Last week there appeared a news item in national dailies that is a telling comment on the present government’s intensity of concern for, and commitment to the uplift of the common man. The Planning Commission has informed the highest court in the land that an Indian citizen in rural areas cannot be termed poor if he spends Rs 15 a day on his basic needs, the cut-off for the urban dweller being Rs 20 per day. The microanalysis by the denizens of the Planning Commission has led them to the following conclusions:
- A man earning Rs 15 a day has the means to apportion some amount of this income for entertainment.
- He has enough money to buy fruits.
- He can afford to spend some money on education.
- His income ensures that he is in the pink of health and therefore does not require any money for healthcare.
The Planning Commission’s insightful analysis is strangely reminiscent of the views expressed by a well-heeled gentleman who considered the dispossessed of this country to be quite lucky, health wise, because they did not suffer from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., the bane of the well-fed. One is also reminded of a statement made by our erudite Prime Minister sometime ago that the common man was partly responsible for the high inflation as he now had more money to spend. This statement has to be seen in the context of the findings of a recent government report, which proclaimed that more than 70% of our people live on less than Rs 20 per day.
I suspect that even as the wise men of the Planning Commission gave final touches to their report, they sipped water from mineral water bottles, each of which would have cost Rs 15.
The optimistic findings of the Planning Commission would be music to the ears of all the predators of our unequal system.
It will reinforce their crass belief that the pittance they pay to millions of domestic workers and workers in other unorganised sectors is non-exploitative and just.
Through a sleight of hand, the government has reduced the number of poor people in the country. It can now concentrate on what it considers to be the more pressing issues at hand. Sometime ago there was a report which highlighted the fact that India ranks foremost among all nations in expenditure on purchase of arms and armaments in the last five years. This should come as no surprise as only last year successive heads of state — Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, Wen Jiabao —came visiting and went away with billions of dollars’ worth of fighter planes and armament contracts. A friend of mine jokingly remarked that in the past we would resist invaders who were out to ravage this land, but now they are being welcomed with open arms and open purse strings.
By a strange coincidence, on the very day that the Planning Commission’s report was published, there appeared an article by the renowned agricultural economist, Dr M.S. Swaminathan, bemoaning the fact that even as our admirable farmers have produced another bumper harvest of food grains, the handling and storage of food grains by state agencies is a matter of national shame. He has warned that unless immediate action is taken to ensure environmentally sustainable production, safe storage and efficient distribution, the very future of grain production would be in jeopardy.
It is tragic that although Dr Swaminathan has, for several years been pleading with the government to improve grain storage and distribution infrastructure, very little has been done. Clearly, this government’s priorities are elsewhere. Its main focus seems to be to invest in armaments and nuclear energy in return for a place in the United Nations Security Council.
Today, the unrest and many mutinies across the country are because of the inequities in the system. Tweaking statistics like the Planning Commission has done, betrays this government’s brazen, insensitive refusal either to face stark facts on the ground or do anything about it.
(The author is a former civil servant and is Secy. General Lok Janshakti Party. Can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org )