Stories of success and failure

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2007

sampat Lal is not the protagonist of a typical Down To Earth story. He's the treasurer of a cooperative that runs a fair price shop in a Rajasthan village. Quite successfully, in fact. Lal belongs to a cooperative of mine workers. There are quite a few such cooperatives in Rajasthan now (see Features Mine workers in Rajasthan form cooperatives).

Thanks to these associations, mine-workers can expect a fair deal in many parts of the state. The success of the fair price shop run must also be seen in the context of the general failure of pds in the country. 58 per cent of the subsidised food does not reach the families below the poverty line (see Factsheet Distribution matters). Faulty targeting, ghost cards and low quality provision dog most of these outlets.

But it's not just the pds system. A lot of the institutions meant for the poor have failed them. It's a failure which we report consistently, often at the cost of appearing hackneyed. In fact, a section of our readers often complain that we go overboard with negative stories.

Perhaps they have a reason. To a lot of the world, "India is shining". Reinforcement comes in the form of malls and glitzy retail stores that sell fresh carrots. The middle classes in even small towns feel very little pinch with the 'discounts' offered at snazzy retail outlets. A story about the failed pds comes as a spoilsport in such a scenario.

Besides even when it's a successful venture, how can a modest pds shop compete with such glitz? So, endeavours such as those of Lal's cooperatives rarely find a place in the narratives of success that are the flavour of the media today. But common grounds there are aplenty between the mine worker's endeavour and the negative stuff that we have been accused of peddling. Our correspondent was witness to the happiness in Lal's village, Ummarwas--in Rajasthan's Rajsamand district--because the fair price shop was running well. It wasn't a facile show meant for an outsider. The people were happy because a difficult existential problem had been overcome it's difficult to get even the basic provisions if you are poor in India. We usually report about such difficulties. But we also try to find people who have overcome such odds. We also understand that there are disjointed good news scattered all over India. The point is how to connect them to fight the bad news.

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