India in a “Race Against Time” to Meet Millenium Goals

By Hari Kumar

India is lagging in its effort to reach United Nations goals to reduce poverty and improve health and sanitation, but has shown significant progress boosting education, treating AIDS and addressing environmental concerns, a U.N. official said.

“We are in a race against time with just three years left” to achieve Millennium Development Goals, Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said last week. “The good news, though, is that our analysis shows many of these goals can still be reached with a redoubling of efforts.”

The Millennium Development Goals are eight objectives that U.N. member countries and various international organizations have agreed to achieve by 2015. The goals focus on areas such as eradicating poverty and fighting disease. The Asia Pacific MDG Report, released last week, graded the progress of the eight millennium goals using 22 socio-economic indicators. India has reached goals set in seven indicators out of 22 and is on track to achieve three others, but is lagging behind in 12 others, the report said.

Even Bangladesh, with lower per capita income, is showing better results than India in poverty reduction and health improvements.

India has already achieved the targets in boosting primary education, reducing the prevalence of H.I.V., improving forest cover and providing safe drinking water, the report said. The country’s record is continues to be poor in reducing poverty. An estimated 41.6 percent of the workforce earned $1.25 a day in 2005, down from the 49.4 percent in 1994.

Additionally, the country has performed miserably at improving the nutritional status of children, the report said. An estimated 50.7 percent of the country’s children were underweight in 1992, but the figure had dropped only to 43.5 percent in 2005, the report said. The millennium target was to reduce the number to 25 percent by 2015.

Recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his serious concern about India’s child malnutrition problem while releasing a survey on hunger and malnutrition. “Despite impressive growth in our G.D.P., the level of undernutrition in the country is unacceptably high. We have also not succeeded in reducing the rate fast enough,” Mr. Singh said, calling it a matter of “national shame.” As per the survey Dr. Singh cited, in 100 focus districts, 42 percent of children under five are underweight.

In one indicator, tuberculosis prevalence, the situation is deteriorating in India rather than getting better, the Asia Pacific MDG Report said.

Jairam Ramesh, the country’s minister of rural development, said virtually no improvement is taking place in nutritional levels, despite high economic growth in recent years. Speaking of better performance in Tamil Nadu and Kerala than the rest of the country, he said the political class was to be commended for making “these issues part of their agenda for political mobilization.”

He said more public resources are needed to improve standards in health, water and sanitation. He promised that in coming budget for 2012-13, the central government will enhance the allocation for health, water and sanitation substantially.

New York Times – February 22, 2012

Posted on: February 22, 2012


The Two Indias: Astounding Poverty in the Backyard of Amazing Growth

“Incredible India” is the brand this country’s Ministry of Tourism has been pushing in a global marketing campaign launched in 2002, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Over the last decade, India has witnessed a stunning acceleration of rapid changes, both good and bad, that it began in the 1990s.

The most widely noticed metamorphosis is economic. Over the last ten years, India’s GDP has grown between 7-9% per year, second only to China’s sustained growth rates. In 2011, Forbes counted 57 Indian billionaires, up from only four a decade before. The same period saw Indian corporations vaulting onto the international stage. Tata Motors shocked the automobile industry with an acquisition of the British Jaguar Land Rover business in 2008. India’s famed business-process outsourcing industry has expanded beyond call centers and software development to medicine, law, tax preparation, animation, and even music-video production. And, several IT giants have turned the tables on offshoring: No longer are jobs only “Bangalored.” Today, Indian companies employ thousands of Americans on U.S. soil.

All of this is striking for an economy that languished for decades. From 1947, when India won its independence, through the 1980s, annual per-capita income grew at 1.3% per year, a snail’s pace oft-derided by the Indian elite as the “Hindu rate of growth.” Today, though, any social theorists walking the bustling streets of Mumbai might be tempted to revise Max Weber’s classic treatise: The Hindu Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Economic change has been accompanied by a less noted, but no less significant, political inflection point. Alongside the enthralling Arab Spring and China’s stillborn Jasmine Revolution, something that might be called the “Turmeric Revolution” has been bubbling over in India.

Though theoretically a democracy, India’s governance has resembled something of a feudal system in practice. Politicians and bureaucrats often act like dukes and barons with term limits. They routinely apply a corrupt layer of graft for their personal benefit.

A self-confident educated class, however, has risen up to say “No more!” Last year, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied around a series of hunger strikes by social activist Anna Hazare. The movement shined a spotlight on the terms of an anti-corruption bill that many criticize as being too weak. In West Bengal, May elections saw an end to the 34-year reign of the communist Left Front alliance. It lost to the Trinamool Congress party, which made corruption-free governance the pillar of its campaign.

Meanwhile, the bar for being above the law appears to be rising, as high-profile culprits in corruption cases are brought to account. Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa was arrested over accusations of illicit land and iron mining deals that benefited his family. And, the headline-dominating “2G scam” was partially resolved this month with a Supreme Court decision to nullify all 122 2G wireless spectrum licenses issued under the tenure of former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja. Raja, who is believed to have personally pocketed $600 million at a cost to the government treasury of $39 billion, has been arrested and charged, along with several others implicated in the scandal.

These successes are far from being universally shared, however. Though rates of poverty are declining, in 2005 the World Bank estimated that 42% of India’s population still lived at under $1.25 a day (PPP), and nearly twice as many under $2. Thus, 800-900 million Indians live in conditions that most developed-world citizens would consider destitution.

The challenges for this vast, voiceless majority are multidimensional and stark. Discrimination by caste, religion, and gender remains pervasive. Low literacy blocks meaningful social mobility. India’s rate of child malnutrition is greater than in any other country in the world. In many communities, the sick and the elderly are left to die for lack of means to support them, and bonded slavery is not unheard of.

What’s worse, there is some evidence that conditions for the least privileged are deteriorating. A paper by public policy researchers Anirudh Krishna and Devendra Bajpai points out that rural incomes are declining in absolute terms, likely due to systemic stresses to agriculture and differential access to markets and education. It is common to speak of “two Indias,” and the widening canyon between them is the greatest threat to the nation’s well-being.

What does the future hold? Much depends on how energetically the fruits of the country’s success are applied towards greater equality of opportunity. The government’s rural employment guarantee act is a start, despite its flaws. Healthcare, agriculture extension, and other government services that accrue to poorer communities deserve far greater resources and attention. Outdated constraints on industries that employ low-skill labor must be relaxed. The country’s vibrant civil society should continue to give voice to the marginalized. Most importantly, public education could use a budgetary boost and a management miracle.

The next ten years may hold a lesson for developed countries, as well. With the world’s largest democracy in the embrace of a freer-than-free market capitalism, India may prove a bellwether for liberal societies everywhere.

The Atlantic, February 20, 2012 -backyard-of-amazing-growth/253340/

Posted on: February 20, 2012


India ‘most dangerous place in world to be born a girl’

By Dean Nelson

India is the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl, with females almost twice as likely to die before reaching the age of five, according to new UN figures.

The report, which analyses differences between male and female child mortality rates over the last 40 years, reveals that from 2000 to 2010 there were 56 deaths of boys aged one to five for every 100 female deaths.

Indian campaigners for the rights of girls said the figures reflected widespread discrimination against girls, ranging from neglect to abuse and killing of unwanted female infants.

The figures, compiled by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, emerged as India was plunged into introspection over the case of a two year old girl fighting for her life in hospital after being abandoned by her family and trafficked between several adults before being beaten, bitten and branded by a 14 year old girl. The girl, known as Falak, is suffering from severe chest injuries and brain damage and according to her doctors is unlikely to survive the next 48 hours.

Girls are widely regarded as a burden to Indian families who fear the high costs of their weddings and resent spending money on their education only for them later to leave the home to marry.

Many women abort pregnancies when they believe they will deliver a girl, often under pressure from their husbands or in-laws who favour boys.

Campaigners believe there may have been as many as eight million cases of ‘female foeticide’ in India over the last decade.

This discrimination has driven India’s sex ratio progressively lower.

Census statistics show it fell from 976 girls per 1000 boys in 1961 to 914 in 2011.

But according to campaigners the figures hide the cruelty and neglect suffered by girls kept by their families, in particular from malnutrition and denial of medical treatment.

Ranjana Kumari of the Council for Social Research said Indian mothers breast feed girls for a far shorter period than they do their sons and feed them less well because they fear good nourishment will speed the advent of puberty and the need for a costly wedding. While boys are taken immediately to hospital, sick girls are kept waiting because their families do not have the same interest in their survival.

“They think they need to feed the boy, but there is less desire for the girl to survive, it is common in rural India. Boys are immediately taken to the doctor, but not the girl. She is the last to get the medicine,” she said.

Female infanticide was also a factor in the UN figures, she added. “It has been a practice in central India for a long time, where mothers were made to feed the child with salt to kill the girl child.”

The Telegraph, February 1, 2012 orld-to-be-born-a-girl.html

Posted on: February 1, 2012


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