43 crore litres of drinking water for drought-affected people
35 kg of wheat a month for 10 years for farmer suicide-affected families in Vidarbha
Uninterrupted electricity for one million people
Six colleges or two super-specialty hospitals
A VVIP chopper and a Shivaji statue in the middle of the sea
Guess what our political leaders chose
What would you do if you had Rs 350 crore at your disposal and were responsible for improving the lives of those around you? In a state with an infant mortality rate of 65,000 every year, where over 6.5 lakh tribal children are malnourished, and debt-ridden farmers commit suicide every week leaving behind their dependents to starve, the choices are a plenty.
But casting aside the thousands of options that could turn around the lives of millions, the state government is planning to spend Rs 350 crore on a statue - of Chhatrapati Shivaji, in the Arabian Sea. And to give it company, the central government is planning to spend Rs 300 crore for every chopper it buys to ferry its VVIPs. If all goes according to plan, the 312-foot tall statue will stand nearly 4 km from Marine Drive, engulfed on all sides by the Arabian Sea. According to reports, the state has almost finalised matters on the statue.
If used otherwise, the Rs 650 crore that is used for one statue and one chopper could have added 160 kilometres of pukka roads, provided 43 crore litres of packaged drinking water for the draught-affected people in the parched state, or 1,625 crore litres of regular potable water from tankers, six community colleges with all the required facilities, 140 foot over-bridges, two super specialty hospitals and a minimum of 30,000 toilet seats. More than 32,500 community libraries could be built, or 4,000 hostels for female students.
Even one tenth of the amount - Rs 65 crore, that is - can bring an end to infant mortality in the state. Rs 650 crore is sufficient to waive the loans of nearly 1.16 lakh farmers of the Vidharbha region, or provide farmers’ widows and their children in the belt 35 kgs of wheat every month for the next 10 years. And more than a million people can enjoy uninterrupted electricity, as Rs 650 crore is enough to generate more than 125 mega watts of power. Five lakh tribal children could get proper education and food for eight months, with the government spending Rs 1,500 per child per month.
Dr Abhay Bang, a well-known social activist who works in the interiors of Maharashtra, claims that while the government allocates funds for every need, the money isn’t utilised properly. “As per government records, the child mortality rate in Maharashtra is 65,000 every year. We don’t need more than Rs 10,000 to give medical training to the Ashas in the villages for a year. We can save a life with only Rs 10,000 every year. So we don’t need more than Rs 65 crore to save the lives of all the 65,000 children who die because of lack of proper home-based child care. We need to upgrade this system,” said Bang.
“Tribals have recognised that education is the only tool for their development, and there are villages in many schools, but students don’t go there because there aren’t any teachers. Nobody checks whether teachers are in the schools. The government claims it spends Rs 1,500 per month on every child. But the money is obviously not being utilised properly,” he added.
Maharashtra happens to be the state that tops the list of farmer suicides, with at least one debt-ridden planter ending his life every week. Accordng to Kishore Tiwari, president of NGO Vidarbha Janshakti Andolan, the government had planned to provide the widows and their children 35 kgs of wheat and rice at subsidised rates of Rs 2 or 3 per kg, but the plan fell through. “I don’t understand how the same bureaucrat who cannot give these people foodgrains can sign on documents approving the construction of statues in the sea. The government needs to think about the living people and save them before they kill themselves, “ said Tiwari.
Snehalata Deshmukh, former vice chancellor of Mumbai University, said, “I am not against the Shivaji statue, but instead of investing money in that or buying choppers, we can start a new syllabus in colleges. Community colleges are the need of an hour. One college needs at least Rs 100 crore for teachers, staff, and infrastructure. In a city like Mumbai,a sports academy can be built. Sports like squash can be taught, with Rs 10 lakh required for a good court.
We can also get a cricket academy, tennis and badminton courts. Virtual classrooms can be made for students. An investment of Rs 30-35 crore approximately is needed for a virtual classroom. There are very few government medical colleges and an investment of Rs 100 crore can be made for the same. A higher number of medical colleges will help poor and middle class students to get admissions and afford medical education. This will also create good doctors.”
Farida Lambay, founder of Pratham NGO, which works with underprivileged children, said, “Investment should be made to promote the education of women, by providing them with scholarships, hostels, cycles. A hostel for girls will cost Rs 15 lakh. A scholarship programme needs to be instituted to provide every child a yearly scholarship of Rs 700-1,000. Community libraries could be built at the cost of Rs 2 lakh. Infrastructure should be built for disabled students.”
According to transport expert Jitendra Gupta, Rs 650 crore should be spent on developing the faltering infrastructure in the city. Escalators could be installed in railway platforms and on FOBs in arterial roads, to safeguard the lives of pedestrians.
“With Rs 650 crore, we can construct more than 100 high-end FOBs with escalators and also install escalators on the remaining skywalks. If this amount is spent on repair of the roads, then all potholes on the roads will be repaired. A lot of money will be saved on fuel. If the government adds Rs 100 crore to the Rs 650 crore then the water transport system on the west coast will be completely ready, bringing down the travel time miraculously and divert crowds from local trains,” said Gupta.
Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal said, “It is just tokenism shown by politicians. Rather than imbibing the characteristics of such great leaders, they are simply planning to erect their statues. Basic amenities and sanitation can be provided with this money.” Sudhir Badami, transport expert said, “The government should prioritise funds for the lakhs of people travelling every day in miserable conditions, and use their money to provide them with safe, comfortable and quick public transport.”
Abhay Shukla, public health activist with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, said, “The current child population of Maharashtra is approximately 128.5 lakh. Of these, over 50 lakh are malnourished. If Rs 650 crore was to be invested, we can provide about 6.5 lakh malnourished children with three nutritional meals a day for a period of one year.”
He added, “The total number of children who are malnourished in the tribal areas of the state is approximately 6.5 lakh. Rs 650 crore can actually help to eradicate child malnourishment completely in the tribal areas.” Dr Armida Fernandez from SNEHA said, “There is no shortage of funds in the health sector in our state; all that is required is to ensure that the facilities provided in this sector are used properly. The government should concentrate on properly channelising the funds and facilities to people in rural areas.”
Gerson da Cunha, trustee of NGO AGNI said, “The money can be used for facilities like sewage treatment plants that can help save water, MRI and CT scan machines in the civic and state run hospitals. Erecting a statue would not generate any kind of revenue for the city. When there is water shortage and drought, water treatment plants can be helpful.” Meanwhile, music composer Vishal Dadlani, who has been protesting against the statue plans for long, has decided to file a PIL against the proposal.