Roti, Kapda, Makaan – once used to be the favorite tagline of most political parties in India. Indeed, they had to be. It is an irony that in spite of our progress towards a civilized life, we still have human beings losing their lives due to hunger, lack of shelter and inadequate clothing. When I see beggars lying in an unconscious state with worms all over their body in Connaught place, in front of the Yojana Bhavan, my heart weeps for such humans experiencing inhuman living conditions and I feel frustrated and angry over the kind of people who are supposed to be taking care of the depressed.
Is it so difficult to identify the poorest of the poor? Do we need statistics and BPL figures to find out if poverty exists in our country? Well, people would call me utopian or idealist but i do not mind. Can’t we have a mission like “There will be no beggary in this country”, “None will die due to lack of food, shelter and clothing in this country”. Don’t you think, the so called king of the district, the district commissioner has enough power to route resources to eliminate poverty within a district.
We should not forget that irrespective of the kind of political ideology, capitalism, socialism or any other -ism-, Darwin’s theory of the survival of fittest still holds true. But, considering the progress in our civilization, let us not interpret this survival as physical survival. Every human being should get the opportunity to compete and this is possible only if he lives. So, let us start with food, shelter and clothing, then add health and education, and may be further add mobile and television to the basic necessities. Once, a person has his basic necessities, it is the dynamics of the society, the polity, the economy and a mix of unknown, unstudied factors that will decide if one becomes a peon or an IAS officer.
So, coming to the basic necessities (this list can be extended), how do we ensure that people have the basic necessities. Proponents of direct cash transfers believe that the existing mechanisms for providing these basic necessities are flawed due to corruption, diversion, dual markets, etc. So, providing cash directly to people will empower people to have a choice in what they buy. Very true. I appreciate the analysis. But, the problems identified and the solution proposed are not in sync. It is like this – There is a problem with plan A or scheme A, so let us abandon A and go for plan/scheme B.
The problem is not cash versus subsidy. The problem is about targeting and conditions. Who should get the subsidies and who should not? Once, we have identified the conditions, how do we make sure that only those who qualify against these objective conditions get the subsidies. I have personally seen the rich who get homes allocated under ‘Ashraya Yojana’ and rent those houses. I have personally seen some BPL households who buy food grains from PDS centre and sell them to the rich. So, how do we find solutions to these practical problems? should be our question.
The kind of solution that I envisage for these problems is for the government and the public sector to become an empowered institution to meet the social security needs of the population. The solution lies in every district having at least a single community shelter spread over 2 to 3 acres of land, where food, shelter and clothing are provided to anyone and everyone who approaches the shelter. Even, developed countries have such shelters. Speaking about the higher needs like education and health, the solution again lies in empowering our government schools and hospitals and in laws like that of RTE-2009 which mandate the private sector to offer their services to the poor at subsidized rates.
Providing a choice to the poor sounds more idealistic. First, let us at least provide a single point solution and then we can develop it by adding alternatives to provide “choice”.