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Indianomics: Experts discuss India's social & economic growth indicators after independence

economy | IST

Indianomics: Experts discuss India's social & economic growth indicators after independence

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In the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index India still rank 131 out of 188 countries ranked. While India has improved its index number itself from 0.42 in 1990 to 0.64 in 2019, largely because of reductions in infant and maternal mortality the annual pace of improvement is 1.42 percent while countries like Bangladesh and some others have been improved at over 2 percent. It is time we ponder over what we have not achieved in 74 years of Independence that is in the human development side.

It is still Independence week, and while for the better part of this week we have celebrated soaring stock indexes, and rising number of smart startups and unicorns; it is time we ended this week pondering over what we have not achieved in 74 years of Independence that is in the human development side.
In the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index we still rank 131 out of 188 countries ranked.
While India has improved its index number itself from 0.42 in 1990 to 0.64 in 2019, largely because of reductions in infant and maternal mortality the annual pace of improvement is 1.42 percent while countries like Bangladesh and some others have been improved at over 2 percent.
Another way to look at our development or lack of it is to compare our share of global GDP with our share of global population. India is most adverse with 17.3 percent of the population and only 3.2 percent of GDP.
On spend on health, we are worse than one-third of China and less than Vietnam.
To take this discussion ahead, CNBC-TV18’s Latha Venkatesh spoke to Himanshu, Professor of Economics at JNU, Reetika Khera, a development economist and also a Professor at IIT Delhi and Yamini Ayar, President and Chief Executive at the Centre for Policy Research.
Prof. Himanshu said, “I think it is entirely a political problem. I don't think there is an economic problem as far as these indicators are concerned. I think politicians may have an intent, may have been talking about all these in their political speeches, but really the effort or the political willingness or willpower that should have been there to prioritise spending on these ones or to correct the imbalances which are there currently, most of these, and I think we can point out what position, gender and other aspects of it I think all of these require really putting the money where it belongs.”
“The governments have been talking about all these issues, governments have been putting slogans on most of these issues but we have really starved our education system, our health system, and our various other instruments and tools, which are there to improve the human development indicators. Unless and until we put the money where it belongs, where exactly it is required, then I don't think there is any way we can actually achieve all of these.”
“The second, I think it is also the economic part is really where I just want to say one thing, that somehow after the 1980s, the whole approach, that human development indicators are the responsibility of the private sector and this whole shift towards privatisation, passing the buck to the private sector has actually contributed to more and more inequalities something that doesn’t come up in the number that you are going show.”
Khera said, “You asked whether it is a political or an economic problem. I think apart from that, it is also a social problem. The fact that the underprivileged castes are so poorly represented in all spheres of our life of policymaking, etc. has impacted our priorities, it has affected political priorities. That is why what happens is that things like health and education where the government should be playing a very dominant role, they tend not to get the kind of attention that is required from the government, because rich people can afford to pay for these things for themselves. The poorer ones or those from disadvantaged castes get left out. I think in that sense, it is economic, social and political.”
“I think the reason why we don't have enough to distribute is because we don't tax enough. We don't have a wealth tax or an inheritance tax, what is the name in this country. Property taxes are also very poorly utilised, both in terms of the number of municipalities that are implementing them, and then of course, how much is actually collected, how much follow up there is in building up these databases, etc. So there is a lot of money sloshing about, but it is concentrated in a few hands and as Himanshu was also saying before me these human development indicators have served us very well in the sense that they are sort of annual reminders that what ultimately matters is the quality of our life. You need to be alive and in that sense, we have made a lot of progress from 33 years after life expectancy in 1951 to about 70 odd years.”
“There was a moment last year when these migrant or other workers were suffering because of the lockdown where people realised how serious the situation is. But unfortunately, we were not really able to bring about important policy changes that would be required to remedy the situation. I think that one reason that this doesn't happen is because a lot of people who consider themselves middle class are actually the top 1 or 2 percent. So you know, a lot of people who own a car, they just say, oh, we are just middle class, but actually, they don't understand that only 11 percent of Indians own a car. So in fact, in that sense, they are the top 10 percent rather than the middle and because this long tail is not visible is not part of the discussion, I think, is why we have also been slow in making the kinds of changes in spite of a lot of goodwill.”
Ayar said, “Absolutely, I think that this is a political issue, it is an economic issue it is a social issue, and embedded in all of this also, as an administrative issue, or what we now call often use the word state capacity issue. In some senses, many of the positive strides we have taken over the 75 years and we made improvements in literacy rates, we have made improvements in maternal mortality, etc. but the challenge has been in moving from there to the next level, getting children into school, putting up school buildings, we have made some, albeit not as much progress, but some progress. The challenge now is what happens inside the classroom, the kind of administrative architecture, the top down centralised structure that we have, and that keeps feeding its own beast, in the sense that it is sort of every level of government in India loves the centralization, but only to their own level.”
“We have systematically despite the 73rd and the 74th Amendment undermined local governments, state governments have been huge culprits. State governments at the same time are at the mercy of the central government when it comes to implement social policy with centrally  sponsored schemes which tightly monitor where and how you should spend money, controls how states can spend, and that has an overall impact on the ability of governments to be really responsive to needs on the ground, to be able to also most importantly, be effectively accountable to the citizens at the cutting edge where citizens and state interact with each other significantly. So there is a huge administrative problem. I think the future for India has to be in re-architecting the state in a way that is genuinely decentralised and accountable from the bottom up.”
For full interview, watch accompanying video...
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