Friday, January 26, 2007

A twelve-paise investment

So, 35 million children need to be provided for. And what can we do but provide?

Provide shelters. Provide uniforms, food, exercise. Provide skills, training, and a little laughter. Surely, we will provide all this, won't we?

Yet, feeding 35 million citizens is not a joke. Feeding, clothing, educating, sheltering, protecting 35 million is the sort of thing that makes economists and financial planners pull out their beards. Even so, they scrimp a little here, save a little there; make a fund here; make an allotment there. They scratch the bottom of the taxpayers' barrel and come up with Rs 1077 crores to be spent on children.

Mind you, ALL children. To be precise, in the 10th five-year plan, the total allocation for child-related programmes was about Rs 1077.08 crores. This would include the money spent on feeding kids in anganwadi centres and at mid-day meals in school.

Of the total amount we decide to spend on children, only 1% goes towards protection. The allocation for children in need of protection is no more than Rs 71.66 per child per year. Of this, 60 percent goes towards administrative costs. Running offices, shelters etc, paying salaries, etc.

What's left? In effect, per day, the state allows each child 12 paise per day.

That's right. Twelve paise.

The ministry of women and child development defines child protection as "protecting children from or against any perceived or real danger or risk to their life, their personhood and childhood. It is about reducing their vulnerability... ensuring that no child falls out of the social security and safety net and those who do, receive necessary care, protection and support so as to bring them back into the safety net".

It goes on to say that child protection ought to encompass prevention, care and recovery, and that "once victimized, (children) are entitled to services, which hasten their recovery and reduce further trauma."

It is said that children are a nation's investment in the future. What sort of return our nation's planners expect on a 12-paise investment is a question worth asking. However, I have another question for the planning commission: when was the last time they bought anything worth twelve paise?

A fistful of rice?
A bowl of grain?
The chaff of the grain?
A blanket? Socks? A piece of coal?
A notebook? A pencil?
A toy? A pill? A joyride?
Mud? Dung?
A visit to the shrink?

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