By Dr Gian Singh*
According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India’s ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries — Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries — Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
The United Nations ranks sustainable development out of 100 points in the Social Development Goals. India scored 61.9 out of 100 points, while the rest of the BRICS countries China, Brazil, the Russian Federation, and South Africa scored 73.89, 72.67, 71.92, and 63.41 points respectively. In this regard, India’s four smaller Asian neighbors — Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh have scored 69.27, 66.88, 65.93, and 63.51 points, respectively.
The report attributes India’s decline in Sustainable Development to the challenges of eradicating hunger and food security. In addition, gender equality, solid infrastructure, sustainable industrialization, and the absence of innovations are some of the reasons why India’s ranking has slipped.
The Global Hunger Index is created by Welthungerhife and Concern Worldwide Institution to raise awareness about hunger around the world. To understand the multifaceted nature of hunger, different countries are ranked on the basis of 4 indicators. The first indicator relates to people who are malnourished. The second indicator relates to children under 5 years of age who are underweight according to their height. The third indicator is for children under the age of 5 who are shorter in height. The fourth indicator relates to the death of children under 5 years of age.
Reports of hunger in various countries of the world under the title of ‘Global Hunger Index’ every year show that India is often ranked low in this regard. Ensuring food security for all the people of the country is essential to eradicate hunger. The country enacted the Food Security Act in 2013, which provides food security to 67 per cent of the population. According to the law, the beneficiaries are entitled to get 5 kg of food grains per month-rice at Rs 3, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Rs 1 per kg.
Given the food prices, the food security provided to two-thirds of the population looks very good. But when we look at the quantity of food grains, there is some frustration because 5 kg of food grains per person per month works out to 164 grams per day, which is not enough to satisfy the hunger of the workers. Ever since the enactment of this law, reports of non-receipt of ration, underweight, and very poor quality of food grains from various states of the country have been making headlines in newspapers / television channels.
Apart from these facts, one aspect that requires a lot of attention is to understand the true meaning of food security. According to the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, food security means a socio-economic approach for all people to have access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food at all times in order to live an active and healthy life. If we look at this definition of hunger, there will be more frustration.
To understand hunger and lack of food security in India, it is necessary to review the development model adopted in the country. After the independence of the country, the Planning Commission was set up in 1950 and Five Year Plans were introduced from 1951. The period 1951-80 is considered as the Planning Period. During this period, the rulers of the country adopted a mixed economic development model under which public sector enterprises were established, expanded and developed and private sector enterprises were regulated and monitored.
Various research studies conducted in the country revealed the fact that during the planning period (1951-80) employment opportunities in the public sector had increased, permanent jobs and services at concessional rates or free of cost were provided to the masses which led to reduction in economic inequalities. After 1980, planning was put into reverse gear.
The country’s adoption of the New Economic Policies of liberalization, privatization, and globalization since 1991 has targeted the planning and the NDA government by abolishing the Planning Commission has created NITI Aayog in which the capitalist / corporate world has been given an important place.
About half of the country’s population depends on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Dependents on the agricultural sector include farmers, agricultural labourers, and rural artisans. Different categories of farmers include large, medium, semi-medium, small, and marginal farmers. According to the 2015-16 Agricultural Census, the number of marginal and small farmers (who have less than 2 hectares of land) in the country is 86 per cent. These are farmers who, after meeting their household needs, have very few commodities to sell in the market.
Use of herbicides and machinery in New Agricultural Strategy to meet food grains needs has significantly reduced employment days in rural areas
Apart from this fact, the economic condition of marginal and small farmers has been deteriorating day by day due to the sluggish rise in MSP or market prices of agricultural commodities and skyrocketing prices of inputs used in agricultural production. In some states these farmers sell A-grade commodities in the market to meet their needs for clothes, medicines, etc., and to meet their needs related to these commodities, they buy the lowest grade commodities in the market.
Apart from farmers, there are two other classes in the agricultural sector – agricultural labourers and rural artisans – who generally belong to the Dalit and Backward classes, are the two rungs at the bottom of the ladder of the agricultural economy. They are kicked more often. As these two classes are landless, they have no other means of production except to sell their labour.
The ever-increasing use of herbicides and machinery in the package of New Agricultural Strategy to meet the country’s food grains needs has significantly reduced the employment days of these two categories in the agricultural sector. Due to government policies making agriculture a loss-making business, weak unions of agricultural labourers and rural artisans and some other reasons, the wage rates of these sections have not increased sufficiently due to which their income and consumption levels are low.
The issue of gender equality is important for the development of women. According to the laws of the country, any kind of discrimination against women on the basis of gender is illegal and punishable. Despite this, various socio-economic, political and other forms of discrimination against women are common in the country. In addition to wage discrimination against women workers for equal work on the basis of gender, when the problem of declining employment arises, the sword of retrenchment is more on women.
Infrastructure can make a significant contribution in the Sustainable Development of a country. The Great Depression of the 1930s and many subsequent events in the world have proved that public sector infrastructure is important for the Sustainable Development of any country as it is not for profit but for the welfare of the people. During the planning period after the independence of the country, the public sector played an important role in the establishment, development, and expansion of infrastructure which contributed a lot to the Sustainable Development of the country.
As a result of the New Economic Policies adopted since 1991, great achievements are often claimed in terms of infrastructure establishment, development, and expansion. In this regard, the public sector has been pushed back and the private sector brought forward. The ultimate goal of the private sector is to maximize its profits. Thus, the achievements made in infrastructure during this period have benefited the private sector, while the general public has been / is being deprived of infrastructure facilities.
Industrialization can make a significant contribution in the Sustainable Development of any country. Since 1991, there have been many claims of industrial development in the country. In fact, large industrial units are developing very fast in which the increasing use of machines and automatic machines has greatly reduced the employment opportunities and changed the nature of employment from permanent to casual.
Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are being ignored from various angles. These are the industrial enterprises which provide more employment opportunities to the workers. These facts show that the country has moved towards unsustainable industrialization which will further increase economic inequalities.
By adopting scientific thinking, new inventions can bring a lot of changes. New inventions will only be meaningful if they reach the masses. Research and development work in public sector institutions plays an important role in doing so. Some important inventions are being made in the country, but often it is happening in the private sector which is benefiting the capitalist / corporate world and keeping the general public away from the benefits of those inventions. Such phenomena are found in the fields of agriculture, industry, and services.
Grants for research and development to government universities and other institutions are either being reduced or eliminated altogether. When salaries and pensions are not paid on time in most of these institutions, how will the researchers working there be able to focus on making inventions?
India’s rulers are never tire of propagating that the country would become an international economic superpower in the near future. They have become more skeptical about the country’s economic growth rate by not paying attention to the country’s Sustainable Development. When the economic growth rate is accelerating, they leave no stone unturned to pat themselves on the back.
When the economic growth rate stagnates or goes down or comes in negative, our rulers are quick to take pro-capitalist / corporate world and anti-people decisions in the name of economic reforms. For attaining Sustainable Development in any country, it is imperative that a development model be adopted in the country which ensures the establishment, expansion and development of public sector enterprises as well as regulating and monitoring the private sector enterprises. To do that we have to come back to planning.
In addition to doing so for Sustainable Development of the country, it is also important to pay close attention to the environment as India ranks 168th in the United Nations’ report on the Environmental Performance Index prepared for 180 countries of the world.
* Former Professor, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala