Archive for April, 2010

Waking up the Elephant

The current policies that are framed by the Indian government will have a huge bearing on how the country will shape up in the next decade. 

An important step in the right direction is the ‘Right to Education’ bill.  Education for children aged between 6 and 14 has finally become a fundamental right with the notification of the Right of Children for free and compulsory education act.  In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated the government’s “national commitment to the education of our children and to the future of India”. He said: “The health, education and creative abilities of our children and young people will determine the well-being and strength of our nation. Education is the key to progress. It empowers the individual. It enables a nation.”  In his short address, Mr Singh referred to the need for all stakeholders to work together to realise the Right to Education (RTE), describing it as a “common national endeavour”.

And while the notification does mark a historic moment, the real challenge has just begun. A fact duly recognised by minister for human resource development Kapil Sibal. Referring to the work that lies ahead, Mr Sibal said: “The biggest challenge lies in provisioning for teachers, defining neighbourhood schools, helping less privileged private schools, many of them unrecognised, to improve their infrastructure and quality of education.” Acknowledging the challenge, Mr Sibal said “none of it is going to be easy”.

Even though this policy may take a long time to see implementation and results we would like to see that children are not exploited  by being forced into bonded labour at  a tender age. With education becoming an entitlement, efforts will have to be made to ensure that those on the margins are able to seek redressal. To this end, Mr Sibal has asked states to constitute the State Commission of Protection of Child Rights, as this is the body that will be charged with the monitoring of child rights under the Act.

The Thirteenth Finance Commission has provided for Rs 25,000 crore to the states over five years for the implementation of RTE. This over and above allocations for centrally-sponsored schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid-Day Meal, teacher education. For the current year, the central allocation is to the tune of Rs 15,000 crore, and the centre will bear 55% of the burden. The ministry is keen that the Centre’s burden is increased to 65% to ensure that states do not fall behind on implementation due to fund crunch.

 Another important project is the Unique Identification Database project (UID)  which Nandan Nilekani (Infosys) has been appointed to lead.  It is high time India has biometric data of its 1 billion-plus population.  Nilekani has said  in his book ‘Imagining India’ he had devoted a whole chapter on the importance of using technology to transform the nation and added that with this project his dream would become a reality.With such a huge population it is very difficult to track subversive elements and infiltrators unless we have biometric checks at our borders.  The identity cards proposed will be smart cards which will carry information of each and every individual, his/her finger biometrics as well as a photograph. A unique National Identity Number will be assigned to each individual including those below 18 years of age.  The broad idea is to get all the births, deaths, marriages, passport data, bank account data, ration card data into one database. This will help all these offices to just tap into the central database as and when required and update their accounts. The national ID card project is expected to provide an impetus to the domestic demand for information technology products and solutions, and will help companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro gain more business at a time when their top export markets of US and Europe are under recession.
The government is reportedly looking at a three-year term to complete the entire programme. The government will spend around $6 billion on developing smart cards apart from a mammoth citizen database.That is why the current census 2011 is a huge and important exercise.

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