Health, Education: Criticise Budget Where Due


The solution lies not in looking for more money from the state coffers that do not have enough for the two most important social sectors; it lies in reforming the health and education systems that do not permit those with money to invest in India’s present and future

There may be a hundred things wrong about the Union Budget 2018 presented yesterday in Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, but quibbling about the decrease, statism or a little increase in allocations for various projects shows precisely why Indians have no real choice in policy matters when it comes to choosing between political parties during elections. They are a bunch of hopeless socialists with a terrible knowledge of economics and, worse, they do not have the courage to tell the people the truth. It is a no-brainer that every developing country will have financial requirements more than what its state treasury can muster. The situation aggravates when a government takes recourse to populism year after year, decade after decade, pushing the country into bankruptcy like the modern rulers of Greece. While the European Union could bail that country out of the rut, India cannot once again reach the brink, which Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Chandrashekhar had made it reach, after which PV Narasimha Rao had to desperately open the market up, accepting the preconditions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. If the opposition today finds the money spared for education inadequate, at least one of these parties must see the problem in the Right to Education Act and every State government’s proclivity to launch a clampdown on private schools. The licensing prerequisites under the RtE let only a handful of rich businessmen launch and run elementary schools, after which they must recover their investment by hiking the tuition fee. While relatively capitalistic governments of western India have relaxed the norms, the eastern States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and also a large part of Uttar Pradesh has been almost swept clean of private schools, forcing students into dirty, uninspiring government schools. Elsewhere, missionary schools operate free of the fear of government interference while the chains of schools run by the Ramakrishna Mission and Chinmaya Mission, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and innumerable schools of hundreds of Hindu gurus must follow the state diktat. The most revolting of provisions in the Indian education system is that the students of humanities — from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, for example — are subsidised more than those of the sciences in the Indian Institutes of Technology. In what is ridiculously criminal wastage of money, a country that has not been able to guarantee primary education for all children spends Rs 12 lakh per annum per student of the Film and Television Institute of India! Why does INC president Rahul Gandhi not ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to divert money from the JNUs and FTIIs to Kendriya Vidyalayas?

That private hospitals charge a fortune for medical treatment is a facile observation, too. The serpentine queue to the outpatients’ department of a private hospital challenges the popular myth. In fact, as and when a non-state hospital makes news for all the wrong reasons, one finds a poor family at the centre of the story while other poor and ailing complain that they have been denied treatment not by the hospital authority but by the local government that mindlessly ordered the facility to shut down, punishing scores of efficient doctors — along with hundreds of patients of each — for the mistake of one of their colleagues. The rare mistakes of private hospitals are, actually, rampant in their government-run counterparts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi to the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital in Kolkata, but that raises the hackles of no socialist government. Moreover, “private” per se does not refer to the branded health centres; the country is full of compassionate medical practitioners, both old and young, who find it difficult to serve the people, given the draconian regulations of the state. Then there are philanthropic doctors who find the state tying them up with stringent rules. If that were not enough, a regulatory body like the Indian Medical Association is infamous for corruption rather than highly regarded for regulation.

The solution lies not in looking for more money from the state coffers that do not have enough for all the projects the country desperately needs. It lies in reforming the systems that do not permit those with money to invest in India’s present and future. The Stalinistic fixation with large buildings in the name of institutions — for education and health, as much as for other services — is another issue. The presence of just one teacher and a student discussing an academic matter make it a school while the interaction between a doctor and a patient is enough to call that environment a hospital. The state must appreciate the concept and recognise these small units, making huge grounds and plush concrete structures unnecessary for the purpose of teaching and treating unless when absolutely required. In education, it must concentrate on the quality of examination to ensure that every certificate holder has the bona fides instead of laying down before private educationists conditions like acreage of land, size of classrooms, number of toilets, etc to set up a school. If standard hospitals remain beyond the reach of villagers, little does the state realise that the poor are equally in need of paramedics and medical technicians. A massive training programme to create such professionals from small towns and villages could additionally be a worthwhile employment generator. On his part, a patient may not always require a big hospital; he may reach there through the stages of first aid, primary healthcare and finally specialised treatment. Adopting these ideas will revolutionise the two essential social sectors, make books and medicines reach the last man, and turn the deliberations upon budgetary allocations needless. Unfortunately, neither do the government and opposition have such vision nor are they willing to break the status quo.

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