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Living in India – A Welfare State

1 January 2024

CEO Blog by Shalabh Mittal

Goal 10 of the SDG framework aims at reducing inequality within and among countries, since inequality threatens long-term social and economic development, harms poverty reduction and destroys people’s sense of fulfilment and self-worth. Political, economic and social policies within a country enable its people to achieve inclusive social and economic growth. Milton Friedman, a renowned economist, criticized the government welfare scheme, stating that it inadvertently perpetuates poverty. While I don’t fully agree with his perspective or the idea of a radical cash grant policy – it’s crucial to recognize the importance of discipline and fair play in society. In a country like India, access to affordable healthcare, quality education, skill development, and food security are still the top priorities for its people. Government schemes are well-designed, crafted by some of the best minds, however, sometimes they are seen as mere appeasement rather than development-oriented initiatives. As a citizen, we must make every effort to help the government reach the unreached, provide to the un-provided for and care for the most neglected still seeking our help.

This is inspired by the work we do with Gram Panchayats on ‘SDG Localisation’.

Story of ‘I’ in Rural India!

I live in India; I live in a village with a population of 3000 people in about 500 households. I am the Rising India, Shining India.

Even before I was born, the government started to look after me. My mother was registered with Village Anganwadi Centre where She received assistance with medicines and nutrition needs for the healthy development of the baby. My mother registered with local government health centre where she delivered the baby with government assistance and all expenses were taken care of by the government through Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakaram (JSSK) entitles every pregnant woman to free delivery, including for caesarean section, in public health institutions along with the provision of free transport, diagnostics, medicines, other consumables, diet and blood. Under Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana (PMVVY) a cash incentive of INR 5,000 is provided directly in the bank account of pregnant women and lactating mothers.

I grew up with assistance under Saksham Anganwadi and Mission Poshan 2.0 scheme which provides early childhood care and education including supplementary nutrition, pre-school non formal education, immunization and regular health checkups. Let me tell you, if I was a naughty one the government would have taken care of me under Mission Vatsalya Scheme for children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law. The child care institutions established under the scheme provide age-appropriate education, access to vocational training, recreation, healthcare and counseling. My Father says, my sister who was three years younger to me was the reason for many good things that happened in our family. Our family got their first Pucca house under PM Awas Yojana earlier known as Indira Awas Yojana

My schooling was sponsored under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan where every child till s/he attains the age of 14 is provided with free education and supporting services. Our school got separate toilets for boys and girls under Swachh Vidyalaya Initiative (SVI) launched by Ministry of Education. We received delicious khichdi and milk, dal & rice and many nutritious food items under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme till I studied in the VIIIth standard. I practically never carried lunchbox to the school.

While growing up, I have witnessed diverse groups getting benefit from the government and receiving assistance in many ways. I belong to a farmer’s family, and every year we received direct cash transfer under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme. We were also able to install Solar Pump in our farm under PM Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Uthan Mahabhiyan. Our gram panchayat also improved irrigation facilities for the farmers under PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana to improve agricultural productivity.

In my childhood, I have seen women struggling with many daily-life challenges. PM Ujjwala Yojana provided free LPG connections to women from below poverty line families. Though the cylinders were distributed, their usage was not up to the mark. The National Rural Livelihoods Mission through the State-run societies aims to support SHGs and Cooperatives to help women access various government assisted programmes, being able to save, borrow, take out insurance and transfer money inexpensively.

In my experience, the government takes care of its citizens at every stage of life and in every situation through many direct transfer schemes. Under National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), For the widows in the village, they provide widows living below poverty line and aged between 40 and 59 a monthly pension. National Old Age Pension Scheme and National Disability Pension Scheme are the other benefits that is targeted to support specific beneficiary groups. Atal Vayo Abhyuday Yojana (AVYAY) is a central sector scheme to improve the quality of life of the senior citizens. Despite these schemes for the elderly citizens, we see rise in the cases of abuse and dejection of elderly citizens in our society. It is disheartening to see this degradation in our social values and demands need for raising the morals in the society to take care of our elders.

One interesting fact that I learned while I grew up was that most of the beneficiaries covered under most of the individual schemes are the rural people, urban poor, low-income families, economically backward sections or weaker sections of the society. There is over 380+ government schemes (both centre & state sponsored), and flagship programmes that benefit and aim to advance development in four main spheres – for the individuals, households, institutions and area development.

On the one hand, I have witnessed ‘ignorance’, ‘lack of awareness’ of various benefits available under these schemes among my village folks and on the other hand inherent complacency and over-dependence with wishful expectation that government would provide for everything as trivial as fodder for one’s livestock. The design of these schemes is flawless, some of the best minds work to design them. However, these programmes, schemes and development-oriented initiatives are more delivered as appeasement of people for vote politics – and it will not be an understatement.

Milton Friedman, an American Economist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics once wrote – We have constructed a governmental welfare scheme which has been a machine for producing the poor people… I’m not blaming the people. It’s our fault for constructing so perverse and so ill-shaped a monster. I would not fully agree with either this or the idea of radical policy of a cash grant given to all the members of community without means test, with no strings attached – like Universal Basic Income. It is extremely important to acknowledge the role of discipline and fair play in this game. If we are providing free cash transfers, it would breed more injustice in the society. For a country like India, even today access to quality healthcare at very affordable price, quality education & skill development for employability and food security remain the top 3 needs and desires of its people. This should be on everyone’s agenda – be it government, private sector or social enterprises and NGOs. In my opinion, it is inherently impossible for the government to create jobs, only economic growth in the private sector of the economy can create employment opportunities. This is where Government should take care of ‘Ease of Doing Businessranking and its strict implementation in letter & practice. In an ideal situation, everyone should study till the age of 16 with employability skills, should get nutritious food daily and healthcare support when in need – even if one is unable to pay for it, every citizen should get it. If this is ensured, we would be able to call ourselves a progressive country. If Universal Basic Income can ensure this, then so be it.

I have personally benefitted from the government supported education, and I am grateful that I could raise my family’s standard of living. Many of my classmates, who came from similar background could not pursue their education due to multiple challenges. Well, ultimately, I would give credit to the aspirational mind-set my family instilled in me, the values that I acquired while I grew up and the hopeful nature that I had. At the end, I would ask what are we doing to make Indian Youth become more aspirational. Because there lies the key to growth. Growth Mindset – is what we need. Everything else is just a distraction.

This blog is inspired by the work I am currently doing on SDG Localisation with Gram Panchayats to train them in preparing Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP). Views are 100% personal, and do not endorse any political view.

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