The growth of India’s population surged at a very fast pace 1960s onwards though it has stabilised somewhat in the past decade or so. While there has been commendable GDP growth, the benefits have not reached the bottom tiers of the population, where the increase was seen the most. Moreover, the government has given scant attention to improving governance and tackling corruption, which is expected in a centralised economy with powers concentrated in the hands of a few at the top.
With population and consumption rise, a certain section of city-based economists failed to realise that this consumption was not evenly spread and was manifest among the rich and middle income sections. In fact, the consumption expenditure fell sharply in both rural and urban India after 2015-16 which suggests a rise in poverty. The present corona pandemic will further aggravate hunger and starvation in India as the benefits of growth – not development – have utterly failed.
Globalisation and technological change disrupted traditional work arrangements, and the wealthy captured the benefits for themselves. In fact, in our country there was manifest degradation of everything public – infrastructure, healthcare, education, law and order – which was not quite expected. This is manifest from the Global Wealth Report 2018, which found that since 2000, wealth in India grew at 9.2 per cent a year, faster than the global average of 6 per cent even after taking into account population growth of 2.2 per cent annually.
The entry of the private sector in some areas in a country like India has been surprising. It made huge money through inroads into health and education, treating both of these as commodities. There are umpteen examples of doctors who started neglecting hospital/health centre duties to go to private nursing homes instead where there is lot more money as upper echelons of society patronise these. However, this benefitted the top 10 per cent but privatisation was hailed.
The sustained growth of GDP failed to effectively tackle poverty or improve the incomes of the economically weaker sections and their problems remained virtually unchanged. Though some additional facilities may have reached them, in totality, specially in backwards districts, it presents a sorry state of affairs, particularly in areas such as healthcare, availability of loans, getting fair price for their products etc. These problems have been compounded since August 2019 and the present lockdown for 40 days amounts to virtual disruption of the economy with a massive direct loss between Rs 10 and Rs 14 lakh crore. Indeed, an unprecedented situation since independence, which our political leaders had never envisaged.
The affluent and growing middle class are seen as examples of prosperity by our political leaders. This class revels behind gated communities and high rise apartments and in a world of privatised education and healthcare, private security and transportation– private splendour existing in an ocean of public squalor. Metros of the country exist between high rises and squatter settlements, where people do not live a dignified or healthy existence.
Questions arise, and quite rightly, are we really happy to be privileged layer of the rancid cream at the top of an impoverished and exploited population? Social analysts are of the opinion that self-interest is the primary criterion governing human individuals in this age of materialism and it’s a reality even in India. Worse, there is a government which chooses to ignore the grim economic realities of the day and instead seeks to divert public attention with issues such as patriotism, religion, sanskriti (culture) etc, simply to hoodwink the masses. And this is only possible because we are still a half educated country though we brag of being the world’s largest democracy.
The fundamental question that arises is whether real development took place in the country and whether our planners had the vision and foresight to think of improving incomes of the rural poor, who constitute the majority. The undersigned while delivering lectures to government officials undergoing training or to post-graduate management students (in Bhubaneswar and Kolkata) pointing out the fallacy of Indian planning that aggravated rural distress, realised that the recipients are normally surprised to hear this, as 80 per cent come from well-off families and are not conversant with the poverty and distress existing in the country.
A section of social analysts believe that if education and awareness had reached the backward areas of the country, another violent revolution would have been inevitable. The suppression of tribals, dalits and low castes cannot be denied and there are umpteen examples where the State has lately taken away their land, almost forcibly, or their means of livelihood by giving them some monetary compensation. And with such people being illiterate and not having the capability to start a new livelihood, the money they get is quickly wasted in liquor or other expenditure.
Though people like us may write about such sorry state of affairs, it is doubtful whether things will change in a capitalist economy with centralised control. Some analysts recently have spoken of India being a fascist state whereas others warn of heading towards the worst form of fascism. Whatever may be the opinion, it is no secret that there is dominance of the rich and powerful and the furtherance of their interests is manifest in state governance.
The need of the hour to survive is perhaps to change the nature of society by putting inclusivity, fairness and justice at the centre of governance. Compounded by the looming ecological crisis that has affected us severely, specially the tropical countries, there is need for a change in our thinking on matters of planning, governance and priorities. In fact, our understanding of development, specially with relation to our country has to undergo a transformation, keeping in view the economic realities of the masses, struggling for survival at the grass-root levels.
It is an admitted fact that resource constraint is a big factor. This has got further compounded by COVOD-19 as millions will be without work or money. As it is 135 million people are facing acute food shortage and with the pandemic and resultant lockdown another 130 million will go hungry in 2020, stated Arif Hussain, Chief Economist, World Food Programme, a UN agency. Altogether an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the year end. Is this what we call growth benefits?
Therefore, it is all the more imperative that implementation of plans and programmes must focus on benefitting the poor and low income groups by curtailing expenditure at the top. As we stand at the brink of a brutal recession, which will completely disrupt livelihood of the masses in coming months, this fiscal the future planning must be highly judicious, inclusive and down to earth. The political leadership and its arm-chair planners need to pay heed.