Now We Are 1210 Million - Need For Reforms in Governance

 

THE major outcome of the preliminary results of the 2011 Census of India is not that we are now 1210 million, or more than the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan combined, but that the decadal growth rate is down by 3.9 per cent despite the overall numbers rising by a huge 181 million. Most laggard northern states have shown a welcome decline in fertility and an improvement in female literacy. These are heartening trends but the female child sex ratio has gone down, signifying the continuing tragedy of the unwanted girl child earlier reported even in some of the more progressive northwestern states.

Literacy, including female literacy, has markedly improved and we should be able to attain universalisation of primary education by or before 2021, over 60 years after the constitutional promise. The goals must now be universalise secondary education by the same time as emerging India will not emerge if a large swathe of society remains semi-illiterate and unable to imbibe the vocational and professional skills required to move requisite numbers off the land to industry and services with higher farm productivity to boot.

The country must add 10 million jobs net annually gainfully to absorb the net incremental growth in the labour force. Steady 9 per cent growth per annum through the decade should enable us to eliminate stark poverty and significantly improve HDI and guarantee the basic services listed under the millennium development goals. But this will require a vast expansion in trained manpower. The demographic gain we foresee from a younger age profile will remain a burden unless quantity translates into quality.

Uttar Pradesh has a population just short of 200 million while Maharashtra ranks next with 112 million. Other big states sport numbers in the 75-100 million range. This clearly underlines the case for smaller and more compact states and also the need for another states reorganisation commission to recommend the contours of new units on economic and administrative grounds. Identity and ethnicity can be accommodated through regional autonomy and further empowerment of panchayati raj institutions, which would also make for more participative government and accountability.

The census figures for urban growth are not yet available, but urbanisation has clearly seen a marked rise and the country should have a majority living in towns and cities by 2031. This calls for major reforms in urban governance which is today untidily fragmented – with Delhi being a particularly bad case – and some interlocking arrangements to bring metro/ nagar palikas and panchayati raj bodies together for a number of common purposes such as water and sanitation, connectivity and market access, and superior educational and health services. Cities must organically function as hubs and dynamos for the surrounding countryside which they serve even as they are serviced by it.

Further action points will emerge as the census numbers are crunched in the months ahead and the first Unique Identification Number of residents is distributed.

Meanwhile, the pundits got it totally wrong. The India-Pakistan semi-final for the World Cup in Mohali was no “war” but an enjoyable sporting contest. Neither side played up to its potential, but in the result India registered a fairly comfortable win though there were moments when the match seemed to be going away. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, with a number of Pakistani fans in the stands. But there was an air of bonhomie and the “aam admi” on both sides thought that it was a good idea for Dr Manmohan Singh to have invited his counterpart, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani, to join him in witnessing the event.

The usual critics went overboard, characterising the initiative as a diplomatic blunder that let Pakistan “off the hook”, comparing it to the Sharm El-Sheikh “fiasco”. The communiqué then issued did not altogether delink talks from terror. Nor did it allow Pakistan to score a point by permitting reference to Balochistan. Indeed, the addition of Balochistan to the agenda has embarrassed Pakistan as it has been unable to lead any credible evidence about India’s alleged intervention there while giving Indians an opening to question the continuing suppression of the democratic rights of the Balochi people.

The Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting was largely symbolic but it generated the right atmospherics, reinforcing the happy outcome of the Home Secretaries’ meeting which suggests the possibility of some forward movement in the 26/11 case if an Indian commission can meet the other Pakistani accused now on trial in Rawalpindi. Nothing has been lost and something has been gained.

As for the match itself, Shahid Afridi had no reason to “apologise” to the people of Pakistan for his team’s defeat. An expression of disappointment was certainly in order but an apology sounds as though the match was indeed a “war” that had been lost, bringing dishonour and disgrace not just to the team but to the country. This was an unintended note that jarred and could have been avoided as it is reminiscent of an earlier Pakistani captain apologising to all Muslims for Pakistan’s defeat, presumably at the hands of of “Hindu India”. It is time to bury the hollow and vicious two-nation theory that has brought grief to the subcontinent and robbed Pakistan of its soul. India too must curb obscurantist and chauvinistic tendencies by indulging in silly acts such as threatening a ban on Joesph Lelyveld’s new book on Gandhi.

Finally, one must question the vesting of leadership of the war in Libya to NATO, a Western military alliance outside and beyond the rubric of the United Nations. The world body is being insidiously dragged in as in Afghanistan without accountability to it. This is a worrying trend, More so when Mr Obama is reported saying that US agents are being tasked to undermine Colonel Gaddafi. Regime change is not part of the UN mandate.

by B.G. Verghese

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