Monday, March 11, 2013

Coming at a cost

Coming at a cost

Ashwani Mahajan, October 2, 2012
Education and health are going out of the common man’s reach, specially the poor, as they are increas-ingly being privatised.
Today the world recognises India as ‘Youngistan’ as it has the largest number of youths than in any other country in the world.

Policy makers who earlier used to blame population for all ills of the nation, now concede that though India is over populated, booming youth population provides a ray of hope for the nation-building and prosperity. They define it as ‘demographic dividend.’ But in order to reap this demographic dividend, the first and foremost condition is that our youth should not only be healthy but educated too. However, ironically in this era of globalisation and liberalisation, education and health are going out of the reach of the common man, especially poor, as these social sector services are increasingly being handed over to the private sector for profit.

Though private sector educational and health institutions did exist even before 1990, in the last two decades, their number has multiplied. Public schools, for instance, is not a new phenomenon, but now we see an unprecedented mushrooming of private sector engineering, medical, management, B.Ed. and nursing educational institutions.
It of course helps some deserving students, who earlier were unable to pursue study in these streams due to paucity of seats, but now manage to get admission in these private institutions and excel in those fields. However, negative aspect of the same is that education is available only after paying a handsome fee. Those who are unable to pay hefty fees are either deprived of education or have to avail of expensive loans at considerable risk.

Generally, the government sector educational institutions could not improve their condition due to shortage of funds, though some elite institutions like the IITs and IIMs did gain international recognition. However, we could not replicate these institutions for the larger good of the country, as the government expenditure on education did not keep pace with the needs and expectations of people. The 12th Five Year Plan clearly puts an end to these expectations, as the government seems to be washing its hands off the basic responsibility of higher education.

The Plan makes it clear that the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) model, which has been implemented in the infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, airports etc. will now be extended to the education and health services also. In the Plan document, the chapter on health states that private and government sector hospitals will compete with each other. Hospitals will henceforth be paid according to the number of patients registered and the doctors, according to the number of prescriptions. 

Implementing PPP mode

Except primary education, thanks to the Right to Education Act, the government is preparing to give up its responsibility from all other segments of education. This is what is meant by implementing the Private-Public Partnership model. Though it is being called, ‘not for profit,’ implementing PPP mode in education clearly implies that from now on educational institutions will work with profit (minimum guaranteed) motive.

It was expected that Right to Education (RTE) would be extended and education up to secondary level would be brought under RTE, but with PPP model being pushed now, those expectations are belied. Argument being put forward by the policy makers is that, in such a model, efficiency in education services will improve and cost of education will come down. At best, it is a dubious claim as the private sector will not enter education for charity. In most nations, public expenditure on education is more than 6 per cent, whereas in India, it is hardly 3 per cent. With the latest PPP proposal of the Planning Commission, no generosity is expected from the government in terms of increasing government expenditure on education.

In view of the pathetic situation of government hospitals and dispensaries, the ministry of health is unhappy over the proposals of PPP and corporatisation of health services and wants the chapter on health to be rewritten in the Plan document. However, the ministry of human resources development (MHRD) does not seem to be interested.

According to the Planning Commission, still 30 per cent of the population in the country lives below poverty line. According to this definition, a person with income of just about Rs 32 a day in urban area and Rs 26 a day in rural areas, is not considered to be below the poverty line. But if we look at the reality, not only is a vast majority of population ridden with hunger, but a sizable section of middle class, though not subject to hunger, is definitely deprived of education and health of any good quality, due to low income levels. Due to high fees in private educational institutions and high cost of health services, the lower middle class is almost deprived of these services and is forced to go into debt, to somehow educate his children or safeguard health of his near and dear ones.

The UPA government needs to rethink its priorities as it cannot afford to alienate a vast majority of people, especially when the elections are less than two years away. If the Planning Commission under Montek Singh Ahluwalia is unable to do it, the prime minister and the UPA chairperson must intervene and ensure course correction.

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