Ruling parties vociferously highlight the profound success of development issues and performance, which is supported by reports and statistical data. On the other hand, the opposition describes all this as propaganda, and as an illusion of development.
They ask whether development in various sectors can be measured only by citing statistics. The real test is the fulfillment of basic needs with regard to food, housing, clothing, health care, education and employment opportunities. Be that as it may, the citizens of India have been observing various development projects initiated by the union and state governments, aimed at welfare of the common people, for several years.
Appeasing the rural electorate during presentation of the annual budget does not bring development in the true sense of the term. At the same time, elimination of the practice of corruption would appear to be a prudent step in marching ahead for the development of a nation.
Distribution of resources to the unprivileged, sagacious consideration of economic growth and measures for creating job opportunities are equally important. The recent UNICEF report provides an appalling picture so far as the basic amenities for children are concerned. Placating the needy, poor and unprivileged sections of the society, providing health insurance to 100 million households for up to Rs 500,000 per year, and minimum support price to farmers, is promising, but it is not clear from where resources will come. They should not create an illusion of development.
The qualitative indicators of development as conceived by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are unique. Monitoring development over time is important to improve the lifestyle of the common people. Some typical qualitative indicators are literacy, mortality and morbidity rates, income etc. Consequently, development with a human face and pragmatic analysis of the broader dimensions of human well-being must motivate the policy makers. UNDP over the years has focused on the inter-relationship between human development and human rights.
It analyses the impact of growth, economic structures, human rights development and reiterates that elimination of poverty should be addressed as a basic entitlement of human rights and should not be perceived as an act of charity. The value of HDI, and its relevance and importance are well recognized. Consequently, the human poverty index (HPI) emerges as a powerful instrument for conceptual understanding of sustainable development.
Recognizing the poverty of choices and opportunities implies that poverty must be addressed in all its dimensions, not income alone, despite the fact that a lot can be achieved in human development by utilising incomes. It is essential that income should not dictate the value of HDI. The HDI index has been criticized on several grounds.
For example, it fails to include any ecological considerations, and focuses exclusively on national performance and ranking without paying heed to development from a global perspective. The imperfections of the HDI index and its shortcomings, as with other composite indices, provokes many pertinent questions and highlights the need for its evolution, distillation, and refinement.
Advocating equal rights for women, children has been and will continue to be an important factor underlying this evolution. The assessment of perceived satisfaction and dissatisfaction has proved to be useful. Administrative records do not always give correct results. On the contrary, statistics supplied by nodal agencies are most likely to be inaccurate.
For example, in education, a commonly used indicator derived from administrative statistics, namely school enrolment, does not mention dropouts. The claim of 100 per cent literacy in some districts of West Bengal, echoed by the leaders of the CPI-M during their almost three-and-a-half-decade rule is not only inaccurate but ludicrous. It is unfortunate that this important indicator of development is inflated purposely so that figures give wrong ideas.
Another indicator is the proportion of households with at least one literate member. Most developed countries which have had compulsory education do not necessarily measure literacy. Similarly, few hospital beds or limited availability of health care centers per 10,000 population are indicators of lack of minimum infrastructure, because of the geographical maldistribution of health care centers that are inaccessible to the lower income groups.
However, UNDP ignores the essential needs of human beings such as harmony and happiness while considering the human development index (HDI). Expansion of health, education and income, according to UNDP, would enable human beings to be more developed. Surely income and health may be attributed as powerful instruments of development. Good incomes can combat inequality of opportunities in many respects. Generation of income is good and perhaps a driving force to improve the quality of life to a certain extent.
At the same time, effective and meaningful use of income seems to be more important particularly in the field of education, because it would lead to social harmony and happiness. The classical ideas of development as perceived by Aristotle, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill are significant even today. The terms development and freedom are common to these ideas. However, careful consideration would reveal the intricacy of the two words. Development for whom? And, what is freedom? There certainly exist various types of freedom, like freedom of speech, freedom to write and express views and ideas and freedom of thought.
Political and civil freedom is part of human freedom. But there appears to be a lack of freedom, affecting millions in our country. Labour bondage is an example. Development should be viewed as a journey to achieve freedom. It is a process of generation and realization of new opportunities. Sustained development, however, is a continuous process.
Imparting proper education is a deliberate, spontaneous, process. It enlarges abilities. Social goals and social content of education appears to be equally important. Freedom of education alone can ultimately bring human freedom and total development. It is a glorious journey from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from ignorance to consciousness. Freedom through education is necessary in our country with 424 million illiterates. Around 35 million children, aged between six and 10, do not even attend school, and about 40 per cent drop out before reaching class five. In tertiary education, the enrolment is six per cent only.
If advancement of human freedom is our main object and means for total development, it is imperative that we should reexamine our education policy, particularly for rural and backward sections. It is imperative to initiate qualitative improvement programmes in the field of education, right from the primary to higher education level if we consider nation building as our aim. Rural reconstruction as perceived by Rabindranath Tagore has great relevance even today, despite the ‘smart cities’ concept.
According to Tagore, rural reconstruction was nothing but national development, and this area should be given utmost priority in a nation building venture. His novel, Gora, published about a century ago, is worth recalling. Gora, an educated, city-born young man and brought up in a cultured society, had horrifying experiences in the village. Even today, the picture of rural India has not changed. Bullock-carts, mud roads, absence of safe drinking water, and of electricity, minimum health care system and other basic amenities of life are still seen.
On the other hand, the ‘Smart City’ concept is baffling as it embraces extremely polluted air, water, and soil. Although technology has brought about closer communication, there is still an imbalance between urban and rural areas. Tagore wanted the welfare of the rural poor not by prodding mere literacy but by nurturing and widening their minds to give strength and consciousness.
According to Tagore, reading and writing is a secondary question, communication from heart to heart is what matters more. He reiterated that without restoration of balance between city and village, no development was possible. ‘The religion of man’ written by Tagore in 1931 is unique and extremely relevant even today.
The dissolute, disorderly, unregulated, bohemian intelligence of people with profound learning is dangerous indeed, and a matter of graver concern than the presence of people without literacy. Humans must transcend from self to sacrifice for others; be compassionate, tender and possessed of profound sympathy for the destitute.
The realisation of love, entering out of self and uniting the heart with all living and non-living materials of environment, pushes human being to a state where they know themselves (Apan hote bahir hoey baire dara, buker majhe biswaloker pabi sara). This should be the ultimate aim to achieve real human development. Such development cannot be measured by any mathematical index.
(The writer is a former Reader in Chemistry, Presidency College, Kolkata
who was associated with the UGC and UNICEF)