Aiyar takes on govt over MNREGA, focus on stock market



New Delhi: Government on Sunday came under attack from 'in-house critic' Mani Shankar Aiyar who tried to raise questions over implementation of major schemes like MNREGA and accused it of "relentlessly" supporting the stock market thinking its health reflects the people's health.

Aiyar also sought to punch holes into the government's emphasis on higher education, echoing his party colleague Digvijay Singh who wants the HRD Ministry to focus on primary education.

In his nearly one hour lecture on the status of the UN Millennium Development Goals in India, the Rajya Sabha member said the authorities were not taking enough steps to bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Quoting the figures of Rural Development Ministry, Aiyar said the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has provided 100 days of job only to 36.6 per cent of all entitled households in Tripura.

"Far more upsetting is that in the most poverty-stricken states of India the share drops to a mere 14 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and to eight per cent or less in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar and even further below six per cent in Orissa and Uttaranchal," he said.

Many of these states are precisely those most seriously afflicted with "Left-Wing Extremism", as the "Ministry of Home Affairs archly describes the Naxalite or Maoist menace."

The "pathetic performance" of this key programme for the attainment of the key MDG goal in the country with the largest number of the extremely poor in the world makes "one despair of the present system of delivering development ever attaining the much-desired Millennium Development Goals."

Aiyar, who had criticised the functioning of the UPA-I though he was part of it, went on to say that if the situation continues like this India will not attain the MDG goals in this century, leave alone by 2015.

The former diplomat also said in a lighter vein if things have to change on "certain areas" he has to be made the Prime Minister which is not feasible. Aiyar said the stock-market is being "relentlessly" supported by the Government which "believes that the health of the stock market reflects the health of the people and has facilitated non-taxable capital" into the stock market.

He also claimed that 44 per cent of the capital in India's stock market is from Mauritius. "We seem to be replacing land-based feudalism with stock-market based feudalism. Accelerated growth is not so much a tide that raises all boats as a tsunami that raises all yachts," he said.

He said the GDP, the favoured figure of the establishment, might rise and rise and rise, challenging China's before this decade is out, but little of this will impact on income levels for one half to three-quarters of India's people.

"It will hugely disproportionately raise not only the income and wealth, but also inevitably the political influence, of the richest of our rich -- and thus the immense danger of crony capitalism undermining popular democracy," he said.

"In other words, the poorest of our poor are barely benefiting from accelerated growth while the richer are getting obscenely richer," he said. The former Union Minister also came down heavily on the Government for not placing primary education and schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and NHRM under the respective panchayats.

Recalling Rajiv Gandhi's observation that Panchayati Raj Institutions should be put the in-charge of local development, but we "continue with hundreds of mutually insulated administrative silos to deliver development to the same set of beneficiaries."

"Until and unless the Union Government shows the same determined political will that Rajiv displayed in prioritising and pushing through his Constitutional amendments, there is no hope - I repeat, no hope whatsoever - of increased Government revenues promoted by the accelerated growth process...And reflected in exponentially increased budget outlays on public services and public goods translating into a tangible improvement in the multiple parameters of poverty alleviation and eventual eradication," he said.

He also criticised Rural Development Minister C P Joshi for saying in Parliament that the country has risen from position 138 in the UN Human Development Index to 134.

He said India cannot claim to have "overcome" poverty just because as there is a reduction of those below an arbitrarily defined National Poverty Line. The poverty levels in the country are not 27 per cent, as hitherto officially maintained, but nearer to 37 per cent, Aiyar said.

However, while the Government continues to rely on consumption expenditure reported in successive National Sample Surveys to estimate poverty and prosperity in the country, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has been undertaking since 1985 the yeoman task of estimating income rather than expenditure levels.

"Their task is hugely complicated by the fact that the total national income which NCAER estimates by asking the large sample surveyed about their respective incomes constitutes only 53 per cent of the national income of India as shown in our National Accounts," he said.

PTI