Rasheeda Bhagat

A poor country, rich in corruption

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on December 14, 2011 Published on August 09, 2011

At a village ‘primary school’ in Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam district… Whither Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan?

By their corrupt acts, politicians are snatching morsels from the mouths of hungry, malnourished children, and denying a lifeline called education to millions of others. For how long are we going to tolerate this shamelessness?

The rate at which mega scams are tumbling out of this Government's cupboard and the humungous amounts that are being systematically sucked out of the public exchequer, prove one thing. Surely, we cannot be a poor country. How can a country that can drain thousands of crores of rupees in a telecom scam here, a Commonwealth Games (CWG) scandal there, through a huge mining disgrace in Karnataka, and a hundred other instances of swindling, cheating and rip-offs across various States, be called a “poor” country?

The Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai, horrendous land grabs in Tamil Nadu, the mining scam in Karnataka, which got the scalp of Mr B. S. Yeddyurappa, the allocation of 20 acres of prime land in Bhopal by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to the Kushabhau Thakre Training Institute Trust on a Rs 1 a year lease six months before the trust had been formed, or grant of 5-acre land in Chandigarh by the Hooda Government to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust at a throwaway rate…. Such scams are crawling out of every nook and corner of the country.

The latest CAG report points out that the CWG ending up costing 15 times more at Rs 18,532 crore, compared with the originally estimated Rs 1,200 crore in 2003. The report highlights giving contracts to ineligible firms, the involvement of the Delhi CM's office and, in some cases, the “active involvement of the CM” herself, in purchasing products and equipment at highly inflated rates. All this has sullied even more the already tainted image of the Congress Party that leads the UPA.

The Delhi Chief Minister, Ms Sheila Dixit, has a lot of explaining to do.

What this money could do

Now, let's switch from murky dealings to an organisation like the Bangalore headquartered Akshaya Patra Foundation, which feeds a whopping 1.3 million school children in nearly 8,200 schools in India. Did you know that if you donate only Rs 525, it can feed one child with a nutritious noon meal for an entire year? That is, because, as its Web site points out, 89 paise from every rupee donated to it, goes towards feeding a child. And, research has established that a child who has had a decent meal can imbibe much more learning from a classroom than one with an empty belly. Now, coming to education — a crucial factor that will make a difference between whether we tread the path of development and growth and become a great nation or fall by the wayside — the annual cost of educating a child in India, through donation to the Worldvision is Rs 7,200. If you take the average of the services offered by other organisations, this amount is around Rs 6,000. This is for education of decent quality.

Sarva SHiksha Abhiyan

Let's take the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme, aimed at the enrolment and retention of every Indian child till the upper primary level. Budget 2011-12 allocated Rs 21,000 crore, a 40 per cent hike over the previous year, for this laudable project, which also seeks to narrow the gender and communal gap in school enrolment.

But with such scams rocking the country, and the public image of politicians, and by implication and some evidence, even the bureaucrats, at its nadir, how can anybody believe that huge chunks of it will not be siphoned away?

Coming to India's pathetic rank of 119 on the Human Development Index, in a recent address to the Ahmedabad University, Infosys' Chief Mentor N. R. Narayana Murthy blamed Indians for the pathetic state of affairs and our failure to take “proactive action, even when the solution to our problem is staring us in the face for a long time…. We have political freedom but we still do not have freedom from hunger, illiteracy and disease”. It was a shame that about 250 million people did not have access to basic medical care, and around 350 million to safe drinking water, he said.

Dim view of India

With such a terrible HDI rank, it is little wonder that the rest of the world doesn't think we are making great strides, despite our frequent pats on our own backs. A British minister's suggestion to move some call-centre jobs from Newcastle to Mumbai evoked the fury of not only the Labour party and British union leaders, but also the general public.

Her suggestion in an article titled “Concerned about losing your job in Newcastle? Just move to Mumbai”, and published in the British daily The Independent, attracted not only angry, but also abusive comments, about India.

The attempt by an “Indian patriot” to defend his country got this contemptuous response: “He is deluded. There is no such country as India; just a group of very different States, all of whom resent being part of India and whose corrupt local politicians would just as soon leave. These kind of sad Indians are not uncommon but are a waste of time, waiting as they are for another call to answer!”

Another comment talked about the “abject poverty and disease, the rats and the flies, and being hounded by beggars and tainted food.”. A particularly stinging one read: “For idiot (British) ministers who don’t do their homework, Google 'poverty, India and unemployment'.”

If this is India's image in a country like the UK, who is mainly responsible? And what about our own ministers, more corrupt than idiot? More and more Indians are increasingly losing faith in our ruling politicians.

The crucial question is — what degree of exceeding shamelessness resides in the DNA of our politicians, prompting them to loot hundreds of thousands of rupees meant for the development of India and Indians? By their corrupt acts, are they not snatching morsels from the mouths of hungry, malnourished children, and denying a lifeline called education to millions of others? For how long are we going to tolerate them?

(Response may be sent to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

Published on August 09, 2011
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