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In quest of happiness

By GovernanceToday
In Issue 8
May 4, 2016
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Madhya Pradesh, which is often said to be a BIMARU state, plans a ministry that will bring smile to its people

happiness-ministry-madhya-pradeshIn a first of its kind initiative in India, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan recently announced a ‘Ministry of Happiness’ to measure the state’s progress, on lines of Bhutan which measures prosperity by gauging citizens’ happiness quotient and not GDP. The purpose behind setting up this ministry, as per Chouhan, is to ensure happiness in the lives of people and stop them from taking extreme steps like suicide when they are in distress. It will rope in psychologists to counsel people how to be always happy and organise activities such as yoga, meditation and cultural programmes among others to keep all happy.

According to the MP CM, the proposed department will take all possible measures to ensure that people remain happy in their lives as worldly possessions and development based on “statistical figures is not the only measure of happiness”. The given development paints a positive picture of the state which has been in news for all wrong reasons for the last few months, especially since the shocking revelations of Vyapam scam dominated headlines. As per the ruling BJP, it is touted as another breakthrough for the state after achieving “tremendous growth” and recording the highest agriculture growth rate in the country, winning the Centre’s Krishi Karman award four years in a row.

Although it’s an out of the box idea in India, things are not going to be that easy for the uniquely conceived program. The chief minister seems to have jumped the gun with this announcement, with no groundwork on how the program will be implemented. Other than the inspiration from Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index — which calculates happiness based on ecology, health, time use, education, living standards, cultural diversity, communal vitality and psychological well-being — there is little in terms of foundation.

The announcement comes at a time when the state is facing agrarian and financial crises, with reports of farmer suicides making headlines. In addition, at least 27 students killed themselves this year under the pressure of exams. The 2014 National Crime Records Bureau report shows that Madhya Pradesh had the highest number of rapes at 5,076, and also topped the chart in terms of crimes against children — 16.9 per cent of all crimes reported. Malnutrition, Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) also remain alarmingly high in the state. In fact, India ranked a dismal 117th for 2012-14 in the World Happiness Report 2015, says a report published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

While the initiative is somewhat untidily put, the concept of so-called happiness economics has been around for years now. It has given rise to a serious debate about taking a broader approach to development than focusing too narrowly on gross domestic product (GDP) as a metric. But it is equally true that such subjective measures are only relevant in developed economies, where GDP per capita has passed a certain threshold. In countries below that threshold such as India, there is a direct link between GDP and quality of life/happiness. It’s not a bad thing for governments to bring forth innovative approaches. But for now, focusing on the basics will yield the greatest returns. The three-time Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister must take this issue into account.

Even when realised, India will not be the first to have such a ministry. Bhutan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Venezuela among others have similar ministries. As for realization of the initiative, as soon as modalities are over with a cabinet nod which is just a formality now, the MP government will study workings of the ministry in different countries and build its own model. However, if one goes by the example of Venezuela, the country that created a ‘Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness’ in 2013, the country went down on international happiness index in the next round. In two years’ time, notwithstanding all efforts of government, the country slipped down from its 20th happiest nation in the world in 2013, to 23rd place in 2015. As per Jiddu Krishnamurti, a philosopher, “the demand for happiness is born out of quality which we must learn from the instance of Venezuela”.

It may be noted that the GNH attempts to quantify good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation by ascertaining psychological well-being, awareness levels and living standards. Since winning re-election in 2013, Chouhan has been upset by the Vyapam scam, rural distress and drought. With rural poverty rate at just 12 per cent and urban poverty at 1.8 per cent, Bhutan can afford to focus on citizen’s happiness. In contrast, MP’s poverty rate hovers around 32 per cent. While Chouhan may contend that worldly possessions and statistics should not matter much, try telling that to the poor and the low-middle class for whom it gets difficult to run a family or maintain a lifestyle.

Instead of all these, in a country like India we must work on good governance and better quality of education and healthcare in the government sector or else the happiness index, which is rolling down will be pushed down further by the new ministry being constituted in Madhya Pradesh, which is trying hard to pull out of the infamous BIMARU state category.

 

International Day of Happiness

In 2012, the United Nations declared March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness.

The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to propose public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all people.

By designating a special day for happiness, the UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty. Additionally the UN acknowledges that in order to attain global happiness, economic development must be accompanied by social and environmental well-being.

The initiative to declare a day of happiness came from Bhutan – a country whose citizens are considered to be some of the happiest people in the world. The Himalayan Kingdom has championed an alternative measure of national and societal prosperity, called the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. The GNH rejects the sole use of economic and material wealth as an indicator of development, and instead adopts a more holistic outlook, where spiritual well-being of citizens and communities is given as much importance as their material well-being.