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POWER OF EMPOWERMENT

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By Charudutta Panigrahi *

The meaning of empowerment is “to equip or supply with ability; enable.

It is one thing to be under-able but quite another thing to understand the reasons for these inabilities and factor them as per the basic needs which if unmet, accentuate backwardness.

There is a new measurement of poverty in terms of empowerment needs. This is empowerment line. Sounds quite congruent to poverty line but there is a marked difference.

(pic : FIDR )
(pic : FIDR )

While poverty line is “the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life”, empowerment line is the determinate of “the level of consumption required for an individual to fulfill his/her basic need”.

This is an interesting concept and would help us foray deeper into our standard of living. Basic needs like food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, health care, education and social security are to be met to maintain and sustain a modest standard of living. This is calculated to be at Rs. 1,336 per month per person while the poverty line pegged by the government is about Rs. 870 per month per person.

In many ways this basic minimum consumption would help determine the bare minimum income necessary per capita. This is where it is depressing to note that more than half of our population lacks the wherewithal to meet the essentials and so the consumption level s falls below Rs. 1336 which is drawn as the empowerment level. Hence we know how much we have to earn to enable “humane” consumption, to consume to remain as a productive, healthy and secured citizen of this country.

When the country is going to hustings and when we are perched at the mid-point of our 12th Five Year Plan, it is an urgent call to ensure through the high voltage manifestos and hyperbole of the leaders and parties, we wrangle commitments for systems & efficiencies from them.

Consumption mark of Rs 1,336 per person per month means almost Rs 6,700 per month for a family of five. This in turn indicates that there exist 680 million people whose consumption levels across both rural and urban area of the country fall short of basic requirements and hence directly affects the national drive for jobs, growth, and effective basic services.

The proponents of the empowerment line index suggest that in a decade we could lift more than 80% of our people out of the empowerment lakshman rekha if we pro-actively work towards boosting investment, creating job opportunities, focus on raising farm productivity and shake up the delivery of basic services and improve their efficiencies.

These reforms, they are hopeful, could propel India to achieve an average GDP growth of 7.8% between 2012-22 (more practically 2014-22). Can we do this? If yes, how can we do this?

(pic courtesy: ultimatesdlc.com)
(pic courtesy: ultimatesdlc.com)

Agreed, that this could lift much over 580 million people above the empowerment line, leaving behind only about 100 million or roughly 7% of the population out in 2022. If we don’t take the progressive steps then around 470 million Indians or 36% of the population would remain below empowerment line in 2022.

For all practical purposes this calendar year (2014) would be dedicated to the elections and in the midst of platitudes from political speeches, I don’t foresee much action on the ground in “implementing” inclusive reforms. Let’s not confuse inclusive reforms with the doles distributed during election times.

If we believe that more than half of our population need to soar above the empowerment line and lead better lives then the reforms have to be implemented, nonfarm jobs must be created by 2022 (which should increase the spending power), enhance the farm productivity to about 4 tonnes per hectare from the existing 2.3 tonnes per hectare, by 2022, which is almost a double leap.

This is not an easy promise to keep. But in all this the usual punching bag is public spending which is perennially wished to go up.

Some advocate that the public spending on social services must double from Rs 5.7 lakh crore in 2012 to Rs 10.9 lakh crore in 2022 to bridge the gap in the social infrastructure. But in my opinion public spending is not about announcing a grand figure(s) or scheme(s). It is about the effective spending in well planned, designed themes and laying out an implementation plan with responsibilities shared with targets at all levels. This warrants a strong administrative will.

More important than political will is administrative will. In India, which is growing more and more federal, we need to recognize the rising eminence of the states and the administrators.

The civil society besides propounding theories and fanning activism, should also give more time and energy in supporting governments in better spending on social programs through need based targeting and scientific measurements. Because all of us swear by democracy.

In Odisha for example, FIDR, a nonprofit is engaged in developing simple metrics to measure the “before” and “after” indicators of major developmental programs at the sub district levels. Why aren’t more and more civil society organisations talking about measurements?

Odisha, often dubbed and clubbed with Bihar as a poor state, has double the per capita income of Bihar, which has the lowest per capita income. In the state an average person in rural area spends Rs 507 (around 62 per cent) per month on food and in urban areas this is Rs 749 (48.4 per cent). The monthly per capita expenditure in rural areas is Rs 818 as against Rs 1548 for urban areas. Higher percentage of expenditure on food indicates a lower standard of living.

Nationally food accounts for 57 per cent of the total expenditure in rural area and 44.4 percent in urban areas. In economics we know that as income rises, the proportion of income spent on food falls, even if actual expenditure on food rises.

The government of Odisha, under the Panchayati Raj department & inter-sectoral alliances implements programmes like Gopabandhu Grameen Yojana(GGY), Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana(SGRY), Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY),Rural Housing: Indira Awaas Yojana(IAY), Prime Ministers Gramodaya Yojana (PMGY).

These programmes are intended to improve food security, additional wageemployment and village infrastructure as food grains provided etc. Besides the government, the civil society organisations, which number well over 400 for a population of 4 crores plus, are supposed to work on development issues. Not all of them would demonstrate optimal capacity and bandwidth, but with so many CBOs (Community Based Organisations), Youth Clubs, NGOs,

Foundations and development organisations we expect faster growth to change lives at the last mile.

We need to take stock of the situation, their performances and mentor them to be more effective. A few examples : In the Education indicator, during 2011-12, there were about 55,106 functional primary schools including 51,163 government schools and of local bodies; 346 aided schools and 3,597 other schools. These schools have 1.33 lakh teachers and 44.33 lakh students. Out of a total 55,106 schools, about 49,744 are under the control of School & Mass

Education Department, 1,416 are under SC/ST Development Department, and 3,946 others. In the Health indicator, we consider the Infant Mortality Rate (number of deaths of children under the age of 1 per 1,000 live births) – which essentially indicates not just child health and nutrition, but also other factors like sanitation, disease environment, and access to health facilities.

Pic: FIDR
Pic: FIDR

The Odisha the figure stands at 57 whereas Goa is 11 and MP is 59. Mother NGOs, NGOs, CBOs and a host of other agencies have been working in Odisha since the last 30-35 years with support from bilaterals/multilaterals like DfID, EC, USAID, World Bank the government of Odisha and India, the corporates, and even now more than half of infant deaths

occur during neonatal period (first four weeks of life). Most of these deaths are due to prematurity, low birth weight, respiratory infections, diarrhea and malnutrition. It is also acknowledged that infant mortality is higher in lower socioeconomic groups residing in backward tribal districts of Odisha.

With several strategic interventions being implemented to reduce MMR and IMR, the decline has been but marginal. There is an urgent need to appraise the performance, monitor & strengthen the ongoing programmes to deliver desired output and design and implement new interventions to reduce neonatal deaths. Otherwise the programmes would keep being implemented on the ground, without any results thereof.

In the “Household amenities” indicator, in Odisha 78% of the households are bereft of the basic household facilities, like – sanitation/drinking water within the premises/ electricity as the primary source of lighting/ phone/ whereas in Kerala it is about 4.8% of households.

Applying the Tendulkar Committee formula to 2011-12 consumption data the poverty headcount ratio of Odisha, at 57.2 percent, has been the worst among all Indian states and much above the national average of 37.2 percent. If factors beyond income are considered (Multidimensional Poverty Index) then about 63.2 percent of the people in Odisha have been living below the poverty line.

Odisha at 32.59% presently, has made outstanding efforts in reducing poverty by 20.2 percentage points from 57.2% in 2004-05 to 37% in 2009-10. This is the highest reduction in poverty by any state in India from 2004-05 to 2009-10. However we would yearn for even better coordinated multiple stakeholder approach to be in place to reduce poverty on a mission mode.

As clearly stated by the Planning Commission “greater and more informed participation of all citizens in decision-making, enforcing accountability, exercising their rights and entitlements; and determining the course of their lives is central to faster growth, inclusion, and sustainability. How can we best promote the capabilities of all Indians, especially the most disadvantaged, to achieve this end?”

The “empowerment line” is not another proposed estimate to garble and garb development. It is rather a tool and framework for analysis which could help us envision a national and state plan to empower the people living in poverty.

The line attempts to determine the level of consumption required to meet eight basic needs, food ,energy, housing, potable water, sanitation, health care, education & social security. It is about the real consumption leading to content citizenry and if we aim at being a dominant global economy, we just can’t ignore this metrics. The more contentment we provide, the more we guarantee a stable and strong country.

If we miss this opportunity deliberately or otherwise, there could be no second coming.

In this increasingly small world, a drop in Odisha has the potential of creating ripples all over the country & the world. So let’s demonstrate that we can empower. After all, we are supposed to be the descendants of progressive and farsighted legacies.

Action always speaks louder…..

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* Charudutta Panigrahi is the Chairman, FIDR