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Amartya Sen Likens Note Ban to an 'Unguided Missile Fired Unilaterally'

Mumbai: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on Saturday termed note ban as an unguided “missile” fired “unilaterally” by the government without adhering to the democratic conventions.

“Every now and then we get missiles fired by the government unilaterally. Demonetisation, one fine morning, is of course just such a missile. There are reports coming in of hardships and suffering though it is not quite clear where the missile has landed,” Sen said.

The remark was made by Sen during a talk titled ‘Healthcare for all: Why and how’, was done while comparing decision-making in a democratic country like ours and the Communist China.

The Bharat Ratna awardee said decisions get taken in China based on the vision of a small group of people, while in a democracy like ours, things move only when there is a public demand for it.

“Our political decisions, however, in contrast have to involve the public,” he said, comparing our situation with China and going on to mention the demonetisation exercise as an aberration from such a convention.

Drawing attention to the critical challenges faced by the healthcare sector, the professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard said, “unilateral thoughts” like demonetisation cannot be of help.

“Firing unilateral thoughts are not the way to reform healthcare in the kind of democracy that is India,” Sen said.

It can be noted that the US-based Sen has been critical of the demonetisation announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8.

Among other things, he has described it as a “despotic action” which was taken in a hurry.

Sen also made a reference to the ideas of Buddha and made a specific mention of his work in reviving the famed University at Nalanda.

It can be noted that Sen’s name was excluded after the Modi government reconstituted the board of the Nalanda University in November 2015. Sen was the founding chancellor of the varsity.

Sen said he was “deeply influenced” by Buddha’s ideas including those on education, and said he was hoping to revive Nalanda from his childhood days.

Sen also spoke about the need to increase Budgetary allocation to healthcare as a share of GDP, saying the present paltry allocation above 1 per cent is very low.

Ruing that healthcare gets scant attention from the media, he cited an empirical analysis of editorial space to the critical subject done by him and developmental economist Jean Dreze to drive home his point.

None of the major political parties made any mention to healthcare in the 2014 hustings as well, Sen pointed out and regretted the lack of public discussion on the subject.

Drawing parallels with the metaphor of snake and ladder game, Sen said healthcare is yet to benefit from the good delivered by economic growth.

He said during the past 25 years, we have grown on the ‘ladder’ of economic development but the lack of healthcare facilities has acted like the ‘snake’.

The economist also said there is an urgent need to stop exploitation of the poor and the ignorant patients by doctors. Additionally, the “moral hazard” created by subsidising private hospitals in schemes like the Rashtriya Suraksha Beema Yojana also has to stop, he said.

Healthcare should also include the social determinants of health, such as nutrition, sanitation and social equity, Sen said.