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220 million people living below the poverty line shows the failure of our system : A P J Abdul Kalam

Aug 15, 2008 ,


Face to Face

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (born 15 October 1931) usually referred to as Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is an Indian scientist and administrator who served as the 11th President of India. Kalam was born and raised in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, studied physics at the St. Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, and aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai. Before his term as President, he worked as an aerospace engineer with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Kalam is popularly known as the Missile Man of India for his work on the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology. He played a pivotal organizational, technical and political role in India's Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974. Some scientific experts have however called Kalam a man with no authority over nuclear physics but who just carried on the works of Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. Kalam was elected the President of India in 2002, defeating Lakshmi Sahgal and was supported by both the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the major political parties of India. He is currently a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore, Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore) and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India. Kalam advocated plans to develop India into a developed nation by 2020 in his book India 2020. Books authored by him have received considerable demands in South Korea for the translated versions. He has received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour. Kalam is known for his motivational speeches and interaction with the student community in India. He launched his mission for the youth of the nation in 2011 called the What Can I Give Movement with a central theme to defeat corruption in India. Kalam was also criticized for inaction as a president on the pending mercy plea petitions, that delayed prosecution of the convicts.

Former Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam kindly answered Archana Masih and Saisuresh Sivaswamy's questions for an exclusive interview with

What are the top most recent achievements that India has reason to be proud of ? 

The Indian economy is in an ascent phase. Particularly, our economy is growing at 8% to 9% per annum for the last four years. However, there is a need to control inflation by increasing productivity, particularly in the consumer sector. There is a marked improvement in our infrastructure such as roads, particularly rural roads, tele-density, international airports, metro-rail connectivity. In the agricultural sector, our food production has increased to 237 million tonnes. It is essential to give highest priority for agro-food processing. This will enhance earning capacity of farmers. In the automobile sector, India has become a leading manufacturer of cars, commercial vehicles and components. The Nano car is an important milestone in the small car segment. Work is also on to convert the automobile to run with emulsified fuel having 75% fuel and 25% water. The PSLV C9 mission launching precisely ten satellites, including eight satellites for international customers.

And where have we failed? What have been our greatest failures and where have we failed our people? 

While there has been all-round growth in many sectors during the last 60 years, the fact that there are still 220 million people living below the poverty line shows the failure of our system. Hence, connectivity and working with integrity are the immediate solutions. Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) which gives physical connectivity, electronic connectivity and knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity in rural areas is the possible solution. We need 7000 PURA complexes for covering 600,000 villages in the country.

Image: 836 million people in India live on Rs 20 a day, according to a government-commissioned study last year. In this photograph, impoverished tribal travel along the flooded Narmada river, November 25, 2005. The construction of large dams on the Narmada river impacted the lives of millions of people living in the river valley. Photograph: Ami Vitale/Getty Images. Dr Kalam's photograph: Rajesh Karkera.

 'The skill deficit among our youth is the most important issue' August 14, 2008 
 With inflation and slowing down of the growth rate, how do you see it impacting the opportunities for the youth of this country? 

Normally high productivity in the consumer sector will have tremendous effect in bringing down inflation. It can be seen whenever oil price is hiked, it has an impact on inflation. Our solution is the nation has to go for energy independence. That means we have to come out from the dependence on fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). Does India have enough opportunities for young graduates emerging out of India's universities? There is a view that the quality of Indian graduates is not good enough for them to be employable. What are your thoughts on this view? As we are in the ascending economic trajectory, we are concerned about rising unemployment and illiteracy. Unemployment is not the major problem; the question of un-employability is a bigger crisis. According to the India Labour Report 2007, 53% of employed youth suffer some degree of skill deprivation while only 8 per cent of youth are unemployed. The remaining 47 per cent of India's youth suffer some degree of unemployablity. Only 7 per cent of the population in the 15 to 29 age group has received some form of vocational training. 300 million youth will enter the labour force by 2025. The unfinished product from the education system makes it vulnerable and creates social instability and inequality. The skill deficit among our youth is the most important issue to be addressed on priority. Recently, I went to meet the members of the Communication and Progress (CAP) Foundation at Hyderabad which is addressing this problem in its own unique way. We need many institutions like CAP to work on mission mode to make every Indian youth fully employable and an active contributor to national development missions. A similar system is required for enhancing the employability quotient of our university graduates. 

 2020, when you had said India will become a developed nation, is now not very far away. What do you see as hurdles in our path? How can they be overcome?

 I believe it is essential that economic prosperity has to reach 700 million people who are in the rural areas. The solution is establishment of 7,000 PURAs (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) across the country and graduating our economic development measure from growth in GDP to growth in National Prosperity Index, NPI. 'The youth is restless' 

After your term as President has ended, you continue to criss-cross the nation. Do you find any change in the popular mood from the time you were Rashtrapati to now? 

What I see is that the youth is restless. They want to contribute to make India great. The time has come to launch a youth movement for national development. This, I am progressing.

What is your message on Independence Day? 

Let us all, citizens of India resolve on the 61st Independence Day, 'I will work with integrity and succeed with integrity. 

 Image: Indian students from the 124-year-old Anjuman-e-Islam school in Ahmedabad during the launch of a three-day Independence Day programme, August 13, 2008. Photograph: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images. Also See: Independence Day, Five Years Ago 





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