Ignominy Index India's Development Slide Show
[ SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2003 12:01:01 AM ]
It's an addiction with us, the merest hint of an international
accolade and we are on a high. Which explains why we are all aflutter
with excitement at the UNDP's Human Development Report 2003
commending India for poverty reduction.
But, says the report, India contains regions of intense poverty
relieved little by overall national growth. But never mind that for
As mentioned before in these columns, successive human development
reports show that we seem to be running faster to stay in the same
place, fairly much at the bottom of the heap. India's slippage by
three points this year has been explained away by the fact that two
new geographical entities have been added to the list. There are a
number of observations in the report which should cause considerable
Buffer stocks, says the report, especially at the local level can
release food into the market during food emergencies, reducing the
volatility of prices. India has such systems, it goes on. But we have
seen over the last year the scandalous manner in which the government
has expressed its inability to transport foodgrain to areas of need,
citing dubious reasons like lack of transport. The result has been
that while people starved, foodgrain rotted in godowns. So the mere
presence of buffer stocks, of which we indeed do have plenty, has not
translated into a reduction of hunger. India is home to the largest
number of hungry people in the world. Nearly half our children are
malnourished. But forget that for the moment.
The report points out with disturbing clarity the enormous
disparities across India's states with gaps in literacy between low
social classes and the rest of the population being extremely high.
Female literacy, the key to so many other development indices, was as
low as seven per cent in Rajasthan and nine per cent in Madhya
Pradesh in the low social classes. Yet, these two states have been
commended as development models. This is based on a rise in literacy
in Madhya Pradesh from a dismal 44 per cent to 64 per cent and from
39 to 61 per cent in Rajasthan. True, both states have instituted
schemes to popularise education but it remains to be seen whether
people are actually becoming functionally literate or acquiring a
notional literacy which will in no way empower them.
Madhya Pradesh has come in for consi- derable criticism for some of
its literacy schemes on the grounds that it has compromised severely
on quality for the disadvantaged. The argument is that there cannot
be two standards of education, one for the paying elite and another
inferior one for the lesser off.
Similarly, though infant mortality has fallen across the board, it is
unacceptably high in rural areas and high immunisation rates are an
exclusive preserve of the south. This is not surprising considering
India spends only 1.3 per cent of GDP on health and an inadequate 3.2
per cent on education, far short of the government's own target of
six per cent. The cost of education is too prohibitive for the poor
with, surprisingly, uniforms being the biggest cost to parents.
Government schools which should be the educational lifeline for the
poor are shunned even by the poor since teacher absenteeism, lack of
infrastructure and sanitation make learning a nightmare for children.
Yet, the government chooses to divert a third of education spending
to support private institutions.
Private schools' share is highest in states with the lowest primary
enrolments and this is only likely to go up in the years to come.
One reason for this is the tardy progress on women's rights in India.
Though the report grudgingly refers to very small improvements on
this front in India, ground realities suggest that even this is an
exaggeration. The sex ratio is becoming increa-singly skewed in
favour of men, even in supposedly progressive states like Kerala.
Technology, remember we are very proud of our progress in this field,
has devised ever more cunning and invisible ways to eliminate the
girl child almost at conception. The result of a diminishing sex
ratio has been increased violence against women and even the re-
emergence of practices like polygamy in some areas. Of course, as
always, the northern states lead the way in suppression of women.
Is there any political will to reverse this? Well, certainly not
going by the manner in which all political parties are striving
furiously to bury the already moribund women's reservation Bill which
would have ensured 33 per cent seats in Parliament for women. When
the Bill was initially mooted years ago, male politicians who opposed
it did so in an underhand manner. Today, emboldened by the fact that
this issue is not going to cost them any votes, they pull no punches
in their opposition to giving women more political space. The late
prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's dream that women's reservation at the
panchayat level would create an aspirational class of women activists
who would eventually enter state legislators and finally Parliament
has remained a mere pipedream.
These aspects of the report should have policy-makers taking a
serious re-look at these crucial human development sectors which are
falling by the wayside. Poverty reduction in itself does not
necessarily translate into improved human development indicators. The
trail of death and disease which comes in the wake of the monsoon,
the recent stoning to death of an HIV positive woman, starving
farmers committing suicide in droves to name a few shows how
premature and misplaced our self-congratulatory celebrations are.