By Anwarul Hoda:
“Those who dream about India becoming an economic superpower, even with its huge proportion of undernourished children, lack of systematic health care, extremely deficient school education and half of the homes without toilets, have to reconsider not only the reach of their understanding of the mutual relationship between growth and development, but also their appreciation of the demands of social justice, which is integrally linked with the expansion of human freedoms.” This is how two of India’s leading development economists Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze define and argue about the prospects for growth in India. India is booming, but for whom? This is the question put forward by the duo in their book, “An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions”.
No doubt since Independence the growth of Indian democracy has been incredible. And in seven decades, it has set its foundations so strong that it is in a position to challenge the superpowers especially in terms of economic growth. In the last two decades, the pace of growth rate has been remarkable and reached its maximum height of 9 percent during the period of 2003-2007. After the reforms brought by P. V, Narasimha Rao in 1991-92, India never looked back. With the rapid growth in the post-reform era, we’re moving fast towards a free-market economy. Goldman Sachs, an American multinational banking firm predicted that India will overtake France and Italy by 2020 in terms of GDP at current prices, and later Germany, UK and Russia by 2025. However, for the first time after reform, India beat China in terms of GDP growth and is playing an influential role in shaping the global economy. The International Monetary Fund ranks India as the seventh largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP.
However, this would be only the partial truth if we ignore the social conditions and living standards of Indians within the boundaries of the same booming nation. The United Nations in its Millennium Development Goals report of 2014 states, “Still, nearly 300 million people live in extreme poverty in India and face deprivation in terms of access to basic services, including education, health, water, sanitation and electricity.” Another UN study claimed that India is home to one-third of the total ‘extremely poor’ people of the world.
“Over the past few decades, for a stark reminder of the global gulf between the rich and the poor a visit to any country in the third world has sufficed. India is one of the most striking examples. Here we have our least fortunate living with resources less than those available to dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa, and our wealthiest in the list of the world’s top 100 billionaires,” concluded Oxfam India, an independent organisation working on global inequality, about income inequality in India. Increasing income inequality is another matter of concern which is already affecting the aim of sustainable development.
In the pre-liberalisation era, there were hardly any billionaires on the boat. But in a matter of decades, India ranks third among all countries in producing the highest number of billionaires and is expected to grow incredibly with the time. This itself reveals the pace of growing income inequality in the country. And if we were to continue like this then the outcome will be very odd as Peter Singer, a moral philosopher from Australia, warns that growing “economic inequality can give wealthier people an unacceptable degree of control over the lives of others” and it can “undermine the fairness of political institutions and economic system itself”.
Now, after the distribution of wealth, let’s analyse the share of the general population in the cake of development. During the 2014 Indian Economic Summit, Mint came up with top seven challenges the Indian economy is facing which was the key agenda under the theme ‘Redefining Public-Private Cooperation for a New Beginning’ that included issues like education, urbanisation, health, sanitation, gender, transparency and water scarcity.
The status of the education system in India can be judged by recent Bihar and Gujarat ‘topper scams’. In fact, these scams are not unique. Many such reports on various education scams from all the states are available. Once you google, you can find many results. The ‘Vyapam Scam‘ also falls in the same category.
According to Akshay Saxena, co-founder of Avanti Learning Centre, millions of children are unable to go to high school and 50 million students have terrible high schools among all those fortunate children who finally make it. In his words, “Education is a problem of teachers, students and curriculum, public schools facing tremendous shortage of teachers in millions.” He termed the entire scene as ‘scary’ in the programme, mutually organised by UNICEF and Youth Ki Awaaz at Delhi.
India has the pride of having once been a great ‘centre of learning’ with well-known universities like Nalanda and Taxila. But in the 21st-century, only a couple of institutions from India occupy the space among the top 200 institutes of the world. This doesn’t mean India does not produce extraordinary minds. But the fact is that after graduating from IITs and IIMs, Indian minds look towards Europe and United States for research programmes.
In 1964-66, the Kothari commission had recommended that India should spend six percent of the GDP on education while according to 2010 data, India spends merely 3.3 percent of GDP when the global average is 4.9 percent. While comparing with countries like China and Sri Lanka, we can see that they have much better education facilities and literacy rate. Besides, their education primarily managed by the public sector. It is either because of corruption or lack of funds or may be because of the prevailing education policies. From primary to higher, the crisis is going deeper and deeper in Indian education system.
Another thing, healthcare, is facing the same kind of negligence by the government. Expenditure on health is continuously shrinking. Data says that every year, one million people die due to inadequate healthcare facilities. Besides, around 700 million people have no access to specialist care. So, in such circumstances, the obvious question one needs to ask the government is: who is getting all pieces of cake?
Population is often used as an excuse for the poor social indicators in India. But, when I posed a question regarding population growth and development to Zulfiqar Sheth, a scholar of economics from Aligarh Muslim University, this is what his reply was: “Well when a baby comes in the world, it comes not only with a mouth but with a pair of hands too. Like China focussed on ‘hands’ and massively invested in training people and building infrastructure, we can follow the Chinese model of human development. But for that, we need a big push and a very stable government with a clear vision. If we don’t invest in infrastructure, especially training institutes, our potential demographic dividend will become a demographic disaster.”
Migration, urbanisation pollution and the depletion of natural resources are also issues that demand equal attention as these issues greatly affect the economy in the long term and the population, mostly the poor.
Currently India finds itself at the 13oth position in the Human Development Index among 188 countries which probably isn’t a great improvement from 1991. So, what is changing? Yes, India is emerging, growing and shining. But for whom? It seems like there is another India within India and ignoring it cannot help for short or long term growth.