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Mall Road

Bus Addey, Maal Rode, Camp, Madal Toun, Ajadpur, Shalimaar...

Is there such a thing as a free lunch?

NYT pix

Amy Waldman, one of many fabulous foreign reporters in Delhi, brilliantly captures in an NYT story the debate on the employment guarantee scheme, juxtaposing it with the world-famous midday meal programme.

My greatest fears come true as she finds out in the outskirts of Delhi how midday meals are increasing nutrition and attendance, but not education. This also means that the HRD Ministry is going to give you huge figures in the rise of literacy, even if these students are barely going to be able to write their names after several years of schooling, I mean, eating midday meals. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

However, Waldman writes, "A study by the Center for Social Equity in New Delhi said the meal program had improved child nutrition and encouraged mixing among castes." So economists who keep harping on doing away with these welfare-statist ideas and talk merely of creating jobs, can go drown themselves in the polluted Yamuna. Yes, welfare schemes can't substitute economic growth or job creation, but can surely alleviate the sub-Saharan conditions of India's poor?

If corruption and lack of accountability are problems that hinder the effectiveness of public welfare schemes, that is not case enough to scrap such schemes and leave the poor to the mercy of market forces. You can't behead me to alleviate my headache. You can, at best, try to bring about transparency, or even try and overhaul a system that allows itself to be manipulated.

Is that enough to offend the cartel of libertarian Indian bloggers?

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-- Anonymous Anonymous, 4/30/2005 12:38:00 pm


Nice post. I completely agree that our country's poor represent a tragedy of enormous proportions, and anything, anything at all, that is done to alleviate their suffering *now* is better than waiting for the market gods; EGA is one (and not the only one) such measure. The real task should be in figuring out the best means of achieving the goals of EGA.

I just wanted to point to something that I wrote in January on the Employment Guarantee Act (EGA). "[conservatives are better off putting up] a more serious fight to create a good system of delivering on EGA's promises with as little a wastage as possible. For example, which level of government is best suited for implementing EGA? What are the ways in which EGA programs can be made self-selecting (i.e., only those whom EGA is meant to help will actually come forward to work under EGA)?". Interestingly, I also alluded to the success of the universal mid-day meal scheme in Tamil Nadu.    

-- Anonymous Anonymous, 5/01/2005 10:03:00 pm

agree with you totally on the need for more such schemes.
however the big scams are not in these piddling welfare schemes, since obviously the real money is elsewhere - defence, power, water, etc. etc. try 5000 crores a year (and not pidlu 17 crores one time as your link to the bihar scam shows), for the next 20 yrs, if enron had survived in maharashtra (they closed down inspite of us begging them to stay - and now GE is moving in again for the kill).

if anything needs to be stopped forthwith, its progress and development. and im only applying the neo-liberals own arguments, but to his schemes.    

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