PRAVEEN JHA: Democratic governance can be realised only in a milieu of people-centred policies and practices. Unfortunately, the Indian polity and the state have perfected the rhetoric of democratic governance, which in reality is divorced form a policy framework rooted in a peoples rights discourse. This lead to perpetuation of inequity, exclusion and poverty. In this context, it becomes imperative to work with a conceptual framework, where objectives of the development processes are visualised as a matter of rights for the citizens. The fact that substantial sections of Indian population suffer from glaring deprivations vis-a-vis a set of commonly acknowledged basic needs, such as adequate food, shelter, clothing, basic health care, elementary education and basic sanitation. In fact, the major shortcoming of the economic transformation of India is found/ located in the realm of policies and process that would have facilitated meeting the above noted basic needs.
In this context, it becomes increasingly imperative for the Indian state to realise that the neglect of positive rights as largely enshrined in the directive principles, generally leads to an increased resource burden and a negative impact on the state.To compound the issue, the growing influence of neo-liberal economic agenda has tended to make the material and social conditions more difficult and fragile for the under- privileged economic and social groups, who constitute the majority of our country.
This years Social Watch Report attempts to track the performance of policies with respect to three rights, namely, livelihood, education and health. The key highlights of policies and practices in the year 2004 reveal the trends: Livelihood and agriculture - A dismal picture: In fact, during the second half of the 1990s, as per NSS data, employment growth in agriculture almost completely dried up. Decline in the growth of employment opportunities was, in large measure, policy-driven through reduction in public development expenditure, declining input subsidies, and drying up of rural credit. The myth of growing food security: It may also be noted here that the decade of the 1990s is indeed the only one since independence when per capita food grain output in the country declined in absolute terms. As it happens, the absolute amount of per capita food availability for the triennium ending 2002-03 was only marginally higher than the years of the Second World War, i.e., the period that witnessed the terrible Bengal famine. It reflects a complete disregard for the right to livelihood, as reflected through appalling access to employment and food availability, and in recent years, the situation appears to have deteriorated alarmingly. Health - Arduous path ahead: The public expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP in India is among the lowest. Developed countries like the US and Canada spend 12.61 and 9.76 per cent respectively of the GDP on health, whereas India spends only 4.46 per cent.
Even Bangladesh has overtaken us in this regard over the past decade. It is worth noting here that according to the Human Development Report, 2004, in terms of public expenditure on health care as a proportion of total health care expenditure (in the country), India ranks as low as 171 among the 175 countries studied. On the other hand, in terms of private health care expenditure as a proportion of the total, Indias rank is rather high at 18. Education - promises need to be backed by commitment: The NDA governments last budget, for the year 2004-05, had set aside Rs 6,004 crore for elementary education, whereas the Tapas Majumdar Committee had suggested that to achieve the goal of universalisation of school education over a ten year time frame (1998-99 to 2007-08), the total expenditure required was around Rs 1.37 lakh crore, and for 2004-05, it had suggested an expenditure of about Rs 17,000 crore. Common Minimum Programme - Promising policy prescriptions: The major policy promises of the CMP include; enactment of an employment guarantee act, protection of labour rights, expansion of social security programmes, increase in the expenditure on education up to 6 per cent of GDP and on health up to 2-3 per cent of GDP, empowerment of the PRIs, one -third reservations for women in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas, among others.
Disconcerting continuity in economic policy orientations: Budget 2004-05 failed to mark a departure from the business as usual and failed to live up to the promises of CMP. For example, in the education sector, a 2 percent cess on all central taxes is expected to yield Rs 4000 crore, and the budgetary allocation for all levels of education in 2004-05, at Rs 11,062 crore, was only Rs 800 crore more than the expenditure in 2003-04, thus belying the hope generated by the CMP. Policy Scenario 2004 - Cautious Optimism: The basic point that we wish to stress is that, to meet the objectives laid down in CMP and to move towards the progressive realisation of the rights to health, education and livelihood, the present government needs to move away from the beaten path of neo-liberal policies and fiscal conservatism. (The writer teaches at JNU )