Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hotels and Resorts


Today, the battle for political supremacy in Nagaland is being fought in hotels and resorts. Who is gaining out of this turmoil? Who else but the owners of the hotels and resorts! One wonders how much the bills have amounted to. I am sure the hotels are making profit much more than the Hornbill festival days because the guests this time are all VIPs and it has definitely been longer than many Hornbills put together. Hotel bills are not the primary concern of the present political upheaval. But the main purpose which drove our elected representatives to these camps is as idiotic as being concerned for the hotel bills. There were charges of kidnappings and house-arrests, not in some shabby hideout, but in the fanciest hotels in the State. There were instances of ditching camps and the name of a certain legislator has become a verb to refer to such acts. The idiocy continued when they came back and sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ in their hotel after all the 59 voted in unison and made a mockery of the whole episode in the floor of the Assembly. Dimapur campers went back to their resort, and there were stories of changing resort for change of ambience, and certain TA/DA being handed out to keep members from running away. This was not the first time when political battles were fought in hotels and resorts. Not long ago, there was a flee to Kaziranga where the legislators also celebrated Mothers’ day in the particular resort.   

It is primarily a fight for money and power. I have been reading on Money, Sex, and Power for a future project. And what is unravelling in our State politics is fitting so well into the text that this drama is all about the fight for money and power and nothing else. It is not any clash of political ideology, principle, governance, or whatever. Shurhozelie stated it so well when he said these memorable lines in the victory program where they sang the hymn mentioned above: ‘This time is found to be little different, the crisis is costlier in terms of time, money and services. Very confusing rumours spread till the last minute generated by the dissident group. The party men and women, who stood together to counter the most complicated crisis created by the Money Power leaders, complicating the established law and mimicking our stand by the dissident. We are aware that these few rich peoples backgrounds, including their parents, so their accumulated wealth used against party government for their selfish gain is an amassed fund when they were in power’. No more need to be said.

The alternative is the same as the present problem. Ever since the congress party voted in favour of the government on February 5 floor test, their voice seems to be decreasing to whispers for some certain arrangement, certain plump portfolio, certain cabinet berth, and so forth. So, there is no better alternative. It doesn’t matter if the Kohima camp, Dimapur camp, Congress, BJP, or whoever takes the lead. It’s all the same. Someone joked that we are fortunate to be living in this time to witness this political melodrama unfolding before our very eyes. But the joke is on us too and has been a very costly affair for all of us. It is much more than the money spent on hotel bills that were lost.

Enabling environment


I am writing this from Chandigarh where I have been attending a two weeks training. I’m learning that there is so much to be done back home in Nagaland. I have been equipped and inspired. But will I get the support when I come back to put in practice what I have learned? Many Naga students coming out of colleges and universities from across the world may have similar dreams. But on coming home they meet with roadblock after roadblocks that in a short time they become frustrated and give up. And on this trip, I have come across and heard stories of Naga doctors who have passed out from the best medical institutions and are longing to come back and serve the people. But they know that they will be seriously handicapped when they come to the situation we are in.

If our own folks hesitate to come home to work, it is very unlikely that we expect other people to come and deliver health care or any other service to our people. Now, some people may point out that those doctors should come back, start from scratch, and struggle to serve the people. There is truth in that. And there are people like that for sure in many fields. But it is totally another thing that those doctors are expected to connect their own electricity to run their machines, build roads to their hospitals, and pay the poor people from their pockets for all the investigative procedures required. I am referring to enabling environments on which services ought to be built. If those supports like electricity, connectivity, or financing are not there, in fact we cannot expect any decent health care delivery. On the one hand, we are short of specialist doctors while on the other, there are lots of them who want to serve but are not finding the space to do that (There are exceptions. But the point is: If doctors who are supposed to have the better opportunities have such challenges, what about the matriculates, and other graduates and post graduates?).

An important factor responsible for the social upheaval/unrest in the State is this, that there are a lot of angry and frustrated young people. A number of inter-tribal conflicts are not necessarily because one tribe hates the other, but are fights for limited opportunities and resources, for example in getting a government job. So, we compare and see which tribe has got more officers in which department, or which tribe is dominating which department or business. Starting a business is easy for some while it is very difficult for so many others. The interest rates for loans are too high, and there are extra taxes which we are all aware of. So, it is not that all those young educated-unemployed people are lazy. One can say that majority of the young entrepreneurs who are doing well are from rich backgrounds. To find money to start a business is not an issue for them. In the competitive exams also those who studied from good expensive private schools and premiere colleges and universities outside/abroad have advantage in the competitive exams to get a good job. So, in a way, that is also a form of reservation, a friend tells me. 

Forming peace committees and enforcing the Police to resolve and control conflicts, and imparting entrepreneurial skills are important. But that will be only temporary symptomatic relief measures. We need enabling environment where people can have opportunities to have decent lives, pursue their dreams, and do not have to fight over crumbs of bread. We need enabling environment where people can make plans for the day (or the future), work, and get an honest return for their day’s labour.

Who will pay for health care? (Guest Editorial 2)

For Morung Express newspaper Editorial

About 78% of all health care expenditures in India are paid from the patients’ pocket. It is estimated that about 2% of households fall into poverty every year because of paying medical bills. Government spends only about 1.2 % of its GDP on Health which is among the lowest in the world (less than Afghanistan and Sierra Leon). Union Budget for 2015-16 shows that there isn’t going to be any change in the coming year too, much to the disappointment of many health activists.

On the other hand, there has been constant talk about Health for All, MDGs, accessible and affordable health care, comprehensive primary health care, and so on. But anyone who has visited any health institution for consultation knows that medical care is not cheap. So, how do we make sense of all this high sounding words and phrases when contrasted with ground reality?

In the midst of discussion about fund leakage and mismanagement, it is true without a doubt that health care is grossly underfunded in India. There is simply not enough money for delivering decent health care to the people. A lot of packaging and repackaging are being done but the central government in the recent years have not committed to increasing investment in health care. The justification for increasing only 2% on health in the union budget this year is that the Centre wants the States to bear more responsibility for health care. This may spell more misery for a State like Nagaland. For all the centrally sponsored programs which now form the main bulk of the medical department, the State is supposed to give 10% of the year’s approved budget. But the State has failed to do its part every year. Health is not a priority according to the government of Nagaland. The allocation to Health has been decreasing with each passing year. This was not because of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM, now NHM). When the NRHM decreased its budget, the same year, State government continued to decrease its allocation to health. Also the move to empower the State backfired last year when Centre decided to route the NHM fund through the State treasuries. The money got stuck in the Finance Department and the Health service delivery has been severely affected. 

There is no sign of commitment either from the Centre or the State to increase investment in health care. So, who will pay for health care? Where will the people turn to? It is an alarming and depressing situation we are in. With increase in the cost of health care, catastrophic health expenditures are bound to increase. Health care cost of a household exceeding 10% of its total monthly consumption expenditures or 40% of its non-food consumption expenditure is called catastrophic health expenditures. 

To prevent families falling into this catastrophe, it is imperative that the State government prioritize Health in its budget allocation during the upcoming State budget session. For the poor, there is little or no alternative to public funded health care. Despite all the shortcomings, government health institutions and programs remain the backbone of health care in most of the villages and districts in Nagaland. Private medical care and Health Insurance are neither affordable nor accessible for the majority of the people who lives in rural areas. Charitable health institutions/initiatives are too few. The church is fond of setting up educational institutions, but few venture into health care. I hope our churches understand this precarious health care scenario and take the plunge. 

   ‘Health and happiness is not only a driver of economic growth, it is its very purpose’.
- National Health Policy 2015 (Draft)

…of the same material (Guest Editorial 1)

Guest Editorial for Morung Express newpaper

An office peon steals milk powder from the office refreshment. A politician diverts fund from a poverty alleviation scheme to build his private mansion. Of the two, who did more wrong? The office peon harps about how corrupt our politicians have become. We agree. But how different are we from the ones we are pointing fingers at? 

A friend asked me why we blame our leaders all the time when we ourselves are corrupt. I replied that it is right and valid that we blame them. A politician and a peon are both individual human beings. But by virtue of their positions and spheres of influence, it is important that we have clean leaders. One decision or action of a single politician can affect thousands or lakhs of lives which is not so in case of the peon. The scale of corruption - of some milk powder lost and lakhs of scheme money lost - is so different. A good leader can motivate a lot of people through exemplary living and creating opportunities for better living through decisions which will make people not steal milk powders (in case the peon struggles to meet daily needs). 

But corruption isn’t a simple shirt that we wear or choose not to put on. In spite of the longing to be free from it, we all are somehow in it together. It is so pervasive that each one of us is directly or indirectly involved. It is possible that the problem of corruption is always blamed on our leaders looking at the scale of the corruption while in the root we might be the same. It is very much possible that the peon and the politician are made of the same material. The only difference is the lack of opportunity for the peon. Given the chance, the peon would have acted as the politician because they are made of one material. We want change but we are always waiting for others to bring it. It becomes a viscous cycle that we keep complaining about corruption while at the same time we want the scale to tilt in our favour; we want that shortcut, or that special connection which can manipulate the system to our advantage, and thereby promoting further corruption. Somewhere, we have to stop and start to be the change. 

It requires systemic and structural changes. We need laws, rules, legislations, etc and the enforcement of such measures. But even with a good system or structure in place, it becomes a very moral and personal matter, the evil of corruption. It is so hard to say that I contribute to the problem which ails our society. But from that uncomfortable and inconvenient place of meeting our own weaknesses, we must all begin. We won’t get it right overnight. It will be a process. Education or awareness is important and we need it. But to root out corruption calls for a change much more radical than increased knowledge. It calls us to change on the inside. It will be as difficult as a tobacco user trying to kick the habit. He is well aware of the health hazards. Each time he takes a cigarette out of the pack, he sees the terrifying warning signs. But it is so hard to overcome it. Fighting corruption will be that difficult. But if we don’t do it, we will continue to suffer from it.