Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tehelka:: A myth to live and kill by - Suhrid

Tehelka:: Free. Fair. Fearless

Tehelka::- State of Disgrace(Orissa)

Tehelka:: Free. Fair. Fearless
State Of Disgrace

Tall claims around Naveen Patnaik’s government prove hollow on the ground, reports BIBHUTI PATI in a comprehensive round-up of the many ills that continue to plague Orissa.

Tribals rally for their rights on forest and land in Kalahandi
Photos: Bibhuti Pati

It has been a long honeymoon. But there are unmistakable signs that it is finally coming to an end. As the country gets into election mode, BJD supremo and Orissa Chief Minister Navin Patnaik is preparing for what could well be his first real electoral battle.

With the Opposition unable to put up even a semblance of a fight, the last three Lok Sabha and two Assembly elections have been virtual cakewalks for Navin. His undeniable charisma helped him breeze past the combined might of the Opposition in all these elections. But in the next one – the projected parliamentary poll sometime early next year – he would need much more than charisma to win. If he manages to hold his fort this time as well, the reason will be the absence of a unified, strong Opposition rather than Navin’s performance as Chief Minister.

He may be considered one of the best chief ministers in the country, but that claim is beginning to sound hollow in the light of his recent record. Sceptics point to the startling fact that while Navin is constantly bagging one of the top three positions in the list of best CMs, Orissa has slipped to the bottom of the table on most development parameters. Even as his government signs a MoU a day, people continue to die of malnutrition, starvation, diarrhoea and cholera in the perennial hunger zone of Kalahandi, Koraput and Raygada.

The Orissa government would like us to believe that the 200 odd deaths that have taken place so far in these districts are due to diarrhoea and cholera and not starvation. But the fact of the matter is that the majority of the deaths happened because facing starvation, people in these areas are forced to eat inedible roots, leaves and barks – and just about anything that they can lay their hands on – and fall ill. Having no safe drinking water source in the vicinity, they are forced to drink polluted water and then fall prey to diarrhoea and cholera. But instead of fighting the crisis on a war footing, ministers and government officials are trying to undermine the gravity of the situation by sticking to the heartless “It happens every year” line. If the government is to be believed, no starvation deaths have taken place in Orissa since independence!

Over 200 deaths – even if they are due to cholera - are certainly incompatible with a state that is positioning itself as the best investment destination in the country for industry. It seems Navin has all the time for industrialists, but none at all for the wretched of the earth, who are bent on giving his government a bad name!

Even on his pet industrialisation front, Navin’s report card is singularly bare. The ambitious Posco steel plant at Paradeep, the biggest of them all, has run into such rough weather that it is unlikely to take off in the foreseeable future. After burning its fingers in Kalinganagar, the government is wary of using force to break the resistance. It has even stepped aside and allowed the company to deal directly with the people for land. But that does not appear to have helped matters. The other two big-ticket investment proposals – Vedanta Alumina in Lanjigarh (Kalahandi) and Mittal steel plant in Patna (Keonjhar) – have fared no better. If anything, the movement against these two plants is getting stronger by the day. The mega UAIL alumina project, of course, has been in a limbo for nearly a decade now.

Kalahandi, Raygada, Jharsuguda, Sundargarh, Keonjhar – you name it, the resistance against industry is spreading rapidly throughout the state. People are skeptical about claims that industry will bring jobs for those who are going to be displaced. Similar promises made by industries that have already gone on stream have not been kept, so there’s no reason to believe that things would be different now or in the future. If anything, the scope for employing local people – a significant proportion of whom are tribals and semi literates – is diminishing fast with high technology and increased mechanisation. The locals see the promise of jobs is a mere ploy to make them vacate their land.

Kalinga Nagar - still simmering

In the aftermath of the Kalinganagar bloodbath, the Navin Patnaik government sought to assuage the hurt of the people by coming out with a rehabilitation and reconstruction (R & R) policy. Though claimed as the best in the country, there were few takers for this sop and understandably so. After all, nearly a decade after being driven out of their homes to make way for the joint venture Nilachal Ispat Nigam Limited (NINL), just 115 of the 650 families have been rehabilitated so far. Even those who got the mandatory 10 decimal piece of land are yet to get the patta. If this was the more recent experience, the past experience has been much worse. By the government’s own admission, over 9, 000 families displaced by the first major developmental project in the state, the Hirakud dam, are yet to be rehabilitated.

Navin Patnaik may have become the darling of industrialists and the pink papers, but his affair with them has soured his relationship with the people of the state. If he has acquired even an iota of political understanding during his seven-year rule as Chief Minister, he can see that the industrialisation drive could well prove to be his undoing. May be he has already realised that. But so powerful are the forces that he has unleashed with his single-minded pursuit of industrialisation in the last three years that it would be very difficult for him to put the genie back in the bottle.

Moreover, the over-emphasis on industry has made sure that the state’s agriculture sector is neglected. After seven years in power, the Navin Patnaik government is yet to come out with an agricultural policy – despite making periodic noises about doing so. In 2005, the government announced that irrigation facilities would be provided to at least 35% of the land in each block. But two years later, the number of blocks with less than 35% irrigated land remains where it did when the announcement was made: 198. In fact, the size of total irrigated land in the state has declined from 24, 85, 000 hectares in 2002 to 21, 64, 000 hectares now. No wonder then that growth in agricultural production has remained stagnant at a miserable 1.6% over the seven years of Navin’s rule. Lift irrigation’s plight is more precarious - out of 15,000 government tube wells, only about 5,000 are functioning.
Farmers in Sambalpur, Jharsuguda and Bargarh districts are up in arms over the government’s decision to siphon off 0.345 million acre cubic feet (MA cft) of water from the Hirakud reservoir, the mainstay of agriculture in these parts, and give it to industry. Undeterred, the government appointed an expert committee, which conveniently concluded that agriculture would not be affected by it.

A few months back, the Chief Minister made an extraordinary claim, “Forests in the state are ‘growing’ at the rate of 16 sq. km every month.” This is dismissed by a senior IFS Officer, who said that satellite data and the findings of the National Forest Survey give a complete lie to the Government claim. “Ask those who are working in the field of forests and they will laugh it off as a big joke. What about the Titalgad Forest Generate Programs? It was launched by the then Forest and Environment Minister, Bijoyshree Routray. Forest restoration is yet to gather any semblance of momentum. The loss in this sector is due to direct negligence of Navin Patanik solely because Navin clings on even to the Forest and Environment portfolio only in order to facilitate industrialists at the time of forest and environment clearance. The issue of Hadgad wildlife sanctuary, where illegal mining activities are carried out in a protected area, is a recent example, but the CM keeps mum,” he says. “Jala, Jami, Jangala (Water, Land and Forests)”, Navin’s favourite line at the beginning of this term, has now given way to the war cry of “Industry, Industry and More Industry”.

Navin had earned the gratitude of the tribals when he decided to vest procurement rights of 62 non-timber forest produces (NTFPs) with the panchayats. The lakhs of primary gatherers of these forest products, who never got a commensurate price for their produce, now hoped that their days of exploitation at the hands of the traders were over. But in the absence of any capacity building of the panchayats to deal with this new responsibility, it is now back to square one with the traders ruling the roost as before. If the government were indeed serious about providing employment, it would have ensured that the primary gatherers got remunerative prices, instead of handing over forests to industry on a platter for exploitation of minerals.

The same disdain and callousness has marked the government’s response to the allegations of suicide by cotton farmers in Nuapada and Kalahandi districts. The whole country is alarmed over the suicide of debt-ridden cotton farmers in Vidarbha, Telengana and other parts of the country. But when allegations of suicide by cotton farmers in western Orissa arose, the government spent all its energies trying to prove that the reasons for the deaths were ‘domestic quarrel’ or some other mundane matter, rather than debt. There is a marked similarity in its responses to the suicide by cotton farmers and starvation deaths in KBK districts.

Coastal belt women in ‘dharna’ against industrial activities

The poor in the supposedly prosperous and politically important coastal districts have fared no better in the Navin government’s scheme of things. Thousands of fishermen in Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur districts are grappling with the twin problems of sea erosion and a seven-month long ban on fishing, and some are driven by their mounting debt burden to commit suicide. The reason for their indebtedness is not a fall in the catch, but the ban – six months on account of the breeding season of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles and one and a half months for the breeding season of fish. As fishermen are driven to despair and death, and Olive Ridley turtles continue to die in thousands, trawlers are allowed to work unchecked.

Even as the government was patting itself on the back for being the ‘No. 2’ state in the country in the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) came the stunning allegation by the Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security (CEFS) that as much as Rs. 500 crore of the Rs. 750 crore purportedly spent under the scheme had been siphoned away by officials. The Union Rural Development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has now ordered a CAG inquiry into the scandal, seriously denting the image of the supposedly ‘corruption-free’ government.

Navin Patnaik might try to emulate his father and lay the blame for the state’s underdevelopment on the Centre. But the facts won’t fit this claim. Central assistance to Orissa under various poverty alleviation schemes, which stood at Rs. 340.38 crore in the fiscal year 2003-04 – the last one of the NDA government – has now reached a whopping Rs. 808.75 crore this year, the fourth of the UPA government. If anything, the UPA government has been much more generous to Orissa than was the NDA dispensation, of which Navin’s party was an integral part. Grants and assistance under almost all heads – CSS, Centrally sponsored schemes, share of central revenue, and the 12th Finance Commission awards – have increased manifold under the UPA rule. As many as 19 of the 30 districts in the state have been included in the NREGS scheme and 21in the National Food Security Mission. What central neglect is Navin talking about?

And what, pray, does the government have to show by way of achievement for all this money pumped in by a presumably ‘unfriendly’ government? Even as states like Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh have reduced poverty by 4.5%, Orissa has managed a paltry figure of 1.5%. During the last eight years the loan burden has increased from Rs.18,100 crores in the year 2000 to Rs. 38,000 crores at the end of 2006-07 and is expected to touch 54,000 crores by 2009.

After the brutal lathi charge on demostrating teachers

The government’s performance in the crucially important sectors like health and primary education too is dismal. On the occasion of the launching of the National Rural Health Mission in Orissa on 17th June, 2005, the government announced that infant mortality rate in the state would be brought down from a staggering 97 per 1, 000 live births to 60 by the next year, i.e. 2006. But all that it has managed so far is a figure of 75. The new-fangled ‘public private partnership’ (PPP) notwithstanding, service delivery in the health sector remains poor. The infant mortality rate though has decreased from 83 in 2003 to 75 in 2005 against the decline in all-India level to 58. Despite all the sops announced by the government to lure doctors to KBK districts, including the recently announced incentive of Rs. 5,000, as many as 706 posts of doctors are lying vacant in government hospitals – a vast majority of them, needless to say, in the eternally underdeveloped KBK districts.

On a recent visit to Kalahandi, it was startling to find that doctors and paramedical staff had not reached the villages worst affected by diarrhoea and cholera even after the death toll in the three districts – Kalahandi, Koraput and Raygada – had reached 200. Even more shocking was the revelation that in one particular case, the medical team sent with medicines and relief packets to a village, after finding out that it would take half a day to reach there, simply dumped everything by the roadside, returned to the district headquarters and glibly reported that “all” the medicines had been distributed.

For all the money that has been pumped into the state under various central schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), Kastuba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and the like, Orissa has precious little to show by way of improvement in primary education. According to the latest Economic Survey (2006-07), the number of primary schools has actually declined form 15, 893 in 2003-04 to 15,737 in 2005-06. The fall in the number of teachers at the primary level was more discernible – from 49, 786 in 2003-04 to 32, 985 in 2005-06. Things are no better at the secondary level. The teacher-student ratio in the state remains 1:21, one of the worst in the country, while recent government data also shows that primary schools in Orissa has the highest child dropout ratio.

Just about the only achievement that the Navin Patnaik government has managed in its seven-year rule is to put the economy back on rails. When it took over the reigns in 2000, the state’s finances were in a complete mess. Revenue deficit as a percentage of revenue collection stood at a whopping 43.7%, tax revenue as a percentage of gross state domestic produce (GSDP) was 4.7% and the ratio of debt to total revenue receipts 304.29%. Through prudent fiscal management, the government managed to turn things around. From a precarious 364 days out of 365, wage and means advances and overdrafts have now come down to a fairly satisfactory level. Fiscal deficit, which was Rs. 2,800 crore when Navin took over, is now a thing of the past. But at least part of this success has to be attributed to the generous central outlay for the state in the last few years.
The most interesting part is the State’s plan expenditure. Knowing fully well that there are very limited resources in hand, each year the government has increased the plan budget. During three years plan outlay is increasing to reach 3500 crores in 2006-07 and again a hike in the year 2007-08 to an estimated Rs. 4388 crores. But the average expenditure during these seven years remained at Rs. 2500 crores which is almost the same as in the Ninth Five Year Plan period. Centre sponsored plans and grants have also remarkably increased. But the percentage-wise expenditure of these was so low that all the time the Centre has to remind the state to furnish the utilisation certificate. Finance Minister Prafulla Chandra Ghadai refused to comment on the state’s performance when contacted for this story.

Apart from his government’s dismal performance on almost all counts, there’s another fact that adds to Navin Patnaik’s unpopularity – his inability or disinclination (or both) to learn Oriya. Nine years after entering state politics and a full seven years after becoming the Chief Minister, he still cannot read, write or speak a sentence of Oriya; unless, of course, it is from an English script. Two years ago, this resulted in an incredible spectacle - of the then Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda giving a 15-minute long impromptu speech in Oriya at a public meeting, followed by the Orissa Chief Minister reading out a five-minute speech from a script – in English!

There have been other equally laughable situations – such as Navin Patnaik chairing meetings of the Oriya Bhasa Pratisthan or similar bodies where decisions have been taken to make Oriya mandatory in all government departments and transactions. It is incomprehensible how the head of a government that expects IAS and IPS officers posted in the state to pick up the local language in just six months can continue to rule the state for seven long years without learning even elementary Oriya.

The people of the state, exasperated as they were with the corrupt Congress government that preceded Navin Patnaik, might have overlooked his inability to speak the local language in the past. But he would certainly have to answer for this continuing ‘inability’, apart from a host of other questions, in the coming election.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A new East Asian focus on India - by P.S. Suryanarayana

The atmospherics of the East Asia Summit last week propelled India to the regional centre stage again.
Is India really central to the East Asia Summit (EAS) — an exclusive regional forum which is expected to play a key role in shaping the next big theatre in world politics? Surely, the latest EAS meeting in Singapore, which brought India and China, as also Japan, into sharp focus, was not designed to provide clues to such a long-term proposition. However, the atmospherics of the
third annual summit of the EAS last week propelled India to the centre stage of Greater Ea st Asia in several ways.
The larger geopolitical region covers all the 10 countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand. The United States, for long the dominant military power in this wider region, is not a member of the two-year-old EAS, which remains wary of letting the Americans on to its diversified but rather
very Asian stage.
Interestingly, it was in an overarching cultural setting that the importance of being India in Greater East Asia was dramatically illustrated. The occasion was the dedication of an exhibition, titled "On the Nalanda Trail," as an EAS project. The exhibition — tracing the trail of Buddhism in India, China, and Southeast Asia — is being organised by Singapore at the Asian Civilisations Museum in the City-State. The unusual show is aimed at promoting the establishment of an international university, through a multilateral treaty, at the old Nalanda site in India. The proposed university will offer a number of courses, including peace and security studies.
India's centrality to the current process of inter-state engagement in Greater East Asia was best put across by EAS Chairman and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At a reception hosted by him for the EAS leaders, Mr. Lee said: "The ancient university in Nalanda was not just devoted to Buddhist studies. It was also a first-class educational institution and the most global
university of its time. ... The new Nalanda (university) should strive to perform a role consistent with this original ethos and vision. It should be a great intellectual centre, an icon of the (current) Asian renaissance. ... It should also be a centre of civilisational dialogue and inter-faith understanding as the original Nalanda once was. In this way, the (EAS) Nalanda project can
be an inspiration for the future of Asia."
Piloting the EAS and other ASEAN-related summits with diplomatic skill, clear from the way he warded off a Myanmar-related crisis that could have affected these events, Mr. Lee saw India's relevance to planet-issues as well.
The East Asia Summit is the only pan-regional platform, as different from sub-regional groups, where India and China share the high table. Significantly, China had earlier joined Japan, the global eco-guru, and the U.S., a reluctant "leader" on green issues, in issuing a declaration on climate change. The occasion was the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum's summit in Sydney in September. The APEC had then endorsed a set of "aspirational goals" as non-binding commitments to reduce the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. So, a general expectation ahead of last week's EAS meeting was that India, not an APEC member, could perhaps now be brought into this emerging circle of key state-players as eco-friendly protagonists of economic growth.
Greenhouse gas emissions
What happened at the EAS was a different story though. Japan, taking off from its earlier platform of "Cool Earth 50," now proposed a new package of measures to ensure "a sustainable East Asia." The idea was that Japan could help its other East Asian partners in adopting eco-friendly but growth-protective technologies to ensure the reduction of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by half by 2050. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's EAS partners did not reject his offer. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India would be willing to place a "cap" on greenhouse gas emissions at a level equivalent only to the "cap" that the developed bloc might be ready to apply to itself. And, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made common cause with Dr. Singh in emphasising how growth would remain a priority for both their countries and how they could consider eco-targets only within the ambit of priorities. In the event, while the APEC consensus was not repudiated, the EAS could not create any fresh consensus that might have covered India as yet another example for the U.S. to follow.
If Mr. Wen and Dr. Singh were able to advance the cause of the developing countries, through their mutually reinforcing presentations at the EAS meeting, there was a political reason too for their bonhomie. Shortly before the EAS convened, they met for the first time after a political crisis rocked New Delhi over India's civil nuclear energy deal with the U.S. Even as that crisis spiralled, it was seen in the U.S.-friendly circles in East Asia as a new reality check for assessing, over time, India's credibility as a serious negotiator in sensitive matters. Against this background, it is understood, on good authority, that Mr. Wen was willing to consider cooperation with India on matters relating to peaceful uses of atomic energy within an overall framework of non-proliferation. Later, the Indian side even went public with a formulation that Mr. Wen was "forthcoming and supportive of international civil nuclear energy cooperation with India."
This China-India meeting and the coincidental commencement of talks between New Delhi and the International Atomic Energy Agency set the stage for the EAS deliberations. And, Mr. Lee's commendation of India and China for their "eloquent presentations" on their shared concerns about economic growth as "a priority" virtually put India back on the East Asian stage as a serious player.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Healthcare tsunami about to strike India?

Healthcare tsunami about to strike India?

Healthcare tsunami about to strike India?

November 22, 2007

In the euphoria of being a "young" India with oft-quoted demographic statistics that half of India is below 25 years of age and two-thirds are below 35, it is easy to ignore the fact that India is also home to a very large number of aged in absolute terms and that by 2027, it will have over 170 million people above 60 years of age, almost double of what we have today.

India's endemic infrastructural deficiencies are now glaringly visible beyond the top 8 metros and mini metros. Roads, public transport, potable water, power, affordable mass housing, ports and airports and the railway network -- all are stretched beyond their originally planned capacity and will, unfortunately, end up creating a huge drag on the economic growth in the coming years.

However, these deficiencies pale in comparison with those in the social infrastructure. With almost 25 million births per year, India needs an annual incremental addition of education as well as healthcare facilities equivalent to almost half of what a UK or a France or an Italy may need for their entire populations.

This addition does not even take into consideration the backlog we have built up over the last few decades on account of not ramping up spending on education and healthcare in line with the increase of population and the changes in the overall socio-economic environment.

We in India have gladly accepted the membership to the BRIC club, and rejoice every year when Forbes publishes its annual list of the super wealthy. What is not easily appreciated is the fact that on every social indicator, India is still more a third-world rather than an emerging economy. Sticking to the theme of this particular piece, I would focus only on the healthcare indicators.

Against a world average of 3.96 hospital beds per 1,000 population, Russia has 9.7, Brazil has 2.6, China has 2.2, and India languishes at just over 0.7. The deficiency is appalling on a similar scale when one compares the norms versus the actual for doctors and nurses.

Worse, while it is theoretically possible to create a million or more new beds (just to bring the availability of the beds to 1.7 per thousand from the current levels) in an accelerated manner by large-scale financial investment (about $80 billion or Rs 320,000 crore (Rs 3,200 billion) taking the cost per bed at a conservative $75,000 or Rs 30 lakh (Rs 3 million) against current costs of new players like Max and Fortis and Apollo that are well in excess of Rs 50 lakh per bed, and in the US, where the cost is reportedly now running at $2 million per bed), it is not possible to accelerate the development of trained doctors and nurses and other technicians.

India currently has about 600,000 doctors and about 1.6 million nurses. As per WHO norms for developing countries, this translates into a shortfall of 1.4 million and 2.8 million doctors and nurses, respectively, for India. With a total current annual output of about 22,000 doctors, one can only imagine the lamentable gap between the educational capacity in this sector versus the requirements.

Sadly, this still does not complete the picture. On account of urbanisation and changes in the overall lifestyle of the population, India is already seeing alarming growth in the so-called lifestyle diseases. Projections are that in the 2005-2015 decade, the incidence of heart disease will increase by 68 per cent, diabetes by 48 per cent, and cancer by 40 per cent. The economic cost to the nation in the next decade could be as much as $236 billion on account of cardiac diseases and diabetes alone.

Reaching developed country healthcare norms by 2027 will require an astronomical $1,000 billion over the next 20 years. Even reaching halfway (i.e. the current norms of China and Brazil in terms of the number of beds) will entail an investment of over $500 billion, i.e. between $10 billion and $20 billion per year for the next 20 consecutive years.

Unfortunately, unlike other sectors, healthcare delivery cannot be priced on a cost plus basis since the payee's ability in India is severely constrained with practically negligible penetration of healthcare insurance. It is no surprise, therefore, that almost all of the current organised healthcare service providers are struggling to show any profitability at all despite carrying the tag of being "premium". In these circumstances, it is very difficult to imagine fresh capital formation of this magnitude anytime in the near future since generating adequate returns on investment under current healthcare sector dynamics is a huge challenge.

India can probably live for a few more decades with potholed roads, erratic power supply, cramped airports and a filthy railway network, and skyrocketing commercial and residential capital values. With 25 million new- borns and a net addition of almost 18 million per year to the 1.15 billion already to take care of, can we live with endemic illiteracy (or inadequate literacy) and inaccessible or unaffordable healthcare for hundreds of millions? In the shadow of these hard facts, the Sensex at 20,000 and Forbes listing showing an addition of 20 or more billionaires from India may look a bit less impressive!

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.