Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Poor quality of life

The new generation of politicians today appear to be highly confused lot when they are trying to sell India’s superpower dreams to their people. They do not realize that what they are trying sell to the people is not the real India which represents the majority of the common masses. It is unfortunate that these politicians first trying to sell Hindutva and nationalism to the people and then superpower dreams do not know that teeming millions of people constituting about more than one-third of population in India go bed without meals. Besides this, the number of people Below Poverty Line (BPL) has increased during the past few years by 5% to 42% as per the figures of the Indian government but no poverty programmes have been formulated to check this slide in the numbers. In fact, the entire process of involving people in the development programmes in the country has raised many questions than finding any solutions targeted to be achieved by the central government. In the similar manner, India’s rank dismally on the UNDP’s Human Development Index and its ‘medium’ performance pose many uncomfortable questions not only to the government but also the planners of the country, who are charged with the responsibility of innovating new schemes for meeting these challenges. One primary question that has been haunting the people was could the score have been significantly better if the higher economic growth trajectory of two and a half decades of liberalisation had been accompanied by a parallel investment in people? Few will argue that the rise in incomes that came with a more open economy has not translated into a higher quality of life for many Indians and raised overall life expectancy at birth by more than 10 years from the 1990 level, to reach 68.3 years. Progress has also been made in raising awareness about issues affecting women’s empowerment, such as public safety, acid attacks, discrimination in inheritance rights and lack of equal employment opportunity. But as the HDI data show, significant inequalities persist, particularly between various states and regions, which act as major barriers to improvement. The percentage of women in the workforce is the lowest in India among the BRICS countries, and the national record on the population that lives in severe multi-dimensional poverty is also the worst in the bloc. The past surveys have also ignored this factor and refused to make amendments in evaluating the contribution of women in the household economy. These are clear pointers to the lost decades for India, when universalization of education and health care could have pulled deprived sections out of the poverty trap. Under the present circumstances, it becomes extremely important that India should have major focus on social indicators to break free from its position as an underachiever. The fiscal space now available has been strengthened by steady economic growth, and more should be done to eliminate subsidies for the richest quintile. The rise in revenues for the governments from all sources should go towards making public education of high standards accessible to all and delivering on the promised higher budgetary outlay for health care. Bolstered by a conscious effort to help traditionally backward regions, such policies will help eliminate the losses incurred by inequalities that lower national HDI. One crucial metric that gets insufficient attention in the measurement of development is the state of democracy, reflected among other things in access to justice. Clearly with the growing realisation that development is a multi-dimensional achievement, the gains of economic reforms must help build capabilities and improve the health of all sections. Sustenance and improvement in quality of life will depend on policies formulated to handle emerging challenges of urbanisation, housing deficit, access to power, water, education and health care.