By Kabeer Bora
Some believe that India has grown immensely since the country’s trade gates opened to foreign investors in 1991. However, contrary to their myopic view, the truth couldn’t be farther away.
Two economists in their paper, from the University of Massachusetts, conclude that people’s budget has been squeezed in rural India. People are now inclined towards spending more on non-food essentials rather than on calorie consumption.
This is mainly due to a retreat of the State from provisioning these services as a result of which, calorie consumption has witnessed a steady decline. The percentage of people consuming calories less than 2200 (benchmark) increased to 76% in 2010 from 58.5% in 1993. These are the ‘liberalization’ years of our nation; the years in which people continue to spend more on essentials like health and education, that should have been guaranteed by the State.
The calorie consumption decline, which wouldn’t have been felt by the middle class, has mainly affected the poor of our nation. This disconnect between the middle class and the poor is what drives both the classes towards diametrically opposite conclusions about the ‘developmental’ work of our governments.
When the nation was rejoicing at the medals won by our sportspersons and people were budgeting their monthly expenses with Mr Ambani livening up their lives with the help of Jio, one small little state called Tripura in the Northeastern corner of our nation pulled off a remarkable achievement. It topped the literacy charts with a literacy rate of 97.22% – which is more than Singapore’s.
Focus On Human Development
Renowned economist Amartya Sen views human development important in realizing our nation’s potential. Be it the Capitalist America or Lenin’s USSR, both countries had invested in human development before becoming the superpowers they once were. In the same vein, Europe went for universal education before it could stamp its authority around the world. Japan after the Meiji reforms in 1868, achieved universal education in 40 years. The Prime Minister of our country wants to emulate South Korea as it has done better in this aspect by investing massively in human development before venturing into other sectors.
Although communist governments around the world have tended to invest more in human development, it is not exclusively a communist concept. Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, was an avid supporter of the enhancement of the quality of the labour force to achieve high economic growth.
For all its flaws, Tripura deserves a lot of credit for scoring well on the human development indicators more so when the historical background of the State is taken into the equation. It was a state breathing its last when nearly 600,000 displaced persons from erstwhile East Pakistan entered the small state. This put the already derelict infrastructure under further strain.
Attention To Education
No one expected Tripura, cut off from West Bengal, to bounce back the way it did. Its literacy programme can be a good model for states like Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, who have literacy below the national average. Assam might have a thing or two to learn from Tripura in funds management as Tripura spent 17% of its expenditure on education. That is more than the average north-eastern spending of 14.4%.
The educational infrastructure has been boosted as the pupil-teacher ratio is 19:1 compared to 30:1 all over India. Education development was not just limited to the urban areas. 4040 out of the 4275 government schools were located in the rural areas. As per the report by Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE), the primary school drop-out ratio of Tripura is nearly 3% compared to 19% of Nagaland and the national average of 4.3%.
High Fertility Rates And Self-Sufficiency
Fertility rates of Tripura have touched 1.7 according to the Economic Survey of 2014-2015. This is the same as Norway’s fertility rate – a country known for its human development.
Tripura is geographically disadvantaged and is highly dependent on road transport for its essentials. NH-44, the lifeline of Tripura is often disrupted due to floods in Assam. This ultimately puts a lot of inflationary pressure on the State’s finances. Keeping in mind the fiscal responsibility act, Tripura had formulated the 10-year perspective plan with the ultimate aim of achieving self-sufficiency.
Though self-sufficiency wasn’t attained it did make a lot of progress. A state highly dependent on Jhum cultivation, the government’s focus was to increase its productivity. It managed to almost double its productivity from 509 Kg/Ha in 2000 to 991kg/Ha in 2010. Meat and Mustard seeds were the other sectors in which the government managed to attain self-sufficiency. The production of rice is also revolutionized by introducing a new method of cultivating rice called SRI (System of Rice Intensification). It increases the productivity of the capital and labour involved simultaneously. These are pro-farmer or rather pro-poor policies that are key to having a happy countryside.
As the World battles the ill-effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, we can’t let simple free markets decide our needs and wants. Interestingly, the middle classes have benefited of the impoverished hinterlands. As the rural masses joined the burgeoning labour force in the cities, the wages in the cities for domestic work came down, as farms were sold to big multinational corporations, or confiscated by money lenders.
The biggest lesson the states can learn from Tripura is how to successfully deal with insurgents. Subir Bhaumik, an eminent journalist, in his report has commended the Sarkar government for its role in eradicating insurgency from its land. Tripura’s record in insurgency is a perfect zero. A zero that the other states aspire to achieve but fail miserably.
Tripura is the only state in India to have successfully done away with the draconian AFSPA. Manik Sarkar has taken full advantage of Sheikh Hasina’s government across the border by launching operations to fight the banned outfits hiding in Bangladesh. Importantly, it has also increased its import trade with Bangladesh.
When Assam’s chief minister asks for a ‘Pakistan-like’ fence on the Bangladesh border and the pauperization of agricultural masses persists. Leaders ought to get down to the basics of governance.
Rather than delving into the Machiavellian rule book for a formula, simple pro-people policies which help the people instead of the divisive forces should be adopted.
Tripura is a state that doesn’t get enough news space in our self-proclaimed national media. But, it is a State that requires much more attention than it is getting now. And not for its sportspersons or the CRPF killings, but because of its high human development with very limited resources akin to Kerala. Tripura is well and truly becoming the spark amidst the gloom.
Kabeer Bora is pursuing Bachelor of Economics at the University of Auckland, NZ.