There were a few events that happened this week that deserve a debate. UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) announced that they would be cutting their development aid to Vietnam, Russia, China and India. The largest cut would be 250 million pounds aid to India. Their reasoning was that India did not deserve any development assistance any more. DFID argued that India had misplaced priorities. The money spent on India’s nuclear and space programs and the contributions of NRIs from all over the world and especially in the UK could easily replace this assistance.
At the same time, Oxford announced that they had refined the tools for measuring poverty and this refined tool called Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) would measure poverty in various dimensions (finally people have begun thinking beyond economics). As per this new MPI, India has 421 million poor people in just 8 States, as against 410 million in all the African countries put together. The number for the whole of India is a staggering 645 million (55.4% of the population)! Is DFID listening? Is the Indian Government taking notice?
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) put 5 satellites into space. This was a feat because they did it with one rocket. This is especially significant keeping in mind the failed cryogenic rocket launch a few months ago. While this is repeat feat (ISRO holds the record of launching 10 satellites with 1 rocket), it is indeed reflective of the ability of the Indian scientific establishment.
Looking back, I am confused. I am not sure if I have to feel proud that a developed nation like UK thinks India is not poor enough for their support, or feel exuberant that ISRO has the scientific and technological brilliance to achieve what no other country except the US has done. Thinking about the lives of the less fortunate 421 million Indians living in the states of Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and others makes me angry and sad. How much longer should we wait before our planners realize that we have the resources but only lack the vision, planning and efficient implementation strategies. How many more years before our political and bureaucratic establishment recognizes that poverty is not mere economics and the lack of money, but the lack of value based leadership too? How many more years for our entire fellow rural Indians to have water and sanitation facilities, health care, education and equal opportunities for livelihoods? Will the current 9.5% growth mean anything to our rural poor who seem to be having less and less of what they previously had?
India possibly will never have the opportunity that it has presently got. We have the youngest population with the least dependency ratios. If we miss out exploiting this window of demographic opportunity now, we may never be able to find answers to these vexing questions.