Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Good Governance + Mass Mobilisation = Social Inclusion

Updated: February 11, 2012 12:48 pm


Why is the health, education and nutritional status of SCs, STs and minorities in Tamil Nadu and Kerala so much better than their counterparts in states like UP and Bihar? The India Human Development Report 2011 suggests that this is the result of good governance and massive mobilisation of the lower castes in the southern states, writes Subhash Gatade

“A democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy…The politicals never realised that democracy was not a form of government: it was essentially a form of society.”

—Dr BR Ambedkar (1943)

It was the year 2008 when Prof Amartya Sen in his Hiren Mukherjee Lecture before the Indian Parliament threw light on how to deal with the idea of social justice. He talked of distinguishing between what he called an arrangement-focused view of justice and a realisation-focused understanding of justice. Delineating the process where justice is conceptualised in terms of certain organisational arrangements some institutions, some regulations, some behavioural rules the active presence of which indicates that justice is being done, he emphasised that the question to ask here is whether the demands of justice must be only about getting the institutions and rules right.

The idea of justice has been one of Sen’s main concerns. This is evident in the way he helped us revisit the very idea of development. If earlier, development economics centred around national income accounting, where the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP) of a particular country determined its level of development, now the raison d’etre of development has shifted to improving the quality of people’s lives by creating an amenable environment for them to engage in a wider range of activities. The concept of the human development index is a significant marker in this direction.

It needs to be noted here that Amartya Sen’s work on capabilities and functionings provided the underlying conceptual framework for the index. No less important has been the role of Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq who introduced the very concept of a human development index. In the beginning there were apprehensions among economists themselves about whether the full complexities of human capabilities could be captured in a single index, but today this single number has helped shift the attention of policymakers, academics and students from economic to human well-being.

The annual Human Development Reports of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have helped popularise the idea of this index. The human development index (HDI) is a composite index of outcome indicators in three dimensions: longevity and health of a life; level of education and knowledge, and standard of living.

The volume under consideration, the India Human Development Report (IHDR) 2011: Towards Social Inclusion, is a welcome addition to this ongoing debate. Brought out by the Planning Commission, it provides the latest data and statistics about human development indicators (HDI) in India. The present monograph is the second report of its kind prepared by the Commission. The first National Human Development Report came out in 2002. The 10-year hiatus between the two could be interpreted as being beneficial in the sense that it helps students learn different ascending and descending trends in the economy but a more regular appraisal would be more valuable.

In a nutshell, HDR 2011: Towards Social Inclusion tells us that the human development index (HDI) for India has improved through the last decade but malnourishment levels continue to remain high in some states. In 2010, India ranked 119th among 192 countries across the world, with a medium-level HDI of 0.52, moving one notch higher as compared to 2005. Raising questions over whether certain sections of Indian society suffer from multiple deprivations, the Report evaluates whether the social indicators of the excluded groups are converging or diverging with the rest of the population. The Report addresses three critical issues:

  1. Whether India has experienced inclusive growth in the true sense.
  2. Whether different social groups like the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Muslims get excluded from the development process.

iii.            How flagship programmes/schemes of the government are dealing with some of these concerns.

It was mere coincidence that the Human Development Report of the UNDP appeared around the same time the IHDR 2011 appeared. And it is noteworthy that there is a lot of convergence between the conclusions of both the reports as far as the Indian situation is concerned. The UNDP report affirms what is being said by concerned scholars about the relationship between economic growth and quality of life. The high economic growth achieved by India has not translated into a better quality of life for the vast majority of its citizens. All its attempts to establish a distinct mark in the global economy do not hide the fact that India suffers from basic policy and structural failures that prevent its people from enjoying the fruits of a higher national income. If one compares India’s ranking in the comity of nations then it comes a dismal 134th among 187 countries ranked in the HDR. Failure to invest in core areas such as education and healthcare has led to the incongruity of better per capita Gross National Income (GNI) but not a higher HDI. India lags behind Bangladesh and Pakistan in the gender inequality index, although it is better placed in terms of GNI per capita. It is high time the powers-that-be engaged in a serious course correction in their policies.

Before coming to a brief commentary on the nuances of the IHDR 2011 it would be opportune to mention that this 420-page report comprises eight chapters, namely, Overview: Conceptual Framework and Key Findings; Human Development Index; Employment, Asset Ownership and Poverty; The Right to Food and Nutrition; Health and Demography; Education: Achievements and Challenges; Supporting Human Development: Housing, Electricity, Telephony, and Roads; Vulnerable Groups. A notable feature of the report is that in all chapters, the social exclusion of SCs, STs and Muslims is focused upon, wherever the data permits. The appendix tables, which range from percentage distribution of population within different states, labour force participation and unemployment rate to the percentage distribution of working children and percentage disability by gender, occupy more than a third of this monograph.

What can be said about the main observations, key findings and conceptual framework behind the report?

Considering that human development outcomes in any nation are a function of economic growth, social policy and poverty reduction measures at the macro-level, which in turn are the result of various synergies in the form of feedback loops, the IHDR 2011 argues that “interventions in human capital and expansion of human functionings are key requirements of economic growth to be more successful in reducing income poverty, and calls for an integration of social and economic policies”.

In the context of analysing whether certain sections of Indian society suffer from multiple deprivations, the Report states the hitherto less-publicised fact that the poorer states in the Indian union, namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, account for 56 per cent of the scheduled caste and 55 per cent of the scheduled tribe (ST) population of the entire country and also 58 per cent of the Muslim population. It raises the two-way relationship here; the poorer states being poor because there are large proportions of the excluded social groups living there and conversely, in these poorer states the various development programmes do not reach the targeted population—especially the economically and socially deprived sections.

Presenting data on HDI in different states, the Report observes that the ranking of the states in terms of HDI has barely changed over this past decade. Overall it shows that HDI has increased by 21 per cent between 1999-2000 and 2007-8 and the improvement in education index has been the primary mover behind this quantum jump. It may be said here that improvement in HDI for a state could be driven either by the income index, education index or health index, or a combination of the three indices. Looking at the fact that Kerala and Tamil Nadu have a composition of social groups similar to those in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but better-than-average health and educational status, it suggests that the social composition of a state’s population does not determine its ‘destiny’ in terms of human development outcomes. The ‘destiny’ of the population can be changed through appropriate policies that address the needs of the marginalised communities.

Taking up the issue of poverty, IHDR says that although the incidence of poverty has declined over time, the incidence of poverty among SCs and STs is higher than the national aggregate by 8.5 (SC—rural) and 19.4 (ST—rural) percentage points. An equally important dimension remains that the total number of poor (based on uniform recall period) in the country has barely fallen at all over a 30-year period. The figures were 322 million in 1973-74, 320 million in 1983-84, and remained the same in 2004-05. It also notes that there was a decrease in unemployment rate (by current daily status) from 7.3 per cent in 1999-2000 to 6.6 per cent in 2009-10 which is also evident in the decrease in unemployment rates among SC and ST workers. The highly skewed nature of asset ownership in both rural and urban India (top 5 per cent households owning 36 per cent of the total value of assets, while the bottom 60 per cent own only 15 per cent in rural areas, and with the bottom 60 per cent owning only 10 per cent of the total value of assets in urban areas) reflects the inequality of wealth distribution in India which is in sharp contrast to its otherwise low inequality in consumption expenditure, and also underlines the relative deprivation of SCs, STs and Muslims in their ownership of assets as well.

The data on nutritional status highlights the phenomenon of widespread chronic hunger among the population. Malnutrition often begins even before a child is born, and this early damage to health and brain development caused by child malnutrition is irreversible and leaves a lifelong impact.

India beats sub-Saharan Africa—a region known the world over for the chronic hunger of its people—on hunger indicators:

■             The average percentage of undernourished children under 5 for 26 sub-Saharan African countries was 25 per cent, about half the Indian average of 46 per cent. Except for Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim, Manipur and Mizoram, all the Indian states were either on a par with or worse than sub-Saharan African countries. (Nutrition report of 2009 of the National Family and Health Survey 3)

■             NSS data showed that there has been a decline in per capita consumption of calories, which was already below the minimum nutritional level of 2,400 in rural areas and 2,100 in urban areas a quarter of a century ago. Sixty years after independence, nearly half of India’s children under 3 years are malnourished. A third of India’s adult population has a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 (the number below which people are declared malnourished)

It is not difficult to understand the background of these outcome indicators. One, per capita availability of cereals has declined, and second, the share of non-cereals in food consumption has not grown to compensate for the decline in cereal availability. Another reason for the high incidence of malnutrition amongst rural poor (apart from lower food intake) is that the majority of socially marginalised groups live in rural areas.

Despite the decline in recent years, the figures for Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), Under-5 Mortality Rate (U5 MR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) continue to remain above the Millennium Development Goals targets and over time, these indicators for marginalised groups like SC/STs and Muslims are converging with the national average. Gender discrimination, as shown in the adverse sex ratio, is serious and more pronounced in the case of non-SC/ST and Hindu households, compared to Muslims, SCs and STs.

The most worrisome aspect of India’s health system is that the share of public expenditure on health care remains just over 1 per cent of the GDP (1.3 per cent) which has resulted in a jump in private expenditure on health care (which was 72 per cent in 2008). As noted elsewhere, every year millions of Indians are pushed below the poverty line if they are faced with some serious health crisis. The most striking shortcoming of our public health system has been the failure to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid—to the 300 million poor, who are often excluded. The marginalised groups—SCs, STs and Muslims—suffer the most on account of poor health status. Only one-third of Muslim and SC women have institutional deliveries and ST women have even fewer.

Coming to education, it is observed that while we have achieved historically high levels of enrolment and has been able to retain more students at the primary levels than ever before, India is still home to the largest number of illiterate people in the world, accounting for about one-third of all illiterates. A breakup of the literacy figures shows that the problem of illiteracy is most pronounced among SCs, STs and Muslims, and even more pronounced among females. The proportion of out-of-school children is also higher among these sections only. The proportion of school teachers belonging to these socio-religious groups is also low compared to their share in the total population. Underrepresentation to such teachers helps create a social distance between teachers and students.

An important feature of the education scenario is that public expenditure on education is quite low at around 3.2 per cent of our GNP. These figures are lower than even sub-Saharan Africa, a region known for its low human development indicators.

“The state’s policies play a crucial role in shaping the nature of the development process. How inclusive the development process is for all the social groups residing in the state is a reflection of the state’s commitment towards various dimensions of human welfare.”

—IHDR 2011

The demographic profile of India presents an interesting picture vis-a-vis social groups like SCs, STs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Figures tell us that around 71 per cent of the population could be categorised under these groups. Coming to the states, the distribution of SC population shows that within states SCs have the highest share (37 per cent) in Punjab. In states like West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, SCs account for one-fourth of the population. However, 60 per cent of the country’s SCs are concentrated in UP (which accounts for 17 per cent of total SCs in the country), Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. A high percentage of the ST population resides within the north-eastern states and more than 70 per cent of the Muslim population is concentrated in UP, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Thus, we find that there is a geographical concentration of these social groups in some states. Almost half of each of the three major social groups live in eight of the poorer states, namely, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Rajasthan, UP and Uttarakhand.

Division of the states on the basis of their human development outcomes also highlights the inherent social dimension of the situation. The poorer states, which lie at the bottom of the league in terms of human development indicators, are also home to large proportions of marginalised groups like SCs and others. The lack of access to service infrastructure as well as resources further reinforces the deprivation of these communities, which remain excluded from the development process. The examples of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which have a similar distribution of social groups as do Bihar and UP, present a contrary situation. They perform well in HDI and its component indices.

How does one understand the difference between them? They are an example of good governance coupled with massive mobilisation of the lower castes. Social movements in these southern states have impacted society so massively that we find that even the upper castes in UP and Bihar are worse off than the SCs and OBCs in Tamil Nadu. The higher enrolment rates for SC and OBC children in this state can also be attributed to the history of social movements. The better-than-average health, education and nutritional status of the populace is due to this combination of social movements and interventions by the state government.

States like Delhi, whose “SCs and OBCs perform even better than the upper castes of UP and Bihar”, underline the role of better governance. In fact, better-governed states produce better indicators across the board which benefits the backward communities. The report also reveals aspects of the “veritable dalit revolution in UP”. Quoting a study done by Kapur et al it tells us that despite their high absolute poverty, there have been huge improvements in economic and social indicators like grooming, eating, and ceremonial consumption patterns of dalits. It signals their higher social status backed by higher status consumption patterns. The high GDP and per capita growth rates have made it possible for dalits to share the “new prosperity”.

How the growth rate of GDP can hide the non-inclusive character of the growth process is evident from some figures. According to the Planning Commission the GDP growth rate was 5.5 per cent per annum during the period 1997-98 to 2001-02 which accelerated to an average of 7.7 per cent per annum during the period 2002-03 to 2006-07. A major weakness in the economy is that the growth is not perceived as being sufficiently inclusive for SCs, STs and minorities. Gender inequality also remains a pervasive problem and many of the structural changes are reported to have had an adverse effect on women.

If we come to the employment and asset details, one finds that SCs and STs were worse off in terms of employment, and were characterised by a lack of ownership of assets. Lack of employment opportunities and material deprivation of SCs and STs culminated in a higher incidence of poverty, with a much higher proportion of consumption expenditure being spent on food items. The problem of economic deprivation and vulnerability among STs, SCs and Muslims gets further aggravated by their lack of ownership of physical assets, which could have acted as a cushion in times of economic distress.

Prof Sukhdeo Thorat’s book Dalits in India: Search for a Common Destiny based on rich empirical data, throws up similar conclusions on the situation of SCs in India. It shows that notwithstanding some gains made in the half-century after independence, the disparities between SCs and other sections of Indian society remain and SCs lag behind with respect to a number of development-related indices.

Discussing the book in Frontline ( V Venkatesan tells us, “The book deals with policy directions for the government in terms of dual strategies, namely, empowerment and equal opportunity. Under empowerment, Thorat calls for improvement in access of the SCs to agricultural land, and for steps to make SC cultivators viable, in terms of increased access to credit and other inputs and to market opportunities. Similarly, he recommends improving the SCs’ access to capital, information and markets to make businesses run by SC members viable…”

According to the book, data obtained in the year 2007 reveal some interesting facts regarding dalit life.

■             About 17 per cent of scheduled caste persons in the country cultivate land.

■             About 12 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas are in business, albeit small.

■             The literacy rate among them has gone up to 57 per cent.

■             Unemployment has decreased.

■             Share in government services has improved.

Prof Thorat tells us that as a consequence of all these positive changes, poverty has declined among the SCs; the practice of untouchability and discrimination has reduced to a certain extent in some public spheres.

Nevertheless, the gap between SCs and non-SC/ST households was found to be glaring. Here are the figures for 2000:

■             About two-thirds of SC rural households were landless or near-landless, compared with one-third amongst the non-scheduled caste/scheduled tribe communities.

■             Fewer than one-third of SC households had acquired access to capital assets, compared with 60 per cent among non-SC/ST households.

■             About 60 per cent of SC households still had to depend on wage labour, compared with one-fourth among non-SC/ST households.

Similar disparities exist in the health status of SC/STs and others. The incidence of anaemia among SC women and the mortality rate among SC children are high compared with those of their non-SC/ST counterparts. And various other studies show evidence of discrimination in various market and non-market transactions, including access to social services such as education, health and housing, and in political participation.

The cumulative impact of these disparities is reflected in the high levels of poverty in the SC community. In 1999-2000, about 36 per cent of SCs were poor as compared with 21 per cent among non-SCs/STs. In fact prevalence of poverty was particularly high among SC households which were engaged in wage labour in rural areas (50 per cent) and urban areas (60 per cent).

Noting that on an average about 23,000 cases of human rights violations and atrocities are registered with the police annually by SCs, Thorat underlines that there is still a long way to go before SCs can attain some degree of respectability, a dignified life and sustainable livelihood. He suggests that by strengthening and expanding the current policy of empowerment and equal opportunity, the gap between SCs and non-SCs can be reduced.

IHDR 2011 is an important source of information for planners, scholars, as well as activists of various hues. It is high time the role of good governance coupled with ongoing public interventions at various levels and the impact of social movements in enhancing human development indices was highlighted. One hopes the Planning Commission will sincerely takes up the task of publishing similar reports at regular intervals and that we will not have to wait another decade to get another update on the human development situation in the country.

It is a bit surprising that despite the key role played of the Planning Commission in its preparation, it has shied away from ‘owning’ its conclusion. For example, it is mentioned in the beginning itself that “the report does not necessarily reflect the view of the Planning Commission” despite the fact that it is a collective endeavour of the researchers and various domain experts affiliated to the Institute of Applied Manpower Research, the only research institute under the aegis of the Planning Commission.

At another level one feels there is a lot of scope for improvement at the methodological level. The questions of a scholar working with the Institute for Development Studies, Kolkata (‘Human Development: How Not to Interpret Change’, Achin Chakraborty, EPW, Dec 17, 2011) on the report are worth pondering over. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission says in his brief preface to the report says that “between 1999-2000 and 2007-08 the HDI has increased by 21 per cent and the major driver of improvement has been the education index”. Chakraborty questions the attempt to make “…substantive conclusions on the relative performance of the education and health sectors exclusively on the basis of the differences in the percentage changes in the two sectoral indices”. Questioning the method of construction of the subindices and the indicators used he concludes, “[W]hat the report has ‘found’ about the relative performance of education and health sectors will be the most likely outcome no matter how fast the improvement in population health and how slow the progress in education. It is really unbelievable that a report on such an important issue can make so many elementary mistakes.”

Perhaps the researchers and scholars associated with this endeavor need to brainstorm together to correct/rectify ‘errors/anomalies’ (if any) and come out with a clear-cut response to clear the confusion. (Infochange)

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