Vantage point

Saturday, February 04, 2006


This is part of a comment I made here


My idea of an ideal set-up is very simple - that of a minimal state. Let the state take care of national defence, foreign policy, and ensure a rule of law that does not trample on anyone's freedom. As long as that is ensured, almost everyone, from the poorest to the richest, will continue their journeys towards a better life, MUCH MORE EFFECTIVELY than any other system. Will it be ideal? I think not. Ten years later, will there still be some naked and hungry children? You bet! But as I said, it will be much better than any other alternative that can be suggested.

However, even if I do make my peace with the premise that the government should, using taxpayers money, proactively do something to improve the lives of our most underprivileged, I still for the life of me, can't figure out why the government needs to be the delivery mechanism as well. Why can't it just foot the bill?

The biggest failure of the Indian state in my opinion has been primary education. The reason is not that the government decided to foot the bill. The reason is that the government monopolised the delivery mechanism for itself and a few of its cronies who would have the stamina/contacts to weave through the labyrinth of bureaucracy to set up a school. Even today, a teacher's job in a government school translates into a lot of free time for the person to pursue other activities except for teaching.

Of course, it will be easy to first visit the "Five Star" Dhirubhai Intl School and then visit a ramshackle teacherless municipality school, and feel bad about the children of the poor who have to make do with this while the children of rich sit in AC.

But tell me seriously, do we really need a comparison scale? Is the question of disparity that important to those at the poorest levels? Does a hungry person start feeling hungry only when he sees the rich pigging out? Does he feel more hungry if the rich are pigging out on a pizza instead of a wadapav? Does the cobbler's son become more illiterate because the children of the rich, instead of sitting on normal benches, are suddenly using mahogany benches?

This whole question of growing and decreasing disparity therefore seems like just an eyewash to me.

It would make sense if both services were being provided by the government. i.e the government was providing pizza-and-AC-classrooms-with-mahogany-tables even as it gives ramshackle schools to the poor.

But the schools of the rich are run by private money. So instead of looking at the higher end of the spectrum and feeling bad about it, let us concentrate on the lower end, and how to make their lives better. Instead of a comparitive scale, let us look at the poor in absolute terms.

There are some people who are actually doing concrete work proposing realistic solutions that can work. The Centre for Civil Society has been working on spreading awareness about solutions to the current primary education mess. The solution seeks to combine the responsibility of the government to ENSURE(NOT PROVIDE) primary education for all, with the efficiency and accountability of the private enterprise. the solution will ensure that the government pays for education, but unnecessary and ill-designed bureaucratic hassles don't choke the good intentions.

I request the contributors as well as readers of this blog to read about the solution and lend it support. Here is the link again -