Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Indifference towards development strategy


The 12th Plan process has been set rolling. However, there is criminal indifference to the process as those at the helm have hardly shown any seriousness in the process

Shruti Kaul / New Delhi

Four years ago, the country was having a meeting of the national development council called to approve development programme for five years and all Chief Ministers, Union Ministers and senior Government officials from State and Centre were participating in the day long conference chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It was a most satisfying day for all of them and late in the evening the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia came out a proud man to have got the approval of the highest body in carrying on with the five year plan which was based on the ideology of the new group of enthusiastic economists headed by the Prime Minister himself.

After a good night sleep, they woke up to a big surprise which should have shattered their belief. Some of mainstream newspapers carried photographs of sleeping participants amongst them some chief ministers including the high profile chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit - a simple three column photograph had shattered them all.

Since then the planners of the country have been trying to find out where they have gone wrong. Is it that planning is irrelevant for both state and central administrators? This is in spite of the fact that the country has been having good growth for last six years and it is being made as if world is looking towards India and China for ensuring a bright and happy future.

But why are these leaders of national stature so indifferent to a meeting which has to decide on development strategy of the country, bread and butter for every politician worth his name?

Reason is that for almost sixty years, the country has been indulging itself in the so called nationally important exercise of planning but the number of poor which was around 420 million in 1961 when the country had first reliable estimate of below poverty line persons and as per the latest estimates of poverty the number of poor according to Dr Medullar model is still more than 400 million.

The single comparison clears most of the mist around developmental efforts of the country. According to Dr Tendulkar recommendation, number of poor in rural India is 418 million while in urban India the number is 257 million. What this means is that the inclusiveness of the plan process has only benefited urban middle and rich class.

There is no effective attempt by the State to reduce the rich-poor gap between rural and urban India. No doubt the country has been spending more than 70 per cent of its expenditure on the welfare schemes targeted to benefit poor but nothing substantial has been done to give rural India a sustainable high growth economic model.

Counter argument is that a number of big ticket programmes like MNREGA, Rajiv Gandhi Rural Roads Programme and Indira Awas Yojana are being implemented with full force. But all these schemes are not targeted to give rural India a sustainable growth model. They are only aiming at survival. After all 100 days of employment at a rate of 100-125 a day in no way is a way forward to eradicating poverty, hunger and frustration.

After 60 years of independence and even after States’ dismal performance in eradicating poverty, there continues to be a firm political resistance to improving profitability of the major economic activity of more than 60 per cent of India population - farming. The government is keen to give subsidy to food grains, allow free power or fertilisers but does not allow creation of the environment which permits supply shortage so that prices could go to a level that make farming a respectable and profitable venture. The land mass available for farming has reduced considerably since independence and the number of people depending for survival on agriculture has at least grown by 20 million since then. There has to be a national policy to encourage shift of rural masses to urban so as to reduce pressure on agriculture but the country has been witnessing continuous demand for reverse migration. This sounds anything but sound economics.

The State has put every possible obstacle in the way of improving the profitability of the farming sector. It only wants to ensure that there is no shortage of food grains and thus assure that ruling party is not put in disadvantageous position. A simple glance at the price chart of food items for three decades will make it clear that not even inflation has been neutralized. Yes , it is true that more than 1,00,000, crore goes into food related subsidy but the entire subsidy is linked to political compulsion and has never been directed to improve well-being of the farmers.

The rise of naxalism is yet another glaring example of non-inclusive nature of development process. Why is it that no metro city or big township has been affected? It is primarily spread over to the areas which are normally outside the radar of the developing agencies and with the result people in these far-flung areas feel ignored and become ready client for anti-national elements.

It won’t be improper for the country to have a fresh look at the development strategy and bring out a model which ensures that benefits of development are passed equally to all sections of society and no one feels deprived. Moreover, those who have been ignored so far should get first right to such policies.

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