Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Do Indians Care Enough About India's Poor?

Close on the heels of Slumdog Millionaire, Dean Nelson, the Telegraph’s South Asia editor who is based in Delhi, asks a very pertinent question: Why doesn’t India care more for its poor? Dean’s question assumes that Indians don’t care for India’s poor as much as they ought to. I think that there is a great deal of truth in this question. I believe that Indians are as much charitable as people anywhere else in the world, which is not saying much. However, considering the enormous rich-poor divide that exists in India and the number of people who live in absolute poverty, Indians ought to do a lot more if they are to make a difference to India’s poor.

For a moment, let’s imagine that Indians have decided they want to do a lot more for the poor than they do now. What do you think they should/could do? I have listed below the top three things that came to my mind.

No more tax evasion: I believe that private or personal charity is no substitute for institutionalised welfare measures by the government. The biggest obstacle to alleviation of poverty is the lack of resources. One may dispute Dean Nelson’s claim that Indians don’t do enough for India’s poor, but one cannot deny that Indians are among the biggest tax evaders in the world. It is not only individuals who evade taxes, but also Indian corporates. In this respect, I think that MNCs in India have a better track record for paying taxes incident on them than our home-bred businesspeople. To cite a reported example, in June 2007, the BBC carried a news item which said that a single McDonald's restaurant in Ludhiana was paying INR. 1crore (10 million) in value-added tax, which amounted to 90% of the VAT collected from all VAT paying restaurants in Ludhiana district, even though it had only 10% of sales in that district.

Land Reforms: If we are to stop poor villagers from migrating in such large numbers to our cities, we need to make our villages relatively attractive places for people to live. I mean, they must be attractive relative to the fetid, rotting slums one finds in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai etc. I have often wondered, what would motivate a farmer who is used to free, open spaces, clean air and an outdoor lifestyle to migrate to a city like Mumbai and live in a slum where he either lives on the pavement or shares a stinking room in a shanty? In all probability, the answer lies in one word: starvation. The slums of Mumbai and Kolkata may stink, but people don’t die of starvation out there. Surely, all we need to do to make villagers stay in their villages rather than migrate to cities is to make sure they have enough to eat. I am no expert on Indian villages and the myriad problems they face, but I do know that the biggest obstacle to helping our farmers is the lack of land reforms. We need to redistribute the land in our villages so that every Indian farmer has a piece of land to cultivate and feed himself and his family.

Till recently, it was accepted that larger farms led to greater productivity. We were constantly told that small and fragmented landholdings led to inefficiencies in production. The West, we believed, was able to produce more because it had large farms which could use automated farming technology. Recent studies have shown that this is not so. Economies of scale don’t apply to farming as they do in other sectors.

Beggars and Street Children: For every few beggars on our streets, there is a beggar-master behind them, a beggar-master who pays a bribe to the police. Every child living on our streets is under the control of an adult who pays a bribe to the police. A part of these bribes finds its way to the pockets of bureaucrats and politicians. It’s easy to say that corruption in India is so widespread that it can’t be made to disappear. However, Indian policemen are perfectly capable of getting things done if they are given the right kind of orders. Have you noticed how efficiently slums are being demolished in Delhi in preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games? If Delhi is not clean and tidy enough for the 2010 Games, middle class India will demand an answer. There will be hell to pay in the next elections. Our politicians have told the cops that the slums must go. The cops have regretfully told the slumlords that they must move on, that they can’t be bribed anymore. The same can be done for beggars and street children throughout India if the middleclass demands it.

1 comment:

Krishna said...

Mr.Vinod Joseph, It seems you are sitting in a fairyland and having dreams about India and the state of affairs in this country. Compare the degree of changes in the development statistics of India with that of Pakistan over the past sixty years and you will apologize for your misunderstandings and beliefs about India.
India has given rise to more number of rags to riches stories in the real world than anywhere else in the World during the past sixty years. If you compare any part in this country whether it is a village, a town, a city or a metro with its state of affairs sixty years back then you will find that everything has changed in India. We have already been able to convert lot of slums into nice dwelling units and more conversions are in the pipeline. We know what we ought to do and our administrations are capable enough to understand the priorities. Had it not been the continuous onslaught of frequent wars and also the dangers implied with Pakistan and China we would have grown still further.
Why don’t you spend your time and energy to your Pakistani counterparts to think pragmatically about the development process and up-liftment of the poor in that country? Their common man is dying of hunger and unemployment. Because of unemployment the masses are resorting to extremism.
Thinking about the valley of Kashmir are the luxuries they can ill afford. They are not able to provide two square meals a day properly to their common masses. They have already cheated on us and taken away half of Kashmir, Which rightfully belongs to us. That part in Pakistan is lying deserted without any development activity. The masses are being recruited towards extremism. Whereas India has pumped billions of Dollars in the development activities in our part of Kashmir, during the past sixty years….!
It is only because of the Government of Pakistan and the few misguided elements in the valley that the noise about separatism is heard. They don't have any mass base. The recent elections in Kashmir are a full proof of the fact that people in the valley need insurance of employment, development, return of their tourists from all over the world and their own democracy which they very much enjoy under the present set up. They are tired of daily rigours on account of extremism in the valley. Their innocent children have been misguided. Internally they want these separatists forces to be thrown in the Pacific Ocean along with their supporters from Pakistan. They are very Happy in India s the Indian Government cares more about their welfare as compared to that of what Pakistan Government cares about their own people.
Thousands of Pakistani nationals when they come to India are least bothered about Kashmir, they just meet their near and dear ones and go back, and none of them are bothered about what is happening in the Valley. Average Pakistani about caring to arrange for two square meals a day.
Similarly the ruling politicians and the common masses in Kashmir are bothered about their own business, which is growing and multiplying every year. Had they joined forces with Pakistan in 1947 then their plight would have been worst. This is a fact that every Kashmiri knows very well in the heart of their hearts.
If Pakistan has been begging for its own survival, then what development would they have done in the valley? It is better that Pakistan and their so-called supporters forget about Kashmir and think about their own survival. If the people of Pakistan did not have the necessary talent to manage their own country then why did they clamour for an independent state? Had India not been divided then the people of India would have been better off. There would have been all round progress in the un-divided India . All the funds that went into the separation and then the four wars and also fighting the forces of extremism, would have been properly channelised in to the development of the Whole Un-divided nation. India would have already become a super power. We don’t need to mention the finer details. Our army would have been the strongest in the world, Iran -India gas pipeline would have been built long back, and with its super reserves of food grains we would have been the food bowl of the world. With development of Industry and IT we would have been the country envied by all super powers.
Well let the Pakistanis now sit down and think about their survival plans as the common people in Pakistan are so fed up of the false promises frequently made by their successive Governments that anything could happen…! History is evident of the fact that whenever there is under estimation of the masses the people react in a worst form and no military in the world can face the massive terror of the common masses. Possibly a terrible civil war could be brewing in the backdrop of this resilience and would spring out any moment. Well you can assume a disaster is in the offing ….!!!
May God grant give wisdom to the Rulers of Pakistan…!!!!