Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More than one month has gone by since the new government at the centre led by Narendra Modi of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over the reins. The massive mandate, cutting across all sections of society which BJP alone received in 2014 general election has raised the hope and aspirations of every common man to a new high - not without reason as even Modi made them believe all through his election campaign that good days are coming (Achche Din Aanewaale Hain).

It’s a common knowledge that the new government has lot of urgent tasks ahead - inflation, low GDP growth, Fiscal Deficit, social disparity etc.  And hence there is bound to be intense pressure to perform within shortest possible time. Nevertheless, certain core issues need to be addressed on highest priority by Modi government to instil trust and confidence among millions of poor and disadvantaged section of our society throughout the length and breadth of this vast country. Consequently, the following points of serious concern must find place in top agenda not for talking, but for sincere implementation:
Malady of Starvation Deaths: India is topping the list of countries in World Hunger Chart. More than 30% of the world's hungry population lives in India. Over 200 million people sleep hungry every night. Data suggests that on an average every day 7000 people die of hunger in the country having no shortage of food grains, rather lacs of ton of food grains go waste due to administrative mismanagement.

Problem of Drinking Water: Out of the 6.38 lakh revenue villages in India, more than 30% have water problems. 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water.73% of respondents of a question as to what truly make them proud of being an Indian said, "It is availability of safe drinking water to every Indian."

Literacy/Education Problem: Our literacy percentage is only 74%; Kerala being the highest with 94% and Bihar being the lowest with 63%. School dropout percentage is still more than 40%. The drop out percentage is even worse than that of Bangladesh and Vietnam - countries that got independence more than two decades later. We spend less than 2% of our national budget on education for the children who constitute 25% of our total population. The dropout percentage is higher among tribal, economically weaker sections of society etc.

Sanitation/Open Defecation Problem: Going by the statistics, even after 66 years of independence 53% Indian population lack sanitation facilities. India is termed as the world's capital of open defecation. As per the data of 2011 Census, 53% households in the country don't have toilet facilities while the figure is much higher at 69.3% in Rural India. In spite of having the highest number of open defecators in the world, it is regrettable that India does not feature among the countries making great strides in reducing open defecation. On the other hand smaller countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Peru, Brazil have done exceedingly well in reducing the prevalence of open defecation by adopting several effective measures. It is a common knowledge that defecation in open is fraught with high risk of microbial contamination of water which is a major cause of diarrhoea and other intestinal infections among the children in particular. According to a UN report, countries where open defecation is most widely practised have the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five, as well as high levels of under-nutrition, high levels of poverty and large disparities between the rich and the poor.

Generally speaking, women and girls, particularly in villages find it very embarrassing and insulting for not having the facility of a toilet at home as they have no other option but to defecate in the open only after sunset or well before sunrise, that too at the cost of their health and personal safety.......(Can you ever forget the recent report in Indian media about the most horrific and shameful incident of rape and murder of two teenage sisters aged 14 and 15 years belonging to disadvantaged section of society who had gone in to the fields in the evening to defecate because there was no toilet in their homes. Their bodies found hanging from a mango tree in Katra Sadatganj village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh on 28th May,2014). It has been a painful reality that inadequate supply of clean and drinkable water together with lack of toilet and urinal facilities in schools are major cause of poor attendance and health problems of the children. As far as adolescent girls are concerned, they tend to drop out of the school due to these reasons.

Health & Nutrition Problem: Can we think of a strong India without healthy and strong citizens, present and future? It is rightly stressed that Healthy Indians = Healthy & Strong India. Child nutrition and their overall health need extra care in India as one in every three malnourished children in the world live in India; 8.8 lakh children die every year, more than 100 deaths per hour in India; the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) in many states is still more than 50 per thousand for children up to the age of 5 years where as it should be at least below 30 per thousand; about 50% of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition; 26% of the world's childhood vaccine preventable deaths take place in the country; Anaemia affects 74% of children under the age of three; as high as 44% children under five years are underweight; malnutrition in early childhood has serious long term consequences because it impedes development of vital life organs.

There are, no doubt many more pressing problems like price rise, unemployment, law & order, corruption etc. before the country which demand serious attention of power that be at all levels, but to start with the issues enumerated above would definitely give the right signal to common people at large that this government is really doing well rather than talking well. And we all know, well begun is half done.

 Published in Indian on 30.06.2014 (Issue No. 27)

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