Saturday, October 13, 2007

Economic development and social welfare...among other things...

Yet again, I am going to talk about two different things. But, this time around, the two are not entirely unrelated to one another. First, Amalia sent me a link a couple of days ago that spoke of the OECD report on India. It is an article of Le Monde, that says India can reduce its poverty levels to half the current level by 2015. The Policy Brief released by the OECD can be accessed in PDF format here. The report simply confirms what economist have been saying for years; that economic liberalisation has benefited large sections of society, but that further reforms are needed if we want the growth to be sustainable and more inclusive. The Policy Brief puts it rather succinctly when it says, "Reform must continue if government is to achieve its growth targets." I am happy to learn that India is on the right track with liberalisation, no matter what the Left says or wants to believe. It is, of course, evident that there are several sectors that need to be reformed if the phenomenal growth rate of the past two decades is to be sustained.

Of them, the most important is education. In a way, the report vindicated my post of July 22, that creativity is becoming a bad word for most schools, given the national obsession with grades. There are many things wrong with our educational system. The first is that we still pride ourselves on a system created to school a nation of clerks. The second problem is that a government that is so keen on making out IITs and IIMs as good as Harvard spends next to nothing on primary education. I repeat the question I asked some time back on the same blog. How does one get to the IITs or the IIMs when he does not know how to gain access to kindergarten? The government must now concentrate on enabling students from less privileged backgrounds, notably girls, to get at least primary education. Otherwise, we are closing the doors to sustainable development, both economic and human.

That said, I also think the government is doing its best, given the circumstances, to improve the situation. As the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia said on a programme on BBC today, we are an open society. It is easy to find weaknesses in the system. That is a good thing. But, we must also document the successes and find encouragement for further reforms in them. A second statement by Ahluwalia reassured me that our fate is in the right hands. To a question on whether development would 'trickle down' to the bottom, he said that he did not like the expression. As he put it, it implies that development takes place at the top and is distributed to the lower levels. He added that for growth to be inclusive, development must start from the lowest levels. I completely agree. And I hope he stays put at the Planning Commission long enough to ensure that he implements the policies he creates.

Ok...now, moving on. This article of the International Herald Tribune caught my attention this morning. It made me wonder whether the world would have taken such a death in India so lightly. One case of a farmer committing suicide in India hits the headlines and everyone, including starving African nations start talking about how economic growth in India is not inclusive. A case of double standards? I certainly think so. Also, I think such a situation is practically impossible in India. Indian society is too close-knit, even in urban centres, to completely ignore a person like this for months. I only hope that, in the euphoria of economic development, we do not lose sight of the social support system that makes India so special. To me, it is something that must be preserved.

No comments: