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Millennium Development Goals And North-East India ‘”The Significance, Grim Reality, Challenges And Suggestions

This year, a comprehensive review of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was undertaken by world leaders during September 20 – 22, 2010, in New York. A decade has passed since the world leaders met in September 2000 at the UN; there, they pledged and committed themselves ‘˜to spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty’ and ‘˜to make the right to development a reality for everyone’. The then millennium declaration was a visionary document which sought genuine partnership to make globalization a force for developmental good; it consisted of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and twenty-one MDG targets. The eight goals were accepted by member-States of the UN and 23 international organs. As of now, the stipulated target-date for fulfilling the MDGs is 2015; just five years away. In this article, the extent of success of MDGs, limitations in their implementation, the grim reality and challenges are highlighted with suggestions for reinforcement of the goals; and a concluding ‘˜dream of development’ for Manipur.

The significance, 8 Goals and 4 specific targets of MDGs: The significant aspect about MDG is that development issues are elevated to the highest political level; world leaders with concerted effort have set forth new vision for humanity in order to bridge the existing gulf between the rich and poor through genuine partnership among nations. For developing countries like India, the challenge posed before the Nation is to translate its development vision into the nationally owned plans. The North Eastern States of India in particular should benefit from the implementation of the developmental measures so as to become part and partial of the fulfillment and achievement of the millennium goals.

The eight goals, as they appeared in the declaration, consist of the following : To halve the proportion of the world’s poor living on less than $ 1 a day, the world’s people suffering from hunger and the world’s people without access to safe drinking water; to achieve universal completion of primary schooling; to achieve gender equality in access to education; to reduce maternal mortality rates by three-quarters; to reduce under-five mortality rates by two-thirds; and to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases. The deadline for the meeting of these goals is 2015. There were four specific targets set, consisting of the following : an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system; special attention to the needs of least-developed countries; help for landlocked developing countries and small island states; and national and international measures to deal with developing countries’ debt problems.

Positive results of MDGs in some countries. After a decade of the millennium declaration, the MDGs based targets have improved lives of millions of people. The primary school enrolment rates double in Ethiopia and Tanzania; HIV infections fall significantly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Countries like Algeria and Malawi transform themselves from being food importers to food exporters. In Zambia and Rwanda where malaria had turned epidemic, the cases have reduced by fifty per cent.

The Indian Central Government‘s report: The Central Government released a report in June this year claiming that the Country is on track to meet the MDGs targets by 2015. The report stated that number of people living below the poverty line has reduced; child and maternal mortality rates have reduced; MGNREGS has increased rural employment in many States. The Government also reported that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a national policy to universalize primary education, has increased enrolment in schools; the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission and Total sanitation campaign address crucial MDGs; HIV rates are low and that deaths due to tuberculosis and malaria show downward trends; in the health sector, the National Rural Health Mission, Reproductive and Child health Program II, Integrated Child Development services have contributed immensely towards MDGs.

The grim reality- International and national: The reality paints an altogether different picture. Globally, the UN admits that 1.4 billion people were still living in extreme poverty in 2005; the number has increased so much so that, according to Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of UN, even if all the eight goals are met by 2015, almost a billion will continue to live below the poverty line. Most of the rich nations failed to meet the targets on promised aid, and the latest projections predict an aid shortfall of around $ 21 billion against global targets. In this scenario, the GHI (Global Hunger Index) has put the number of undernourished people in the world at around one billion; there exists a striking divide between the haves and have-nots. India is placed among countries that face an ‘˜alarming’ situation. This issue has serious implications in the achievement of MDG targets. As noted by the UN, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, insufficient dedication to sustainable development are the main culprits in the unsatisfactory march towards meeting the twenty one MDG targets. Relative standards of living enjoyed by different strata of society need to be carefully studied, analyzed and understood for better measurement of development and implementation of the already formulated goals across the States.

Also, in the national scenario, the Government’s optimistic report to meet the target by 2015 is hard to share. There is a decline in employment; patriarchy is still firmly established in rural India making gender equality and justice elusive; the number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition has risen between 2007 and 2009. Goals such as universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health’”are unlikely to be reached by 2015 deadline; one in four children in developing countries are still underweight. The 2010 target on biodiversity conservation has been missed; the target of halving the number of people without access to sanitation cannot be achieved. The country is nowhere near reducing child mortality to the targeted 42 per 1000 live births; and nearly half the under-five children are malnourished’”these do not support the claims of hunger reduction.

In the late 1960s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came up with a catchy slogan, ‘Garibi Hatao’, in her effort to eradicate poverty; the emphasis was laid on revision of land reform laws and efficient implementation of developmental schemes. However, time and again, the poverty eradication measures have often proved to be ineffective; and some writers have asked whether ‘India’s mock war on poverty could ever turn real?’ .The Arjun Sengupta committee concluded that some 77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs. 20 a day; an evidence that this huge section of the society are still living below the MDG target. The picture of poverty-alleviation is still blurry and precarious; though the report estimates 27.5 % of Indians lived below poverty line in 2004-05, compared to 36% in 1994-95, the methodology for arriving at this figure is disputed.

Experts argue that the poverty reduction claims are the result of a sleight of hand, which employs debatable measurements and methods for assessment. In the national level, some states are on track while many others lag behind, so far, lowering the country’s overall achievement.

North East India: The scenario in the context of the Northeastern States of India, despite the rich natural resources and central assistances, development is still a far cry; though the magnitude of funding from the Centre is ever increasing, corruption and mismanagement are rampant adversely affecting development. Recently, the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, with aim of giving emphasis on improving the agriculture-horticulture infrastructure and to ensure food security, earmarked Rs. 380 crores for the region. The veteran politician Rishang Keishing, during his interview with The Sangai Express, on October 7, 2010 said: ‘despite the meager fund, a lot of development works could be taken up, but now people are not afraid to die for money.’ In fact, the craving for filthy lucre has led to scams all over India. The North Eastern states are no different; developmental funds have often been often misdirected, misused and siphoned-off by those in authority and anti-developmental elements from various sources.

As on May 15, 2010, the Ministry for development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) prepared a composite ‘District Infrastructure Index (DI!)’ for all the districts of the regions based on seven indicators’”transport facilities, energy, water supply, education, health facilities, communication infrastructure and banking facilities. These indicators have great implications towards meeting the MDG targets. According to the report, Mizoram ranks first on village electrification with 100% villages electrified; on roads and transport facilities, west Tripura district ranks first with 206.62 km of road per 100 sq km. As for Manipur, in the maintenance of roads, the stretch of NH-53 from Imphal to Jiribam has come to its present sorry state; as reported by The Sangai Express on October 5, 2010, the BRO officials misused fund sanctioned by the Government for maintenance. This is a paradox that despite the DoNER’s claim of the Imphal West district ranking first among all districts of the NER in composite Infrastructure Index, the ministry only ‘˜sees the tree but miserably fails to see the woods’. For the index does not see all aspects of development; here, citizens hardly get even six hours of power supply a day. The index of the whole state does not give details of each district. Also, at this point of time, the Millennium Development Goals will have no meaning for Manipur, until and unless the roads and systems of power supply are revamped for societal development.

On September 30, 2010, it was reported in The Hindu that Rs. 17,000 crores plan has been formulated to link all NE capitals by rail; indeed, a mega initiative of the centre. According to BK Handique, Minister for DoNER, the railways have informed that the project would be completed by 2016. Also, Rs. 703 crores annual plan has been sanctioned for the NEC (North Eastern Council) to improve road network. The challenge before the North Eastern States is to materialize the developmental goals in view of the MDG targets within the stipulated period.

As on October 4, 2010, in the context of North East India, caring and treating the HIV patients have taken big steps ahead; this has implication for meeting one of the MDG targets on health care. As reported by The Sangai Express, targeting patients in regions across the border between Manipur and Myanmar, the national Aids Control Organization has initiated OST (Opiod Substitution Therapy) at nine centers in Manipur; OST is an alternative that reduces drug abuse, overdose and other infections, and many are treated by ART (anti-Retroviral therapy) treatment. But, there are many patients still unwilling to leave behind their ‘˜past-lifestyles’; often, many avoid rehabilitation centers and unwittingly transmit the virus-a social issue of concern indeed.

Challenges – Technological monitoring millennium goals: As on October 27, 2010, the UN Millennium campaign (UNMC) planned to launch citizen’s monitoring initiative worldwide for the Millennium Development Goals by using mobile telephony. Minar Pimpe, Director, UNMC Asia-Pacific region, said the initiative would build momentum for responsible governance in partnership with the local agencies to achieve the MDGs by 2015. He stated that data generated, through SMS could be utilized for planning and meeting various challenges in the key areas of MDGs, and the experiment will soon be started on a pilot basis in Udaipur district of Rajasthan; this is in view of the State witnessing a phenomenal growth in the use of mobile phones by all sections of the society. The challenge lies in holistic implementation; and the question is: ‘will it be viable or feasible for other State Governments to have similar framework of policy to meet the MDG targets? Can they apply the same principle as initiated by the State of Rajasthan? In many aspects the State of Rajasthan has proved to be a ‘˜role model’ of development both at the grass roots and national levels; here, technology has been utilized profitably for the achievement of developmental goals.

Food security for North East India: Since food security has become a serious issue of concern, recently, during October, the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged the NE States to produce more to ensure food security. The Ministry, in consultation with governments of the region, had taken initiative to design plans for each State; keeping in view their distinct physiography, topography, climate and soil conditions. The challenge before the Nation is to replace the ‘˜jhum method’ of cultivation by newer and more advanced technique for the region.

Disparity in development and lack of integrity: In the context of India, regional disparities are visible in the implementation of MDGs by different States. A major challenge before the Nation is to convert India’s commitments and resources into measurable results for all citizens from all States; and sadly this remains unmet. India with a vast geography and significant variations requires efficient policy formulation, tact and the situation calls for good governance which should act as an effect multiplier to give impetus to meeting MDGs.

However, there can be no real development without integrity. Corruption in any form is an antithesis to development, and a deadly disease which has to be dealt with severity. Pervasive corruption is eating into the country’s vitals. Consider the State of India’s games and political environments. Till recently, they have been fraught with corruptions leading to the removal of Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, former chairman of CWG as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party and resignation of Ashok Chavan as CM of Maharashtra from their top posts for their alleged involvement in embarrassing CWG and housing scams respectively.

Suggestions and a dream of ‘˜development’ for Manipur: Goal setting or planning bridges the gap between ‘˜where we are’ and ‘˜where we want to be’. In this respect, things might have been far worse without the MDGs. These goals enable us to visualize the targets and equip us to run the race set before us. In fact, as stated by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of UN, none can argue with an objective ‘as simple and powerful as access to food and clean drinking water, jobs, health care and education for everyone.’ However, there has been want of serious investors, as the later are vital for the long haul. MDGs indeed require important donors who are seriously committed; those who will not renege on their commitments. So far, disappointing and unfortunate examples have been the outcomes visible among donors and countries in respect of MDG commitments and that of the Climate Change Summit of Copenhagen.

In different countries, vital to success is the revitalizing of the political will to achieve the MDGs; the primary responsibility rests with national leaders. For any developmental work? Political will is vital; in the past, the absence of political will resulted in the failure of land reform measures to achieve the objectives set out in the Five Year Plan. During the eleventh Five Year Plan, everyone should realize that attaining MDGs is not optional, but an essential investment for a fairer, safer and more prosperous world. Developed countries must make commitment to increase both the quantity and effectiveness of aid to developing countries. In the developing countries, there is an urgent need for genuine partnership to take the lead, to determine what we need most and how best we can use it. ‘˜Capacity building’ is essential in the absorbing of aid to make the most for success. Greater access to the developed world’s markets can create greater incentives and will largely contribute towards development.

At the national level, the 11th Plan initiatives and the MDGs are correlated with each other; the success of one will substantially complement the other. In this aspect, I would like to reiterate the suggestion for development posited by P.S Appu, former Chief Secretary of Bihar, that ‘˜the feasible approach is to augment employment opportunities, provide easy access to quality school education and health care, and operate a universal Public Distribution System guaranteeing monthly supply of food grains at subsidized prices to the poor.’

Development should be holistic; there should be an integration of human, social, economic aspects of development along with sufficient allocation of funds for infrastructure building. This is especially essential for North Eastern states of India; Manipur is in dire need of incorruptible officials and citizens whose minds are tree from the ‘˜love of money’; deplorable roads and erratic supply of electricity power in Manipur call for serious attention. The present situation calls for an urgent reinforcement of the MDGs to meet the targets within a period of five years from now; the Manipur State Government should incorporate the citizens’ needs after careful diagnosis of the developmental problems. We need courageous leaders who will stand up for the truth, handling political tools for societal progress, even in harsh and trying circumstances, and acting as pillars for the State’s advancement. We need more people who will stand firm for in their convictions; and willing to sacrifice everything for a noble cause; specifically for the world-class development of the Manipur State.

We should dare to dream of a time, here in Manipur, when no students will have to go, in large numbers, to other States for their higher studies; yet, this will be fulfilled only when the educational development of the State’s colleges and institutions-of higher-learning mushroom up, as per the State’s policy, in near future and become on a par with other premier institutes of Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata etc,. Also, we should dare to dream of a Manipur where there will be electric light for 24 x7; street-lights brightly shining along the pavements where even nocturnal citizens could stroll along without any fear of threats at night; a Manipur where multinational companies (MNCs) will offer services into the dead of night; and an international trade-route lining along the Myanmar border stretching to the farthest South East Asian countries.

In this Context for Manipur, we need leaders with vision who will see far beyond the present murky horizon; leaders who can pin-point towards that haven of ‘˜development’. Now, ultimately, the onus for development is on all the countries of the world in general, and also rests on policy makers of each State, in particular.

*The article is written by Paominlen Haokip.

*The writer can be reached at lenjose_1@yahoo.co.uk

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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