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JANUARY 14, 2007
 Letter From
 Message From
The Prime Minister
 Editor's Letter
 The Great Indian
M iddle Class
 India'S Poor
 The Next 15 Years

Flying High
The Indian aviation industry is growing at a rapid pace, thanks to air transport deregulation, emergence of new operators, lower fares and large untapped demand for air travel. The numbers tell an interesting story: India will require an estimated 1,100 aircraft. The average annual passenger traffic growth in India through 2025 is estimated at 7.7 per cent, well above the world average of 4.8 per cent and China's 7.2 per cent.

Bars Of Gold
The global gold industry is flourishing, largely fuelled by Asian demand and a weak US dollar. The boom is probably only halfway through since prices bottomed out in 2000. Since 1800, the boom and bust cycles have averaged about 10 years. While production is down, the value of gold purchased today is up 47 per cent from a year ago. The super-cycle of high metal prices is seen to be spurred largely by demand from China and India. An analysis.
More Net Specials
Business Today,  December 31, 2006
Life In The Other India

No doubt, reforms have benefited millions of educated Indians. But equally surely, they've left a vast majority untouched. Education, healthcare and water remain just a dream for them.

Home or hell? A lack of opportunities in villages has driven millions of Indians to a life in urban slums

Asia's largest slum, Dharavi, is an assault on the senses. The first thing you realise on entering this black hole of a settlement is the lack of sunlight. The houses are so closely packed to each other that no man can stretch an arm and walk down a lane. Women cook, children bathe, toddlers with scabby feet scamper, busy playing cops and robbers, dodging drains clogged with human and animal faeces. A 10-by-10 feet shanty in such squalor can cost Rs 1,500 a month. In most cases, a family of six-to-eight members shares this smelly tenement, which would be hard-pressed to accommodate a single buffalo. One toilet, in this slum with a million-plus inhabitants, is shared by 1,440 people.

Often 15-20 houses share a tap that sputters out a vile smelling, coloured sludge. The water pipline often passes through overflowing drainages. Fights over water are common. Most houses, however, have electricity reading meters that work. A default in payment of electricity bills is promptly punished with the severing of electricity connection. Matronly women pepper visitors with abuse, "Are you from the government? Are you here to ask for votes? Get out!" It's, after all, election time in Mumbai and politicians are expected anytime. Anybody who walks down the dark, claustrophobic bylanes will have to stoop constantly to avoid the razor sharp sheets of corrugated metal sheets that stick out like stalactites. Simply put, Dharavi will not allow any man to walk tall, literally and figuratively.

It is such 'quality' of life that has resulted in India being ranked 126th among 177 countries in the latest UNDP's Human Development Index. That's a rank up from last year but nevertheless way behind countries like China (81), Malaysia (61), Thailand (74), Indonesia (108), and Vietnam (109). India is barely a leg up over Cambodia, which is ranked at 129.

It's not that India hasn't made any progress in improving the standards of living of its people. In fact, a cursory examination of statistics on literacy rates, healthcare infrastructure, poverty levels, access to electricity and water reveal that more people in India today have access to these basic needs than they did 15 years ago. Literacy rates have gone up to more than 65 per cent from 52 per cent in the early 90s. The number of general education colleges has doubled, and the number of professional colleges has increased five fold since then. India added more than 7,000 hospitals between 1991 and 2000 alone. According to the government, poverty levels have declined to 22 per cent from 36 per cent in 1993-94. More than 77 per cent of India's households today have access to safe drinking water as compared to barely 62 per cent a decade-and-a-half ago. But then, like all statistics, even these numbers have a seamy underside to them.

Wanted: Teachers and Doctors

Take the case of education. There is a lot of good news on the surface. The number of out-of-school children was down to 95 lakh from 320 lakh in 2001, according to the Economic Survey 2005-06. Similarly, almost 85 per cent of children in the 6-14 year age group are enrolled in elementary schools. The moot question is-are these children getting any education at all?

No shot in the arm: Only 58 per cent of one-year-olds have been fully immunised for measles

The answer is depressing. A study by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration found that as many as 9.5 per cent of all the elementary education schools, roughly 88,500 schools, did not even have a blackboard in 2004. Only a fourth of the primary school teachers were graduates. Barely, a third of the schools in India had electricity. The condition in rural schools is so pathetic that even the Planning Commission in its Approach paper for the 11th Plan noted that, "For a large population of our children, school is an ill-lit classroom with more than one class being taught together by someone who may not have completed her own schooling." "Education is a great example of bad service," quips R.K. Pachauri, Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). "If there are buildings that can be called schools, there are no teachers. If there are teachers, the quality of teaching is too bad to be of any use to the pupils," he adds.

The results of such abysmal facilities are alarming but not unexpected. A good 38 per cent of children who have completed four years of schooling cannot read a small paragraph with short sentences meant to be read by a class II student. More than half of such children cannot divide a simple three-digit number by a one-digit number.


» Only 25% of total primary school teachers are graduates
» According to 2001 Census, 47 districts in the country have a female literacy rate below 30%. Most of these districts are in Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and Orissa
» Just 28% of our schools had electricity in 2005 and only about half had more than two teachers or two classrooms
» 56% of rural households in the country do not have electricity
» Against annualised target of 80 lakh households, only 33,000 households were electrified in 2005-06. Across states, 6.3% posts of doctors were vacant and random checks showed that 29-67% of doctors were absent
» 2.17 lakh habitations in the country have water quality affected mainly with iron, arsenic, fluoride, nitrate and salinity contamination

Source: National Institute of Educational Planning & Administration, Economic Survey 2005-06, Planning Commission

Similarly, in healthcare, despite tremendous progress in battling diseases like polio, malaria and leprosy, overall health standards have not greatly changed. "According to the National Family Health Survey III, between 1999 and 2006, the numbers of children who are malnourished, the proportion of women who are anaemic and underweight, the proportion of men who are malnourished and underweight have all shown an increase," says S. Parasuraman, Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). "There is a decline in the health condition of a large number of people since 1999," he says, adding that the incidence of HIV and TB is on the rise in the country.

In sharp contrast, by 2000, the number of hospitals grew to 18,218 from 11,174 in 1991. The catch-the proportion of private hospitals grew from 6,370 in 1991 to 8,380 in 2000. And since most of these private hospitals are in urban and semi-urban areas and their costs are prohibitive, the poor are dependent on government hospitals. Even though the number of government hospitals and primary healthcare centres have grown considerably, the service offered in most of them are questionable. "I think we need to ask where these centres are being set up, who has access to it, do these centres have doctors and other qualified professionals, have these centres got medicine?" says Parasuraman. In other words, he notes, creation of physical structure does not mean much unless there are medical personnel and medicine. Across states, 6.3 per cent posts of doctors remain vacant and random checks across states show that up to 67 per cent doctors are absent, according to the Planning Commission's Approach paper to the 11th Plan. In fact, a recent government study also found that only 38 per cent of all Primary Health Centres (PHCs) have all the essential manpower and only 31 per cent have all the essential supplies.

Battling for Essentials

The more, the better (or worse): There are more hospitals now, but the quality of service is atrocious

Similar problems continue to dog water and electricity supply in rural India. Even though 77 per cent of India's households had access to safe drinking water, the difference gets stark when rural and urban water supply is compared. More than a fourth of India's rural households do not have access to safe drinking water. In contrast, 90 per cent of India's urban households have access to potable water. About 2.17 lakh habitations in the country, mostly in rural areas, have severely contaminated water.

Aggravating the acute water shortage is the fact that India is among the worst exploiters of groundwater. "Our water tables have been dropping to dangerous levels. Unlike in the past, when rural areas used to have tanks and ponds, groundwater has become the major source of water," says TERI's Pachauri. In Punjab, the bread basket of India, ground water levels have dropped by nearly 10 metres in the past decade.

The writing on the notebook: Not getting the education she deserves

Similarly, seven crore rural households-56 per cent of India's rural households-do not get electricity. About 120,000 villages are yet to see a lit light bulb. In rural Orissa, for example, 80 per cent of the houses do not have access to electricity. That's nearly 54 lakh houses without a fan or a bulb. However, the state sells "surplus electricity" to neighbouring states like Karnataka. "The logical question to ask is: when would you have a surplus? You would have a surplus when all the villages or households have been electrified. But Orissa is a classic case where most of its rural people do not have electricity but it has electricity to sell," says TISS' Parasuraman. "It happens because the state has given up the responsibility of electrifying its villages. So, instead of investing in electrifying its villages, the state has privatised the sector," adds Parasuraman.

It's a point of view echoed by George Mathew, Director of the Delhi-based research and social advocacy NGO, Institute of Social Sciences. "China has done much better than India. They made sure that almost all Chinese have access to food, clothing and shelter and then started the market reforms. So, there you have a much larger chunk of the population benefitting from reform-induced faster growth," says Mathew.

Such a skewed development is causing an exodus of people from rural to urban India. In all, it is estimated that more than 68 million people-much more than the United Kingdom's population-moved from rural to urban areas in India between 1991 and 2001. The result of this mass migration has been two-fold. One, population of cities has drastically gone up in the last 15 years. Two, urban poverty has spiked up drastically. For example, the population of a small city like Jaipur has gone up from 14.5 lakh in 1991 to more than 23 lakh in 2001.

Out in the cold: Powerless winters for the poor

"If there are not adequate non-farm jobs in rural areas, and there is a belief that there is an El Dorado called Mumbai, people are bound to migrate there," says Siddhartha Roy, Economic Advisor, Tata Services. "But when they come to a city, where do they stay? They have to stay in a slum. But that's how urbanisation takes place," he adds. As a result, slums are mushrooming in Indian cities. In Jaipur, the number of people living in slums shot up to 3.5 lakh in 2001 from 2.1 lakh in 1991. In Mumbai, more than half the population (54 per cent) lives in slums like Dharavi. In Delhi, 18 per cent of the population lives in slums. Cities like Faridabad (46.5 per cent), Kolkata (32.5 per cent), Chennai (18.9 per cent) and Hyderabad (17.2 per cent) have significant numbers of people living in slums.

A Rosy Future

And that's really the question that most of India is faced with-stay in rural India, where there is no quality education, water, electricity and most importantly no non-agricultural jobs, or move to urban India to live in rat-infested, sub-human slums like Dharavi? These are questions that have no easy answers. "We have to create non-farm jobs in rural India. That's not happening, at least in adequate numbers," says Roy. "We also need to take industry to the rural areas, but then again you cannot do that without proper infrastructure." That's the classic chicken-and-egg question that India has always faced.

Piped water dreams: Heads weren't meant for this

For now, the government is toying with the idea of deploying paramedics in India to tackle the problem of talent shortage. A piecemeal solution that economists like Roy find tough to accept. "When it comes to rural India, you (the government) give them second-rate doctors. If you want to send doctors, send them first-rate doctors. If the people have to pay for it, so be it. Why should rural India get the short end of the stick?" asks Roy. He is keen to point out that India's success in the global exports market means that education in India, at least, in the urban areas is "not something you can scoff at".

Others like economist Bibek Debroy believe that it's premature to "link economic reforms to improvements in human development" because reforms in education, healthcare and other public services have not really happened. Till that happens, the millions who continue to migrate from India's villages to cities will continue to ask themselves a rather Shakespearean question every day-to be or not to be?




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