(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 19, 2009
Failed Promises And Blatant Lies – Five Years Of UPA Rule
INDIA stands at the 66th place among the 88 developing countries in the Global Hunger Index, calculated on the basis of undernourishment, underweight children below five years of age and under five mortality rate. The path of the UPA brand development led the country to a situation where it is now home to the largest number of hungry people in the world – around 20 crores. Hunger in 12 out of the 17 major states in India covering 95 per cent of its population is reported to be ‘alarming’ while in Madhya Pradesh, it is ‘extremely alarming’.
The National Health Policy of 2002 sets the target of reducing Infant Mortality Rate to 30 per 1,000 by 2010; but with just one year to go, today it is almost double the target, at 57 per 1,000. Maternal Mortality Rate, targeted to be reduced to 100 by the same year, is now three times at 300 per 1 lakh of live births. Only 17.3 per cent women ever received the services of any health care worker and only 17.9 per cent primary health centres have a woman doctor; in fact quite a large number of PHCs do not have any doctor at all.
While this calls for urgent attention by the government, the UPA government did not take any effective measures to address the grave situation during its five years in office. It has refused to make adequate financial allocations to one of the most important programmes meant to address infant mortality, child mortality and malnutrition - the Integrated Child Development Services. Not only has it ignored the Supreme Court’s direction to universalise ICDS by the end of 2008, it has also failed to implement its own promise in its 2004 election manifesto that says, ‘The ICDS will be universalised to provide for a functional anganwadi in every settlement and full coverage, especially children below the age of six’. The same commitment was made in its National Common Minimum Programme, but the UPA government, which provided tax concessions and benefits worth lakhs of crores of rupees to the big national and multinational corporations and the rich, could not find the necessary financial resources to universalise ICDS that serves the poor children.
The total number of anganwadi centres in the country when the UPA government assumed office was 6.73 lakhs out of which 5.95 lakh centres were providing supplementary nutrition. Based on 2001 census, it has been estimated that 17 lakh anganwadi centres would be required to cover all the children under six in the rural and urban areas in the country; i.e. there was a deficit of more than 10 lakh anganwadi centres. It has been calculated that the amount required for universalisation of ICDS would be only Rs 26,400 crores, (excluding any increase in the remuneration of the anganwadi employees). But, the UPA government has managed to allot only Rs 13,613, i.e. only around half the necessary funds, in its first four budgets and sanctioned less than 3 lakh anganwadi centres during its tenure; out of these less than 2.5 lakh anganwadi centres only could be operationalised during the entire five year period of UPA rule.
As a result, as per the Finance minister’s own admission in the parliament only 6.29 crores children or less than 40 per cent of the total 16.6 crores children below six years of age were covered by ICDS by the end of 2007. While Rs 6,300 crores was allotted in the budget for 2008 – 09 including the enhanced remuneration that was announced for the anganwadi employees, only Rs 5,665.20 crores was spent and in 2009 – 10, the allocation itself has been reduced to Rs 6,026 crores.
In its 2009 election manifesto the Congress again makes the promise that ‘The Indian National Congress commits itself to the universalisation of the ICDS by March 2012 and provide an anganwadi in every habitation and full coverage of children up to the age of six for food, nutrition and pre school education’. Going by the track record of the last five years of its rule, it would take at least another fifteen years to sanction and operationalise the necessary anganwadi centres to cover all the eligible children in the country.
While these are the facts, the Congress has no qualms in making false claims that ‘all pregnant women and children up to six years of age are now provided nutrition, covering even families that are not living below the poverty line’. If all the ‘children up to six years of age’ are already provided nutrition in the anganwadi centres, as was claimed by the Congress in its ‘report to the people’ in May 2008, what is the need for this promise of universalising the ICDS by March 2012 in its election manifesto again?
In the same ‘report to the people’, the Congress claims to have ‘rewarded’ the anganwadi workers and helpers ‘who have worked hard to secure the future of our country’, by increasing their ‘honorarium’ to Rs 1,500 and Rs 750 per month respectively! While the prices of all the essential commodities have increased several times during the last five years, the remuneration of the anganwadi employees who receive nothing except the meagre consolidated ‘honorarium’ was increased by Rs 500 and Rs 250 after six years. And this was soon followed by an increase in the working hours to six hours a day, thus making it a full day’s work with less than half a day’s wages! Yet, the Congress, in stead of being ashamed, feels proud of it!
Not only that. The UPA government is all set to dismantle the ICDS. It has decided to restructure the ICDS as per the dictates of the World Bank. As per the ICDS IV project to be implemented with World Bank’s assistance in eight states as a pilot, after which the model would be implemented all over the country, the services of ICDS would be targeted to the most needy. The government parrots the World Banks’ wisdom that it is not the absence of food to feed the children in any family that leads to malnutrition but the lack of knowledge on feeding practices and the methods of preparation; so the focus should be on ‘information, education and communication’ and the supply of ‘micronutrients’ like Iron Folic Acid, Vitamin A and Iodised salt, rather than the supply of supplementary nutrition to the children. In the name of community participation, the government has decided to hand over the management of anganwadi centres to the Self Help Groups, Community Based Organisations, NGOs; the corporate houses would also be asked to ‘adopt’ anganwadi centres. While the supply, preparation and distribution of food would be handed over to the SHGs, parents’ committees, initially in the tribal areas, would be given the responsibility of pre school education, with the government providing matching grants. That is the poor children would no longer get the benefit of free pre school education in the anganwadi centres. And the minister of Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury was very keen to supply packed food in the anganwadi centres in stead of hot food freshly cooked in the anganwadi centres, which would only benefit the packed food manufacturers.
Attempts to enforce these changes are already being made, even before the ICDS IV has come into force. In many states, these have resulted in irregular supply of food, fall in the quality of food supplied to the anganwadi centres and increased political interference by the local vested interests and harassment of anganwadi employees. The central government, which was fully providing the funds for ICDS, is also keen to withdraw from its responsibility. It has already decided that the state governments have to share the financial burden of ICDS, 10 per cent to start with and increased to 50 per cent gradually.
Of course, it will be futile to expect anything else from the government led by a party committed so deeply to the ideology of neo liberalism and eager to serve the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor; from a party which sees development as the inclusion of a few Indians in the ‘ten richest of the world’, while being completely insensitive to the plight of the more than 84 crores ultra poor in the country (defined as those living on less than 0.5 USD per day). The promises and commitments in the election manifestos are just meant to get votes and to be forgotten later. Nothing more than that!
Unemployment, underemployment, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, illness etc., are all interrelated and capitalism as a system has no solutions to these basic problems of the people. The model of neo liberal globalisation, of which both the Congress and the BJP continue to be strong proponents, has only further aggravated these problems. A change in the policies from those obsessed with the profits for the corporates to those that address the concerns of the common people alone can ensure real development of the people. The elections to the fifteenth Lok Sabha provide an opportunity to the people to bring about such a change by defeating both the BJP and the Congress.