Soon after India got freedom, we made a new beginning. We chose democracy as the way forward. New institutions were created and nurtured — Parliament, the Election Commission, the Supreme Court, the Planning Commission and others. The country has indeed made phenomenal progress. It has become a major military, industrial and economic power, an IT superpower and a space giant eyeing the moon and Mars. As I write this article on the eve of Independence Day, I have great expectations that the prime minister’s address will touch upon some of the following issues.
India is now the 10th largest economy by GDP and the third largest economy by purchasing power parity. We have the sixth largest number of billionaires. But we also have the largest disparities between the haves and have-nots. After all, we take pride in being a country of diversities!
We are ranked 135th in the human development index (out of 187 countries). One in every three Indians is below the poverty line.
One in every four is still illiterate. We still have high infant and maternal mortality rates — far worse than even Sri Lanka. More than half the population is malnourished. The rate of unemployment is so high that it contributes to disgruntlement, frustration and even criminalisation among the youth. It could become a breeding ground for disruptive forces of various hues. Drug abuse in some states has reached alarming proportions. The education system has let the country down, producing millions of unemployables. Ironically, there is no dearth of policies, programmes and funds to deal with these issues. Massive corruption is preventing the percolation of the benefits.
While many old problems persist, we also have new challenges and opportunities. We are a country of young people. More than 70 per cent of Indians are below 35. They have new aspirations. Are we equipping them to meet these aspirations? Let there be an employment mission to coordinate all the relevant programmes. Nearly 250 million of the young people are adolescents, who have their peculiar problems. They are no longer children but not yet adults. They worry about what is happening to them physically and emotionally. Their curiosity and experimentation make them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. This is the time to give them life-skill education.
Population issues have gone off the political radar altogether. As a result, India’s population will overtake China’s by 2028. The department of family welfare was quietly abolished a decade ago. One factor contributing to the population explosion is child marriage. One in every three marriages in India is illegal, involving parties below the legal age for marriage. Yet not a whimper is heard. Early marriage leads to early pregnancy, which creates health complications for adolescent girls not physically or mentally equipped continued…