Would you believe me if I told you that food meant for starving children was siphoned by middlemen and sold to dairy and poultry farms as feed for livestock? I guess it is so outrageous that it is hard to believe, yet it is true. This shameful fact was revealed recently in a sting operation by a leading channel. One only wonders how long this had been going on and, without being cynical, how quickly it will start again. The food in question was packaged supplement meant for angawadis (creches) in Maharashtra. The state has almost 100 000 anganwadis and spends 1280 crores Rs (~10 billion) a year on such supplements! Mind boggling! And we are talking of one state! Let us not live under the illusion that this happens only in Maharashtra. Actually such programmes are a boon for wily middlemen. The beneficiaries are voiceless toddlers and could never complain, as for others I am sure there mouths are kept shut via their pockets!
Anganwadis were an intrinsic part of the ICDS programme launched in the seventies. The package on offer was targeted to the 0 to 6 age group and was aimed at arresting malnutrition and ensuring a holistic development of young children. Had it worked then the 5000 + children that still die every day of malnourishment should have been history long ago. That it did not is apparent. 2 million children still die every year. The huge budget allocations have been hijacked and have made many humans rich and if we are to go by today’s news, many pigs and cows fat!
This is just a small example of the ground reality we either chose to ignore or are simply not interested as it does not concern us. Every year grains rots for want of proper storage. We remain mute. Time and again disturbing statistics stare us in the face but again we look away. The walls we have erected around us are impregnable and opaque, or is it our vision that is skewed to perfection? Have we not worked out ways to handle such matters in a manner that eases our conscience: see a beggar child and either look away or roll down your car window and drop a coin in the proffered hand, but keep your eyes away as if you look into the innocent eyes you run the risk of seeing with your heart and that believe you me is dangerous. If you come across child labour, be it in a tea stall or even at an acquaintance or neighbour’s home you will at best discuss the aberration in the comfort of your drawing room. How many of us pick up our phone and call the authorities. No one I know! I have even heard people reacting vehemently at a news article on child labour and then ordering a tea from the young boy manning the stall without batting an eyelid.
On a lighter vein, many of you may have got an email that did the rounds some time ago about incredible India where a pizza arrives in 30 minutes, the ambulance doesn’t, where there are more mobile phones than toilet where car loans are cheaper than educational loans and where food grain rots as people die of hunger. The list was longer but all in the same spirit. I do not know how many of us read it before junking it and how many really pondered about what was written.
Today’s newspaper has another incredible headline: a young student who has just passed her XIIth Boards was eligible for Harvard but not for Delhi University. Now the said kid has presumably well to do parents who can afford to send their child beyond the seas. Now this student must have marks in the 90s and still cannot secure admission in a good and affordable institution. Then what about the kid from a poor home who gets brilliant marks. She has few options if any!
The state seems to have abdicated its duty towards its poor though every political party heralds loud and clear that it is the messiah of the poor. And to prove that moots innumerable pro poor programmes that look good on paper only and land up lining many pockets before paying some kind of lip service. Imagine if even 50% of the funds reached the real beneficiaries. The sad truth is that we are still quibbling about the definition of poverty is it 28 rs a day or 32! Would it not be saner and more efficient to identify beneficiaries of programmes and open an account in their name and put in the amount due to them. But there is a hitch: how will money be made? So this is a big no no.
Take another issue that is in the news: the creamy layer definition. Now we all know that reservations have been made for students from OBC categories in various institutions. Now the hitch is to define the creamy layer that is excluded from the reservation. One would believe that such reservations would benefit the poorest of the poor. Not quite as the quibbles now are about the definition of the (ill) famed creamy layer that needs to be excluded. Let it be known that it has gone from 250 000 to 450 000 rupees per annum and is likely to be increased to 600 000! That means that a salary of 49 000 per month would ensure your child a seat in the OBC quota! So these reservations are not for the poor, far from that. In my humble opinion someone earning that amount can give his child a sound education enabling her to compete at par with others. But who cares for the poor?
This is the land we live in.
I for one will never give up on this land!