Have benefits percolated down?

Modern Indian State
By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Every alternative day we hear talks of modern developments in social economic and scientific spheres without understanding or assessing its effects on the major segments of the population. Though more than seven decades have passed after attaining independence, has this modernity changed the socio-political system and benefitted the masses?
This big question has to be weighed not by how many airports are built or modernised or even the number of highways built or widened, but by how the lives of the poor and the backward sections have improved. Planners and economists who dish out data about growth do not understand development in the true sense as for them this indicates facilitating the lives of the middle and upper echelons of society. The neglect of the impoverished and the backward castes remain where they were in spite of sermons about development.
In recent years, there have been enough studies about the state of affairs in the country and the conditions of the backward sections. It is distressing to note that after so long the Niti Aayog document expressed an intention to change the approach to planning from preparations of plans and budgets to the creation of a mass movement for development in which “every Indian recognises her role and experiences the tangible benefits”.
The strategy affirms that “policy making will have to be rooted in ground realities” rather than economic abstractions. It will be worthwhile for Niti Aayog to get feedback in the long run from stakeholders – most of whom are half educated — on whether it has improved the process of consultation that it has talked about.
Let us delve deep into the conditions of the lower castes, who continue to languish in the tribal and backward districts of the country. As has been pointed out again and again, the state of education and health is in a pitiable condition in these areas. One may mention a report in this connection that found a sizeable portion of the collections under the 2 per cent cess was never transferred to the Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh (PSK) (elementary education fund), the dedicated corpus for the purpose that is maintained by the department of school education and literacy under the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry. Nor does the pending amount seem likely to come to the Kosh, going by the stand the Finance Ministry’s Department of Economic Affairs recently took when the HRD Ministry sought the outstanding funds.
In the case of heath, the same situation prevails. Statistics reveal that in the so-called modern society, public health expenditure has remained constant over the years in most States and is even less than the national average of 1.2 per cent of GDP, making India one of the biggest private spenders on health among the low-income countries. India’s expenditure on health in 2015-16 was Rs 140,054 crore. Thus, the total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP was 3.89 per cent, whereas the government share stood at 1.13 per cent of GDP in 2015-16 which may have increased slightly to around 1.2 per cent presently.
The most startling finding is about the lower castes vis-a-vis their occupations. Even today caste continues to be a prime factor that determines a person’s occupation going by the latest census data on non-farm workers. Occupations traditionally considered lowly such as sweeping and leather work continue to be dominated by Scheduled Castes in general, more so by specific castes associated with such work. The situation in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is possibly the worst where caste plays a very important factor in social and economic life.
Among coveted jobs at the top, in the private sectors — corporate managers and business professionals — have the worst representation of SCs and STs. About 93 per cent of corporate manager jobs are held by non-SC/ST people. In the case of sectors with significant government presence such as teaching and health care, the scenario is little better.
This it is amply evident in that the link between caste and occupation remains quite strong in spite of spread of education and awareness as also talks of equality by politicians. However, some consolation may be derived from the fact that SCs have come up relatively well in the category of teaching jobs and health care professionals, though the percentage is just 8.9 and 9.3 respectively. Thus, the upsurge of the ultra left can be explained due to exploitation of the dalits and tribes by upper castes in this modern society.
In such a situation, the so-called modern society has had no effect on millions of people. Plans and programmes are evolved which have little or no bearing on the rural poor and the impoverished sections. Take for example demonetisation which had left untold suffering on most sections of villages, even the small traders. Added to this, the Aadhar programme, which was announced with much fanfare and thousands of crores were spent, has similarly proved to have affected this section.
In a recent article by well known social scientist Jean Dreze about how the vulnerable tribal groups have been affected by Aadhar and other modern plans and programmes of the government, the concept of modernity has little value as the deprived and weaker sections have not, in any way, gained from the present disturbing trends. In this connection, studies by Oxfam bear testimony to all growth models that have increased the disparity between the super rich and upper sections, on the one hand, and the lowest 20-25 per cent of population, on the other, who struggle for an existence.
In the social sector, there is virtually no trace of modernity, specially with regressive outlook of most communities divided on religious lines. The so-called developmental path is totally not evident at the grass-root level where lower castes, dalits and adivasis live in poverty and squalor, being deprived of the modern benefits of life. Are we moving in the right developmental path with a centralised approach and that everything is thrust from above?
In fact, the pervading materialistic culture and the capitalist system have led to deprivation, exploitation, economic and social imbalance that has made human beings deformed and regressive. The so-called modernity is just a misnomer and cannot be considered in any way progressive as basic social and economic values remain subdued.
Should we not strive to generate more awareness amongst the community at the grass-root level so that they become conscious and aware of their rights and privileges? Only then can they become aware of modern trends. Simultaneously, quality education and health facilities have to reach the village health centres and people can live a happy and contented life. —INFA