On a hot day last November near Rajkot, Ramjibhai Patel, an octogenarian farmer, pointed to the middle distance and said, “See that lake?” There was indeed a shimmer in the dry landscape indicating water, but after a relatively poor monsoon, it seemed improbable. Chuckling, he said, “Yes, I see doubt on your face and you are correct. It is a mirage!” With this he launched into a diatribe against the government on issues that ranged from the non-availability of water and the high cost of farming to the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and the cost of higher education of his grandchildren. “Life is a struggle for us. Whatever we have achieved, it is by our own sweat. Promises of the government for ordinary people like us are a mrugjal [mirage].”
The story of growth in Gujarat mirrors Ramjibhai’s mrugjal. Social development indicators in this State of over 60 million people tell a story completely different from the one of success, prosperity and economic development that Chief Minister Narendra Modi would have everyone believe. The Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summits and Modi’s projection of himself as a vikas purush, a sort of development leader, are all part of the illusion that Modi builds around himself.
Despite the much-touted Vibrant Gujarat programmes, it is interesting to note that foreign direct investment is not the highest in Gujarat. Maharashtra leads this list while Gujarat is fifth. Vibrant Gujarat summits have not yielded as much as the State government would like others to believe. According to the government’s own “Socio-Economic Review, Gujarat State, 2011-12”, the promised investments in 2011 were over Rs.20 lakh crore, but only about Rs.29,813 crore was actually invested. In the same year, out of more than 8,300 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed, only about 250 became a reality. The importance given to the Vibrant Gujarat programmes is explained simply. The Gujarat model of development is focussed solely on economic growth via industrial development. For this blinkered approach to succeed, it is necessary for the government to look to private capital. A comparison of promised and actual investments in Vibrant Gujarat programmes since 2003 shows a consistent trend of investors promising more than they actually deliver.
Even though the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the State has been significant over the past 15 years, Gujarat scores low in areas of nutrition, education, employment, wages, consumer price index, rural planning, health, the status of the environment and other indicators of the overall health of society. Indeed a look at official data gathered from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), Census 2011 and others shows that the high economic growth rate in Gujarat has been at the expense of basic human development.
Employment growth stagnates
Paradoxically, employment has not kept pace with the spurt in economic growth. NSSO data show that growth in employment has dropped to almost zero in the past 12 years. Rural Gujarat has been particularly hit despite the fact that there has been an increase in growth in the rural sector. The explanation seems to lie with the policy changes in the sale and purchase of land. Small and medium farmers, who make up a large part of the agricultural community, are increasingly being tempted into selling their land. The lure of a large amount of money is often too much for cash-strapped farmers to resist, but the outcome of this is the sudden creation of a jobless section of people. Thus, rural residents are hit. The jobs that are created in rural areas through the construction of special economic zones (SEZ), small-scale industries and similar projects are usually unsuitable for local people.
Even though there is a slightly higher workforce participation rate in Gujarat, it is offset by the fact that it is poor-quality employment and the nature of the work is largely casual. Transport infrastructure accounts for a large number of work opportunities in the State, but since these are project based, the jobs are temporary. A high demand for casual labour combined with an increase in migrant labour from other States means that the job security of workers is low and the levels of exploitation are high. The average wages (for jobs other than those under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) are also very poor, putting Gujarat at a low 14th rank among the States.
The disparity in wages speaks of exploitation and an increasing use of contract workers. According to NSSO 2011 figures, the average daily wage a labourer in the informal sector in urban areas can expect in Gujarat is Rs.106 against Rs.218 in Kerala (which ranks first). In rural areas, Punjab ranks the highest at Rs.152 a day while Gujarat stands 12th at Rs.83. About 98 per cent of the women workers and about 89 per cent of the male workers in the State are engaged in informal work (against the corresponding national figures of 96 per cent and 90 per cent).
Health and nutrition
The workers’ low wages and poor purchasing power result in poor nutrition or malnutrition among them and their children. According to statistics from a report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, “Children in India, 2012—A Statistical Appraisal”, between 40 and 50 per cent of children in Gujarat are underweight, which bursts one more myth in Gujarat’s story of growth. Other States in this low weight category are Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha. Human Development Report 2011 said around half of Gujarat’s children were malnourished.
Infant mortality, one of the basic indicators of the success of a government, is high in Gujarat, which ranks 11th countrywide in the rate of decline of infant mortality. According to “Children in India, 2012”, the infant mortality rate in Gujarat was still high, with 44 fatalities of infants per 1,000 live births. And with fewer health care facilities in rural areas, it is no surprise that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, both of whom are kept at the bottom of the social ladder, have a higher mortality rate. In its 2012 State-wise report, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said, “Almost every second child in Gujarat under the age of five years is undernourished and three out of four are anaemic. Infant and maternal mortality rates have reduced very slowly in the last decade…. One mother in three in Gujarat struggles with acute under-nutrition….” The issue of children’s health is further compounded by the continuance of child marriage. Gujarat ranks fourth in reported cases of child marriage.
Education spending low
Education also seems to be low on priority when it comes to government spending. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto claims to have achieved 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools and reduced the overall dropout rate by 2 per cent. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) statistics show that Gujarat ranks 18th when it comes to success in keeping children in schools. The school life expectancy of children in Kerala (which ranks first) is 11.33 years, while that of children in Gujarat is 8.79 years. The State also ranks seventh among 15 major States in terms of literacy rates.
UNICEF said the quality of education needed to be improved, with less than half the students being able to read, write and understand mathematics at levels appropriate for their age. Rather than improving the existing government educational infrastructure and thereby making education accessible to all, the government is leaning more towards private educational institutions. This trend was apparent at the January 2013 Vibrant Gujarat summit, where Modi proposed setting up a global forum for forging partnerships between universities across the world.
A marginal decrease in rural poverty put to rest Modi’s election boast of being a development-oriented Chief Minister. On the whole his government has a poor record of poverty reduction measures. Statistics of the NSSO show that the percentage of reduction of poverty between 2004 and 2010 was the highest in Odisha at 20.2 per cent, and the lowest in Gujarat, at 8.6 per cent.
The Gujarat government’s inattentiveness towards poverty reduction is all the more apparent when it is compared with Odisha, whose GDP growth is lower than that of Gujarat. Much-publicised handouts in the form of various benefits (with names like Garib Kalyan mela) were quite common in Modi’s last term, but an active anti-poverty programme was missing.
Low employment, low wages and high prices—the formula is one of despair. Indeed, food, fuel, clothing and housing in rural and urban Gujarat are the eighth most expensive in the country. This means that even though the per capita income is higher than the national average, the per capita monthly expenditure in both rural and urban areas is low when compared with other States and the national average. While the percentage of the population below the poverty line in Gujarat seems better than in some States, Planning Commission data show that the percentage of poverty reduction in a seven-year period between 2004 and 2010 was not creditable. In a comparison of percentages of poverty reduction in seven States, Maharashtra fares the best, West Bengal the worst, and Gujarat is fifth.
Water and sanitation
According to Census 2011, 43 per cent of the rural households in Gujarat get water supply on their premises and 16.7 per cent get treated water from a common tap. In urban households, the corresponding percentages are 84 per cent and 69 per cent.
The data show that 67 per cent of rural households in the State have no access to toilets and members of more than 65 per cent of the households defecate in the open, very often polluting common water sources. Waste collection and disposal are matters practically unheard of.
The larger issue of the environment is also severely neglected. Despite the Modi government’s pride in the economic boom brought on by the industrial clusters of south Gujarat, these are actually environmentally dead zones. The levels of air, land and water pollution are measured to arrive at what is called the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI). Anything over 70 on this index is considered to have crossed critical levels, that is, the pollution exceeds the capacity of the environment to handle it and it becomes a dangerous health hazard. According to statistics from the Central Pollution Control Board, Ankleshwar and Vapi in Gujarat top the list of 88 severely polluted industrial areas in India. Ankleshwar has a CEPI rating of 88.50 while Vapi’s is 88.09. Of the 88 areas, eight are in Gujarat. Even Dhanbad in Jharkhand, with its intensive coal mining and a longer history of pollution than the Gujarat centres, ranks only 13th on the list.
In the race to be seen as a State where growth (read industrialisation) is on the fast lane, Gujarat has forgotten human development. A former member of the administration told Frontline: “Modi runs Gujarat like a shopkeeper. Profits and losses are measured only in economic and monetary terms. The larger picture of human development, and I include the environment in this, is completely ignored. Not neglected, mind you. It is wilfully ignored.”
When the BJP released its election manifesto on December 3 last year, the party billed the document as a sankalp patra, or a pledge to the people. In it, the Gujarat government applauded itself and the “all-round development” it had created in the State. The reality is that this development has been one-sided and socially exclusionary. The State government’s claims are nothing but a mirage.
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