02 Jul 2019 20:55 IST

Address regional disparities, reduce economic inequality

Resolving income disparity, quality education and improving HDI should be priorities

India is the World’s sixth largest economy and the fastest growing economy in the world with a 6.8 per cent annual GDP growth rate. A recent report from the World Economic Forum at Davos-Klosters, Switzerland predicts India’s consumption pattern in 2030 and offers a positive outlook. The report talks about positive income growth, an overall reduction in the percentage of population below the poverty line to 5 per cent, and growth backed by high domestic consumption.

While economic parameters show a bird’s eye view of the economy, the task of the new government should be to focus on lagging parameters. The environment performance index, Human Development Index (HDI), and Happiness Index are a few such parameters. While we are improving on the ease of doing business ranking, India ranks 177/180 in the environmental performance index, 130/189 in the HDI and 140/156 in the happiness index.

According to India’s leading environmental NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs. Alarming reports that at least one in every 10 asthma patients is from India indicate poor enforcement of regulations for curbing air pollution. China has already initiated stringent action to reduce air pollution. The 100m high air purification tower in Xian, China is a live example of such initiatives.

With a meagre 2.9 per cent Budget allocation to the health sector, a growing population and the absence of strict regulations, or their enforcement, there will be no way to combat this issue in future once it escalates to an uncontrollable range. Household air pollution too is significantly high in the rural areas, where people still rely on solid fuels. The WHO’s HEART (Household Energy Assessment Rapid Tool) reported that 86.5 per cent of the rural population still use solid fuels for cooking. More initiatives such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana are the need of the hour.

We are one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but still rank poorly in the HDI and happiness index, far behind neighbouring China. The HDI is a composite figure for per capita income, education and life expectancy indicators. Research firm CRISIL published the ‘States of Growth report’ this year which indicates highly asymmetric growths within the States.

While the State per capita income for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand is significantly lower than the national per capita income, the State per capita income for Haryana, Karnataka and Telangana is higher than the national per capita income. Punjab and Uttar Pradesh registered low GDSP growth and a high fiscal deficit. As per the RBI’s Handbook of Statistics, a shocking 40 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh lives below the poverty line, which is significantly higher than the national figure. The next challenge for the government is to address this disparity between different regions of the country and reduce economic inequality.

Nelson Mandela rightly said that “children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation”. Education is the tool to realise the demographic potential of our future generation, yet we are lagging behind in this area as well. Although the Government’s spending on education has improved in recent years, it is still not enough to revive the decaying state of school infrastructure. As per UNICEF, 8.1 million children are not enrolled in any school, and the majority of these belong to poor and marginalised communities.

Even 72 years after Independence, wide gender disparity still exists in education. The fact that 80 per cent of the regular teachers are not professionally qualified for teaching, worsens the situation. The RTE Sct provides the fundamental right of education for eight years to every child. Yet, the Rural Development Ministry data indicates that 13,500 villages still don’t have schools. The problem cannot be solved just by increasing the number of schools. Other interdependent issues, such as child labour and child marriage must be resolved alongside.

Combating pollution, resolving income disparity and addressing the need for quality education are matters that require immediate attention and should be priorities of the new government. To do this along with maintaining the current growth rate and meeting the people’s expectations will be a humungous task for the Government.

(The writer is an EPGP student at IIM Bangalore.)