|Prof. Amartya Sen receives honoris causa and also delivers the first Hyderabad Lecture at UoH
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Centrality of Meaningful Public dialogue in Democracy
After the investiture ceremony, Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor, UoH gave an introduction to the Hyderabad Lecture Series. The Hyderabad Lecture Series has been initiated with support from an endowment instituted at University of Hyderabad by Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA). The Lecture Series hopes to be an important series of lecture to contribute to the intellectual capacity of the Hyderabad city on issues of contemporary interest.
The Lectures will be organized at various public institutions in the twin cities. The Vice-Chancellor expressed his sincere thanks to IRDA for this kind gesture. He also expressed his gratitude to Prof. Sen to accept the invitation to deliver the first Hyderabad Lecture.
Prof. G. Nancharaiah, Dean, School of Economics presented a glimpse of important contributions of Prof. Sen especially in the area of economics.
In his lecture, Prof. Amartya Sen emphasized the importance of dialogue as a solution to deal with day-to-day issues in public and social life. He gave the example of Coffee House set up where people get a chance to share their mind on issues and subjects that can’t be discussed in formal settings like classrooms. These kind of informal settings are extremely important to discuss about neglected issues and to bring about the change through democratic means of discussion, voting etc. Students have obvious reasons to discuss about many things and these informal discussion set-ups are necessary to facilitate this very important activity, he added.
Speaking about the negligence of dalits, he mentioned that it is a bigger issue in some parts of India compared to other parts of the country and he finds himself on the side of dalit agitation. It is important to carry out the dalit agitation in a well thought manner with persuasive power so as to involve others to the centrality of issue.
He spoke about his comprehensive work on famine. It’s not that people die only due to non-availability of food but it has more to do with the economic ability of people to buy food.
Prof. Sen had donated his Nobel prize money to set up two trusts one each in India and Bangladesh that works on elementary schooling and inequality issues.
He also talked about how under nourishment of children affect their overall development in the long run and has a long lasting negative impact on development outcome of the country. It is important to have right attitude for democracy and to facilitate public discussion, Prof. Sen added.
Prof. Sen stated that democracy needs to have a foundation of equity and mentioned about importance of judging economic progress in a more meaningful and responsible sense. At the time of independence India’s annual GDP growth rate was 3.5% and everyone rates this as very poor performance, however, we should not forget that the country had an average annual GDP growth of only 0.1% for first half of the 20th century, he added. He also emphasized the need of a good political economy with sustained rise in economic growth for two reasons. One, this would help people to have better economic capability to lead a better life and second the high growth rate will also ensure higher revenue income to the government that can be used for expenditure on public utility. Prof. Sen further mentioned that main beneficiary of the government subsidies have been bottom 20% of the top 20% population and not the people at the lowest strata.
At times reality doesn’t match people’s perception; India spends 1.2% of GDP on government health care and ranks at third or fourth position from below in the list of 200 countries. Health care services carries with it the issue of asymmetric information where service providers have better set of information than the patients and so leaving it to run completely on market mechanism cannot result in efficient outcome, said Prof. Sen. Countries like Japan, Taiwan, Hongkong, China etc. have adopted universal health care and have got enabling development outcomes on their economy and India must learn from them. Prof. Sen mentioned about state’s involvement in providing proper health care and education for its citizenry. In India, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have focused on these areas and these steps are helping people to be a part of the development process. It’s strange to see that these important stories are not getting enough media attention and even people in general don’t seem interested in demanding such information. He also mentioned that it’s not appropriate to completely neglect the importance of market but the state mechanism must act in areas where only the state can act.
Prof. Sen emphasized upon the importance of dialogue, debate and argument. He also told that phrases such as neo-liberaldon’t make much sense if it’s not discussed in appropriate context. Alternatively he emphasized the need of institutional combination that really matters for development of a nation and overall well-being of the citizenry in the true sense.
Stating that the dalit issue is very essential and serious one, Prof. Sen mentioned about Dr. B R Ambedkar’s commandments – Educate, Organize, Agitate – to bring the change in a democratic setup. He concluded his lecture with the submission that it is the people’s ability to talk to each other in a meaningful manner that makes all the difference in a democracy.
I had prepared this article originally for the UoH Herald. It's posted here: http://uohherald.commuoh.in/centrality-of-meaningful-public-dialogue-in-democracy/