Lessons from hunger death in Jharkhand

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By Bhartendu Kumar Singh

Even within the realm of internal security, our entire focus is on law and order. The notion of ‘development’ as another aspect of security is simply missing.

The recent death of a Jharkhand girl due to hunger may have jolted the public conscience, but this is not an isolated incident. Indeed, this is part of the series of untold stories where many children die of hunger even before they are able to walk on their feet. Many of those who survive are condemned to a life of hunger, malnutrition and stunted growth. If we are not able to tackle these issues at a systemic level, it is because of our obsession with the militaristic concept of security. National security, in the Indian context, is essentially being defined in narrow terms of ‘defence of national borders, skies and coastlines’. Internal security gets a secondary treatment in the national security discourse. Even within the realm of internal security, our entire focus is on law and order. The notion of ‘development’ as another aspect of security is simply missing. That, perhaps, explains why lack of ‘development’ leads to recurrent deaths, including those of children. The hunger death comes at a time when India is pushing its great power claims by positioning itself as a front ranking economic and military power. But, we are laggards on some key human development indices.

Poverty alleviation record poor

For example, the Global Human Index (GHI) 2017 published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in October this year puts India at a lowly rank of 100 amongst 119 developing countries measured for GHI with a score of 31.4 and is placed in the ‘serious’ category. Even North Korea fares better than us. Further, India has not made much progress in poverty alleviation in last 25 years despite a series of programmes, indicting in effect, our past poverty alleviation efforts! India fares equally badly in other aspects of human development such as education, infanticide, women empowerment, unequal distribution of wealth etc. One finds children, often under five, begging on roads of our cities.

Physical abuse of poor children

The physical or futuristic abuse of these children is another phenomenon. Closely linked is another recent publication by Diane Coffey and Dean Spears (Where India goes wrong: abandoned toilets, stunted development and the cost of caste; July 2017) that records how India has more open defecation than any other country with a spillover effect on other issues such as stunted development. Developmentcan empower people towards requirements of food, clothing and shelter and also resolve our security issues. Right from Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, all have been speaking of human security or development as security. Barry Buzan, noted British strategic thinker, advocated long back a wider concept of security that would include human security. At the public policy level, the East Asian model of development and subsequently the Chinese model of development have amply proved that cohesive and vigorous state support can lead to poverty alleviation and development in a truncated period than hitherto experienced in the Western liberal model of development.

Kerala model of development

In our own country, we have a little ‘Kerala model of development’ with high emphasis on human aspects of development and security such as education, health and skill development. The above issues call for a paradigm change in development strategy. More budgetary allotment is required for investing in developmental schemes like NREGA to arrest outward migration of labour from poor rural hinterlands. However, NREGA only provides short-term relief from poverty and economic deprivation. Public financing is required for long-term human development indices such as education, health, skill development, infrastructure etc. Need to manage resources better Scarcity of resources obstructs these long-term capacity building programmes.  However, there is a huge potential for better resource management in several ways:1There is ample scope for cutting down revenue expenditure through manpower reduction, both in defence and civil side. While the Expenditure Management Commission (EMC) was a one-off exercise to curb the burgeoning revenue expenditure, a permanent body is needed to oversee the trimming of extra flab in manpower component in government. 2Ppilferage or delays in government-run programmes and schemes needs greater public scrutiny. Even at a micro level, scrutiny of office and establishment related expenditure would reveal significant avoidable expenditure. To complicate the matters, the internal audit in the Government of India is a toothless tiger. Strengthening of internal audit for government-run programmes and schemes can save a lot of money. 3There is huge scope for resource generation in defence and civil side. Commercialisation of some activities and introduction of accrual accounting to more and more sectors in government-run bodies can yield dividends hitherto unimagined in our resource planning. Hunger deaths are a blot on the moral landscape of this country. Our national security strategy needs to invest in ‘developmental aspects of security’. That can happen only when we place equal emphasis on our citizens along with physical borders while defining security.

The writer is in the Indian Defence Accounts Service. Views are personal

Source: The Tribune

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