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Turning attention to the poor in India

The economy in India is looking strong. Output for the second quarter of 2010 grew by nearly 9% compared to the same quarter of the previous year, with job-creation in the manufacturing sector. And on October 3rd, the country will be hosting the Commonwealth games in Delhi, a chance to showcase the city and India’s new prosperity to the world. But is all the emphasis on wealth creation coming at the expense of wealth distribution?

Despite the burgeoning economy, only 1 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on healthcare, much less than some African countries. Millions of India’s poorest citizens struggle to receive the medicines and treatments they need. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has recently issued a statement about its concern over the treatment of AIDS in India. With 2.27 million HIV/AIDS sufferers, India is in the top three countries of the world when it comes to the number of HIV cases it has to deal with. But the fund’s executive director says that many people go untreated. He estimates that 300,000 are receiving treatment, but this represents only a third of those who need it. The failure to diagnose and medicate those infected makes the task of preventing more infections that much harder. 

And while feverish work is underway to complete preparations for the Commonwealth Games, many are now questioning the wisdom of hosting this event. A massive 2.35 billion dollars is being spent to construct the village and facilities for the athletes. In a country where one in three people live below the poverty line and 46% of India’s children are malnourished, some are wondering why such a huge sum of money is being spent on a 12-day sports event.

There are concerns that as costs have spiralled, money has been diverted away from the poor. Under India’s right to information act, the Housing and Land Rights Network pressure group has obtained official documents suggesting millions of dollars have been siphoned from schemes which fight poverty in order to fund the Delhi Games. As well as misuse of funds, the pressure group also accuses the local authorities of evicting 100,000 poor families and displacing many more poor people to create the environment for the Games.

With such disruption and the huge sums of money involved, it is hardly surprising that many ordinary Indians feel little enthusiasm for the Games. A UN special advisor on housing rights/issues believes that the authorities have lost sight of their “legal and moral commitments to [the] people”. His remarks also reflect recent concern about the removal of street-sellers and other traders around the site of the Games prior to their commencement. In June, it was announced that roadside sellers of food or other services, such as cobblers and those who iron clothes, would present a “security risk” and would be acting illegally if they continued to trade in the area. Organisations which represent the street sellers are warning that families face extreme hardship if they cannot earn their living and argue that India must take more heed of the needs of the poor and not simply push them out of sight.

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