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August 21, 2011

Page: 26/42

Home > 2011 Issues > August 21, 2011

At Liberty
Social sector spending
Graft by another name

By Ravi

THE other day my maid told me sorrowfully, “I am thinking of discontinuing my daughter’s education.” This surprised me because she also showed keenness to get her children educated. When I asked the reason for such a course of thinking, she told me that the school was demanding Rs 10,000 for some fund which she can’t pay.

But why should she send her daughter to a private school in the first place? “A lot many ruffians roam around the government school and the teachers don’t do anything about it.” The people in our locality ensured that she did not discontinue her daughter’s schooling, but the incident made me observe and ponder over a few similar things. The maid not only sent her children to private school but also relied on private medical care. It was the same pattern with the previous maid. The dhobi serving our apartment at Vaishali, Ghaziabad, also has the same story.

When I discussed the matter with a friend, I realised that the poor rely a great deal on private services. I don’t know whether, technically, the maid and the dhobi are below or above poverty line (BPL or APL). And I am not indecent to ask them their caste, but whatever their caste may be, they deserve the benefits of state education and healthcare. I don’t find that to be happening.

I have not done a nationwide survey to assert that poor people are gaining from the huge expenditures on education and health. But I did come across a study on the Internet according to which two out of three slum kids in Hyderabad go to private schools. Given the quality of education imparted in government schools, this is not surprising. There is no reason to believe that in other parts of the country the situation would be dramatically better; had it been so, we would have been witnessing a revolutionary transformation; it is clearly not happening.

This brings us to the question: what is happening to the big money spent on education and health. Education expenditure, both by the Central and state governments, has almost doubled to about Rs one lakh crore since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came to power. Similarly, total spending on health and family care zoomed from Rs 26,857 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 65,528 crore in 2009-10.

The results don’t show progress that one can call impressive. There was no considerable rise in the literacy rate. According to the 2011 census, the country has a literacy rate of 74.02 per cent, a 9.2 per cent rise. This does not compare well with rise in the previous decade—that is, the decade when liberalisation went ahead without any reversal. While the rate was 52.21 per cent in 1991, it rose sharply to 64.83 per cent, a rise of 12.62 per cent. Evidently, all the money, and the Right to Education, and the homilies about educating the poor, and the UPA’s sanctimoniousness have not brought the desired results.

So, where did the money go? Socialist policies are usually based on robbing Peter to pay Paul. But the UPA’s socialism is far worse: the taxpayer is being fleeced—taxation rates in India are among the highest in the world—but one does not know who is benefiting. The intended beneficiary surely has not gained much. It is robbing Peter on the pretext of paying Paul.

One need not be Miss Marple to find where all the money goes. In a paper for a project supported by the UK’s Department For International Development, Anuradha De and Tanuka Endow wrote in 2008, “While the amount of expenditure on education is important, the focus should be on educational outcomes. It is a striking fact that compared to resources spent in the education sector, there is little to show at elementary level in terms of learning achievement. An excessive focus on outlay has resulted in assessing physical infrastructure creation, provision of teaching and learning materials, appointment of teachers, etc. rather than monitoring the learning process to see how many children have learned what. So in educationally weaker states where new funds have been spent on improving access and infrastructure, positive linkage between enrolment and expenditure is observed. But links between expenditure and quality indicators like dropout rates and pupil-teacher ratio was found to be non-existent.”

The state of publicly-funded healthcare is little better. In fact, a survey found the incidence of absenteeism among medical workers in government hospitals (40 per cent) more than that among government teachers (25 per cent).

Besides, there are purely governance issues—as in the case of my maid. A better law and order situation may have helped her send her daughter to the government school. At any rate, the running of education system is also a function of governance. Pathetic administration and poor law-enforcement cannot be embellished or wished away with high-sounding pro-poor slogans or huge expenditures. The UPA, however, believes that it can fool all the people all the time.

(The author is a senior journalist)

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