Vice President Hamid Ansari today said though poverty rates in the country have declined substantially, still there are challenges that remained to be addressed.
“It was assessed a few years back that poverty rates in the country have declined substantially from 54.9 per cent in 1973-04 to 27.5 per cent in 2004-05 as measured by the National Sample Survey (NSS). This has improved further in the past decade. Despite it, three challenges remain,” Ansari said, delivering the 2015 Indira Gandhi Memorial Lecture of the Asiatic Society on national integration here.
Elaborating on the challenges, he said historical fault lines along gender, caste and religious boundaries remain persistent besides, global forces widening the disparities between big cities and villages and between more advanced states and those mired in economic doldrums.
“Despite some noteworthy achievements, public institutions in most parts of the country have failed in delivering basic services,” he stated.
Stating that it is a rare honour to deliver the speech titled “Cohesion, fragility and the challenge of our times”, Ansari further said the ingredients that would help promote equality remain undelivered in many cases and unevenly distributed in others.
Referring to Bhimrao Ambedkar’s speech on “Conditions Precedent for the Successful Working of Democracy”, Ansari said some of the conditions in his list of requirements might be in “short supply” today.
“These fissures raise questions. While democratic mobilisation has produced an intense struggle for power, it has not delivered millions of citizens from abject dictates of poverty,” he said.
“Our quest today is to assess the balance between factors of cohesion and fragility in the polity and in the process to gauge the achievements and shortcomings on each of these counts – particularly on institutions, integration, empowerment and identity – and gauge their impact on social cohesion in whose absence inclusive development would be impeded, even distorted. We would overlook at our own peril Ambedkar’s caution about ‘a life of contradictions’,” he said.
“For this purpose, social cohesion may be defined as the capacity of a society to ensure the welfare of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding polarisation, its absence, on the other hand, contributes to fragility,” he said.
The Vice President further said that though participation of registered voters in elections has steadily increased, the actual functioning of the legislatures has decreased.
“Today, we are confronted by a paradox. The Lok Sabha from 1952-1974 uniformly registered more than 100 sittings each year; the corresponding figure in the 2000-2015 period never exceeded 85 and has in some years gone as low as 46.
“As a consequence, scrutiny of proposed legislation is in many cases perfunctory, also, less time is available for seeking the accountability of the executive through procedural devices like questions, debates and discussion. The picture in state legislatures is worse with some state assemblies being convened, in a pro forma exercise, for less than 10 days every year,” Ansari said.
Stating that representation system in Indian democracy has “fissures” that need attendance and claims of inclusiveness are only “partially valid”, he said the objective of ensuring equality of opportunity to all citizens remains a promise particularly to the weakest segment.
“Immobility is not an option; nor is certitude bordering on smugness, or panic on an impending doom,” the Vice President said.
“A saner course may be is to be receptive to the complexities of the Indian reality and its contradictions, respond to it in all its diversity and refrain from a priori solutions not embedded in ground realities. The question of its fuller implementation remains in the realm of public debate. This, to me, is the imperative challenge of our times,” Ansari said.