Lok Satta

Tuesday, 18 August 2009 12:30

Dr.JP replies to questions over LSP policies.

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Dear Dr.JP,

 

I humbly salute you on providing the people of the state of Andhra Pradesh with Lok Satta Party platform as a viable alternative to the existing parties. Congratulations on your election as representative of the people of Kukatpally. After having gone through Lok Satta website and some Lok Satta literature, I have serious doubts on some of the claims Lok Satta makes when it talks about ushering in change in the country. Here are some of my concerns & doubts on the Education and Health policies of Lok Satta. I would like to contribute in any which way I can to bring about change in the country. Please consider this as an awkward attempt towards that goal and not as an attempt to undermine the mission Lok Satta is undertaking.

 

EDUCATION:

 

Lok Satta says:

 

Lok Satta government will guarantee that government and private schools will be on the same level in terms of quality of education.

 

I’m not sure how you can guarantee something like this?

 

What parameters will be used?How do you propose to achieve those?

 

Lok Satta says:

 

Free, good quality education for all up to 12th grade.

 

I’m not sure if this will work. You can provide free education but it won’t be of good quality. We already have govt. Schools providing free education, with few exceptional KVs, there are no govt.schools that provide good quality education. As Prof. Amartya Sen shows in his research, People are more than willing to spend money out of their pocket to send their children to good schools. Studies suggest that in a given year people spend anywhere from Rs.100 to Rs.4000 per child on primary education. More than 50% of the private (household) expenditure on primary education comes from rural families. The total household expenditure on primary education is nearly 40% of total govt. expenditure on primary education. In spite of all this, people get very poor quality education. One of Prof. Sen’s (Partichi Trust’s) most disturbing findings is the embedding of private tuition with primary education: most children have to take paid assistance outside the school (private tuition at the primary school level is unheard of everywhere except in the Indian sub-continent). I’m sure you already know all these details. I would like to know how you would be able to provide truly free & good quality education for all up to 12thgradegiventhis back drop.

 

Lok Satta says:

 

A pre-school within the locality for all pre-school children (3 years and above) with nutrition, play, and healthcare.

 

This is pure rhetoric. 75% of the schools we have in the rural areas have only 1 teacher for several classes in a single class room. There are cases in some states where there is only 1 teacher for every 54 kids in primary class.

 

How do you propose to go about providing pre-schools that are reliable?Is this going to be another expensive public program that will push us into more debt?

 

Lok Satta says:

 

Free, quality coaching for state and national entrance examinations for all.

 

Why does the government want to get into this business?

Shouldn’t the government be focusing on reforming the education system so students can get into higher education with or without coaching?

Again, policies like this I think are going to push us towards higher debt than we already have.

 

Lok Satta says:

 

Lok Satta government will ensure that every school will have necessary classrooms, teachers, teaching equipment, computers, broadband internet and assured power supply. How?

Given the above statistics and the other information that is available, this is not believable unless there is some concrete plan. When common man cannot have regular power supply? How can we promise that to schools? Lok Satta says: Students belonging to poorer sections and rural areas 60 marks will be added as bonus marks for 600 marks. This policy will allow poor students to compete on equal terms with students from wealthy families.

 

One can imagine the scope fraud that would ensue because of this policy.

Who will decide the poorness (poverty) of the student? Another bureaucrat?

With all due respect, time and again, it has proven that our bureaucracy is one of the worst in the world.

Are we going to use the poverty line as a parameter in this policy?

Do you believe that Rs 18 per day is a valid bench mark for poverty line?

Do you agree with the way we measure poverty?

How is it possible that, if your total earnings amounted to more than Rs 540 a month, you are not considered poor in India?

 

This policy seems contradictory to the earlier policy of “providing quality education in rural areas”. If high quality education is already available in rural areas, what is the necessity of this policy?

 

HEALTH:

 

Lok Satta government will guarantee

a. All Primary Health Centers will work round the clock.

b. They will be equipped to deal with deliveries and other emergencies

c. 30-100 bed-hospital for every of 75,000 people

 

According to a researcher paper titled “Putting Band-Aid on a corpse ”published by researchers at MIT in 2007, to encourage a batch of Rajasthani nurses to show up for work—which, on any day, over 60% did not—its authors began monitoring their attendance at village health centers by computer and sending the results to the state health ministry. Threatened with fines, half of the absentees returned to work. Six months later, they began breaking the computers and reporting “machine problems”. After 16 months, the health centers featured in the study were no more likely to contain a nurse than any other. Again, Lok Satta’s claim is not at all believable with out any more details.

 

Lok Satta says:

 

Free and Universal Health Care to All (Aarogyaraksha) All expenses for diagnosis, in-patient care, operations and medicines for in-patients will be borne by the Lok Satta government.

 

I don’t think this is possible without the nation going bankrupt, but I’ll wait for more details. From Economist magazine, May 2009: “About 27m Indians will be born this year. Unless things improve, almost 2m of them will die before the next general election. Of the children who survive, more than 40% will be physically stunted by malnutrition. Most will enroll in a school, but they cannot count on their teachers showing up. After five years of classes, less than 60% will be able to read a short story and more than 60% will still be stumped by simple arithmetic” Each year 1.25 million kids die in India because of malnourishment and under-nourishment. Every 3.5 minutes, one kid dies in India because of diarrhea. Over 19 million children contract acute respiratory illnesses including pneumonia every 14 days. But there is no mention of Child nutrition on Lok Satta’s agenda.

 

ECONOMICS:

 

No one seems to worry about our public debt being at 78% of GDP (Center & States). In your reaction to the 2009 budget you mentioned the annual fiscal deficit at 12% of GDP being a concern, but at the same time you propose policies that would require tremendous amount of public expenditure. There is no mention of any serious economic policies on the website or any Lok Satta literature I’ve come across (I may not have seen all the literature). I have many more questions on several other policies. Please feel free to correct me and if there is anything I could do to help, I’d be more than happy to do it.

 

Regards -Keshav Pitani


 

 

Dear Keshav,

 

Thank you for your email on Lok Satta’s agenda and commitments. As you said, we share the same concerns, and therefore I accept your criticism in that spirit, and offer my comments and perspectives briefly.

 

First, we must recognize that access to quality education is the greatest guarantor of human dignity and opportunity to fulfil human potential. India’s failure in this sector is appalling when compared to any other large, modern society with aspirations to global power or economic prosperity. The issue is only partly linked to resources. We certainly need more money, but even more important is the way we deploy resources. Public institutions are not a panacea, but abdication of the state is unpardonable and unacceptable in a civilized society.

 

We are not guaranteeing equality of outcomes, nor are we assuring equality of opportunity in every minute detail. But the least we should, and can, do is to ensure that the minimum acceptable quality of education is available to even the poorest children, and there are minimum levels of learning attained by every child.

 

In order to accomplish this goal, we require investment, public-private partnership, independent evaluation and sample-testing, competition, choice, parent control, and a host of other mechanisms. Even now public expenditure per child at school in AP is of the order of Rs 10,000 per annum. While it is not vast, it is by no means an insignificant sum relative to our per-capita income and the purchasing power of rupee.

 

Lok Satta has a fairly comprehensive approach to school education, and the details are available on the web. Briefly, we need to convert the existing so-called primary schools (two-room, two-teacher, neighbourhood facilities) into play schools for 3-6 years age group, and build/ promote decent schools with 5-10 class rooms and teachers for every 5000 or so population. We have now about 60,000 primary schools. Instead we will have 60,000 play schools and about 15,000 decent primary schools with proper monitoring and support, and free public transport where necessary. A strong inspection mechanism, random sample testing, parental monitoring, and focus on communication and language, civic education, arithmetic and environment will be integral to primary schools. Wherever necessary or possible, there will be choice to parents, and state will reimburse tuition fees of private schools subject to certain limits, conforming to accepted practices, and outcomes.

 

Similarly, there will be a good quality high school – public or private – available to every 10,000 – 20,000 population, with integration of 11th and 12th grades (Intermediate) with the school. The school will become the hub of the community, and the point of convergence for many services.

 

Your critique overstates the cost of infrastructure. The truth is, to build about 5000 high schools, we need a capital cost of Rs 5000 crore, which is under 5% of the state’s annual expenditure. The state even now spends about Rs 12000 crore annually on education alone! Money is not the key constraint. Political will, meaningful reform to create the right kind of incentives, and sustained public and media attention are the real constraints.

 

Regarding weightage to rural and poor students, there are always going to be challenges. But we need to move from the present quotas to weightages, and from caste-based affirmative action to means-based support. The problem of targeting can be addressed by applying criteria like parental education and the kind of school the child goes to, both of which are verifiable. The issue should be seen in the larger context of cracking the complex, zero-sum-game problem of reservations as practiced now without adequate benefits to society.

 

Regarding healthcare, free and universal care is both necessary and eminently feasible. Please refer to Lok Satta’s detailed documents on healthcare – ‘Public-Private Partnership’ and ‘Towards a national health service’. All these have been costed, and together they will constitute less than 2% of GSDP. Again money is not the key constraint. The design of the system, incentives, and cost-effectiveness are the challenges. You will find many details in Lok Satta Party literature (www.loksatta.org).We are opposed to the AP government’s Arogyasree precisely for the reasons you have stated – that it will bankrupt the state without improving the health of the people. Lok Satta’s primary focus is on primary and family care, and nutrition and immunization are integral parts of primary care.

 

Lok Satta has been persistently opposing wasteful, populist, expensive measures, and has repeatedly supported painful measures to enchance revenues or reduce subsidies. Our opposition to expensive lift irrigation projects like Pranahita-Chevella, loan waiver to farmers, free power, free television sets, Rs 2000 every month to families, and Arogyasree are very well known. All these are expensive and ineffective in meeting our challenges. Similarly, we are the lone party in India to support increase of fuel prices (petrol and diesel) and oppose farmers’ loan waiver. All these are mere illustrations of Lok Satta’s commitment to fiscal prudence.

 

I deeply appreciate your concerns. I am sure you will find that your concerns are more than adequately addressed in the overall approach and policy framework of Lok Satta. My speech in the Assembly on the AP Budget, which is available on the Youtube amply illustrates the responsible and innovative approach of Lok Satta.

 

Let us continue the debate. Meanwhile, all of us need to act together to help transform India. Some minor differences are bound to persist. But the challenge is to avoid the ‘narcissitm of small differences’ and focus on the goals we all believe in.

 

With warm regards

Jayaprakash Narayan