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Alleviating the plight of the poor in India

Published:Monday | July 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Gary Spaulding, Guest Columnist

There is no question that despite its myriad social and security challenges, India is making leaps in some areas as it prepares for the future.

During a week-long visit by journalists, there were more than adequate indicators that the brain of India's academics, scholars and intellectuals continue to tick non-stop. There were also signs that many live under inconceivably deprived conditions.

The proliferation of think tanks that showcase practical outcomes is in itself quite impressive, which begs the question, what do Jamaica and India have in common?

As worthy as these accomplishments are, how do they reconcile with alleviating the plight of the poor in India in the short to medium term?

A recent Indian government committee constituted to estimate poverty found that nearly 38 per cent of the population (380 million) are poor. Based on new methodology, the finding is nearly 10 per cent higher than the previous poverty estimate of 28.5 per cent.

The research body Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) sums up the nation's conundrum this way: "Never before have there been such rapid changes and a concomitant rise in aspirations. To meet the aspirations of this upward mobile nation, it is essential to create productive jobs."

But given the prevailing rhetoric, are the big thinkers too preoccupied with becoming the next superpower?

Members of the new administration and even the thinkers in India seem to be paying more attention to religious direction, with suggestion that India will be turned into a full Hindu state.

Rhetoric of inclusiveness

But the new government's rhetoric of inclusiveness appears to be countering actions that it has even moved to derail a World Trade Organisation (WTO) deal.

India threatened on Friday to block a worldwide reform of custom rules, which some estimates say could add $1 trillion to the global economy and create 21 million jobs, prompting a United States warning that its demands could kill global trade reform efforts.

Diplomats from the 160 WTO member countries meeting in Geneva had meant to rubber-stamp a deal on 'trade facilitation' that was agreed at talks in Bali last December in the WTO's first-ever global trade agreement.

But India, in an 11th-hour intervention, demanded a halt to the trade facilitation timetable until the end of the year and said a permanent WTO deal on food stockpiling must be in place at the same time, well ahead of an agreed 2017 target date.

The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Bangalore is right up there in the top 70 listed leading international universities with Yale, Cornell, London School of Economics and Howard.

Its director, Sushil Vachany, who spent 34 years in the United States where he served as head of the Boston University for some time, said the university must be the hub intellectually in India as well as globally.

His claim that the IIM should create value in society and not just entrepreneurs, with the university's "three-pronged approach in the body of knowledge" begs the question, why is so much poverty and deprivation in India, which has the second-largest population of 1.2 billion people?

More need for more collaboration

To Vachany's credit, he readily acknowledges that there is more need for more collaboration and claims that the "historic" visit of a range of senior journalists was a good idea of the government "to integrate and communicate with journalists to expand the horizon and agenda".

Vachany went as far as to declare that the IIM was looking at starting management doctoral studies specifically for journalists, as they are needed to employ their skills in communicating with the wider public.

Then there is the New Delhi-based research organisation called TERI, which describes itself as a developing-country institution with a global vision and a local focus.

The institution that claims to be strengthening agriculture biotechnology regulation in India says it's deeply committed to every aspect of global sustainable development.

But even as poverty remain rife and rampant in India, TERI says the organisation is poised for future growth, driven by a philosophy that emphasises and assigns primacy to enterprise in government, industrial and individual actions.

The prototypes at the Observer Research Foundation aimed at cleaning the environment, including facilities that generate clean air and battery-operated air conditioner seem impressive.

The CII, which is focusing on rejuvenating investments, is carrying out research to bridge skilled labour gaps that generate poverty. It said if this is to happen, government, industry and civil society must work together, but what else?

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.