UN group ridicules India's 'feel good' factor

Tuesday, 27 January 2004, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: The new buzzword this season is the "feel good" factor that has transformed the country into a "Shining India", but a UN advocacy group portrays a dramatically different picture.

While the government cannot stop complimenting itself on the country's economic gains, the UN's Millennium Campaign is studying India's performance in fighting poverty and providing basic human needs. And the results are not flattering.

India, along with 190 other UN General Assembly member states, had ratified and committed to achieving an eight-point Millennium Declaration in September 2000.

The goals include eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS and reducing child mortality. Under the agreement, all signatories are to achieve the goals by 2015.

"In India's case, there are two nations you need to look at," said Salil Shetty, director of the Millennium Campaign, which is studying each member state's performance.

"One is 'India Shining', which the government keeps harping about, but the other India is one where even basic human needs are not being met," Shetty told IANS.

According to him, 1.25 million children below the age of one year died in India in 2003. Around 50 million children were out of school and half of India's children were malnourished, he said.

"These stark realities juxtaposed with the government's claims of an eight percent growth paint quite a sorry picture," said the New York-based Shetty.

Shetty, earlier chief executive of ActionAid, the London-based international development organisation, added: "You cannot fool a starved man by telling him his stomach is full. These segments do not care about the 'feel good' factor.

"What is frustrating is the fact that a little effort and all these goals can be achieved in the required timeframe."

He gave some examples to elucidate his claim -- if the Bihar government were to spend 75 more on each student another child could join school every year.

"Last year, $800 billion were spent on arms globally. Another $100 billion added to that figure is how much we need to realise the millennium goals," he added.

"Hence, it's ridiculous to say the world doesn't have the money to meet the millennium goals."

India is not the only country fairing poorly.

The Millennium Campaign believes that, at the current pace, sub-Saharan Africa will achieve the first goal of eradication of extreme poverty and hunger only by 2147!

"It is not as if the goals are not achievable. China halved its population below the poverty level in 10 years' time," he said.

Shetty said the fact that the majority of delegates (over 70 percent) at the recently concluded World Social Forum (in Mumbai) were Indians demonstrated that people were unhappy and dissatisfied with the developmental work.

"The political will, which is the answer to India's problems, is just missing," said Shetty. "The Indian government is even reluctant on publishing a national report about how the state is progressing in realising the goals."

Shetty said Madhya Pradesh's "excellent" primary education achievements were an example of how political will could benefit the people.

"We all know who are the ones suffering. They are the Dalits, tribals and women, to name a few.

"We just need to focus on getting the real development to these people. We need to create a public pressure for seeing some results."

Despite the enormity of his responsibilities, Shetty is confident that the millennium development goals (MDGs) can be realised.

"The MDGs are achievable because they are about the basic necessities of life, things which many people take for granted."

He added: "The goals are a matter of life and death, and I don't think that's overstating it."

Source: IANS
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