Govt should focus on inclusion to make India more competitive
India is faced with a strange kind of situation where the competition is between haves and have-nots in every sphere
Roadmaps are welcome! Recently, 'The Competitiveness Roadmap for India @100' was released by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) chairman Dr Bibek Debroy. It is quite comprehensive and also reflective of quality and exhaustive efforts which have gone into its preparation, envisioning new guiding principles for the country's growth journey over the next 25 years and how to achieve the targeted goals, which have not changed since India's Independence. These are affordable and quality health and education facilities for all, addressing income disparities, eliminating exclusion and discrimination against our own citizens in any respect, poverty, unemployment, vibrant agriculture sector, and a resilient economy to mention a few. Most of these goals are interlinked. So, the task at hand is quite challenging but very much achievable.
It has been stated that 'The Competitiveness roadmap for India @100' is based on the competitiveness framework developed by Prof Michael E Porter, and its approach puts forth the idea of productivity as a driver of sustained prosperity. It also emphasizes the context that a nation is able to provide firms to be more productive and for individuals to be able to partake in the value generated through their productivity. Based on this approach, the India @100 roadmap guides the way for India to become a high-income country by 2047 through sector-specific and region-specific policies based on the '4S' principles.' These '4S' principles are social progress, sharing across regions, environmentally sustainable and solid resilience to external shocks. One can also call these principles the four pillars to build a new India.
These '4S' principles sound quite appealing, and if implemented well can yield wonderful results. If in the past 75 years, we have not been able to ensure social progress of all with the resolve that no one is left behind, this does not mean that we won't be able to do so even during the next 25 years. Of course, we can! Socio-economic and political progress of all irrespective of their caste, religion, region, culture and political affiliations form the kernel of Indian Constitution, which is so beautifully summed up in its preamble. Though a lot of affirmative and welfare measures have been taken to ensure that no one is left behind, only a fraction of people continue to lord over the majority of national opportunities, quality facilities and income. Social disparities remain alarming. Data speak for themselves. The rich continue to rule the roost while the poor have to content themselves with leftovers.
'The Competitiveness Roadmap for India @100' rightly says that while poverty in India has fallen over time, inequality has increased with high gains for individuals at the top of the income distribution. "Social progress is lagging behind average prosperity, with dramatic weaknesses in environmental quality and the quality of basic education. Social policies have become less distortive, more targeted, and more focused on mobilizing bottom-up upgrading," says the report. It is a broad observation and perhaps not devoid of merit but certainly not wholesomely tuned to the ground realities. Social progression is a multi-dimensional proposition. It requires a whole government approach to minimize the possibility of development getting lopsided. Due to a multitude of reasons, the Indian development odyssey remained heavily tilted in favour of the urban elite, who also had the privilege of reaping maximum benefits of emerging opportunities in India post-Independence.
A vast chunk of the Indian population was deprived, demotivated and scuttled their efforts to join the county's socio-economic and political mainstream. Unfortunately, despite colossal efforts of our founding fathers like Dr BR Ambedkar and Dr Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, discriminatory and exclusionary forces outweighed inclusive forces. Before the implementation of reservation of OBCs – estimated to be around 50 per cent of the population – had little or no presence in gainful government jobs. Even today, they have a minimal share in well-paid jobs in private and public sectors. The condition of SCs and STs is quite worse. If a country's overwhelming population is denied their due share in national income and opportunities, then no such magic wands have been created so far to fill up socio-economic and political gaps overnight. It requires an overdose of affirmative measures to correct historical developmental wrongs and put Indians on the path of wholesome and inclusive growth.
'The Competitiveness roadmap for India @100' admits that 'India needs enabling social policies that enhance the employability of labour market entrants and reduce barriers to look for a job... In some areas, that will require more resources, in others there is a need for regulatory change. Together they exemplify the opportunities from complementary social and economic development and move beyond the current welcome but insufficient focus on enhancing the efficiency of social programs. Childhood poverty and the lack of accessible healthcare services can result in stunting and other development impediments that reduce children's productive capabilities throughout their entire life. Low quality education and the poor fit of available skills with the needs of the Indian economy create huge barriers for labour market entry. The provision of childcare services and investments in public safety are often critical factors for women to consider looking for employment.'
The task ahead for us as a nation is simple but demanding. Without inclusivity in our approach, we cannot enhance our competitiveness in a sustainable manner. The principles of sharing across regions, environmentally sustainable and solid resilience to external shocks won't work if we cannot ensure that competition does not take place in the midst of exploitation, deprivation and denials. India is faced with a strange kind of situation where the competition is between haves and have-nots in every sphere. Small industrial players or vendors cannot compete with tech and skill driven entities propped up by superior mentors. Thankfully, some efforts are being made to correct the course but even hardcore optimists are keeping their fingers crossed. Audit of the distribution of opportunities and resources among social groups and effectiveness of welfare schemes meant for targeted groups has never been a serious business for us as a nation. Let us not waste even a moment now as India ranks 132 out of 191 countries in the just released human development index for the year by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
(The writer is a senior journalist, author and columnist. The views expressed are strictly his personal)