Only equitable distribution of economic benefits can ensure last mile development
Inequality in accessing quality education is the root-cause of multiple woes and is leading to the ever widening income disparities.
It was heartening to see the Union Budget 2023-24 talking of Saptarishi goals with the last mile development being one of them. The other six priorities are inclusive development, infrastructure and investment, unleashing the potential, green growth, youth power and financial sector.Let’s look at the problem of poverty after 75 years of Independence. It will give an insight into realities, challenges and future opportunities as well
As we collectively strive to make the last mile development a reality during Amrit Kaal, we must be reasonable, sensible, honest and emphatic towards our own people not only in words and thoughts but also in affirmative action. It is time to decide whether a fraction of the population wishes to lord over the best of health and education facilities, opportunities and privileges in the country or whether we seek equitable distribution among all. In a welfare set up, the idea of economic justice is always considered as a complex proposition but things won’t move up in the right direction and inclusively if multidimensional gaps and disparities remain. The phenomenal rise in per capita income won’t make one happy. It will be gratifying if there is a direct reflection of growing national gross domestic product (GDP) on the people’s ease of living.
One needs to know and tell others how a Rs 234.71 lakh crore GDP at the current prices is making things better for the common man. India’s real GDP or GDP at constant (2011-12) prices for 2021-22 and 2020-21 stands at Rs 149.26 lakh crore and Rs 136.87 lakh crore, respectively, showing a growth of 9.1 per cent during 2021-22 as compared to the contraction of 5.8 per cent during 2020-21.
There should be an audit to know how the increase in GDP is positively impacting people’s lives. It was heartening to see the Union Budget 2023-24 talking of Saptarishi goals with the last mile development being one of them. The other six priorities are inclusive development, infrastructure and investment, unleashing the potential, green growth, youth power and financial sector.
Let’s look at the problem of poverty after 75 years of Independence. It will give an insight into realities, challenges and future opportunities as well. The Union Finance Ministry on January 31, 2023, issued a statement, saying that “poverty is primarily measured in terms of lack of monetary means for a decent living. However, by definition poverty has wider implications and leads to multiple disadvantages at the same time such as poor health or malnutrition, lack of sanitation, clean drinking water or electricity, poor quality of education etc. Multidimensional poverty measures are hence used to create a more comprehensive picture.” Quite fair, indeed!
The 2022 report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on multidimensional poverty index (MPI) was released last October. It covered 111 developing countries.
As regards India, they used the survey data for 2019-21. Based on these estimates, 16.4 per cent of the population - 228.9 million people in 2020 – is multi-dimensionally poor while an additional 18.7 per cent is classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty - 260.9 million people – in 2020. The numbers are quite huge. However, the findings of the report also suggest that 41.5 crore people exited poverty between 2005-06 and 2019-21.
All said and done, poverty remains a major challenge, which needs to be taken up with all seriousness if one wishes to reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions by 2030.
N.Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, in his address to FICCI’s 95th annual convention and AGM held in New Delhi on December 16, 2022 stated that ensuring interoperable digital health records will be the key, as will reimagining the health workforce to make more efficient use of the limited resources. Reforms, he said, will be the pillar that can propel fundamentals of performance in the coming decades. While the country can look forward to becoming a $ 25-30 trillion economy in its 100th year of Independence, it is also crucial to spread the gains of the future to everyone, including informal workers, agricultural labourers and women.
As per a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, there shall be an additional 140 million middle income households and 14 million high net worth individual households by 2030. This will provide an additional base for the domestic industry to generate demand. FICCI, in partnership with McKinsey & Company, launched ‘India’s Century – Achieving Sustainable, Inclusive Growth,’ a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at catalysing actions to achieve the country’s full economic potential. The ambitious initiative identifies 10 priority sectors – agriculture where exports and food processing need to double, manufacturing, enabling 5X growth in e-retail, increasing India’s share of global SaaS or software as a service revenue by 6X, doubling credit penetration of MSMEs to 80 per cent, doubling the number of doctors, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals per capita, reduction in logistics costs from 14 to eight per cent of GDP, doubling the share of renewables in power generation, tap water connections and 100 pc wastewater treatment, and improve higher-education gross enrolment ratio to 60 per cent, which is currently less than 30 per cent. It is here that one keeps his fingers crossed.
Even if India achieves 60 per cent GER, though one of the targets of new National Education Policy-2020 (NEP-2020) is to increase GER in higher education to 50 per cent by 2035, is the country going to ensure uniformity in quality of education being imparted across the country? Perhaps, it won’t be able to. Students from well-off families dominate top higher education institutions (HEIs) barring those in the public sector where the policy of quota is being followed and students from the weaker sections are admitted. Given their monstrous share in the country’s population, their presence in the key HEIs of the country in the private sector is insignificant and the reasons are all too well known. They cannot afford the tuition fees and cost of living on the campuses.
Inequality in accessing quality education is a serious challenge. It is also the root-cause of multiple woes and the most serious among them is the ever widening income disparities.
Welfare measures are absolutely fine but their beneficiaries must be brought within the ambit of the educational ecosystem. Rich or poor – education is the only panacea to multidimensional problems of the country. For want of quality education, bigger communities are still struggling for their fair share in the country’s resources, opportunities and facilities arising out of sustained economic growth. It is ominous and must be addressed, the sooner the better!
(The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author. The views expressed are his personal.)