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Darkness at noon

As the two Indias continue to hurtle in opposite directions, one feeding off the other, State intervention to rescue our poor is the need of the hour, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: Oct 19, 2009 23:41 IST

There is considerable euphoria in official circles over the 10.4 per cent growth in the index of industrial production (IIP). From the prime minister downwards, everyone is generating an impression that the worst of the global recession is behind us and India is slated to re-enter its high growth trajectory. The IIP had grown by just 1.7 per cent on a year-to-year basis last year. Hence, the current high growth rate is based on very low levels. This is like a political party claiming a 300 per cent increase in its influence when its representation in Parliament grows from one seat to three.

While everyone wishes robust economic growth leading to an improvement in the livelihood of the people, the grim ground realities cannot be ignored. The recently released UN Human Development Report has shown that India’s ranking in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI) is a miserable 134 out of 182 countries. In 2007, India ranked 126 among 177 countries. Today, we are sandwiched between Laos and the Solomon Islands.

The data base of this report is for 2007. Thus, it fails to capture the ruination of millions due to the current global recession. Nevertheless, its hard data on India negates the expectations of the euphoria of a high growth trajectory, reflected in the grandeur of an ‘emerging economy’ rubbing shoulders with the ‘mighty’ at the G-20 high table. It only confirms that there are two Indias in the making — a ‘Shining’ for the few and a ‘Suffering’ for the many.

India has registered a decline in all the parameters used to measure the HDI, other than adult literacy. Per capita income, adjusted to purchasing power parity, declined from $3,452 to $2,753 from last year. Life expectancy at birth declined from 63.7 years to 63.4 years. The combined gross enrollment ratio in schools declined from 63.8 per cent to 61 per cent. While considering this parameter, the HDI does not take into account the rate of drop-outs that is very high in India. Of the 100 students that enter Class 1, only 31 reach Class 10. Of these, only around 16 pass Class 12. Of these, only about nine enter the portals of higher education. Once a student enters school, unlike in many other countries, things do not proceed automatically in India.

This, in a way, captures the fact that India’s HDI, which stood at 0.427 in 1980, is now marginally higher, after nearly three decades, at 0.612. That India’s growth story does not translate to the vast majority of its people is yet again confirmed by HDR 2009 that shows that 41.6 per cent of our people live on less than $1.25 a day and 75.6 per cent live on less than $2 a day. This latter figure, in purchasing power parity terms, confirms the findings of the prime minister-appointed Arjun Sengupta Report that 77 per cent of Indians survive on less than Rs 20 a day. At the same time, this negates the fanciful estimates of the Planning Commission on sharply declining poverty levels in India.

Further, the HDI rankings show that India is six rungs lower than its ranking on per capita income based on purchasing power parity. Compare this with our neighbouring countries where the HDI ranking is considerably higher than their per capita income ranking. In Bangladesh, it is nine rungs higher, China 10, Sri Lanka 14, Nepal 21 and Myanmar 29. This once again confirms that the benefits of higher growth have only been confined to a few and have not contributed to the rise in the overall quality of life for the vast masses of our people.

More shocking are the figures released by Save the Children last week. One-fifth of the children dying in the world are Indian. A total of 2 million die before their fifth birthday. One child dies every 15 seconds due to neo-natal diseases. More than 4,00,000 new-borns die every year within a day of birth. One in three malnourished children worldwide are Indian, while 46 per cent of our children are underweight. This is the fate of our future.

In a survey of 29 countries battling hunger, anti-poverty agency Actionaid ranks India at 22. Apart from Socialist China and Vietnam, Brazil, Ghana and Malawi constitute the top five that have achieved reasonable successes in battling malnutrition that has grown by 20 per cent globally since 2005, pushing an extra 170 million people into hunger. All these countries retained or reclaimed a central role for the State in agriculture to ensure the production and distribution of staple foods. Within six years, Brazil reduced child malnutrition by 73 per cent and child deaths by 45 per cent through concerted State intervention.

Clearly, such interventions, rising above rhetoric, are required urgently by us in India. Instead of the current situation where ‘Shining’ India exists because of ‘Suffering’ India, a meaningful inclusive growth focusing on the aam aadmi can come about only through vastly expanded public investments that will, on the one hand, generate jobs and build the much-needed social and economic infrastructure on the other, will be accompanied by concrete measures for ensuring food security.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal