The Panchayati Raj
Democracy thrives in India today largely because it has always existed in some form at the micro level even during the long feudal era. The village council, Panchayat, consisting of village elders played a key role in this long survival of grassroot democracy.
The Panchayati Raj (rule) now enjoys constitutional status with built-in mechanism for regular elections and minimum representation of women and members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
There are over three million elected local representatives, making this the widest democratic base in the world.
The Panchayati Raj helps in purposeful understanding of the masses and articulation of their responses. The Panchayati Raj is perhaps the best means of spreading democracy at the grassroot.
Mahatma Gandhi called the Panchayats ‘village republics ’; these village republics contribute to making India a shining example of democracy in the world.
Upliftment of the Rural Poor
Though the country has made tremendous strides in many fields, 27 percent of the rural poor live in poverty, often without basic facilities. With this in mind, the government has been increasing the allocation for rural development, which stood at approx.$3.1 billion.
The percentage of rural poor, which was 56.44 in 1973-74,has been coming down over the years, but the actual number of the rural poor is still large —about 193 million.
The emphasis in some of the recent poverty alleviation programmes for the rural poor is on self-help, gainful employment, food security and strengthening of rural infrastructure.
Environment, Ecology and Forestry
In today ’s world, development has to harmonies with environment. To ensure that, the government encourages use of pollution abatement techniques, especially in the critically polluted areas.
Environmental considerations weigh heavily in clearing certain projects. For this purpose, laws have been framed, fiscal incentives given, agreements signed, educational programmes introduced and information disseminated through publicity.
India has taken major steps to control vehicular pollution in cities. In Delhi, all public transport vehicles are required by law to use CNG. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the government is committed to strengthening efforts to tackle global warming.
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in September 2002,India articulated its and other developing countries concerns with regard to the principles of international cooperation for protection of environment through sustainable development. Specific targets to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation, clean energy, reversal of the present trend of loss in bio-diversity etc. have been outlined.
Breakthrough in Education
Being a signatory to the Delhi Declaration and a Framework for Action, which calls for Education for All (children), India has pledged to spend 6% of the GNP on education. Parliament has approved a legislation that makes free and compulsory education for all children in the 6-14 years age group.
Literacy rates have improved considerably over the years; from about 18 percent in 1951 the literacy rate today is over 75 percent for males and 55 percent for females. Despite this discrepancy, the female literacy rate has shown a higher growth in the last decade —about 15 percent against 12 percent for males.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of the children in the 6-14 years age group, who number close to 200 million, attend schools and their drop out rates have also been falling.A Total Literacy Campaign is operational in many areas of the country.
About five million volunteers are engaged in teaching the alphabets to about 50 million people in the 9-45 age group. It is estimated that 15 million of them have become functionally literate.
The Elementary Education System in India is the second largest in the World with 149.4 millions children of 6-14 years enrolled and 2.9 million teachers.
Throughout Indian history, from the time of Sita, consort of Lord Rama, there have been women who occupied a special place in society. Laxmibai, Razia Sultan and Meerabai are names that now belong to history.
From contemporary times, women who have left their imprint include Mrs. Vijayalaxmi Pandit, the first woman president of the United Nations, Mrs.Indira Gandhi, India ’s first woman Prime Minister and Mother Teresa, an Indian missionary who won the Nobel Peace Prize for spreading the message of love and care of the neglected.
India has set high standards for female representation in the policy and decision-making process. One third of the seats in local bodies — village panchayats, municipalities, city corporations and district bodies — are reserved for women.
Many innovative programmes have been launched for generating employment, improving income and creating awareness among women. The ultimate goal is to make women economically independent and self-reliant. The year 2001 was observed as Women ’s Empowerment Year to create large-scale awareness about women ’s rights and issues.
In the world of sports and glamour Indian women have begun to leave a mark. K.Malleswari and Kunjarani Devi are the two top-most weightlifters in the world.
In 1994 two Indians, Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, bagged the Miss Universe and Miss World titles respectively, a unique double for any country.
The 1997,1999 and 2000 Miss World crown was bagged by Indians, Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookhey and Priyanka Chopra. Miss Universe crown in 2000 was won by Lara Dutta.
Indian women have left a mark among achievers in the social field also. Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla of Bhopal won the 2004 Goldman Prize for Environment, the first Indians to be so honored.
The award, considered to be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Environment, was in recognition of the work for survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984.
The two gutsy middle-aged women overcame sickness and defied social norms to fight for the rights of their fellow victims of the tragedy which had taken a toll of 20,000 lives.
Ela Bhat, a Magsaysay Award winner, took the struggle for justice and recognition of self-employed women to national and international areas. She started south Asia ’s first labor and trade union for women workers in the informal sector.
Kiran Bedi, also a Magsaysay Award winner, is India ’s first Indian Police Service (IPS)woman officer. A former tennis champion, she has worked tirelessly for reforming prisoners and drug addicts, besides improving prison environment.
As a welfare State, India is committed to the welfare and development of its people, particularly the vulnerable sections like the scheduled castes (SCs),scheduled tribes (STs), other backward classes (OBCs),minorities and the handicapped.
There are specific articles in the Constitution, which outline this commitment. The strategy adopted for this aims at minimizing inequalities in income, status and opportunities. Taken together, the majority of the population of the country consists of SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities.
SCs, STs, Backward Classes and others
Almost a quarter of India ’s population consists of the scheduled castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) who had remained neglected for centuries.
The approach for their development has been enunciated by the Constitution. The government has taken several steps for their welfare. The representation of the SCs and STs in Parliament and all State Assemblies is assured.
Provisions have been made in the constitution for reservation in appointments or posts for SCs,STs and OBCs. The government has implemented schemes for their educational development and rendering financial assistance to support economic activities.
In addition to Constitutional provisions for their welfare, there is a National Commission for SCs and STs, which while investigating and monitoring a matter relating to the safeguards for the SCs and STs enjoy the powers of a civil court. The Central as well as State governments consult this commission on all policy matters relating to the SCs and STs.
At the national level, five communities have been notified as minorities —Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, who together constitute less than 18 percent of the country ’s population.
The Constitution guarantees them their right to conserve their religion, language and culture. Next to Indonesia, India has the world ’s second largest Muslim population.
The minorities have received a new deal with the establishment of the National Minorities Development Corporation, which has initiated schemes for micro financing of women belonging to the minority communities in various skills and trade, and also introduced schemes to offer concessional loans for education and pursuing professional courses.
It also needs to be stressed that there is no bar against practicing any religion in India.
Children and Drug Abuse
India has adopted a National Policy on Children and was the first country to adopt a legislation in line with a UN Declaration on the Right of the Child.
The Integrated Child Development Services aims at the holistic development of children in the 0-6 years age group —as also pregnant and lactating mothers from disadvantaged sections.
There are over 450 day care centres, old-age homes and mobile medicare units. Over 60 units also function for the welfare of the street children.
A Central Adoption Resource Agency has been set up to act as the clearinghouse of information on children available for adoption.
The government recognizes 56 Indian agencies for giving children to foreigners for adoption and another 280 foreign agencies have been enlisted for sponsoring applications of foreigners who seek guardianship of Indian children.
India has 2.4%of the world ’s land, but supports 16%of the global population. According to the latest census report (2001), India has a population of 1,027 million, about 150 million more than in the previous census (1991).
The average exponential growth declined to 1.93 percent in 2001 compared to 2.14 percent in 1991.The infant mortality rate (IMR) came down to 70 (in 2000) from 146 in 1951.Life expectancy, which was 36.7 in 1951,increased to 64.6 in 2000 and in the same period the crude death rate came down to 8.7 per 1000 from 36.7.However, the task of removing poverty remains enormous.
The aim of India ’s National Family Welfare Programme is to stabilize the population at a level ‘consistent with the requirement of the national economy.
The National Population Policy 2000,which has well-defined objectives, has set socio- demographic goals to achieve population stabilization by 2010.
The Family Welfare Programme in India is recognized as a priority area. It seeks, among other things, to popularize contraception, reduce the infant and maternal morbidity and mortality to bring down the level of fertility and to provide need-based, high quality, reproductive and child health care.
The National Family Welfare Programme was launched to promote responsible and planned parenthood through voluntary family planning methods. Couples have the choice of adopting temporary or preventive measures. Facilities for medical termination of pregnancies in certain circumstances are also available.
During 2002-03, the total number of family planning acceptors in the country as a whole was 7.8 percent higher than in 2001-02. The use of contraceptives has increased and in 2002-03 emergency contraceptive pills were introduced for the first time in the family welfare programme.
Child and Mother Care
In view of the close relationship between high birth rate and high infant mortality, various child and mother health care programmes are being implemented.
A Child Survival and Safe Motherhood Programme is in operation to take up universal immunization and safe motherhood initiatives.
NGOs are being given increasing support in an effort to involve the community for promoting spacing methods to stabilize population.
With about four million victims, India has been hit severely by AIDS. A National Programme for the Prevention and Control of AIDS has been launched to bring down the current high rate of AIDS infection to zero by 2007.
The threat of HIV transmission is being tackled through safe blood transfusion services, control of sexually transmitted diseases and information, education and counseling.
Medical research and education have received significant attention in the years following independence. While there were only 28 medical colleges in 1950,there are at present 106 medical colleges, 29 dental colleges and 11 other institutions providing medical education.
Nearly 14,000 students graduate every year from medical colleges. Over 8,200 nurses qualify for service annually from 367 nursing institutions. Medical institutions in India also train a large number of students from other developing countries.
India has world class hospitals manned by some of the world ’s best physicians and surgeon. These hospitals have state of the art facilities but the treatment they offer is inexpensive, attracting many foreign patients.
Rural Health Services
The Government is paying increasing attention to integrated health, maternity and childcare in rural areas. A National Health Policy has been approved.
It seeks to raise health care expenditure to 6 percent of the GDP by 2010.An increasing number of community health workers and doctors are being sent to rural health centers.
Primary health care is being provided to the rural population through a network of over 150,000 primary health centers and sub-centers by 586,000 trained midwives and 410,000 health guides.
Housing and Urban Development
Various policies and initiatives of the Government have put the country on the threshold of a major qualitative and quantitative change in the housing and urban development sector.
A Housing and Habitat Policy has been formulated and ‘Housing for All ’ is a priority for the government.
Embassy of India, Harare, Zimbabwe