Creating jobs and hospitals can raise the happiness quotient in Andhra Pradesh,…

The Telugu Desam government is planning to formulate a Happiness Commission headed by chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu that will take up State-sponsored programmes to push up the happiness quotient in Andhra Pradesh. Earlier this month, the state became the second in the country to introduce an exclusive ministry for happiness, after Madhya Pradesh. The commission is expected to take up activities that promote a healthier lifestyle, foster a livelier work environment and plan outdoor activities with the potential to improve the psychological well-being of people. Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are following the example of Bhutan, which was the first place to evolve a ‘happiness index’ and link it to development, otherwise based on GDP numbers, way back in the 1970s. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government even set up the ‘Anand Vibhag’ (Department of Happiness) in 2016.

Can mere setting up of departments or commissions ensure that Indians in these states will begin to feel happier? A United Nations study on happiness, released in March, suggests otherwise. India ranks 122nd out of 155 countries, the worst in South Asia, with only the poorest African nations below us.

The United Nations gauges happiness on six parameters: per capita GDP; healthy life expectancy; freedom; trust; social support; and generosity. We fare worse than our neighbours Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Even if generosity, trust and freedom can be perceived as intangible measures, expecting a high score on social security and ‘healthy life expectancy’ in a country where access to even basic medical services is elusive for many, is being ambitious. Madhya Pradesh features in the list of socioeconomically backward states with severe malnutrition, according to the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative report 2017, along with Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. Although life expectancy in Andhra Pradesh has improved in the past decade, according to the same study, lifestyle diseases are leading to many more disabilities and deaths in the southern state. In case Mr Chouhan and Mr Naidu are actually serious about making their people happier — once access to roti, kapda, water and broadband has been ensured — they should invest in creating jobs and a robust rural medical infrastructure. Mr Chouhan was last in the news for reportedly asking the police to “break the backs” of those found harassing women outside colleges. And Mr Naidu was caught on camera rebuking a farmer in a public meeting in February. Ensuring that the personal freedoms of its citizens are not restricted and the State wields a gentler, humane touch could also be steps towards making them feel more generously disposed towards themselves and the world.