By Dhurjati Mukherjee
If one goes by the policies, programmes and statements of political leaders world over, it is discernible that tremendous development has taken place. However, there is very little debate about the development trend and whom it is benefitting as those who wield power and authority are not interested in it. This is all the more significant in populous countries like India where a significant proportion of the population lives in rural areas and is below or slightly above the poverty line?
The recent Oxfam report ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ (2018) shockingly revealed that though development has taken place its benefits have been cornered by the rich and powerful business class thanks to their expanding activities and nexus with political leaders and bureaucracy. In Third World countries this is particularly manifest as corruption is on the rise and different manoeuvres are resorted to deprive the poor and economically weaker sections who neither have power, authority and support base to challenge the business community.
Scandalously, the report pointed out that only one per cent of the wealth pyramid in India own 73% of the wealth generated here which increased by around 21 lakh crores, equivalent to the Central Government 2017-18 total budget. In stark contrast, wealth of 67 crores citizens comprising the poor increased by a mere one per cent.
Obversely, India added 17 new billionaires, totaling 101 whose wealth increased by 4.69 lakh crores — from Rs 15.78 lakh crores to over Rs 20.67 lakh crores. Undeniably, this trend is expected to continue in the coming years in view of our growth model.
Surprisingly, various programmes undertaken over decades like ‘garibi hatao’, ‘ache din’ to the latest ‘improving the ease of living’ enunciated by the Prime Minister at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos are just mere slogans and will continue to remain so.
On the other hand, Modi’s call to investors at the WEF to “come to India if you want (to accumulate) wealth” is a clear indication of the growth model the country wants to follow. This might increase the GDP, bring more prosperity to the rich and middle income sections and industrialize the country but would not have any major impact on the poor and impoverished sections.
There is no response from those in power about the reasons for such accumulation of wealth and prosperity in the hands of a very few industrialists and what the Government intends to do. Obviously, our planning process has utterly failed to ensure equitable distribution of resources to all sections of society which has continued for decades, irrespective of the Party in power.
Over the years, the all-pervading materialist culture which comes easily with the neo-liberal agenda of globalization has broken the fabric of ordinary people’s lives and marginalized the majority, this has to stop. The Government’s social responsibility should be to implement a strategy which would involve people and only them, their capacities and liabilities to move ahead with development which goes against exclusion and inequality, instead reaches out to all sections of society, specially the majority rural populace who are struggling for survival in poverty and squalor.
Undoubtedly, the way democracy is practiced in economically-less developed countries like India does not promise sustainable or inclusive development, an approach needed to uplift the masses. Nor have we developed a theory of democracy for a multi-cultural society riddled with problems of multiple polarizations. The need for authoritarian system of administration results in “a veiled dictatorial form of government, a syndicated form of pseudo-democratic governance”.
All talk of lack of physical or social infrastructure conveniently shown as over-population, lack of resources, aid decrease, heavy defence expenditure, socio-economic backwardness etc. provided by an highly prejudiced bureaucracy and planners “are a mere alibi by people overcome by guilt but not willing to accept responsibility for basic injustices in the world”, observed eminent social scientist Rajni Kothari.
The present approach of increasing the GDP of our politicians and planners does not reflect the extent of poverty and deprivation vis-a-vis food, health, sanitation, education and economic security. This measure also reveals little about the extent of unutilized or underutilized resources available in the economy like capital and labour.
Moreover, it fails to reveal anything about environmental degradation and resources which occur during production and consumption. Questionably, why does a section of economists always harp on accentuating GDP growth knowing that such an increase might not have any effect on the population’s bottom tiers? True, good quality of life entails certain minimum rights but the increased GDP does not necessarily make this a reality.
Consequently, as Albert Schweitzer observed, “our society has also ceased to allow all men . . . . human value and human dignity; many sections of the human race have become raw materials and property in human form”. Hence, there is need to relook at our growth and development model followed since the last three decades.
We need an alternative strategy whose approach lies in focussing on the rural sector where majority of the population struggle for existence. Even our semi-urban centres need to be improved. Think. The recent announcement for ‘smart cities’ and ‘bullet trains’ is once again aimed at pampering the middle and upper income sections which is not needed at this juncture.
On the other hand, we need to set up one-two smart districts and four-five sub-divisions in every State having all urban facilities within the next one year. These areas should also ensure at least 50% employment opportunities for the working population. Clearly to make this a reality we need more colleges, health centres and an additional hospital in every district. Also, more emphasis is needed on agriculture, cottage industry and developing entrepreneurship by providing necessary subsidies.
Alas, our planners wrong priority has placed the country in a critical position where disparity is widening with poorer sections struggling for economic security and sustainable livelihood in the coming years. Indeed, it is difficult to foresee any significant positive development in the coming years unless there is any directional change in the country’s planning strategy. —- INFA