Thursday, September 27, 2012


CRSs can bring the marginalised section to the mainstream

Apparently, for a nation as diverse as India with 18 officially documented languages and 1652 dialects, the wider representation of the voices for each community cannot be done through nationalised (or regional) radio and television programs, neither through a blanket nationwide program-type. Every community calls for their own personalised set of voices that need to be only delivered to that particular community. And here, the community leaders (the marginalised ones) have been pressing for community radio that has the potential to negate their marginalisation. The need is most profound for tribal, minorities, and the underprivileged.

To put an end to the years of government monopoly in radio services, the Supreme Court of India, in February 1995 decreed that “airwaves are public property” that allowed the operations of private radio stations, albeit under a number of conditions. However, even then NGOs and other civil organisations were not permitted to operate community radio stations – the government of India finally pulled back the veil on November 16, 2006 – allowing community radio stations to function without hindrances. However, there are restrictions on several aspects of Community Radio Services (CRSs), like, no news, current affairs and political comments are legitimated. Further, there are norms to be followed by CRSs that comply with decorum of respecting religious intricacies, casteism, and other linguistic or otherwise communities, thus reducing its misuse to a large extent. Moreover, advertisement time is reduced to maximum of 5 minutes at a time, thus again eliminating any scope of private usage of the airtime provided. However, still there are other jolting restrictions in which an organisation has to overcome the hurdles of multiple clearances from several ministries. This has corroborated that even at mid-2008 a thin record of only 3 out of 48 operational CRSs were owned by developmental organisations, while rest were in the domain of campus CRSs.

Despite such restrictions, there are a number of CRSs that have sized up the need, aspirations, and discontentment amongst communities especially in the rural and tribal belts. The fact that a CRS can play a stimulating role as the harbinger of social, linguistic and communal harmony can’t be denied. Mangalore based community radio Sarang 107.8FM is a case in point. The local folks like farmers, fishermen, students, workers and everybody, pitch in to the local programs that teaches them about health and hygiene, road safety, water conservation. A CRS based out of Kutch in Gujarat, airs programs that deal with female feoticide, menace of dowry and women’s education. The station is run by Kutch Women Development Corporation and is immensely popular among Kutch women for its daring programs that revitalise the thought process of rural women.

Community radio can play a significant role for the masses, who hope to overcome decades of pent-up anger against social ills and get an opportunity to hit it back. The CRS can act as an intermediary between the government and the populace, whose problems can be shared through CRSs in the best possible manner with their fellow folks. This will democratise the media with best application of freedom of speech and expression, and thereby, solving their problems in concert. With the CRS evolving, it remains an open question whether the social connect and awareness will surely be more potent in the future than what it was in the past.


Thursday, September 20, 2012


Has our government created an environment to retain poverty?

The other day, I got talking to a colleague of mine, who belongs from the interiors of Bengal. While speaking with him, I realized that he is the only earning member of the family of eight. And religiously, every month, after keeping whatever is required to manage a basic living here at Delhi, he sends all the money back home. Upon asking, he told me that other than his mother, the other dependents on his income are his two elder brothers with their respective families of three each, and one sister.

Mother and younger sister dependent was something that I could still understand, what I could not understand is how could two brothers, elder to him, be dependent on him along with their respective families. On asking him, he said that his brothers have never worked for a livelihood and would never do the same in future too. However, the reason sounds more intriguing – they have three BPL cards – one for the mother and the other two for the other two families respectively. And on account of the BPL (Below Poverty Line) card, they get enough free food from the government under various poverty eradication schemes. And with a small piece of land at their disposal, whatever short they fall, they make up. For them even electricity is free. So, when for all the necessities for survival are at their service, for what do they need to earn? Schooling is free and hospitalization is free too, though none of them upto the mark. So, for these people where there exists no threats and no sense of urgency, why do they even need to work for a livelihood?

As if this was not enough, the government has made a further plan to give free mobile phones to BPL families. Under the scheme popularly known as "Har Hath Mein Phone," the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has decided to distribute around 60 lakh phones to all BPL families. Moreover, 200 free minutes of free local talk time every month. The entire project is estimated to cost the Central Government about Rs.7,000 crore. What more do they need? Aren’t we creating an environment to retain poverty? Is it that we would ever be able to bring these people out of poverty? And my answer is never. More so, on account of lack of worthwhile opportunities, who in this world would ever like to leave this life of full of freebies and struggle to make it any better?

Now the dilemma is whether at the policy level one should think to continue to provide the basic minimum so that the basic threshold to survival is ensured, or one should leave it on them to fend for themselves. This reminds me the proverb "necessity is the mother of all inventions." Moreover, this free mobile phone is just another cheap populist approach for vote bank politics, has no real intention to reduce poverty. Historically, for nations who have been able to come out of poverty, has been through revolutions or through systematic interventions. The cases in point are Europe and China. Though very discreet in nature what has been unique in both the above is that, the path to overcome poverty has been hard earned – be it through bloody revolutions or through sheer hard work! Nowhere in this world poverty has been nurtured, like the way we have done in this nation. And it is for all of us to see that even after so many years, poverty figures remain as it is. And it would remain so, for we have successfully created a happy environment to remain poor.


Thursday, September 13, 2012


State of immunisation in India is catastrophic

The child mortality rate of 5 deaths in every 4 minutes is something that should have ideally given nightmares to any sensible policymaker. But forget that, what is more shocking is that nothing concrete is done even when these deaths are mostly caused by preventable diseases. The blame squarely lies on the union and state governments as well as the public sector pharmaceutical companies. John Hopkins University estimates that over 3.71 lakh Indian infants perish from pneumonia every year. The picture is bleaker than sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan and even Afghanistan. This breakneck expansion of the disease is because Indian government never cared to introduce newest generation of pneumonia vaccines that would have successfully shielded 23 common strains of the disease to proliferate.

The story repeats itself in polio immunization too. The officially declared immunization day, generally celebrated in January, had to be postponed to February 19 this year, because of shortages of polio vaccines! The immunization day was the host to vaccinate 17.5 crore children with 25 crore doses of requisite number that was supposed to be sent to the states fell short by 18 crore doses. It reflects the unease of the government who blamed it on the company where the order was placed, supposedly as early as January 2011!

There is a perennially short supply of Hepatitis B vaccine in Pune, extending for months, which has a demand of 17,000-18,000 doses per month. Meanwhile, vaccines of yellow fever are disappearing in many parts of the country too. There are reports that the vaccine is out of stock in Kolkata and in short supply at Government vaccination centres in Delhi. In December 2008, a team of Health Ministry visited 13 different states; and they were taken aback of what they found. There are no vaccines for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus in hospitals of Bihar, non-availability of measles vaccines in Assam, dearth of diphtheria and tetanus (DT) vaccines and tetanus toxoid (TT) in Kerala and an empty vault for DT and TT in Uttar Pradesh. Further, in Orissa, DT vaccine was unobtainable between April-December 2008 and DPT vaccine between August-September the same year. From the Health Ministry’s Data, 2008-09, in the period April-November, BCG vaccination plummeted by 7.9 percent in UP and 11.5 percent in Punjab, along with overall vaccination dropping by 29.5 percent in Orissa and 36.2 percent in West Bengal in the same period.

In stark contrast, the healthcare system focus in the developed nations, particularly in US and UK, is sharper and implementation impeccable. In the US, 95 percent of the school children are immunized and in England the figure stands at 89.1 percent (2010-11). In these countries, the occurrence of preventable diseases are at record low even if the number of the diseases has increased. It is a cycle of virtue created there that shaped the success story — research and development, a reliable manufacturing system, a highly competent and corruption free regulatory authority, a comprehensive immunization policy, immaculate implementation, and compensation for afew rare cases of adverse effect due to vaccination. On the contrary, the common man of India is frustrated with lack of accountability and corruption in the implementation of vaccination — that sets in the mess — and its ugly manifestation must be eroded quickly to save lives of innocent children.


Thursday, September 6, 2012


The project is facing financial crunch due to inflation

The Union government has set a mission to curb expenditure which is increasing due to cost escalation of its flagship housing programme for the BPL segment, Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) – thanks to inflation. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh hammering home the need for increased central funds for the programme has largely fallen into the deaf years of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) so far. The inflated allocation is Rs 75,000 per unit from the earlier sum of Rs 45,000, which as per the Rural Ministry is the need of the day, but the Finance Ministry finds its not as important and has kept the entire agenda at bay.

According to Jairam Ramesh, the proposed amount is a Planning Commission’s recommendation made in 2011, with further addition of allocation that will reach the total cost to Rs 80,000 for hilly areas and another Rs 9,000 needed to construct toilets should be incorporated in the IAY budget. And he left no stone unturned to convince the MoF that it’s not his economic propaganda but an indepth research made by Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, published in 2009. However, despite such plans, nothing much was done. IAY is riddled with leakages which lead to huge cost and time overruns. On the contrary, huge unspent amount lying with various state governments is another indicator of the poor implementation of IAY. For instance, the total unspent balance is a humongous Rs 2,500 crore with a state wise allocation of Rs 825 crore in Gujarat, Rs 581 crore for Karnataka, Rs 550 crore for West Bengal, Rs 427 crore for Odhisa, Rs 420 crore for Assam and Rs 200 crore for Uttar Pradesh.

So in totality, the Union government's refusal for more funds coupled with unspent allocation and corruption have worked as the main obstacles for the proper implementation of the programme. India must take a cue from the Singapore government, which under the HDB (Housing and Development Board) Annual Report, 1962, has provided well-built and well-designed houses to the lower income groups at affordable cost. Also, under HDB Annual Report 1964, there are provisions for lower middle income groups to own houses facilitated by the Singapore government. The programmes are totally corruption free and have insulated the beneficiaries from exclusion, exploitation and unsanitary living conditions; all of which are enormous dry holes for the Indian government. These cropped up housings in Singapore represent well maintained, modern, and quality self-contained flats with landscaped environment that are streets ahead of the residential units built in India under IAY. The Singapore’s housing constructions for the poor is centralised that help it escaping the curse of duplication and fragmentation of work and lack synergy among various departments, which is a testimony in India.

India’s governmental non-performance is a ‘must be’, which leads to another option of contracting it to the private players. After sorting out the land units, the government must outsource the construction of the houses to private parties with freebees to them in the form of tax rebates and other incentives. Th at would focus on the overriding issue of timely allotment as also the quality and efficiency of the programme. The monetary efficiency can also help escaping formulaic implementation with cost savings and other benefits. And to top it all, it provides the residents with a comfortable and healthy environment that all of us seek.