India: Whither Development, and for Whom?

November 3, 2010

By Kobad Ghandy

Concept of development

What does a country comprise of? Basically, it entails its land and its people. India is a vast country with over a billion population. Development of these two factors, land and people, would mean development of our country. Retardation of these two factors would entail retrogression. Of these the latter, the people, is primary, but their development can never take place at the cost of their environment. The two can and must develop in sync in a close and homogenous inter-relationship.

When I talk of the people I mean the bulk of human resources of our country. We seek development not just for a few, but for the vast majority. For it is this vast majority that really comprises this county, i.e., India. Their development is India’s development.

And when I speak of the land I use the term in a general sense, meaning overall natural resources of our country- the land and its soil fertility, the forests, the water, the wealth underneath the land, the air, etc etc. In short, the environment.

Thus the human resources and the natural resources is what basically comprises our country. This has been the understanding from times immemorial, notwithstanding concepts promoted today of GDP growth, high tech development etc. as indicators of development. Even at the time of Vedas it was said,

The motherland of ours
Which is the queen of resplendent Lord
Which bears in her bosom
Divine fire and glittering gold
Which provides protection to all
Which is set firmly
And shelters all living beings
In her cozy lap
Which is replete with riches
May bestow on us
Abundant wealth and wisdom
Atharva Veda 12.1.6

So, the land and nature must provide all abundant wealth and wisdom or knowledge to develop all round growth in our human resources.

Now, when I speak of the development of human resources, I see development not in merely economic terms, but in its spiritual and cultural spheres. No doubt man must get basic necessities of life- food, water, clothing, shelter and education. But that is the starting point towards his full flowering as a human being. Animals too get food and water ( it is a tragedy that we have been reduced to worse than animal existence), but it is only with the flowering of the individuality of all human beings through their spiritual, cultural and social/ political development, that we achieve a real development of the human resources of our country. And by spirituality I do not mean religion ( though, it may include it, based on a person’s preference) but a set of values which allows for the best in cooperative interactions between people on the basis of mutual respect and understanding- not based on superiority/inferiority, hierarchy, coercion and casteism etc.

The human essence must be allowed to grow and grow in the elevating fresh breeze of genuine freedom. It must blossom like the spring flower in full bloom. But, a pre-requisite for this type of development would entail the elimination of poverty, hunger and ignorance. A hungry, diseased, emaciated person seeks only his next meal. It is only when he does not have to worry about achieving his basic needs that he can focus himself to grow and develop spiritually, culturally and in all other ways. It is true as the Bible says that “ Man does not live by bread alone:, but his bread is a prerequisite to his further development.

So, the development in this direction of the majority of our people would comprise the major aspect of development of the country.

The second and interrelated aspect of the development of the country, i.e., its land, water, forests and all natural wealth of the country. It entails developing these in a direction that are in the best interests of serving the vast masses of India. With these concepts of development let us now turn to the maladies facing our country.

Maladies to be surmounted

The government’s economic survey 2009-10, presented on the eve of the budget has rightly commented:

“ A nation interested in inclusive growth views the same growth differently depending on whether the gains of the growth are heaped primarily on a small segment or shared widely by the population. The latter is cause for celebration but nor the former. In other words growth must not be treated as an end in itself, but as an instrument for spreading prosperity to all.” (1)

Then, the economic survey shows how inclusive growth has taken place in the country by showing growth per capita GDP and the per capita consumption expenditure of the country (2). But, these per capita figures do not give an accurate picture of the major populace as it averages out the billionaire’s expenditure and wealth to that of the pauper and puts them in a common category.

The reality is somewhat different. All indicators in fact show a terrifying situation within the country which is quite contrary to the above mentioned picture or the impression created by the government/ media who portray development based on high growth rates, sky-rocketing stock exchange indexes, large foreign exchange reserves etc.

First, I shall look at some indexes and then turn to the ground reality. Practically every comparative index puts India in a situation worse than most of sub Saharan Africa- the most backward region in the world.

India ranks 134th ( out of roughly 180 countries) in the UN Human development index. Behind even countries like Laos and Bhutan. In fact, if it was 134th in 1994 as well. So, there has been no improvement. The World Bank pictures an even more pathetic picture, ranking India as 143rd in the world on the basis of per capita Gross National Product. Ironically, the President of India, on a recent visit to Laos, grandiosely declared a $15 million loan, saying India will continue to assist Laos, taking it out of the least developed country category.

In the Global Hunger Index, India ranks 66th amongst 88 countries. And if we turn to the recently developed UNDP Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which more widely measures poverty from an income, health education, etc basis, we find the situation even worse. India, it says, has 65 crore people who are MPI poor which amounts to 55% of the population. Even worse, eight states of India ( Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, M.P, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP and West Bengal) account for more poor people than those present in the 26 poorest countries in Africa (3).

If this was not bad enough, the condition of our children, women and old are amongst the worst in the world. According to UNICEF, except for Ethiopia, India has the highest percentage of malnourished children under 5 years o age. In the year 2008 the percentage of malnourished children was 51% in Ethiopia, 48% in India, 46% in Congo, 44% in Tanzania, 43% in Bangladesh, 42% in Pakistan, 41% in Nigeria, 37% in Indonesia and 15% in China. India has half of the malnourished children of the world, and more than half of India’s children are underweight.

The right to food campaign ( RFC) says that two thirds of our women are anemic, about one third of the rural adult population have a low body weight index, and malnutrition rates are higher than some strife-prone countries of Africa.

As though, this is not bad enough, India is at the very bottom of the recently compiled “quality of death index” (4). This new study on the provision of end of life care, takes a close look at the quality of life and care made available to the old and dying in the developed and emerging economies. Many of the countries that became independent later than India have quality of death index that is double that of India. So, if we look at our children, women, elderly or even the bulk of our population, they have seen little development in these 63 years of independence. In many spheres, people’s conditions are much worse than that under the British rule.

Now, if one looks at the ground reality, the situation is even more depressing. Two studies- by the Asian development bank and the National commission for enterprises in the unorganized sector- have put the poverty stricken masses at over 75%. The latter report says 77% of India’s population ( or 83.6 crore people) live on rupees 20 or less per day. And this at a time when food inflation has been running at 20%. This is further corroborated by NSSO data, which showed that 77% of the rural population, consumed less than the minimum daily calorie intake of 2400. In fact the percentage has gone up from 69% in 1993 (5).

If one looks at the situation from another angle, the situation appears as grim , food grain per capita consumption has fallen from 177 kg in 1991, to 151 kg in 1998. Since then it has dropped even further- compare this to the 182 kgs recorded in the LDCs ( Least developed countries) and 196 kg in Africa. The world average of cereal consumption is 314 kg ( cereals comprise 9/10th of food grains). This entails both direct and indirect intake (indirect are those cereals fed to develop animals, then, eaten by man). So, Indians have half the world’s average consumption and even less than the poorest countries in the world.

The extent of rural impoverishment can be estimated from the fact that over 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide between 1997 and 2008. Such a phenomenon was never witnessed earlier in our country, which is the result of skewed policies of the government to turn agriculture into a profit making machine, for the seed, fertilizer and pesticide companies. In Maharashtra (which has the maximum suicide rate) the numbers are increasing, from 8 daily between 1997- 2002, it increased to 11 daily between 2003- 2008.

If one looks at both rural and urban areas, we witness nothing but increased impoverisation . In the rural areas, we find that 85% (or some 60 crore people) of the farming community works on less than five acres of land, of which 60% (or 36 crore people) have no water (7). Similarly over 9 crore people live in urban slums which is an increase of 23% over 2001 (8). The bulk of these 45 crore people live in sub human conditions.

Then we see that in all spheres, regular employment is coming down so that more and more people have to eke out an insecure existence in contractual jobs. Even government jobs are scarce. For example, in just the 8 yrs from 2002 to 2009, central government PSUs have dropped roughly 25% of their work force, from 20 lakh employees to 15 lakhs.

Even worse, in the sphere of hygiene and healthcare, even the capital city of the country, Delhi, is enveloped in sickness. Malaria is hitting places never before affected by the disease. With India having one of the poorest public health care systems in the world, large sections of the population are being depleted. A large part of family income is now going for sickness- costly medicines, doctor’s fee and pathology charges. Now state governments spend a mere 0.5% on GDP on healthcare and hygiene, compared to 1% in 1970. The UN says in India 1 lakh people die yearly, due to waterborne diseases. Another 1.2 lakh died in 2008 due to road accidents while 5.2 lakh were injured.

So, if one looks at the human resources of the country, we find there is little development in the achievement of the very basic necessities, let alone in the spiritual and cultural spheres. The worse off are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, and minorities who in addition have to face, daily humiliation due to their status. Let alone flowering of their individuality, their very self- respect is crushed at every step. With the rise of Hindutva, caste and communal biases have in fact grown, destroying any hope of true spiritual emancipation. Even amongst the middle classes and better offs, consumerism and corruption at all spheres of life and religious bigotry have destroyed the moral fabric of the country.

This is the state of our human resources; the state of our natural resources is even more devastating.

The rape of countryside and environment is well documented. Forests have been destroyed, with the wild life that existed within it; rivers have been turned into glorified sewers and underground aquifers have been depleted and topsoil devastated by fertilizers and insecticides. Besides what the timber mafia and paper mills have cut down, roughly 1.6 lakh hectare of forest land have been diverted for mining. The rate of this deforestation has been growing apace, while 1980-97 period 19 mining projects per year were given forest clearance, this has increased to 216 per year in 1998- 2005 period. Just iron ore mining used up 77 million tones water in just year 2005-06.With nominal pollution safeguards, mining of major minerals, generated 1.84 tonnes of waste in just the one year 2005-06, most of which was toxic in nature.

Deforestation and soil erosion has led to poor water retention resulting in droughts and floods on a regular basis, reducing replenishment of underground acquifers. India now depends on these underground acquifers for its needs, rather than on surface water.

Today 60% of irrigated agriculture and 80% of rural / urban supplies are dependent on ground water. According to World Bank report, 29% of India’s ground water blocks are critical. This will increase to 60% by 2025. While industries and mining guzzles tones of water, per capita availability has dropped from 5000 cubic meters in 1991, to 1600 cubic meters in 2001. Such is the all round devastation, which gets magnified with Bhopal like catastrophes, and ALGAH (Gujrat) like projects. Any development must entail, systematic aforestation , not monoculture, rejuvenation of the soil and water sources and pollution free industrial/ mining projects.
India is a very rich country in natural resources, if our huge man power is applied to it, wonders can be created in just a few years.

Development for whom?

While the government has long term approaches for the development of industry and big- business, it does not have a similar approach to development of the masses of our country. In the approach to the latter it has short-term fire-fighting in the form of poverty alleviation measures. This turn in policy came after the 4th plan and amounts allocated for items such as rural development have been slashed drastically (10)

So we find huge expenditure on ports, airports, expressways, mobile /internet connectivity etc, which benefits primarily industry and business. On the other hand, little is spent on afforestation, watershed management, health, education etc which benefits the masses..

But the government does spend on poverty alleviation measures, which do not produce anything long lasting or tangible. Thousands of crores disappear into this black hole of which only a small fraction reach the people. Here I am not talking of corruption- that is the second point- I am talking of the very approach to peoples’ welfare. Does one keep giving a person alms, year in and year out, or should one create the basis for him to earn his livelihood and thereby also create something tangible for the country? This is the moot point.

But the bulk of the government’s schemes are mere doles. Like – the NREGA, STRSY, SGSY, IAY, BPL, APL etc. None of such projects are geared to create something tangible that can benefit the country in the long term. And also benefit the individual in the form of providing irrigation, employment, health care etc.

And added to this is the second point. The mammoth corruption that make even these schemes nonfunctional, take for example – the much hyped NREGA for which Rs 40,000 crores was budgeted, to provide 100 days jobs for the poor (11). According to Mani Shankar Aiyer (12), the NREGA involved only the 32.6% households in Tripura. In U.P. and M.P. it was just 14% , in Chatisgarh, Jharkhand it was 8% while for Orissa and Uttaranchal it was 6%. So where did all that money go. The planning commission in 2004 itself admitted that 58% of the subsidized food grains did not reach the BPL families and that 36% got sold in the black market.

The callousness of the government, towards people’s welfare can be seen from the fact that even after decades the government has not developed the infrastructure to properly store the food grains that it itself buys. Instead of building silos, which is an established method all over the world, it dumps its grains in warehouses and even out in the open. While lakhs in this country starve, nearly 20 million tons of food grains are lost to fungus and rodents. This amounts to 10% of the country’s annual production.

Yet on the other hand, the development policies have developed a super rich where 100 of the richest have a net worth of 300 million dollars, 25% of India’s GDP. The number of dollar billionaires have been growing at the fastest rate in the world. It jumped from 27 in 2008, 52 in 2009 and 69 in 2010.

In 2009 there were 3134 executives earning over 50 lakhs per year and 1000 earning over 1 crore per year. And this does not include the earnings in black, which amounts to 40-50% of GDP. This gigantic Rs 25 lakh crores incomes ($ 500 billion) that gets generated in a year, gets distributed among the big business houses, top politicians and bureaucrats and smaller amounts trickle down to lakhs of people, corrupting in its wake, the entire moral fabric of our society. In addition members of parliament have given themselves a 300% hike in an income (with perks) of Rs 37 lakhs per year.

So, what little development is taking place in this country, feeds a tiny microcosm of the society and does not help much to build the country, its land and its people. It is this that requires remedial measures.


1) Economic survey of India 2009-1010
2) Economic survey 2009- 10, see pgs 22-23
3) The Economist, quoted September 29th, 2010, Indian Express
4) Outlook , August 29, 2010.
5) Utsa Patnaik, as quoted in the Frontline, March 12, 2010
6) Ytsa Patnaik, as quoted in The Hindu, Sept. 13, 2010
7) Tehelka, March 27th 2010
8 ) Times of India, Sept 4th 2010
9) The biggest ship breaking project in the world involving many toxic materials
10) According to Patnaik rural development expenditure, which was 14.5 of GDP in the 1985- 90 period, fell to 8% of the GDP in the 1990s and and to 5-6% in the 2000s
11) Economic survey 2009- 2010,page 227
12) Asian age, Sept. 13 2010.
13) Tehelka, August 17th 2010
14) Times of India March 22, 2010
15) P Sainath, The Hindu, July 6th 2010
16) ibid.

The author is Politbureau member, Communist Party of India (Maoist) and currently imprisoned in Tihar jail, New Delhi. This paper was presented in absentia from a hand-written note by the author at the National seminar on Development: Maladies and Remedies, 18th-19th October, New Delhi.


7 Responses to “India: Whither Development, and for Whom?”

  1. vishal Says:
    November 3rd, 2010 at 05:40

    pity the position of maoist politbureau member , who has to quote vedas to make his point. No wonder , prahcanda claims ,he is not an atheist-read ,then, he is a hindu brahmin. ambedkar would have never quoted vedas . wonder what is the position of dalit maoist is not quoting that is the problem. what meaning does it makes in a caste heirarchic society. in the times of vedas the well being of all doesnot mean the wellbeing of all. since it excludes the exploited dalits. Can’t assume that a leader of his stature doesnot know this. and his position that , relgion is purely personal is ridiculous. does it mean , one is free to practice brahminic caste based religion , and it is only a matter of choice.

  2. vishal Says:
    November 3rd, 2010 at 14:05

    none of the indian marxist , both the parliamentary and non, would dare to quote ‘quran and begin an essay. or budhist text. bot the texts are qualitatively different and liberative from any hindu text, which is structurally oppressive. See, EMS namboothiripad, the brahmaanic icon of marxism who practiced endogamy and preserved his caste surname as sacrosanct, with a dose of dialectical spinddoctoring.Subashchakroborthy too toed the line. yechuri is loud in defending dashavathara purana witha an indegenous brand of intelligent design

  3. Arun Says:
    November 9th, 2010 at 10:02

    Vishal,when asked to look at the sun looks at the finger. Instead of pointing any blemishes in the article of Kobad,Vishal talks of Kobad’s caste’which Kobad and millions of the Adivasis and Dalits ‘for whom Kobad renounced his cosy life ,have long forgotten.Afterall,neither Kobad ,for that matter even Vishal did not apply to be born in a particular caste.Deciding peoplel,s class and character on the basis of their caste is asymtom of modern Manu Dharma. Arun

  4. Amitabha Kar Says:
    November 10th, 2010 at 09:07

    It is nothing new for Marxist-Leninist theoretician to quote from old classics to establish his argument.
    Marx himself quoted several times from Dante’s “Devine Comedy”. Lenin said, “…only a precise knowledge and the transformation of the culture created by the entire development of mankind will enable to creat a proletarian culture.” “…far from rejecting the most valuable achievements of the bourgeoisie epoch,it has on the contrary, assimilated and refashioned everything of value in the more than two thousand years of the deveplopment of human thought and culture.” (Lenin’s selected works, Vol.3 page-413, 425. Moscow,1977)
    We csn see an spectacular examlpe of “the transformation of culture” and “refashioned of everything of value…” of the past in Mao Zedong’s writing, “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed The Mountain”

  5. vishal Says:
    November 12th, 2010 at 19:07

    marxists of all hues pay lipservice to annihilation of caste, th unique indian pehnomenon, but they are never serious and gets irked when pointed out.RIM was split and MIM and their offspring 3rdworkd maoists,level vehemnt vitriolic comment about the maoist leader prachanda, for being lax on brahminism.Dalit critic like vt rajashkar calls maoists as vadik marxists.CPM marxists never get tired of singig praises for arch brhamin fanatic srishankara.No doubt why all these fellas are alienated from muslims and dalits and confined to some tribal pockets and bhadraloks of westangal and kerala.It is so patheitc that ambedkaarites has to remind them of their own polemics despite their documents vomitting adnauseam selfcriticism on brahmanism.unless they internalise the language of ambedkar their thesis on brahmanism is to oprate in vacuum.

  6. Mrudhul Raj Says:
    December 2nd, 2010 at 21:27

    There is a great lack of social justice and socialsim. Our growth is not bring total development, other words we lack in majority and gains at minority. for example we are eleventh largest economy and fourth largest by purchasing power parity. The current status make ambani more richer, and rest poors to more poor. We have survied more than 850 years of foriegn invasion,but they took wealth and damaged temples etc. The dirty politics here is spoilling the counrty, hertiage and its people.

  7. Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay Says:
    January 11th, 2011 at 13:19

    Nearly all the communities in India(such as Bengali), are succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty'(a theory once introduced by an US anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administration system, weak(immature) mother language, continuous absorption of common space(mental as well as physical, both). Becoming parents only by (blindfold) self-procreation, simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour(values), i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children who are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. Can the Indians(Bengali) ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, start themselves ‘Production of (social)Space(Henri Lefebvre)’, at least initiate a movement, by heart.

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