As India booms, social welfare struggles


Reuters April 20, 2010

MADHOUN: India’s expenditure on welfare schemes means nothing to Poona, whose daughter may soon die from that stain on India’s growth story – malnutrition. Poona, who married at 14 and breaks quarry stones for a living, shielded her daughter’s sunken face from a harsh summer sun with her blue sari. She does not know Urmila’s weight, but the whimpering 18-month child looked more like a new born baby. “I feel scared of losing my child,” said Poona, a lower caste woman from a northern Indian tribal community in Uttar Pradesh state.

Since helping the Congress party win re-election last year, welfare programmes have fast become the government’s knee-jerk answer to policy dilemmas. However, these often corruption- ridden and badly run programmes may add to deficit spending and hinder India from transforming millions of its population from poverty to well-fed middle class consumers. There has been no improvement here,” said Shreevai, a social worker in Bahuri, a cluster of villages near Lalitpur. “We want to be like the rest of India,”she said.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress party head, has drafted a food bill to give each poor family 35 kg of grains a month, as the government increased its estimate of the poverty rate from 27.5 per cent to 37.2 per cent. It also comes after Congress introduced a “revolutionary” programme to ensure 100 days of jobs for villagers each year.But these schemes’ foundation stones may be built on sand, many experts say, threatening India’s ability to narrow a yawning income gap REUTERS

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