system is as important as curative system, the conditions of primary health centres in most states in pitiable;
e) high quality school education in governments schools on the pattern of Navodaya Vidyalaya (this has unfortunately not been mentioned as top priority by any party) is another area which needs massive investment. Specific suggestions were made to replicate a Navodaya Vidyalaya in every block but was ignored by successive the minister for human resource development;
f) Around 30-35 per cent infant children being malnourished brings no honour to the country and yet this is not a top priority and one can go on.
How will we innovate new institutional models bringing transparency, trust and total decentralization in the polity of the nation. How do we subvert the increasing tendency to centralize governance?
There was a time when Gujarat and Maharashtra were known for really powerful Zila Parishads at district levels. Over time, states want more resources from centre, but they don’t want to delegate it to the district, block and village level.
Many of the national leaders emerged from cooperatives and local bodies. But we lack a commitment to revitalize cooperative sector (with the glorious exception of milk in Gujarat, handloom in Tamil Nadu, and few other sectors), local bodies and autonomy of educational and other public institutions.
This election has not even posed the issue of giving autonomy to educational and other public institutions, institutionalizing meritocracy, giving up mediocrity and commitment to truthful data for self-critical assessment of policies that don’t work, and celebrating those which work.
Which leader wants to hear the truth and encourage dissent and diversity in public discourse? But if the selection of candidates continues to be on caste and religious considerations, then why am I being so naïve?
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*Founder of the Honey Bee Network, workimg in the area of grassroots innovations; has been Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Source: Author's Facebook timeline

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