PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Poverty Amidst Plenty
-- By M.A. Rane

Ever since I began to understand and read books and think independently, I was deeply pained by the abject poverty that prevails among our people apart from other sufferings they undergo. During the national movement for independence we were told that our people are poor because the British exploited them. But now 53 years since we became independent we are ruled by our elected representatives. Still no significant dent has been made in the poverty or other sufferings of the people. According to the government itself 30% of our people are below the poverty line, that is they have to go to bed on an empty stomach. Many live by begging or on charity.

Still India is considered to be great, as we possess a number of bombs, ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads, strong army, navy, and air force. We have core industry; big dams and we are self sufficient in food. Is it so? Some four weeks ago there was a news item that wheat and rice is rotting in open space, as the food corporation of India has no sufficient storage godowns. At the same time in the tribal region of Western Orissa, which is a draught region young men are leaving behind their wives children and old parents. They live on poisonous roots. In a recent issue of India Today, there are full details of the tragedy; reporting that some persons have died of starvation or there is likelihood of famine.

How is it when we are supposed to be self sufficient in food, people starve, die, and 30 % of the people are below the poverty line? For want of employment in rural area, a large number of villagers migrate to urban areas in search of jobs and reside in slums not even fit for animals to live and that is by the side of the skyscrapers.

Why this poverty amidst plenty as Poet Goldsmith described, where wealth accumulates, and men decay? One of the root causes is massive unemployment and underemployment that deprive the people of adequate purchasing power. Therefore, one remedy is to create jobs- gainful employment so as to enable the poor people to purchase atleast bare necessities.
Though Article 45 in the Directive Principles of the State Policy states that the State must endeavor to provide within 10 years from 1950 free and compulsory education to all children till the age of 14, still illiteracy is 50%. Among the women it is 60% to 70%. There ought to be great emphasis on education of girls. Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen emphasises that the education of girls itself will have an impact on population explosion.

Therefore, its necessary to take up the programme of imparting free and compulsory education to children upto the age of 14 as enjoined by the Constitution of India. Such a programme would require construction of a network of schools, an army of schoolteachers and provision of paraphernalia for the children. The excess food can be supplied to the schools; for providing free midday meals to children so as to reduce the rate of school dropouts.
In a thickly populated country like ours, emphasis ought to be on labour intensive industries preferably agro-based. For example schemes like Maharashtra Employment Guarantee etc had made a dent in unemployment in the state of Maharashtra. Moreover, activities like water conservation, afforestation, development of waste lands provision of minimum health care, sanitation and activities of human development such as putting up plants of gobar gas windmills, and solar power plants to produce electricity etc. are works that can create a chain of gainful employment. If the poor people get purchasing power, production of consumer goods will take place to satisfy their basic needs.

Therefore problems like these cannot be solved from Delhi or other state capitals but from local bodies at the grassroot levels such as Panchayats, Zilla Parishads, and Municipalities as per the 73rd and 74th amendment of the constitution which confer specific powers to these local bodies.

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