Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Poverty and food security bill

What is the definition of poverty ? Is it that person who does not have enough money to buy food for himself & family or a house or a car ? Even if they are given money to buy these things they will not become "rich". This money will be spent on buying the basic needs and when that money is spent they will rejoin the ranks of poor. I think poverty is dearth of skills that allows a person to earn money and lead a good life and the only way to make people non-poor is to provide them with the resources & skills that help them earn money to fund basic and not-so-basic-needs of life.

Lets look at a family in a village right now and try to find the reason why they are poor. There is enough food available to remove hunger in most of the villages. I believe it more to do with the lack of healthcare and education infrastructure. They can earn enough money to feed themselves. But thats it. They spend all the money in food, clothes and other day-to-day needs. They manage to save very little and these savings are spent when somebody falls ill in the family. There are not good doctors in the villages so people are compelled to get healthcare in expensive private clinics. There are not good schools in the villages and they can either spend a fortune to send their kids to city schools or let them play all day long. This leaves a trail of poor people who are ready to migrate to cities and sleep under the over bridges. It is not as if our cities do not have enough jobs. On the contrary there is huge dearth of people with skills. However we do not have enough people with these skills because these people never managed to learn these much needed skills.

How does food security act fit into all this ? Why is government trying to feed people for almost free ? Won't it make people dependent on government and hence lazy to work ? Is it not better to tackle the problem of skills and let people earn their bread themselves?

It is not such a simple problem. Food is a very basic and immediate need. People cannot be compelled to send their children to schools when their very existence is in question. They take a shortcut to earn their living without gaining enough skills due to poverty which in turn keeps them poor for life. What availability of food is not going to do is to make people rich. However it will kill hunger and bring extremely poor people out of their misery. It will take their mind off this problem. It will make children of our country not beg for food. It would stop families from sending their children out in the cities to be servants and stop people migrating from villages to cities in such large numbers.

If combined well with NREGA, right to education and a massive upgrade in healthcare infrastructure then it would trigger people to think long term, send their children to schools & colleges and finally come out of poverty forever. I know it's a far fetched dream and given the track record of our government in past one is justified in being skeptical. Yet I am glad to know that the government is working on this problem and their is some strategic thinking and movement on the ground. I hope to see a poverty free India in next 10-20 years.

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