Developed India needs the dignity of development - Hindustan Times

Developed India needs the dignity of development

Mar 27, 2024 11:35 PM IST

There has been a significant reduction in chronic poverty, but India has a long way to go to ensure opportunity for all to realise their fullest human potential

The bartender at University College, Oxford, goes to Spain for a vacation. A plumber in Brussels has high service charges and leads a life of dignity. Meanwhile, India’s inequality has attracted attention, given the findings of a just-published study by a team that included economist Thomas Piketty. The Union ministry of finance, though, finds evidence of a decline in the latest consumption expenditure survey. The Inequality Report 2022 brought out by the Institute of Competitiveness for the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), used Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2019-20 data, to say that a monthly salary of 25,000 and above puts a person in the top 10% of the total wages earned. This indicated a challenge in securing development with dignity for all.

For every citizen to realise their fullest human potential, our government schools, hospitals, health and nutrition centres and skill opportunities, all have to perform much better than at present. PREMIUM
For every citizen to realise their fullest human potential, our government schools, hospitals, health and nutrition centres and skill opportunities, all have to perform much better than at present.

The United Nations Development Programme’s (2023) affirmation of 415 million persons coming out of multi-dimensional poverty in India between 2005-06 and 2019-2021, was encouraging. The 2022-23 Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure (MPCE) also indicated significant improvement since 2011-12, faster in rural than in urban areas. Scholars have stepped in with claims and counter-claims regarding poverty in India. Depending on whether it was a mere end to chronic poverty that was considered or a more aspirational end to poverty in the context of middle- and high-income countries, the assessments varied. If development with dignity for all is about an opportunity to develop one’s fullest human potential and live with a basic quality of life, we surely have a very long way to go.

Triangulating all the surveys, reports and assessments, it can be said with confidence that there has been a significant reduction in chronic poverty in India from 2005-06 onwards. Disruptions due to Covid-19 did shrink the incomes of the poor. As the PRICE Survey 2023 showed, the average annual household income of the poorest 20% did shrink compared to 2016, from 1.4 lakh to 1.1 lakh. While the post-Covid economic recovery in India has been robust, the recovery of the lower quintiles remains a challenge, as seen from the fall in the share of regular wage/salary employment between 2018-19 and 2022-23, as per the PLFS. Development with dignity requires steady living wages for all.

On income and multidimensional poverty, a significant overall gain is noticed between 2011-12 and 2022-23. With a focus on the pro-poor public welfare on housing, toilets, opening of bank accounts, road connectivity, electricity connection, cooking gas, women’s collectives with access to credit, cash transfers to farmers, ease of credit to registered street vendors under the PM Svanidhi in urban areas, the number of multi-dimensionally poor surely came down. A SBI Research study on women’s collectives brings out the gains through aspiring lakhpati didis. However, on income, employment, and human capital, we surely have a great distance to cover.

For every citizen to realise their fullest human potential, our government schools, hospitals, health and nutrition centres and skill opportunities, all have to perform much better than at present. India’s 134th rank on Human Development Index 2024, compared to China’s 75th and Indonesia’s 112th, points to a need to improve life expectancy, mean and expected years of schooling, and gross national income per capita with purchasing power parity a lot faster than the current pace.

Governance reforms are needed for crafting credible, decentralised and professionally-run, publicly funded community institutions, for high-quality outcomes in education, health, nutrition, skills and livelihoods. The southern states drastically reduced multi-dimensional poverty through human development and women’s collectives. Even Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar registered 5-8 points decline in child stunting between 2015-16 and 2019-21. Global evidence points to a strong link between human development and economic progress, where we have to ramp up our efforts.

On income, there has to be a realisation that wages must not get pushed down by an over-supply of unskilled wage labour, making a mockery of living with dignity. We need productivity gains for workers through up-skilling, complemented by disruptive gains via the use of emerging technology and new ways of value creation. It is also time to revisit the wage structure of workfare programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS); it does set the floor for wage rates. Development with dignity demands higher productivity and greater thrust on semi-skilled and skilled human resources with higher wages. Our social infrastructure gaps need prioritisation. Better schools and colleges, polytechnics and Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), hospitals and health centres, aanganwadi centres and skill-providing institutions are all needed as community institutions.

In a world fighting the climate crisis haphazardly, adverse climate events have started affecting human health and agricultural productivity. Our evidence-based action must surely factor in climate challenges and environmental pollution and its consequences for human productivity, morbidity and life expectancy.

With rapid urbanisation, we need to find a solution to housing and basic amenities in emerging clusters of non-farm economic activity. The rurban mission tried to provide urban-like services in rural cluster points. Based on convergence and with only a 30% critical gap funding, the mission developed robust standards and normative planning processes to create planned growth points. It is time we invested in such initiatives both for sustaining economic progress and environmentally sustainable growth. India is well on its way to leveraging its demographic profile to push growth and development. Development with dignity for all is the only way to a Developed India 2047.

Amarjeet Sinha is a retired civil servant. The views expressed are personal

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