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Sen’s Kerala parallel

Calcutta, Feb. 19: What the communists in Kerala could achieve, their comrades in Bengal failed in their 34-year rule — improving health care and education — Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said today.

“The Malayali Left activists had supported education and health care reforms. The educated population in Kerala want good health,” Sen said while addressing an interactive session at a workshop on Curing India’s Health System: Learning from Asian Experience.

“In Kerala, the Left was involved in the anti-untouchabilty movement in the 19th century unlike in Bengal where the Left was sceptical about education reforms,” the economist said.

According to Sen, Kerala was way behind in literacy but after the communists came to power in the 1960s, gradually the literacy rate started improving and now, it has touched 100 per cent.

“But in Bengal’s communist party, the ancestry didn’t come from the lower castes,” he said. Sen cited this as one of the reasons why the anti-upper class movement didn’t take place in Bengal like it did in Kerala.

“Left-ruled countries like Cuba and Vietnam had problems with democracy but they had developed basic public health and education systems. The Left achieved more in Tripura than Bengal…. Kerala made much more progress,” Sen said. He said the Congress too had taken part in the social movement in Kerala.

Sen rated Bengal in the mid-level in public health care. “Bengal has done well in some sectors like family planning but in other fields like immunisation, it has not done too well,” he said. Sen felt Bengal required more primary health care institutes and workers.

He urged unions to take up a more responsible role and ensure that health workers and doctors are present at primary health care units.

“India’s comprehensive health care system is in an abysmal state and neighbouring countries like China and Bangladesh have surpassed India in providing public health care,” Sen said.

He said Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore were also among the countries that were ahead of India in providing government-sponsored health care. “We need much more in public health care. Clean water, sanitation, nutritional support, waste disposal — India is far behind these countries in comprehensive health care,” Sen said.

He felt India relied excessively on private health care. “We are not against private health care. But we don’t want them to replace the public health care system,” he said.