Wish list 2016

5 Jan 2016

Let’s apply common sense and reason to public policy

As we close out 2015 and look ahead to 2016, it is time to compile our wish lists. Here is mine, with two “dos” and two “don’ts”, relating to health, water and environment and politics.

My first do relates to public health, an area that every Indian government from Nehru to Modi has neglected. It is to get the government to make sanitation and nutrition the most important social welfare concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has certainly made sanitation a priority but just building more toilets is not a sanitation policy. Here is some data that should shock. India, with 74% of South Asia’s population, has 93% of all those in the region who defecate outdoors.

As a result of public defecation and poor sanitation more generally, and the resultant effect on their physical well-being, nearly 40% of Indians are stunted. Only Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia do worse than India on stunting. Angus Deaton, the Nobel Laureate, estimates that at current trends, it will take Indian women 500 years to match the height of European women. Worse, 30% of Indian children under the age of 5 are malnutritioned. Here we are in the company of Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, but do worse than Bhutan (13%) and Sri Lanka (26%).

Kanti Bajpai is Wilmar Professor on Asian Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. This article was first published on The Times Of India on January 2, 2016.

Kanti Bajpai

Director, Centre on Asia and Globalisation and Wilmar Professor of Asian Studies