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Warnings from Madhya Pradesh

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 04, 2009

    A few weeks ago Sunday Express reported that the Madhya Pradesh Hunger Index at 30.9 was worse than that of Ethiopia. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, its two neighbours, were only marginally better at 28.7 and 26.6 respectively. BBC had also brought out a similar report in October 2008. According to the report, the statistics came from the country’s Planning Commission and not from a local NGO and that the authorities were extremely alarmed. The state was ranked 11 in 1994 but has fallen to 17 in 2008. The annual plan document for 2009-10 is quoted as saying, “It clearly signifies that Madhya Pradesh has undergone deterioration in its position with respect to poverty alleviation.” Other indices/statistics are equally dismal. The percentage of under-weight children below the age of three had gone up from an already high level of 53.5 per cent in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2, to 60.3 per cent in NFHS 3. Similarly, the number of anaemic children has jumped from an alarming 71.3 per cent to 82.6 per cent in the two surveys. The report further states, “the reason for poor human development indicators is probably the low per capita income of the state which has increased slightly from Rs. 12,384 in 1999-2000 to Rs. 14,346 in 2007-08, whereas the national average has almost doubled from Rs. 16,258 to Rs. 33,000. This is indeed shocking.

    These numbers make the oft- repeated claims of the state and central governments that India has embarked on inclusive growth completely hollow. Any wonder then that parts of the region is in the grip of Naxal/Maoist violence for many years. Indians often claim that due to a very high percentage of its population being below the age of 35, India, unlike China, will enjoy a demographic dividend for the next few decades. Unless India can ensure acceptable income and nutrition levels, how can it ever hope to educate and train the millions of young sickly people who will join the job market.

    In fact, a low per capita income and nutrition level will aggravate the situation as morbidity levels would go up requiring more money and family support to provide health care. At the same time this will adversely affect the efficiency and productivity of our young labour force further slowing down economic growth.

    Last year, around Independence Day, a reputed weekly had reported some hunger/starvation deaths from the nearby area of Bundel Khand. The government denied the report but it is evident that the state and central authorities are concerned. If this is the state of affairs in MP, a state in relatively close proximity to the national capital, what must be the condition of poor people in the outlying states of the North-East?

    Two major railway lines and at least three major highways joining various parts of the country pass through MP. Even a casual observer can easily notice the vast tracts of poor quality, degraded or waste lands on the side of the railway lines and roads. These open spaces are not only close to the railway lines or roads but are also in close proximity to some of the big towns/cities such as Bhopal, Vidisha, Bina and Hoshangabad and can be easily developed into Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to ensure rapid economic development of the state.

    Hardly any major industry or modern mega cities are seen. Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur are perhaps the only cities worth the mention. Its people as seen on the roadside or at the numerous railway stations appear to be living in a time warp; with most poorly clad, undernourished and proceeding on some local pilgrimage or festival. They display an unusual sense of stoicism and could not care less about what happens in the rest of the country. While this is true of many other backward rural areas of the country, MP seems to be as bad if not worse.

    MP is reportedly surplus in power but has a serious water problem. A few years ago the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) had reported that underground water levels in most parts of the state are dangerously low. Most of the rivers except perhaps the Narmada, Sone and Tapti are perennially short of water. Irrigation facilities are not well developed and hence agriculture is being severely affected further causing unemployment and destitution. It is imperative, therefore, to launch a national level project to address the serious problems of the state. Poverty and backwardness have the potential to endanger the security of the state and the country.

    Writing in Survival way back in 1992, Dr. John Chipman, the present Director General of IISS London had said that strategic studies must go well beyond what he called ‘nuclear accountancy’. That human security is a vital element of national security is axiomatic. Can India hope to become a developed country by 2020 when it has to carry the burden of millions of its people fighting poverty, malnutrition and disease? It is time our think tanks began looking at these issues more seriously.