Monday, May 27

Development Dynamic: “Welfarism must be thurst”

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A recent news item in a national daily referred to a statement by Union Home Minister Amit Shah that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had fulfilled three dreams of Late President Dr A.P.J. Kalam. One of these pertained to adoption of a balanced growth for India by developing both cities and villages and agriculture and industry. This assessment can’t be accepted as a true reflection, specially in the villages.

In trying to understand development, it was indeed surprising to hear at a recent public rally in Pune, Modi reportedly saying: “We see all-round development in Maharashtra but what is happening in Karnataka is before all of us. . . When a party empties the government’s coffers for vested interests, people of the state face its worst consequences. The future of the youth comes into question”. Referring to another Congress-ruled State, Rajasthan, he said the situation was the same there. “We see debt is rising and development has come to a standstill in Rajasthan.”

The observations are indeed a reflection of the government’s attitude towards welfare for the poor and the economically weaker sections as these are critical to improve their livelihood and ensure a dignified existence. Why is Modi not calculating the thousands of crores incentives he himself extended to various business houses as alleged by the Opposition and what returns have been received in turn from them which has benefited the people?

Recall former President Kalam had talked of PURA (Providing Urban facilities in Rural Areas) which still remains a distant dream. There is no denying there may have been improvements – some notable while others not quite satisfactory – but the fact can’t be denied that a large segment of the population is still deprived of potable water and sanitation facilities. Building toilets without water connection cannot solve the problem of sanitation. Moreover, health centres in most of the blocks, specially in north India, are in a pitiable condition and for treatment the village folk need to travel to district hospitals, which are overcrowded.

Scant attention is paid to how much of the population is in villages and the conditions prevailing. If that is taken into consideration, the Budget would need to be increasedforallocating more resources to rural areas, specially in areas of education and health. Sadly, the arm-chair economists and planners oppose what is called welfare expenditure and try to draw parallels with the Western world without realising that in our country very large segment is either below the poverty line or marginally above it,and also the economically weaker sections who need State support.

In the education sector, let’s recall a study released around September 2021 titled ‘Locked Out: Emergency Report on School Education.’It presented a distressing data. Of the 1362 children from underprivileged households, in both rural and urban areas, who formed part of the SCHOOL (School Children Online & Offline Learning) survey, only 6 percent of them in rural areas and 24 percent of urban children were studying online regularly. Worse, 37 percent of rural and 19 percent of urban children were not studying at all and three-quarters of their parents felt their children’s reading abilities had declined during that past 18 months. Some recent figures show that Odisha (27.3 percent) has the highest dropout rate at secondary school, followed by Meghalaya (21.7 percent) and Bihar and Assam, both above 20 percent.

While the word ‘welfarism’ is used very often, its true sense is not understood – i.e. it is basic to the survival of a large segment of the population. Also, without having a clear understanding of what real development is they criticise welfare expenditure, keeping in view the Western situation, where there is no population pressure and the percentage of poor and marginalised is a very small segment of the population. Besides, India does not offer any social security like the West.

The thousands of crores being given to industry, directly or indirectly, are not treated as welfarism though the returns of such incentives are, in most cases, nominal and mostly come after two-three years. This dichotomy clearly leads to the fact that there is a pro-business bias in India’s development strategy, and this has continued over years. With this attitude, it is indeed quite difficult to realise Dr Kalam’s vision, influenced by that of Mahatma Gandhi, of rural rejuvenation of the country.

The lackadaisical attitude of the present dispensation towards the rural sector is manifest from the poor allocation of budgetary funds. Moreover, the MGNREGA, which was introduced by the Congress, as a successful intervention in the fight against poverty, found its funds slashed by around 17.8 percent in the current budget. Economists feel that after meeting the dues of the previous fiscal, only around 32-35 days of work would be available to the beneficiaries against the 100 days promised. It needs to be asked on what calculations were the funds allocated. Or is the 100 days’ work reduced to say 50 days a year?

In this background, kudos to the Rajasthan government for having made health a fundamental right a few months back and introduced two bills that reflect the rights-approach to welfare. The Rajasthan Minimum Guarantee Income Bill seeks to provide 25 additional days of employment over and above 100 days (32-35 days) guaranteed under MGNREGA for all families in both rural and urban areas. The legislation would also cover pension benefits to all eligible persons at the rate of Rs 1000 per month. The other legislation, the Rajasthan Platform-based Gig workers and Aggregators in the State so as to create a database would help provide social security under various schemes.

The Rajasthan example is, no doubt, worthy of emulation and States should try to bring in similar measures. Unfortunately, however, nationalism finds more attention than socio-economic development and a segment of the population, mainly from backward castes, remains impoverished.

Rural transformation is an absolute necessity to enable upgrading the conditions of the underprivileged. The dimension of the problem is so huge that there is an urgent need to make an assessment to draw up a plan with year-wise allocation, say in the coming five years, to ensure that this does not aggravate with the increase in population.

The talk of GDP growth that is claimed by the government and aired in the media repeatedly does not truly reflect a balanced and inclusive development that reaches to the bottom tiers of society. The observation of renowned economist, Prof. Amartya Sen, is worth a revisit. He suggested that in¬stead of concentrating on GNP or GDP, development economics should take into ac¬count both entitlements and capability expan¬sion, as income doesn’t neces¬sarily address the nature of entitlement. Thus, there exists a widening income disparity between the rich and the poor, the organised and the unorganised work force and the per capita incomes of the urban and rural sectors. Unless there is symmetry in the development dynamics, unequal development would remain, thereby depriving a large section of their right to a dignified existence.—-INFA

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