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Step up investment in social sector: Amartya

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The Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, with Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen, at a luncheon meeting in the Capital on Friday. — Kamal Narang

New Delhi , Dec. 17

NOBEL laureate Prof. Amartya Sen today said that the achievements of Indian democracy are still far short of what public reasoning could do in a democratic society, if it addresses less conspicuous deprivations such as endemic hunger, even as democracy is not without success in India.

Delivering a lecture on `India and Small', jointly organised by the Planning Commission and the Delhi School of Economics here, the Lamont University Professor and welfare economist said: "India has had no problem in avoiding famines with timely intervention, but it has been much harder to generate adequate public interest in less immediate and less dramatic deprivations, such as the quiet presence of endemic but non-extreme hunger across the country and the low standard of public healthcare."

He stated that a similar remark could be made about the protection of minority rights that majority rule might not guarantee until and unless public discussion gives these rights enough political visibility to generate general public support. Prof. Sen said the largeness of India links with its ability to include all in the domain of public reasoning — not to exclude the underdogs of society or the minorities.

Drawing from his earlier work with Prof. Jean Dreze that the Indian economy has suffered from a chronic under activity of the Government in some fields (particularly, in basic education and primary healthcare) while being overactive in others (in the form of the so-called `licence Raj' in particular), Prof. Sen said that while the 1992 reforms introduced by Dr Manmohan Singh attempted to address the latter problem in a visionary way, it did not go far enough in facing the first problem.

However, he said that the present Government led by Dr Manmohan Singh, is much more committed to removing that imbalance. "The under-investment in the social sector is now more fully recognised. Even though there is a long way to go, both the affirmation of the principles involved and the critique that have been presented seem to have received significantly more attention," Prof. Sen said.

On the new Government's Employment Guarantee Bill, Prof. Sen said that there are questions of financing and resources, the division of the burden between the Centre which has to bear much of the costs and the States which have to take much of the actions, and the big problems of implementation, including prevention of corruption which has much potential whenever money changes hand.

Stating that there are a host of issues that must also be examined, Prof. Sen said education and healthcare as well as expansion of physical infrastructure directly add to the productive capabilities of people. Employment itself does not do this and, hence, the need for effectively channelling the work that would be underpinned by employment guarantee is especially strong.

He said, "If the economic capabilities of the poor are to be effectively advanced through employment guarantee, the focus has to be as much on the nature of the work done as on having a cast iron guarantee on receiving a wage."

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