By Asim Dasgupta
On the eve of the forthcoming parliamentary elections on 5th April, 2009 the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on behalf of the Congress Party packaged baseless lies as a “report card” against the Left Front Government in West Bengal. On the 6th of April 2009, the State Left Front Chairman and Secretary of CPI(M) State Committee Biman Basu refuted the so called facts and canards in detail. However, I am once again putting together a comprehensive rejoinder to the numerous false charges in their write-up.
Slander 1: There has been no development in education during the tenure of the Left Front Government. The percentage of drop-outs in West Bengal is 82.7% which is way above the national average, and the quality of school education in the state is very bad, etc.
Real Fact: During the tenure of the Left Front Government special priority has been given to spread access, quality and continuity in education starting from the primary level upwards. This effort is not only limited in admitting children to schools, but emphasis is also given to involving women self-help groups in mid-day meal scheme in all schools and reduce the tendency to drop out. Simultaneously attention is given to activities of school-wise mother-teacher committees, village-based education committees and school inspectors to improve the quality of education. As a result according to the latest information from NUEPA (2007), the drop-out rate in primary schools of West Bengal has gone down to 8.56% which is in fact less than the national average of 9.36%. From the same source, we learn that at the junior high school level also this rate has gone further down to 7.34%. According to the last available state-wise information published by NCERT (2005), the students of West Bengal are at the top in the nation in overall qualitative evaluation of all the subjects after the completion of fifth standard in school.
The Congress “Report” is falsely critical of the education system under Left rule; and also in effect insults the honourable teachers and the students of West Bengal while real facts are showing diametrically opposite scenario.
Slander 2: The Left Front Government has failed to provide safe drinking water to the inhabitants of the state. Using information from the National Family-wise Health Survey (2005-06) it states that while safe drinking water is provided to 84.2% and 78.4% families in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra respectively, while in West Bengal only 27.9% families have access to safe drinking water.
Real Fact: The sample survey which has been referred to in this “Report” uses a very small sample for West Bengal. While the number of total families in West Bengal is around 2.29 Crore (1.34 Crore in rural area and 0.45 Crore in urban areas), this survey takes a sample size of 5992 families, which is a meager 0.03% of the total. In sharp contrast, according to the survey conducted by the State Government in which complete information from 1.34 Crore families in 40000 villages and around 0.40 Crore families in urban areas was collected, 90.5% rural families and 96.8% urban families have access to safe drinking water. Therefore here too the actual position is are just the opposite of what has been projected in the “Report.”
However, the Left Front Government feels that there is still some more scope for improvement and targets have already been fixed to make safe drinking water available to 100% families in urban and rural areas of the state. Simultaneously steps have been taken to supervise and maintain all water projects through panchayats and municipal corporations.
Slander 3: In the area of public health nothing much has been done during the Left Front rule because the average Body Mass Index of women in West Bengal is less than the national average in comparison and so on.
Real Fact: Information on women’s health is taken from the National Family-wise Sample Survey which has a serious statistical problem of very small sample size, as mentioned earlier. According to the latest round of this survey (2005-06), as far as BMI is concerned 51.8% women in this country have normal BMI while in West Bengal this ratio stands at 49.6%. What this so called “Report” forgets to mention is that the same source of information reveals data lower than West Bengal in some other major and more affluent and developed states like Maharashtra (49.3%), Karnataka (49.2%) and Gujarat (47.0%). Moreover, according to the latest report of FAO (2008) special mention has been made of India in the area of food insecurity and problems of women’s health; and more specific and serious concerns are expressed regarding some other states like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Orissa and Maharashtra. We feel instead of singling out a particular state by using this problem to make vulgar political points it is much more desirable to find a humane acceptable way towards solution to this problem through discussions with all the states in the country.
The progress of public healthcare in a state is ideally measured by looking at how rapidly a reduction in overall mortality rate and child mortality rate has been achieved and what has been the role of the state government in that reduction. The point to be noted here is that while only 40% patients get the opportunity to be treated in a government hospital nationally, in West Bengal 73% of the total patients get treatment in government hospitals. In the Left Front era this welfare role of the state government has been institutionalized and re-enforced; and the endeavour to provide decentralized preventive healthcare and treatment through panchayats and municipal corporations adds more strength to this emphasis, particularly on the basis of expansion of healthcare by employing more health workers. As a result of all these the latest published data of the central government (Source: SRS survey, 2007) show that mortality rate per thousand has gone down from 10.9 in 1980 to 6.3 now, which is much lower than national average of 7.4. Incidentally among the major states West Bengal has the lowest mortality rate and Kerala stands just after West Bengal at 6.4. Child mortality rate per thousand has also gone down from 91 in 1980 to 37 currently, which is lower than the national average (57) and fourth among the major states after Kerala (14), Tamil Nadu (36) and Maharashtra (37). Here one outstanding fact is that the child mortality rate decreased to even below 10 in Kolkata and the 41 adjacent municipal areas due to the involvement of the municipal corporations in the decentralized healthcare system. Moreover, this rate is even lower than the child mortality rate in municipal areas of Kerala.
If one takes all this information together the real picture becomes clear that West Bengal has come up at the top level in the country in public healthcare, but this kind of an intellectually and politically honest and principled approach would have highlighted the successes of the Left Front Government. As a result, the authors of this report and their allies would have been in a politically uncomfortable situation; and that is precisely why they created a huge gap between the reality and their slander to utilize this pack of lies politically.
Slander 4: During the Left Front Government’s tenure poverty and hunger have become significant in West Bengal. Murshidabad is the poorest district in the country and so on.
Real Fact: Information provided by the Planning Commission is the most acceptable source for comparing state-wise figures for population below the poverty line in our country. According to those statistics, during Congress rule in West Bengal in 1973-74 the percentage of population below poverty line was 63.43%, which was much higher than the national average of 54.88%. This was the intensity of poverty in the state during Congress rule. In contrast, during Left Front tenure using land reform as the basis and implementing alternative policies the percentage of population below poverty line rapidly decreased. The same Planning Commission’s latest information reveals that in the year 2004-05 this figure has come down to 20.6% which is less than national average of 21.6% unlike the Congress-ruled era in the State. Therefore, the scenario has transformed in favour of common people compared to the dismal situation during Congress government.
After knowing this what do the authors of this slander do and where can they find some faults? They incoherently quote from an article written by Dreze and Deaton (EPW, 14th February, 2009) and say that the percentage of population without adequate food intake is 11.7% which is higher than national average of 2.5%. The architects of this slanderous report either tried to exploit this article or they could not find the time to read it fully, or else they have deliberately hidden the facts. Page 45 of this article clearly mentions that these ratios were derived from a survey whose questionnaire was changed in between to a more controversial and questionable one. In the changed methodology the surveyors were instructed to write down the answers by asking questions based on completely psychological perceptions instead of asking objective and scientific questions. This methodology resulted in varied and unexplainable sets of answers from different states, and hence the authors cautioned that using this set of information may give rise to suspicious results for a state-wise comparison. Without reading this, or may be by hiding this, the authors of the Congress Report utilized this unreliable information.
That is not all. The authors forgot that the last National Sample Survey on state-wise information of food intake was published in that very year of 2004-05 based on solid objective and material information(61st round). That survey clearly spells out that in rural West Bengal per capita calorie intake is 2070 which is not only more than the national average of 2047 but also it is higher than Maharashtra (1933), Gujarat (1929), Karnataka (1845) and Tamil Nadu (1842).
West Bengal government undertook a survey in each village of each district which shows that at present the percentage of population not getting adequate food is only 3.59%. If the urban data is added to this then this ratio will go below 2.5% for the entire West Bengal. Therefore once again real facts and slander propagated as facts are absolutely different even in the matter of food intake.
The Congress report states that Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) has conducted a survey which shows that 56% of Murshidabad district’s population lives in abject poverty and this district is the poorest district in the country. We don’t know about any such survey conducted by ISI, but according to the family and district-wise survey conducted by the state government the population living in abject poverty in Murshidabad is 4.3% (not 56% as mentioned in Congress Report), and as far as this ratio is concerned Murshidabad is better than some of the districts in West Bengal itself.
However, the main reason for economic hardship of the common people of Murshidabad is the erosion of soil in the banks of the Ganga-Padma river. Since this erosion takes place along the international border the state government repeatedly petitioned the central government to treat the problem of erosion in the banks of Ganga-Padma as a crucial national level issue and the central government take adequate responsibility to solve this problem. In spite of this, the central government under both the Congress rule and the NDA rule (of which Trinamool Congress was a constituent) did not pay any attention to this legitimate demand of the people of Murshidabad. So, the majority (around Rs. 400 Crore) of the total money spent (Rs. 717.89 Crore) on preventing this erosion from 1977-78 to 2008-09 was done by the Left Front Government of West Bengal on its own.