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India’s mission to Mars: money well spent? February 6, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Eshan Motwani

In November 2013 India joined an exclusive club of nations to have launched a mission to Mars. Informally referred to as ‘Mangalyaan’ (Mars-craft), the launch represents an unparalleled scientific and technological achievement for India; one that has already drawn praise for its shoestring budget of $78m. Media coverage of the scientific and human efforts involved in managing this mission on an extremely small budget has often been accompanied with attention to India’s wide-scale poverty and social welfare issues. The intention of mentioning these distinct events and circumstances together has seemingly been to question the Indian rationale in launching an ambitious project in light of existing challenges.

The argument that the space program somehow diverts valuable resources away from public welfare projects is imbalanced. It is surprising that global (and some Indian) condemnation of the launch is so readily expressed without considering other activities that have severely drained public funding. The drain in resources from India’s space program is in fact trivial when compared to the effects of corruption and graft that plague India’s public welfare initiatives. Condemning the space program for redirecting attention away from social welfare problems ignores the potential commercial, scientific and long-term impacts of the successful launch.

Photo: Indian Space Research Organisation, Copyright 2008 ISRO


Freedom from hunger: privilege granted or acknowledged right? January 29, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan, South Asia - General , comments closed

Aly Ercelan and Muhammad Ali Shah

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.”

A recent publication of Rome-based UN agencies (FAO along with IFAD and WFP of the UN) aiming at global food security is worth a serious commentary for several reasons. One is the odious South Asian situation, which includes Pakistan, of socially imposed mass hunger and malnutrition, which affectsnot just women and men but also children. If there is a single issue that defines development, then it is the situation of children today and tomorrow (as UNICEF rightly underscores). Their under- and mal-nourishment leads to untimely death of hundreds of thousands before the age of five. Survivors face a cruel future in which both body and brain remain wasted and stunted. What then is the point of investing social resources in universal schooling? Avoiding hunger often leads to employment of children in distressingly hazardous conditions and at ruthlessly exploitative wages. Government commits funds for abolition of “worst forms of child labour” but what benefit can they have when their disbursement excludes full and productive employment of their parents?

A second reason is that the FAO retains an overwhelming influence upon sub-continental professional advisors as bureaucrats and consultants, even among those who are not obviously beholden to Washington. Thirdly, food security should be included in the post-2015 agenda for universal accountability of states and the international community to citizens. In fact, food security targets may well encompass necessary commitments in education and health.

This review summarises the FAO report – The State of Food Insecurity in the World  with an emphasis upon South Asian conditions. Its policy guidelines are to be examined critically in a follow up article, through a lens provided by another recent study – Alternatives & Resistance to Policies that Generate Hunger (by the Right to Food & Nutrition Watch.


Can India discard populism? December 2, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Ashima Goyal

The Indian economy is suffering from the effects of the government’s high-risk development policy, which relied on volatile capital inflows from US quantitative easing to finance consumption and inclusion.

This strategy is high-risk because, in the long term, capital and investment follow growth, and aren’t determined by the monetary policy of a foreign country. But India has focused excessively on financing deficits and neglected growth-promoting domestic reforms — a strategy which is risky at best and disastrous when the global markets are fragile as they are now. Domestic and international reform to encourage economic growth is the sustainable way forward. Short-term measures to alleviate the current account deficit or reduce pressures on the rupee are all, at best, only stop-gaps.

But of course, in a democracy that is going into an election year, only politically friendly reforms are likely to be undertaken. So can politicians persuade their constituents to accept reform?