Where there is no happiness for all, there cannot be
happiness for any!
This is a fundamental truth successful nations around the
world have discovered. They have structured their societies in such a way
that, though there may be inequalities in incomes and levels of enjoyment
of the good things of life, the basics of a modern life are not denied to
What are these basics? Answers vary for countries. For
India, these are: education, health care, housing, water, electricity,
cooking fuel, old age support, sanitation, and employment.
Providing these for all citizens is to both attack
poverty and pave way for growth.
Social sectors hold the key
For long, these have been the stuff of publicly-correct
posturing. But, until about 5 years ago, when Amartya Sen emerged as a
voice to be listened to, establishment economists did not see the linkage
between a nation's investments in social sectors and it's prosperity.
In India's government, there is now a greater
consciousness, of how caring for human resources, will lead to a
sustainable growth. India appears to have agreed with this conclusion: the
cold war was not between capitalism and communism; it was between man and
the state and the winner was the former.
In the last few years, (when India's economy has begun to
take-off, though not fly) some good numbers on poverty are beginning
to come in. Enough to make one think, how swiftly things can change
overall, if one were to focus on more investments in the social sector.
In the Economic Survey 2000 - 2001, published by the
Ministry of Finance [the full report is available at the link
below], 26.1% of Indians are reported to be impoverished.
For the country as a whole, the poverty numbers since
1973-74 have been diminishing:
It is instructive to see in the following table, how the
the rate of decline has accelerated since economic reforms began in 1990.
It must be admitted though, that the econometrics
of poverty is a thicket of controversies. The debate is joined by
politicians, economists, statisticians, bureaucrats and social activists.
They question integrities, numbers and their interpretations. In India no
one has done more to bring objectivity to this debate than Dr. Surjit
Bhalla, of Oxus Research. Many of his papers on the subject are available
at the link cited below. For lay purposes, it is sufficient to quote three
statements by him in a draft paper called 'FAQ's on Poverty in India'
[July 20, 2000]
Dr Surjit Bhalla concludes:
"No matter what the data source, survey or national
accounts, growth is shown to lead to poverty decline, almost one for one.
No growth, no poverty reduction is the only conclusion."
"It cannot be concluded that there was economic
growth in India in the nineties, and that there was an increase in
absolute poverty. There is no evidence for this joint conclusion."
"...economic reforms initiated in 1991 have led to a
radical transformation in the well being of the bottom half of the
population. From an approximate level of 38 percent in 1987, poverty level
in India in 1998 was close to 12 percent"
Before we leave the subject, let us cut the data
available in another way: What is the distribution of poverty? We can see
from the following table, it is not uniform across the country. A few states are terrible, but then, several others will rival
countries of comparable size!
Commission for 1999-2000
Haryana, Himachal, J&K, Punjab, Daman/Diu, Delhi
Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Lakshadweep, Dadra/Nagar
Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Pondicherry
Assam, MP, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, UP,
Dr Surjit Bhalla's papers
on poverty issues are available from here.