In 2016, India ranked 131 among 189 countries in the human development ranking by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In 2017, the country has gone one notch up, taking the ranking to 130. Those singing paeans to the government might pat their back in self-congratulation over this ‘achievement’. There are a few more results in the UNDP survey that warm the cockles: India’s life expectancy has increased by 11 years between 1990 and 2017, taking it from 57.9 years to 68.8 years. There have been major gains in the country’s per capita income which increased by 267 per cent -- from $1733 to $6353. The survey also shows that the chance of a child dropping out of school is lesser now compared to previous decades.
Sadly, such ‘good news’ is overshadowed by the awfully growing inequality between the rich and the poor. Development is most unevenly distributed, creating a miniscule super rich and a majority of appallingly poor people. As many experts claim, growth has not percolated down to those who are last in the line. The major chunk of the increased income generated from all sectors of production remains with the ‘creamy layer’. India’s income inequality is the highest at 18.8 percent compared to 15.7 per cent for Bangladesh and 11.2 per cent for Pakistan.
One doesn’t have to go far looking for the reasons. A big share of the funds for the government schemes meant for the poor is pocketed by middle men or the powerful rich. Several surveys and investigations conducted by NGOs and media have brought out serious leakages in many pet projects of the Central and State governments. The rural employment guarantee scheme is one such scheme where the intended beneficiaries, the poorest of the poor, are cheated as the funds go into the pockets of fake recipients in many cases. The latest exposure is related to the much-acclaimed and ambitious Skill India programme conceived by Modi government. A news channel has exposed that many people who have been mentioned, in a Ministry’s portal, as trained in certain skills have neither gone for the particular training nor received any money. Many of the training centres have been cheated as they have not been given the promised funds. On the other hand, the allocated funds have gone from the government to the nodal agencies who manage the training programmes.
Such frauds in government schemes answer why the poor continues to be poor and the rich gets richer. Unless the deep holes in the government schemes, which are prime projects to bring the poor out of poverty, are plugged, the very purpose of such mega schemes will be defeated. Some time back, at a meeting of 40 top economists and experts convened by the Prime Minister, it was noted that as many as 20 per cent of the youth in the country were unemployed. This is the percentage of the officially registered unemployed people while the real number could be much larger. This high unemployment rate is another reason for the galloping gap between the rich and the poor. Equally unfortunate are the governments’ moves and decisions that often favour the rich and hit the poor badly. This trend has to be reversed if the country wants to claim ‘super power’ status.
(Published on 24th September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 39)