The studies in this volume focus on the lessons that emerge from the diversity of regional experiences within India, They supplement what can be learned from international comparisons of successes and failures in economic development. The work is motivated by the general approach of looking for lessons for India from the diversity of its own experiences.
The experience of rapid economic development in many developing countries, especially those in cast Asia, has recently engaged the attention of development economists in general and those concerned with the Indian economy in particular. In our monograph, published last year, India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity (Drèze and Sen, 1995), we have examined the lessons to be learned both from abroad and from the variety of experiences within India. This companion volume of essays scrutinizes the diverse experiences within India at greater depth. The studies include successes as well as failures, since there are lessons to be learned from each.
In chapter 1, ‘Radical Needs and Moderate Reforms’, Amartya Sen presents an analysis of the persistence of endemic deprivation in India, and of the role of public action in addressing that problem. This essay, which draws on the companion volume (Drèze and Sen, 1995), stresses the need to go beyond the narrow focus of current policy debates on the issue of market-oriented reforms aimed at accelerating the rate of economic growth. These reforms can contribute to the elimination of basic deprivations in India, but they need to be supported and supplemented by a far more active involvement in the provision of basic education, health care, social security, and related fields.
Chapters 2–4 present case studies of particular states in India, focusing on their respective experiences in improving living conditions. Chapter 2, by Jean Drèze and Maris Gazdar, discusses the problem of economic and social backwardness in Uttar Pradesh and its causal antecedents. Among these are the disastrous functioning of public services in rural areas, the persistence of widespread illiteracy, and the suppression of women's agency in society. The (p.viii) authors also discuss the social and political circumstances underlying these diverse failures.
Chapter 3, by Sunil Sengupta and Maris Gazdar, analyses recent attempts to address the challenge of rural poverty in West Bengal. One distinguishing feature of the recent history of that state is a significant change in the balance of political power in favour of disadvantaged groups, which took a concrete expression in 1977 when the Left Front coalition came to office at the state level. This change in the balance of power has made it possible to implement a number of far-reaching social programmes that are often considered ‘politically infeasible’ in many other states, notably including land reform and the revitalization of democratic institutions at the village level. At the same time, public policies concerned with health, education, and related matters have been comparatively neglected, and, correspondingly, the improvement of living conditions in West Bengal in recent years has remained relatively slow. These are serious failures of the West Bengal experience, but they do not detract from the value of that experience as an example of the possibility of radical political change in India today.
Chapter 4, by V.K. Ramachandran, provides a major historical account of Kerala's impressive record in eliminating basic deprivations at an early stage of economic development. Kerala stands out among Indian states in terms of a wide range of social indicators, including a life expectancy above 72 years and near-universal literacy in the younger age groups. The paper relates these social achievements to historical conditions and political action. The author draws particular attention to the role of early educational expansion, combined with a significant reduction of social and economic inequalities.
Chapter 5 examines inter-district patterns of fertility, child mortality, and gender bias in India using data from the 1981 census. The findings highlight the powerful effects of variables relating to women's agency (e.g. female literacy and female labour-force participation) on mortality and fertility. Further, higher levels of female literacy and female labour-force participation are associated with significantly lower levels of female disadvantage in child survival. In contrast, variables relating to the general level of development and modernization have relatively weak effects on demographic outcomes.
In this volume of essays, the primary focus of attention is on the direct role of public action in enhancing social opportunities. The (p.ix) case studies are not directly concerned with the relationship between social policies and economic growth, or with the recently launched economic reforms. These studies, however, do have considerable bearing on the broader question of the role and reach of the market mechanism, and on the diverse demands of responsible governance. These matters are discussed in greater detail in the companion volume (Drèze and Sen, 1995), where we have argued for putting the debate on economic reforms in a much broader perspective. The central issue is to expand the social opportunities open to the people. In so far as these opportunities are compromised by counterproductive regulations and bureaucratic controls, the removal of these hindrances must be seen to be extremely important. But the creation of social opportunities on a broad basis requires much more than the ‘freeing’ of markets. It calls, in particular, for expansion of educational facilities and health care for all (irrespective of incomes and means), and public provisions for nutritional support and social security. It also demands a general political, economic, and social programme for reducing the inequalities that blot out social opportunities from the lives of so many hundreds of millions of Indian citizens.
The inequalities build on each other. For instance, as discussed in the chapter on Uttar Pradesh, the education of children of poorer social groups and less privileged classes and castes can be fairly comprehensively neglected without this becoming a politically explosive social scandal, as it would have undoubtedly become had more powerful people been at the neglected end. The result is continued illiteracy, ill health, and other deprivations that keep the underdogs in a state of persistent weakness, making the remedying inequities that much more difficult. These deprivations are of direct importance to the nature of the lives that people can lead, and they can also have a crippling role in preventing the emergence of participatory economic expansion.
To remedy this situation, what is needed is not only more—and more focused—public action, but also general political interest in these deprivations. Public attention and activism may be the ultimate guarantee of governmental initiative and action, especially in a multiparty democracy. Hence the political parties—whether or not in office—have significant roles to play. In understanding and explaining the terrible overall record of India in the creation of social opportunities, not only the parties in office but also opposition parties have some considerable responsibility.
(p.x) It is also important to take note of the fact that success in social policies need not automatically translate into great economic performance. The issue of economic incentives and the creation of an appropriate climate for production, investment, trade, and commerce has to be addressed, and while a favourable social background is important for this (as it has been in, say, South Korea or China), it is not in itself adequate. For example, despite its excellent social achievements, Kerala's record in domestic economic growth has not been impressive (on this see Drèze and Sen, 1995). The need for systematic institutional change that would favour economic expansion is at least as strong in Kerala as it is in the rest of India. The complementarity between economic incentives and social opportunities in generating fast and participatory growth operates both ways.
This study was prepared for the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University, and was initiated under the Directorship of Dr. Lal Jayawardena. It draws particularly on the lessons that emerged from the ‘India project’ located at Santiniketan, directed by Professor Sunil Sengupta. We are grateful to WIDER for supporting this work, and to the Leverhulme Trust for supporting Haris Gazdar's contribution. At various stages of this project, the authors of the different chapters have also used the facilities of STICERD at the London School of Economics, the Centre for Development Economics at the Delhi School of Economics, the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada), and Harvard University, and we take this opportunity of thanking them also. Finally, we are deeply grateful to Meera Samson for excellent editorial assistance, and to Jackie Jennings for ensuring smooth coordination of the activities undertaken under this project.