By Rakhee Suryaprakash

Edited by Shambhavi Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

India has managed to launch the cheapest Mars Mission and the “Make in India” campaign, before Prime Minister Modi took off to the Big Apple to party with Wolverine and address the United Nations. This mood of ‘Chale Saath Saath’ in Indo-U.S. relations ushers in an era of cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism, Clean Energy, and Women’s Empowerment.

While the two ends of economic theory call for “greater government investment in programs to aid the poor” and “fuelling the growth of industry and the middle class” to eliminate poverty, India – a nation that proposes to be the manufacturing hub of the world – needs to do a lot more to improve the status of its Below-Poverty-Line (BPL) population. While we congratulate ourselves on a successful space mission, we need to translate that technological strength into improving the status of the over 340 million destitute people in India. The Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2014 of Oxford University stated that India is the second poorest country in South Asia, second only to strife-torn Afghanistan. The same study which uses 2005-2006 data for assessing India, marks out “Bihar as the poorest region among 49 countries”, although latest figures from the Indian Central Statistics Office (CSO) lists the state as the fastest growing economy in the nation: “Bihar’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) grew 10.73 per cent during 2012-13 — the only State that clocked a double-digit growth rate during the year”.

This discrepancy is typical of the various schools of thought that put of a blueprint for development. As Paul Polak, puts it “The conventional definition of economic growth — increase in average per capita GDP — is totally irrelevant to people living in extreme poverty.”

The need of the hour when the world is changing focus from millennium development goals (MDGs) to sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the nation itself refocuses sanitation is to target programmes and problem areas so that the lifestyle of a substantial segment of society improves. According to WWF research improving the lifestyle and integrating sustainability into the habits of the poorest of the poor improves environment exponentially. The UN campaign to “Invest in Girls” and the Indian “Beti Bachao, Beti Padao” (Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child) are just the start. Most studies emphasize that it’s the rural populations that are the poorest cut off as they are from the market and support systems. Similarly in any population the female half is the poorer thus putting a female face to poverty. Hence to exponentially improve the economic status of the nation it is essential to improve the status of rural women and girls.

Rural electrification and provision of clean fuel as well as sanitation will help cross out many targets of the MDGs. As the 16th Lok Sabha goes into its winter session and Narendra Modi returns after the much-watched tryst with the once hostile American bureaucracy and Barack Obama to a nation again going into election mode (this time state assemblies) the sure-fire way to enhance the status of the citizens is to invest in their multi-dimensional prosperity. As mentioned in his talk in the Council for Foreign Relations the way forward to substantially uplift the Indian population is to bring the comforts of the urban middle class within reach of the “neo–middle class” and the rural poor. Connectivity, access to food and health-care, electricity, sanitation, and opportunities to earn a living wage can transform the lives of the millions and easily put the nation on-track to real economic development.

In my opinion, the blueprint to substantial and sustainable development includes the following key steps:

  • Programmes that invest in the girl child (e.g., extension of micro-credit and “Progresa/ Oportunidades”-like incentives and scholarships that benefit families that keep the girl child in school and encourage her to score well and participate whole-heartedly in education. Such programmes can be easily accommodated into the scope of the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padao” schemes.)
  • Renewable and non-conventional energy systems to bolster the electricity supply to regions with poor and unreliable energy supply (e.g., the off-grid, rooftop systems harnessing the power of the sun, wind, and bio-fuels)
  • Clean, smoke-free and carbon neutral cooking fuels (e.g., bio-gas and bio-mass systems)
  • Aid and support to female farmers (financial and agri-technological support and knowledge-sharing).
  • Technological support to harness the organic farming methods in a sustainable manner. This would further enhance the productivity of small-holding farmers – the least sustainable and productive of farmers – the norm in India.
  • Entrepreneurial development training for women (both rural and urban) and tie-ups with women-centric rural-based Self-Help Groups (SHGs). As a result, it would enhance the purchasing power and living wages of rural populations.
  • Programmes that harness the unconventional and untapped (read untaxed) wealth that is the result of the home-grown talent.
  • To improvise single-window systems that will help bring in these unorganised and informal small-scale set-ups into the conventional sector
  • Specialized education that helps improve the skills set in school, so that the future generations have an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Setting up of rural micro-centres with Internet that connects rural communities, farmers, and artisans with customers and investors from across the globe.
  • Setting up villagers-built feeder roads that connect rural communities with their urban counterparts (collaborations with machine supported enhanced NREGA).
  • Urban-rural tie ups through village adoption by the corporate social responsibility wings of industries and companies to enhance the opportunities available to the rural population. Simultaneously, this would expose the urban workers to the realities that keep the poorer sections of society trapped in “destitution.” This could easily tie-in with the MP model-village schemes mentioned in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address.
  • Setting up of sanitation and water-supply in villages as well as funding of programmes that help revive and recharge traditional village water sources such as ponds and check dams.
  • Funding an effective health infrastructure that facilitates the rural population with essential medicines and doctors

References:

Media Reports of the PM’s visit to U.S.A.

Bhagwati, Jagdish, “Scaling up the Gujarat Model,” The Hindu, September 20, 2014

Rosenberg, Tina “How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work,”

Polak, Paul (Founder, Windhorse International, D-REV the Design Revolution & iDE International Development Enterprises), “How to Solve India’s Poverty Crisis,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-polak/how-to-solve-indias-pover_b_4086236.html

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bihar-tops-in-growth-says-central-statistics-office/article6395138.ece

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/india-is-poorest-in-south-asia-after-afghanistan-oxford-varsity-study/article6120424.ece

Anand, P.B. (March 2013), “Every Drop Counts: Assessing aid for water and sanitation,” UNU-WIDER Working Paper No. 2013/025.

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