Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat
AUTHOR: Atul Sood
PUBLISHER: Aakar Books
Sood introduces a collection of 10 essays that help us understand the Gujarat ‘growth’ story and underlines that policy initiatives in this coastal state have had disastrous implications for the poor and the marginalized
Poornima Joshi Delhi
In the ongoing big business and media enterprise to cover all sub-national narratives in the NarendraModi mask, it is near impossible these days to find voices of reason. As Brand Gujarat is sold with wild enthusiasm by the corporate media, AtulSood has arrived on the scene with 10 other scholars to tell us a few stories minus the hyperbole and plus a lot of hard facts.
Sood introduces a collection of 10 essays that help us understand the Gujarat ‘growth’ story and underlines that policy initiatives in this coastal state have had disastrous implications for the poor and the marginalized. He unravels the myth of ‘Gujarat Shining’ by a hard scrutiny of claims regarding growth performance, employment situation, status of poverty and inequality besides health and education. The picture that Sood paints is not pretty and certainly not worth emulating nationally regardless of what the countless spin doctors would have us believe.
The economic conditions that have facilitated free private enterprise have coalesced with political conditions that not just constrain the minorities in Gujarat but have more or less erased welfare and developmentalism from the state vocabulary. The result, as this book illustrates, is an abysmal public healthcare infrastructure and catastrophic out of pocket infrastructure as the State withdraws and private players sell healthcare as a commodity.
Sandeep Sharma illustrates in his essay Rich State with Poor Health: Disappointing Status of Public Health in Gujarat how the decline in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in Gujarat has been lower than the national average and far lower than states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu with which Gujarat competes in terms of growth rate. IMR is a critical indicator as it captures the influence of a large number of other factors such as the quality of food and water, the quality of housing and clothing, the quality of healthcare and the quality of education in the population surveyed.
Economic growth is undoubtedly a hallmark of Gujarat’s development but nearly a third of its population still lives below the poverty line. Nidhi Mittal’s meticulous essay Growth and Limited Outcomes: Poverty and Inequality in Gujarat shows how poverty eradication remains a major challenge, and outside islands of prosperity there are vast disparities. The underbelly of this ‘spectacular’ growth is that in 2009-10, around 18 per cent households in urban areas and 27 per cent in rural areas were poor in Gujarat — way short of the performance of other ‘high-growth’ states such as Tamil Nadu with 13 per cent poor in urban and 22 per cent in rural areas.
What is most enlightening about Sood’s analysis is that it busts the myth of much trumpeted myths such as ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ which, courtesy of the mainstream media, has become synonymous with huge investment. Gujarat’s share of projects implemented and under implementation has come down from 73 per cent in 2003 to 13 per cent in 2011. The state’s share of investment too has come down from over 20 per cent in 2005 to less than 10 per cent in 2011.
The state’s dependence on private investment has led to a skewed growth in the infrastructure sector. In sharp contrast to what the spin doctors would have us believe, Gujarat has not constructed any new state highways in the last one-and-a-half decade. Though it boasts of high rural connectivity, out of a total of 34,187 human habitations, only 26,767 were connected by road till the end of 2000. Any gains that have been made in this area are due to central initiatives under the flagship PM’s Gram Sadak Yojna.
There is much else about the vast industrial growth which has not improved employment, agriculture and the dynamics of Public-Private Partnerships. For anyone interested in Gujarat, this book is a most useful effort. The only handicap is sloppy editing. Sood’s introductory essay itself has editing errors on almost every page which are all the more glaring, given the high level of scholarship involved.