The paradoxes plaguing our lives

Santosh Kumari (11) of Jharkhand died of starvation crying, “Rice, rice”! The Right to Food Campaign has submitted to the Centre a list of 59 persons who have died of starvation in the last two years in the country.

No doubt, some of us are willing to undertake fasts or even face bullets until a temple is built for our favourite god, which we believe is in the nation’s interest.

But at the same time, can some of us show the same fervour to undertake fasts and face bullets until every malnourished child and starving person in this country is given a universal Right to Food? Can we also remember that god resides in children and that caring for children is the best way to serve god?

No doubt some of us wish to build statues as symbols that enhance the country’s pride and prestige. Thus, the world’s tallest ‘Statue of Unity’ of 182 meters, overlooking the Sardar Sarovar Dam, has been built at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. But could some of us also bother about the tribals and other poor whose lands have been taken away for building the dam and who are languishing without proper rehabilitation for decades?

Otherwise, should our penchant for statues, even as basic rights are neglected, be construed as our sense of ‘false pride and prestige’? And even as the ‘Statue of Unity’ was being inaugurated, some of us hounded and drove out unceremoniously workers from other states working there. So much for the celebration of our unity! 

Not to be outdone, we in Karnataka, too, are quite happy building a 125-foot statue of Mother Cauvery at a cost of Rs 1,200 crore, while lakhs of our compatriots in villages and slums lack drinking water supply. 

No doubt some believe that we are justified in spending upwards of Rs 1 lakh crore for a bullet train between two cities in order to make a statement to the world that we have arrived as a nation.

And to make this statement, it doesn’t matter if the super-rich among us, who are expected to use the bullet train, are already quite happy taking a quicker and cheaper flight between the same cities.

But can our arrival on the world’s stage be evidenced by something less flashy — for instance, by providing safety measures against accidents; dust-bins and clean, non-stinking toilets in all trains; garbage-free cities; and free transportation to the millions of compulsory-school-age children trudging to schools several kilometres away, crossing forests, highways, rivers, etc?

Sure, lakhs of sacred cows, freed by farmers who are no longer able to maintain them in their old age, need to be provided shelters. But can we do that without herding the cows into schools, driving out children who have come there to study, denying them their Right to Education?

Right to Social Security

One is happy that a cess is now being imposed in one state to collect a fund to build shelters and care for 25 lakh cows in their old age.

But can we also get the Centre to impose a cess to collect a fund to provide the more than 40 crore unorganised workers, who contribute more than 50% of the GDP, their Right to Social Security, including a decent pension — not Rs 3,000 per month — in their old age, so that they, too, can lead a peaceful retired life? 

True, we need to widen the tax net and formalise the informal sector by bringing them into the GST net. But, would it pay us greater dividends if we first investigated how the wealth of those buying foreign cars, going on foreign trips, investing in costly real estate, stowing away money in foreign banks, etc, have remained outside the income tax net? 

While we deny 5 kg of food, costing about Rs 250 per month, to those without an Aadhaar card and drive them to starvation, can we also ask the super-rich buying gold jewellery worth Rs 50,000 to give their Aadhaar or PAN number?

When farmers are committing suicide as they see no way out of their indebtedness, we speak of the moral hazard and the inflation and distortion that will be caused in the market if their loans are waived. But we close our eyes and allow a few individual businessmen, who may owe upwards of Rs 10,000 crore each to banks, to quietly fly out of the country and never return.  

We also give the non-incriminating and harmless-sounding nomenclature of Non-Performing Assets (NPA) to the more than Rs 10 lakh crore loans of such businessmen owed to banks. We never speak of the moral hazard and distortion of the market that these NPAs cause when we quietly re-finance banks with tax-payers’ money to offset these NPAs.

If only the voice of Santosh Kumari crying for food as she died could penetrate the hearts of our decision-makers, we may be rid of these paradoxes that are plaguing our lives.

(The writer is Executive Trustee of CIVIC Bangalore)

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The paradoxes plaguing our lives

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