By Nantoo Banerjee
In a country where poverty, hunger and human destitution growth rates more than match the economic growth indices there ought to be something seriously wrong with that country’s economic progression system. Such a situation is possible only in a radically capitalist economy or in banana republics as noticed in some countries in South America and Africa. It is a matter of serious concern that India’s GDP growth in recent years did not visibly improve the country’s ranking in either the UNDP’s Human Development Index or the Global Hunger Index. Poverty, hunger, unemployment and human destitution in India seem to be growing irrespective of its “impressive” economic growth rates in recent years.
Sadly, some of the latest statements by responsible senior ministers in the union government highlighting economic growth seem to sideline the aspects of India’s poverty, unemployment and hunger. They give an impression that the people giving massive mandate in Parliamentary elections to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are absolutely fine with the country’s growing hunger and unemployment situation. Despite an unprecedented economic depression facing the country since the last quarter of 2018 and massive job losses in the manufacturing sector in the last 11 months, the government seems to be still unconcerned, tomtoming India’s possible six percent GDP growth during this financial year — the highest in any large economy.
Less than a fortnight ago, when the country was basking in the glory of an Indian-American sharing the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, a responsible union minister, looking after the portfolio of India’s global trade, even rejected Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee’s economic philosophy as “communistic”. He said Indian democracy has dumped communism. Paradoxically, the NDA minister ignored the fact that India’s economy and foreign trade are becoming increasingly dependant on Communist China. Unfortunately, political parties in power fail to recognise that democracy is all about periodical political change. Voters choice may change anytime. The results of assembly elections in Haryana and the minister’s own state of Maharashtra, last week, are the latest examples. In a democracy, electorates rarely support one party in power for too long. In fact, the government would have done well to publicly admit the parallel growth of hunger and private wealth in India over the years and invited ideas from experts, including Prof. Abhijit Banerjee, about how to minimise the wealth gap between the top and the bottom to improve the country’s status in the global Human Development Index (HDI) and Hunger Index.
Last year, India ranked 130 on the HDI out of 189 countries, moving up just one rung. Ever since it was first introduced in the 1990s, HDI has become the preferred indicator to gauge a country’s socio-economic progress. The UNDP describes HDI as an indicator emphasising that “people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.” In short, while the economic growth is necessary for development, it is only a means to that process but not an end in itself. The HDI may be used to critically examine policy choices in different countries with a similar range of per-capita income but varied levels of human development.
The index is the geometric mean of three categories of human achievements: life expectancy at birth, educational attainment and gross national income per capita. The index is one of the barometers to measure how economic growth benefits a nation at large. But, the hunger index is a more important tool to measure the reach of a country’s economic development. On the global hunger index (GHI), India has slipped from 95th rank in 2010 to 102nd in 2019. Over a longer-term, the fall in India’s rank is sharper — from 83rd out of 113 countries in 2000 to 102nd out of 117 now. The improvement in India’s GHI score, too, has decelerated.
Just around 9.6 percent of all children between six and 23 months of age in India are fed a minimum acceptable diet, according to the GHI survey. “India’s child wasting rate is extremely high at 20.8 per cent, the highest for any country in this report,” it said. Even conflict-ridden Yemen and climate crisis-hit Djibouti fared better than India on that front. Most interestingly, four BJP-ruled states in the country are among the worst performers. According to the official national survey, the prevalence of wasting in India is at 21 percent. Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra were the big states that contributed to the high wasting percentage in the country, pointed out the country’s Family Health Survey of 2015-16. With millions of India’s population still living below the poverty line and pension-earning industrial workers treated most shabbily by the government fixing the minimum pension rate as low as Rs.1,000 per month, there is little hope of India’s GHI rank improving anytime soon to be better than even its neighbours such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
Hunger in India is linked mostly with unemployment or extremely low income of high majority of individuals. The unemployment level in India has worsened in recent years. The country’s unemployment rate hit a 3-year-high of 8.4 percent in August 2019, revealed data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a think-tank. The weekly unemployment rate stood between eight and nine percent in August 2019, as compared to 7-8 percent range observed in July, CMIE said. The unemployment rate has hit the highest level since September 2016. While the government is desperate about selling national industrial assets in the state-owned sector to manage its growing expenditure year after year, there is no investment to create new assets and new job opportunities. India’s own fund-starved private sector is looking to be increasingly slim and trim. Employment levels are continuously shrinking and the cases of starvation rising despite higher economic growth. (IPA Service)