The State has failed in its basic duties

India accounts for the 15 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. Around 12 lakh Indians die every year due to the uncontrollable air pollution.

Published: 16th June 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2019 05:48 AM   |  A+A-

We are proud of our country. But is the pride blinding us from the unsavoury truth that our country is becoming more and more unliveable? This statement may not be palatable to many drunk on national pride stoked by wily politicians. But it is necessary to keep aside emotions and think how we measure up on the basic parameters required for a decent living—air, water, food, shelter, education, and law and order.

India accounts for the 15 of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. Around 12 lakh Indians die every year due to the uncontrollable air pollution. None of the Indian cities have air quality that is acceptable by WHO standards. Air in majority of Indian cities and most part of Northern India remains hazardous to breathe.

This year, 43.4 percent of India is reeling under severe drought. Schools are remaining shut for lack of water. Farmer distress has reached its peak. Major Indian cities are running out of water. Forty percent of India uses ground water for its basic needs. NITI Aayog report says the ground water is depleting at an unsustainable rate. India accounts for 12 percent of global ground water extraction. Twenty-one major Indian cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai etc will run out of ground water by 2020. Forty percent of population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 as per the NITI Aayog report. This is a scary scenario, but it is nothing compared to the quality of water Indians consume. India has some of the most polluted rivers in the world and the highest ground water contamination. The water consumed by 70 percent of Indians doesn’t meet even the relaxed Indian standards.

India is home to the largest undernourished population in the world. As per FAO (UN) report of 2018, 14.9 percent of Indians are undernourished. As many as 19.6 crore Indians go hungry every day. Twenty-one percent of our children under five years of age are underweight; 38.4 percent of children in the same age group are stunted and one in four Indian children are malnourished. Fifty-eight percent of Indian children are anaemic. Sixty percent of Indian children under three are malnourished compared to the 28 percent in war-torn sub-Saharan Africa.

There are 18 lakh people who live on footpaths and pavements in India. Apart from this, there are approximately 20 lakh people living in dilapidated homes and 6.4 crore people in slums in appalling condition. We have a long way to go to achieve proper housing to all, though we are in the path of achieving homes for all by accommodating this 18 lakh people by 2022. Slum rehabilitation is going to be one of the biggest challenges due to the politician-builder mafia nexus.

Twenty-six percent of our population is illiterate. That is 37 percent of the total illiterate population in the world. Sixty lakh children don’t attend school and India ranks 123 out of 135 countries in the female literacy rate.

India has the dubious distinction of being ranked the most dangerous country for women and children repeatedly. India has a police-to-population ratio of 138 per lakh, one of the lowest in the world. Add to this, the cumbersome process of getting justice from the courts and the huge pile up of cases stretching for decades. India has also one of the lowest judges-to-people ratio in the world.

In short, the state has failed in all the basic duties in the past 72 years since Independence. In any other country, all these would have led to massive social unrest or at least would have become burning election issues. We recently had an election. How many of the above issues were discussed? Often, when such issues are raised in public platforms or private conversations, most people take umbrage under the hurt national pride. Sometimes, the supporters of one political party would blame another for all the ills that have befallen the country. Blaming the predecessor is the time-tested excuse of all politicians across the world.

However, what is often forgotten in this blame-game is that most of the above basic facilities can be provided by the state governments. So, who ruled the Central government for how many years is an irrelevant argument, though a major part of the blame needs to rest with all those who ruled the Central government over the last so many years. India is a federal country and all the political parties that matter today have ruled many states for long period of time. There are regional and national parties who have ruled close to a quarter-century in many states and yet the condition in these states are often worse than that of sub-Saharan Africa or war-torn Afghanistan. Why are we not bothered about our pathetic condition as a nation? Why are we letting the politicians and bureaucrats go scot-free?

The politicians have trained us well. They only have to utter some inanities about national security or rake up some communal or caste issue to lead all of us to booth like sheep and vote for them. They can offer some doles and we are ready to sell our votes. Once they achieve power, they can allot a minuscule percentage of the budget for education, health and such unimportant items, and concentrate on building eye-catching projects that would make the hungry, uneducated, insecure Indian’s heart swell with pride while making their corporate honchos, who filled the party coffers, richer. What if we have one of the worst living conditions in the world? We have taught some community or another a lesson, and that is more than enough.

However, unless we ask politicians tough questions and make them work for us, we shall continue to remain where we are. That is, standing in the crumbling pavements of our chocked cities, or in the riot-ridden dirt tracks of our poor villages, we can cry with our parched throats: Mera Bharat Mahan.

Anand Neelakantan

Author, columnist, speaker


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