Amartya Sen for reform in public services for India's progress

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New Delhi, Dec 19 (UNI) Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen today said India's progress in school education since independence had been slow in contrast to its rapid development in becoming the first developing country in the world to have a functioning democracy and called for urgent reform in public services and a larger role for unions for the social progress of the country.

Speaking at a seminar on 'Right to Education - Actions Now' here, Prof Sen said the process of rapid economic growth evident in India was not adequate to reduce deprivation and inequality of opportunities sufficiently fast, what was required was a greater use of resources. Besides, the system of operation of the public services was in urgent need of reform for greater accountability and efficiency in the pursuit of equity. ''There is a large lacuna here brought out sharply by a number of studies in many parts of India.'' In this context, he said school inspection had broken down in many parts of the country and there was ''a shocking incidence of absenteeism and neglect'' on part of the teachers in government schools.

For administrative reforms, he called for the necessity of a collaboration with other social groups, particularly the unions of public service workers, giving them a larger role.

Prof Sen also denounced the oft-repeated claim that poverty in India had not really come down, saying it was ''not exactly right''.

There had been some reduction in the proportion of poverty-stricken people but the process could have been much faster if the achievements in economic growth were combined with ways and means of more widespread sharing of economic opportunities.

Prof Sen lamented that the economic reforms of the 1990s concentrated only on the 'License Raj' which was making business inititaives difficult and at the mercy of bureaucrats. What got neglected was what he called ''governmental under-activity'' in public services.

Here, he lauded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's commitment to rapid expansion of public services in education, health care and other social and physical infrastructure after assuming office in 2004. ''Correspondingly, a considerable quickening of public goods expansion has certainly happened and I believe the new Five Year Plan that is being released right now indicates a much firmer commitment.'' He, however, pointed out that the gap of deficiencies in basic education could not be filled by the expansion of private schools.

Those families that could afford to pay the fee for private schools were precisely those who were relatively favoured by economic prosperity and change, but it was the large mass of the underprivileged and poor families and children who were left way behind whose educational needs were the most difficult to fulfill, he asserted.

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