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'India's problem is implementation'

Oct 20, 2009

India has a scheme for every problem but fails to implement it effectively, says Salil Shetty, Director, UN Millennium Campaign. On a recent visit to mark the global Stand Up campaign, he urges the government to invest more in MDGs to avert naxalism and make the goals instead a public demand.

In an interview to Sreelatha Menon from Business Standard, Salil Shetty, Director, UN Millennium Campaign says that the entire country will have a Naxal problem if the government does not back the Millennium Development Goals with sufficient funds.

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Excerpts from the interview:

Sreelatha Menon: Hasn’t India remained rather static on Millennium Development Goals like maternal and child survival? What is the achievement in nine years, apart from the rural employment programme?

Salil Shetty: Each country defines its own path and NREGA (the rural job guarantee Act) has been a good step, though its success has not been even. If that is achieved, many of the goals would be automatically achieved. But our job is to support citizens to make governments stand by their promises. Countries come and make promises at the UN, but then forget about it. Recently, a country said that it wanted to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Later, it was found that it was already a signatory.

SM: But all this mobilisation of opinion using NGOs has not really moved the government into any proactive measure to reverse health statistics, for instance.
SS: We are trying new strategies. We have joined hands with churches and many religious groups like Art of Living to make MDGs a public demand.

SM: What about the private sector?

SS: We are also looking at partnering with telecom companies and we look at SMS as a major tool for helping people achieve the main goals of access to health, education and economic wellbeing. We are also in conversation with L N Mittal’s company, which has the Mittal Foundation. We will be tying up with them for local monitoring, which we are launching soon. We are also associated with Nandan Nilekeni and are looking at how best to leverage his new role of creating the unique identification number.

SM: Do you feel there is an improvement?

SS: I feel policies have improved a lot. At least, the rhetoric is there. The problem is financing. In healthcare, public investment continues to be very low. India’s contribution as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the world. With such investments, what do you expect but high maternal mortality rates?

SM: Do you think the National Rural Health Mission, with its stress on institutional delivery, has failed?

SS: India has a scheme for every problem. But in actual implementation, none of these reach the people.

SM: So, what will you do now to make the government do something that will reach people?

SS: We have to now track the MDGs at the local level. We have five years between now and 2015 and we have the right to information, which we can use.

SM: What about areas hit by Naxalism?

SS: If you don’t address MDGs now, the whole country will become Naxal territory. You either spend Rs 1,000 today dealing with health or education or basic needs of the people or spend Rs 10,000 tomorrow on military operations.

SM: So, you are pessimistic?

SS: No, I do feel that in the last five years, government has begun to listen. Not that they do anything.

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