Decentralisation of power key to fighting poverty-Mani Shankar Aiyar

New Delhi, Sep 13 (Calcutta Tube) Ahead of a UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) review meeting in New York next week, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, Sunday said that decentralisation of power was the key to fighting poverty and hunger.

‘The major lacuna in the strategy for MDG is that it ignores the crucial delivery aspect of poverty and hunger eradication. While most countries in the world, developed and developing, emphasise devolution as the way forward, much of our commitment on decentralisation remains paper commitment,’ Aiyar said, delivering a lecture on MDGs orgainsed by the UN Millenium campaign and survey organisation Whypoll.

‘We will never get inclusive growth without inclusive governance,’ Aiyar, a former panchayati raj minister, said.

The MP, who has attracted much attention with his criticism of the Commonwealth Games preparations in Delhi, said due to poor monitoring and implementation, central government sponsored schemes on development ‘are being squandered with virtually no impact on participative human development at the grassroots’.

‘Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan relies on registered societies; the National Rural Health Mission has an Asha-based structure and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (depends on) government appointed volunteers,’ he said.

‘The forest officers and policemen are responsible to deliver their entitlement and ordinary justice to the tribals, not elected community based institutions as the panchayat,’ he said.

Even as the government remains divided on the definition of the poverty line, Aiyar criticised the present definition by terming it arbitrary.

The eight UN Millennium Development Goals – eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development, were set by leaders from all the 192 UN member states in September 2000, with a deadline of 2015 for achieving them.

A review of the achievements will be done at a special summit to be held in New York from Sep 20-22.

According to the India country report 2009 on MDGs released earlier this year, the number of poor in the country has declined from about 320 million (36 percent of total population) in 1993-94 to about 301 million (27.6 percent of total population) in 2004-05.

The report said that at current rates, 279 million people (22.1 percent) will be living below the poverty line in the year 2015.

‘The India country report says it is not ‘plausible’ to estimate the number of people surviving under a dollar per day. This is because we are perhaps the only country in the world to calculate poverty ratio in terms of reported consumption expenditure,’ Aiyar remarked.

While the government paints a rosy picture on Bharat Nirmaan, the Rajya Sabha MP claimed the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. He quoted figures on this from the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

‘The NCAER says while at present the top 20 percent secure 51 percent of our national income. At 8.75 percent growth, their share will rise to 55 percent by 2015, while the share of the bottom 20 percent will shrink from 6.1 percent to 5.5 percent,’ he added.

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