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Forget MDG, Celebrate CWG

With the kind of scandals and mishaps that have brought the Commonwealth Games to the brink of being rendered a flop show, the entire elitist exercise of seeking superpower status has boomeranged, exposing India's hollowness more than even the highlighting of her failure on the Millennium Development Goals front would have done.


universal primary education and gender

Forget MDG, Celebrate CWG

equity; reducing the mortality of children under five by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters; reversing the Anand Teltumbde spread of HIV and AIDS; halving the pro-

With the kind of scandals and mishaps that have brought the Commonwealth Games to the brink of being rendered a flop show, the entire elitist exercise of seeking superpower status has boomeranged, exposing India’s hollowness more than even the highlighting of her failure on the Millennium Development Goals front would have done.

Anand Teltumbde ( is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

n the everyday din around the new misdoings surfacing in the Rs 80,000 crore extravaganza called the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi commencing on 3 October, the news about India’s dismal progress in meeting the M illennium Development Goals (MDG) that was briefly flashed by the print media on the eve of the “MDG Summit” in New York was totally ignored. It was perhaps natural for a country aspiring to be a superpower to disregard such age-old issues as the poverty and health of its teeming millions and instead focus on showcasing its prosperity by hosting the commonwealth games. Alas, with the kind of scandals and mishaps that have brought the CWG to the brink of being r endered a flop show, the entire elitist exercise has boomeranged, exposing India’s hollowness more than the failure on the MDG front would have highlighted.

Palliative for Neo liberalism

The social-Darwinist drive of neolibera lism from the 1980s onwards, particularly its fullblast acceleration after the formal collapse of the Soviet Union and the inauguration of a unipolar world order, was creating an unprecedented crisis for ordinary folk almost everywhere. This impelled the United Nations (UN) to i nfluence member countries to work towards mitigating their people’s p roblems by undertaking a time-bound programme. At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, 192 UN member-states and some 23 international organisations unanimously adopted the Millennium Declaration, which was elaborated upon at the 56th session of the UN General Assembly in 2001 by the Secretary-General’s report entitled “Road Map towards the I mple mentation of the UN Millennium Declaration”. This report spelt out eight development goals with 18 targets and 48 indicators, commonly known as the MDG. The first seven goals are focused on the following: eradicating poverty in all its forms; halving extreme poverty and hunger; achieving

october 2, 2010

portion of people without access to safe drinking water; and ensuring environmental s ustainability. The final goal outlines measures for building a global partnership for development. These goals, targets and indicators were developed following c onsultations held among members of the UN Secretariat and representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank in order to harmonise reporting on them.

The UN succeeded in motivating most countries to take these goals seriously. It carried out its first comprehensive review of the MDG in 2005, which considered further efforts required to achieve the goals. Over $50 billion per year were promised by 2010 to fight poverty and to support anti-malaria efforts, education, and healthcare. This UN initiative has indeed significantly improved the human situation in many countries. A recent Centre for Global Development working paper “Who Are the MDG Trailblazers? A New MDG Progress Index” by Ben Leo and Julia Barmeier notes dramatic achievements by many poor countries, such as Honduras, Laos, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Cambodia, and Ghana. These countries’ performance suggests that they may achieve most of the highly ambitious MDG. Incidentally, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for many star performers. The list of laggards largely consists of countries devastated by conflict, such as Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea-Bissau. In contrast to this, based on “India Country Report 2009” it was inferred that India “as a whole will not be on track for a majority of the targets related to poverty, hunger, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability”.

Lofty Promises, Pathetic Progress

India had incorporated MDG targets into the national Tenth Five-Year Plan in the form of the National Development Goals. Despite its much hyped economic advances

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Economic & Political Weekly


in the last two decades, she still accounts for 20% of the world’s child mortality. Of the 26 million children born in India each year, nearly two million still die before the age of five; half of them within a month of birth, from preventable causes like malnutrition, diarrhoea and pneumonia. On eliminating hunger, India’s record is quite dismal: it accounts for 50% of the world’s hungry and over 46% of its children are undernourished. India’s percentage of underweight children is three times higher than that of Ethiopia’s. Progress in reducing infant mortality is equally grim. On the sanitation front, its record is much worse. Only 15% of the rural and 61% of urban population have access to a toilet. It is said that some 21 million people will need to gain access to basic sanitation every year if the MDG of just halving the proportion of people without sanitation is to be met. In the face of this grim reality India still promises that she will fully meet the MDG by 2015!

A series of independent evaluations, however, challenge these promises. Over 500 civil society organisations rated the Indian government’s performance as poor and gave it only 30% marks as it failed to deliver on promises. Only 2.9% instead of the promised 6% of the national income goes to education; and a mere 1.4% instead of 3% is allocated to public health. In contrast to the Indian government’s apathy, many African countries have scaled up investments for health to about 15% of GDP, according to Michel Kazatchkine, the Global Fund’s executive director. India’s record on critical indicators such as infant and maternal mortality continues to be among the worst in the world. With more than 80% of the health-spend in the country being borne by citizens, the health needs of women and children are sacrificed. In rural employment, under the much flaunted National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, in the first five months of the current fiscal year, an average of 39 days of work per household has been provided, instead of the promised 100 days. India, of course, is not the only nation faltering on the MDG. But India’s progress is said to be particularly slow and lopsided.

Hungry People, Rotting Grains

As the UN officials worried about India’s poor report card on MDG, the Supreme

Economic & Political Weekly

october 2, 2010

Court (SC), in a public interest litigation

filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties,

ordered Union Minister of Agriculture

Sharad Pawar to organise the distribution

of foodgrains free to the poor instead of

letting them rot for want of storage facili

ties. Pawar – who seems to value his presi

dency of the International Cricket Council

more than the office of minister of agricul

ture, consumer affairs, food and public

distribution – was characteristically casual

in his response until the SC chastised him

to treat it as an order. As though Pawar

was not enough, Prime Minister Manmo

han Singh, instead of taking a serious note

of this criminal lapse of his government,

audaciously commented on the issue ask

ing the courts to keep away from policy

matters, an exclusive governmental turf,

according to him. And, as for the policy,

he declared, “It is not possible in this

country to give free food to all the poor

people”. Manmohan Singh, who enjoys

the cultivated image of a scholar, ought to

know that the Constitution of this country

demands that state policies broadly con

form to the Directive Principles. These

matters may not be justiciable but when

policies are seen in gross violation of these

principles, the Supreme Court is in its con

stitutional right to intervene and ask the

government to mend its behaviour.

When the government is not shamed by

the perennial wastage of millions of

tonnes of food just for its own ineptitude

while most of our population seriously

suffers from lack of food, when our mal

nutrition rates are higher than in some of

the war-torn countries of Africa, and we

continue to hover around the humiliating

66th place out of 88 countries in the

Global Hunger ranking, it ill-suits the

prime minister to make such a claim. The

present order of the SC has not come out of

the blue; the PIL was filed by PUCL, Rajas

than in 2001, following which there have

been 50 operative orders by the SC and

more than 10 reports filed by the SC com

missioners, and yet, successive govern

ments have failed to act on them. It is

surprising that the SC has not reacted to

the prime minister’s statement. If it did,

this might create constitutional crisis, but

in the face of the callous attitude of the

government towards its own people, a

response may be highly desirable.

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Ultimate Shame

Against the backdrop of this continuing human tragedy, it is a shame that the entire focus is on the hosting of the Commonwealth Games, projecting the act as our national pride. The CWG would devour over Rs 80,000 crore ($17 billion), a sum with which India could remove, among other things, its ignominy of having the largest population (665 million, more than half the global total) in the world defecating in the open and 1.3 million manual scavengers. But that is no priority for our government, which has chosen its markers to show off to the world through mega shows like the CWG and dazzle its middle class into believing that India is becoming a superpower. Forget people, its objective is not even to promote sports in the country. If it was, this money could have been enough to create sports infrastructure all across the country. It would have saved us the enduring humiliation of always being at the bottom in the per capita medals tally. In this mega tamasha, the athletes figure nowhere; the entire limelight is being hogged by the Kalmadis, Dixits, Gills, Reddys and people of their ilk who hardly have anything to do with sports.

Unfortunately for them, this limelight exposed their misdoings, corruption and ineptitude, which has transcended all previous benchmarks. The gross exploitation of construction labour, eviction of lakhs of slum-dwellers, shifting of thousands of dwellings, deaths of hundreds of labourers, inconvenience to common Delhiites, s urreptitious diversion of funds from every possible source including that meant for the scheduled castes and tribes are all overlooked in the name of the “national pride”. Scores of instances of corruption, mishaps in construction, and the abysmal state of the facilities were beamed to the entire world for several days but failed to shake the kingpins behind the CWG, until the participant countries began threatening to withdraw. The CWG have already become a veritable national shame. All the same, the Indian jugaad works; the games will happen. The great Indian middle class will revel in their notional glory, forgetting all that shame the CWG has been. And, the vast sea of Indians would be left bewildered at their plight even as the elite claim superpower status for the country.

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