May 07, 2014
Harpal Singh, Mentor and Chairman Emeritus of Fortis Healthcare, in an interview to OneWorld South Asia, on the sidelines of UN Corporate MDG Conclave held in New Delhi, said that responsibility to society should be integral to working of business. Excerpts from the interview:
OneWorld South Asia: What has been the most outstanding achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in South Asia?
Harpal Singh: One of the most significant thing is that the global community came together to create the MDGs. It was the first unique coalition of the global community to address the development agenda and capture eight MDGs which were measurable in terms of their outcomes.
In absolute numbers, some very good work has been accomplished by MDGs. MDGs have not only pulled large number of people out of poverty but many of the health issues like child mortality and infant mortality have also been addressed. But, despite all the achievements we still have a long distance to go.
Hunger to my mind is a violence against humanity and should be treated so. It is not dignified for a nation like India to let mothers die while they give birth to a child. It is also not dignified to see our citizens defecating in the open.
OWSA: Do you buy the argument that India has neglected education at the basic level?
Singh: We have not been able to create effective outcome of the investment done in primary education. There is a need to think about improving the quality of education at the primary level and merely achieving 100 percent primary school enrolment is not enough.
OWSA: Despite impressive GDP growth, India has a poor ranking in Human Development Index. Why has growth failed to translate into a better living for the poor in India?
Singh: India is very short in terms of public money being spent on health and that is reflected therefore on the quality of health outcome that we have. Similarly, in education we should be spending a much higher percentage of GDP.
We need to see if we are giving appropriate priority in the percentage of spend for the social sector including education and livelihood. If you don’t have GDP growth, the pie doesn’t get bigger and if the pie doesn’t get bigger, how will you spend.
OWSA: Despite some very good institutional and legal provisions why do we fail on the governance front?
Singh: We should be actually proud of some of our legislations. We are very good in producing rules with exemplary legislations. But we do not have good execution. We do not have good action on the ground.
Therefore the problem is not of good legislation but of efficiency in implementation of the existing rules.
OWSA: How have MDGs enriched the development of the human race?
Singh: A very large percentage of the global population has actually come above the poverty line. Our health indicators have improved. Countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have done very well in the health sector and they have beaten India in healthcare.
OWSA: How can India deal with the challenge it faces in healthcare?
Singh: If you look at the health burden, eighty per cent of India’s health problems can be solved at the primary level itself. We keep our homes very clean but the streets outside are very dirty. For example, 70% of India’s bed capacity in healthcare is because of water borne diseases.
If you clean up water and take care of sanitation, you nip the problem in the bud but for that to happen we need to change ourselves. If we manage water well, our disease burden will go down and we can also arrest the stress on this scarce resource. Availability of clean water and good sanitation will reduce the pressure on India’s public beds in hospitals by 70%.
Per capita daily availability of water in Delhi is more than that of London but the management of water in the Indian capital is very poor.
OWSA: How do you think Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) could be an integral part of business?
Singh: Corporates must understand that the well being of the community, society, state and the country actually means well being for themselves. This kind of thinking will lead the businesses on the path to sustainable and inclusive development.
The aspiration of CSR activities is that expenditure by the corporate sector will be far more effective, simply because they run efficient management. Hence, the efficiency of CSR activities will put pressure on the overall system in the country to improve itself.
OWSA: How are girls and women integral to India’s development?
Singh: I am a very strong advocate of the girl child and women. It’s a very harsh reality that while 60% of global work is being done by women only 1% of property is owned by them. If you have the ability to educate a child, educate a girl child because she educates a family.
It has a multiplier effect on society if women are educated and given due respect.