We are a nation where the urban
poverty line is Rs. 47 a day while we think that the rural folks can survive at
Rs. 32 a day and we arrived at this wisdom in 2014. When we had done so, we had
graduated from the poverty lines of Rs. 27 in rural areas and Rs. 33 in urban
areas. This is when you can't arrange even a modest one time meal in Rs. 32.
This directly says the proportion
of real poor, in qualitative terms, based on the average living conditions
today, would be much higher that the projected figure of around 30% or less.
When you go assessing this poverty mess keeping in mind 'what should be and
what is', you see this is another equal India within India (or Bharat of the
perennial India Vs Bharat debate).
Some 75% of Indians are without
any health insurance cover. Majority cannot afford medicines for a sustained
treatment regime, let alone the costly surgical processes. The attitude of
doctors and support staff in the government run hospitals is even worse than scavengers.
Finding good people there tougher than even finding God. People who can afford
and can access, try to ignore the government run health facilities. And it
across India including the metro cities.
Officially, India's literacy rate
is around 75%. But again, if we see qualitatively, it is the same old story of
an equal sized Bharat within India. Our primary school system is languishing
with deep holes and leakage in the ambitious Universal Elementary Education
programme. Our higher education probably produces the maximum proportion of
inept professionals and higher education graduates.
Our economy is consistently
witnessing a falling gross savings to GDP ratio - from 34.6% in 2011-12 - to -
31.3% in 2015-16. One way to look at it would that people don't have wealth in
that proportion to save - something that is, naturally, very random and without
substance. Or it means people are saving less.
But that doesn't mean the
government should use to a stick to discipline people - like the proponents of
the EPF tax proposal including Finance Minister Arun Jaitely said - as a report
the Economic Times put forward - "The government had justified the move by
saying that it was meant to steer private sector employees towards a pensioned
retirement by discouraging lump sum withdrawals, especially for, as experience
suggests, conspicuous consumption."
The finger is being pointed at it
rightly - that who is the government to discipline us with our personal
preference. Yes, it is good for us when we save more - but then, on a macro
scale, it is good for the nation's economic health as well. But, in the name of
that, taxing a man's life's savings can never be justified especially when you
give people dreams save taxes and build a corpus by investing in the Provident
And from where this thought of 'disciplining'
the salaried taxpayer came? When you have such ridiculous poverty lines, when
you have millions poor to feed, when you have millions poor to heal, when you
have millions poor to educate?
India and Bharat cannot become
synonymous until we address these existential questions. Subsidy is now
addressed as a 'burden' in the lingo being used by the economists but this
'burden' is lifeline for India's millions poor who find it hard even to earn
Rs. 47 or Rs. 32 a day.
The government is duty-bound to
serve them first - with honesty - with integrity - with consistency. Taxing the
middle class with another 'tax burden' would not serve any purpose here.