Sunday, January 20, 2008

Regressive development

Disconnect between social and economic development

Liberalisation of India's economy and the first UNDP Human Development Report almost came at the same time. UNDP came up with its first report in the year 1990 while India's economy opened up in 1991. Strikingly, since then the Indian economy has moved by leaps and bounds, but on the socio-economic front it has more or less remained where it was in the 1990s. In other words, with respect to social indicators, the nation has actually moved backwards with each passing year.

Since 1991, India’s economic performance had been miraculous. It has not just quadrupled its GDP, doubled its growth rate, it even went on to accumulate a mammoth foreign exchange reserve, from a mere USD 1 billion in 1991, to almost USD 200 billion plus, now. In fact, it is interesting to note that in the year 1990, the Sensex for the first time touched the four digit figure of 1000, which has shot up to a staggering 20-fold now. In fact, the biggest threshold to this growth came post 2000. As between 2000 and now, India has almost doubled its income per capita. Most of the other economic indicators too have shown a persistent northward trend. But the same cannot be said for India's social indicators. In fact, there has been virtually no change since our 2000 UNDP HDR rankings which was 128; in 2007 we ranked 126! This has been true not just for UNDP HDR, but most of the other globally recognised reports on the social sector. In a situation wherein most of the economic indicators are on an upswing, if our socio-economic indicators stand rigid, it only goes to show the extent to which things are deteriorating at the bottom of the society. Such is the pace of deterioration that it completely offsets the upward movement of the other economic indicators, which should have ideally resulted in upward movement of the socio-economic indicators as well.

In the given scenario, India becomes a classic case, wherein it is proved that the trickle down theory is virtually redundant. For, if something like trickle down would have ever existed then the socio-economic conditions would not have remained the same. On the contrary, howsoever harsh it might sound, the fact is that, if numbers are to be believed then, as the country progresses, there is a huge section of the population which is worsening off by the day. In fact, to get the correct perspective, UNDP should ideally commission separate studies on India – one for the top 20% of the population and one for the bottom 80%. To get an even better insight, UNDP should go a step further and commission specific human development studies on specific pockets and communities. For example, there could be a separate HDI for the poor and marginalised of Orissa, Bengal, Bihar and other states, refugees of Assam, Dalits and other tribals. Only then will we be able to decipher to what extent India's economic growth has actually touched their lives.

In essence, we have successfully created a nation which is made for, by and of the top 20% of the population. And that why every such indicator, which affects the top 20%, matters, and as for the UNDP HDR – Who cares?


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