We are probably among those few developing countries that are pegged to be next superpowers but who still do not have any idea of their unemployment rates, birthrates, income disparities and actual poverty counts. This is quite clear just from our government data. Imagine; various commissions of the same government come out with separate reports on poverty that have different counts! If that was surprising, then consider the unemployment rate shown by different government agencies – the figures vary so widely that they seem to be of different nations than of one. Our NSSO surveys go steps ahead. Firstly, the data takes inordinately long, many quarters, to compile, assemble and analyse; secondly, the credibility and accuracy is still always under doubt. And finally, our census count, which is the worst of all. While most countries are undertaking their census exercises every year in order to comprehend the real-time social and economic situation of their respective countries, our census exercise takes place once in a decade!

The importance of such data in this age of information needs no mention. No nation today can come out with holistic and feasible developmental policies without taking into consideration the real picture of the economy and the society. Neither can a government infer the effectiveness of its policies without reading the right data. Imagine the consequence of those policies that our policy makers draft based on dated reports or even non-available data. The crying example is our reservation policy that is based on the Sachar Committee Report, which is almost six years old! And in these six years, the country’s demographic has seen major movements. Similarly, NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and several other poverty alleviation programs are framed on reports based on census data that are decades old and quite obsolete!

Against this gloomy state of social indices and their non-scientific projections, the incumbent government in 2009 announced its plans to implement the Unique Identification Number (UID) project across India under the Unique Identification Authority of India (or UIDAI). The government named this project Aadhaar, a project with an objective of providing a unique identification number to all its citizens, which will further allow the agency to maintain all data and biometric information at a single centralized server.  Read More....

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When NREGA was launched in the year 2006, it was one of the biggest leaps taken by the UPA government to productively engage the underprivileged rural folk and connect them to the mainstream, a move which was due for long. From Rs 11,000 crores as the initial outlay, the same NREGA has grown to Rs 40,100 crores in the current year, encompassing each and every district of the country. Although a phenomenal initiative, from the very beginning, the NREGA has been marred with delivery bottlenecks. Like in most other cases, corruption this time too at every stage robbed the poor rural folk of their dues. The only consolation being that at least something is reaching them, compared to nothing in the past! But then, I recently came across this disturbing news! It has been reported that Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) sales have been going up as an aftereffect of the NREGA scheme. On hindsight, this was clearly predictable, but this was something that should have never happened in the first place! Predictable, because this is apparently a global phenomenon, that an immediate spurt in income disproportionately increases the propensity of consumption, and if it is backed with illiteracy and lack of awareness, the outcomes are even more hazardous, like we are seeing in our case! But then, what is most unfortunate is that a scheme which had the promise to transform the rural economy is actually pushing it to a bigger crisis! And if corrective actions are not taken on an immediate basis, we ourselves would be blamed for funding this nation into becoming a nation of alcoholics!

So when the government was all set to distribute around Rs 40,000 crores through NREGA, apart from ensuring that the money reaches the targeted population and does not get eaten up by the system, the government should have also ensured that there was a serious cap on the supply of alcohol in these regions. What happened was just the reverse. In fact, over the past few years, liquor outlets have on an average doubled in the rural areas. In Bihar, for example, the number of liquor outlets in the rural areas in the year 2006/07 was around 2800, which has gone up by more than 6000 currently. And this is all set to rise further as it is reported that the Excise and Prohibition Department is about to sanction one liquor vend in every three villages. It’s tragic that state governments don’t show a similar commitment for opening schools and health centres across each village. The bigger tragedy is that the per capita consumption of cereals is reducing every year, whereas that of liquor is increasing. The per capita consumption of cereals has fallen by almost two kg in the last decade. Bihar is not the only case in point, a similar growth in liquor supplies and consumption is being observed across the country. In Andhra Pradesh too, in a recent auction of around 6500 liquor vends, the rural areas put up the highest bids!     Read More....

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