India is the world’s largest democracy and fastest growing economy while also holds significance as one of the chief developing nations with international level of influence. Yet, it is still viewed as a poor man’s country with a large population still living below poverty line.
Even after almost seventy two years of independence, poverty and related maladies plague our nation, almost making this socio-economic condition a synonymous term to India. The lifestyle of the poor exists because they have not felt the effect of development.
Being the fastest growing economy certainly points to the fact that our country is growing rapidly, and might even become developed in the next decade or two. But that will not be enough for the impoverished citizens for whom development has been stagnated for years together and their representation has been barely visible.
Eradication of poverty depends on the development of the nation. Poverty will hence exist as long as the developmental issues stay in power. The vice versa also holds true, since as long as people remain impoverished, they will not be able to gain wisdom to solve the developmental issues.
Our Union as well as State governments in collaboration with many private and public sector institutions have been able to roll out successful plans and schemes to keep their citizens satisfied by trying their best to provide them with the necessities of daily requirements.
Yet this task did not help remove poverty at all as it never empowered them to be self-sufficient. The situation of poverty in India cannot be solved by judging it by its face value.
It is important to understand the nature of polity and development in India through a historical context and what reforms can be implemented in the modern world to curb this social evil, on the basis of our understanding.
Origin of Poverty in India
Historians had given the Indian sub-continent the title of the ‘Golden Bird’, owing to the vast reserves of gold and resources- which were major indicators of a prospering economy during that era. From the earliest kingdoms to the Mughal era, India had a rich and prosperous period.
But this golden bird’s economical health was rapidly deteriorating due to the unnecessary pillaging and plundering that it faced by various invaders over the time. The most significant damage was done by the colonials who had initially entered our land as traders but slowly established there monopoly over various regions and services and finally completely took over the entire sub-continent.
Hence, around the 19th and the 20th century, poverty bloomed under the British Raj. Industrial expansion and agricultural exports were increasing day by day, which led to decline of food consumption per capita as maximum of the food was being exported.
Farming was forced upon every labourer in India even when they were not farmers by profession. Artisans, carpenters, masons and people from every other trade were made to work for the English traders which led to a scarcity of skilled labourers and artisans.
But counter-claims would argue that the Indians still had employment in the form of farming. Unfortunately, this was not of any help as the farmers were being underpaid. The poverty line of India during 1885 was estimated to be around ₹ 23 per year, but an average agrarian worker earned only about ₹ 7 per year.
This shows the condition of poverty did not only exist, but was alarmingly severe in the country. While Nawabs and Maharaja Minority did enjoy wealth and privileges, but the majority of the peasants and workers remained in poverty, unable to even buy one proper meal a day.
By 1943, the British administered poverty had reached such a point where even after increased agricultural output from the empire’s south Asian commonwealth, millions of people died of starvation, disease and destitution during the Bengal famine. Sir Antony MacDonnell, a civil servant of British India handling administration of the Bombay Presidency, was quoted in the 1900s to say that “people died like flies”.
Poverty in Free India
Post-independence, India was left in the destitute state, divided into two different countries which also caused inflow of migrants and refugees along the western border. This further aggravated the already desperate condition of poverty prevalent in the nation. India might have gained freedom from the British Empire, but poverty was still clutching our country in its death grip.
Economist B S Minhas had estimated in his report that about 65% of the Indian population was living in poverty during the 1950s. The first Indian government headed by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, came up with the revamped Planning Commission and the five year plans which focused on the agricultural development of our country as it was the prime contributor of our GDP and maximum of the working class populace was involved in this sector.
In the 1960s, a new poverty line was set for the country to be at ₹ 20 a month and the estimated percentage of population below this line was found to be 44%. With the wars that ravaged India in the 1960s, this number increased to 54% as India’s economic growth slowed down.
The decades that were to follow had the common man’s frustration about the poor economic condition of the nation become evident. Slogans like ‘Garibi Hatao’, were being raised and the people were vehemently working to improve the condition of the society.
Over the years, many committees under the planning commission redefined the poverty line as per the changing dynamics of economy in India. At present, as per the World Bank estimates which calculates the BPL limit using the purchasing power parity of the International Comaparison Program of 2011, 23.6% Indians still live below the poverty line while 5.4% are still suffering from extreme poverty.
Given India’s large population, even this 5.4% stands at about 73 million individuals who face the dangers that extreme poverty exposes them to. The figures have definitely improved since the last century.
But total abolition of poverty can only be achieved if the developmental schemes which have brought us out of the unfavourable conditions keep evolving according to the needs of the country as well as are implemented and enforced thoroughly.
Developmental Issues in India
Our country has received world-wide appreciation for the development and growth we have been able to sustain since liberalisation of the Indian economy. Yet, we remain as one of the low-income developing countries, who are yet to create a huge impact in the global marketplace.
With nearly 24% people living under poverty and under-utilisation of labour, materials and natural resources, paired with poor governance and below average administrative performance, India faces grave developmental issues in the 21st century.
Low income per capita is a major issue that India needs to tackle. The per capita income in India in 2014 was $1,560. In the same year, the per-capita Gross National Income (GNI) of USA was 35 times that of India and that of China was 5 times higher than India.
Alongside this, the unequal distribution of wealth and resources affects the condition of Indian economy too. The huge dependence on agricultural sector has been a long running problem in our country. With 47% of the working population involved in this sector, agriculture only contributes to 17% of the GDP.
This is due to difficulty for farmers to get loans, draughts, water shortage and poor and out-dated technology. Lack of technology does not only limit to agriculture, but it affects various other sectors of manufacturing as well as R&D. Paired with Lack of infrastructure, it does not help in thorough utilisation of vast resources that India is able to provide.
Additionally, the poor condition and availability of basic amenities have generated even more issues. This stems from the heavy population pressure that our country, which is 7th largest by geographical spread, but 2nd largest by demographical expansion, faces in the present day.
This has led to lack of good quality human capital, as many of the youth are not educated or left their education early in their life. Furthermore, they lack skills and vocational knowledge of various works. This point to the problem of poor education in India, with lack of basic education and shortage of teachers, many regions remain devoid of even primary schools.
Quality education is still a privilege rather than a fundamental right. Lack of education plays a major factor in the unemployment condition that prevails in our country. India faces both chronic and under-employment. There is an abundance of labour in our country which makes it difficult to provide gainful employment to the entire population.
Effective Measures to Improve Development
The first and foremost step to be taken is to improve the governance of India. Our constitution is the lengthiest and the most detailed in the entire world, yet our government, has time and again been inefficient in keeping up to our status as a democracy.
Although it is true that it is a humongous task to be able to effectively govern such a large population, hence some measures can be implemented to cope up with it like decentralising the administration and improving the exchange of information and transparency between the government and the citizens.
Secondly, infrastructure plays a vital role in utilisation of resources. India has developed road and railways as well as has well-established air connectivity. Power, oil and gas are major part of a country’s infrastructure and are the backbone of its growth.
While these encase India in a positive light, the harsh reality is that these provisions have now become out-dated. Roadways often develop traffic jams and are in need of major constructions. There is still much Rail connectivity in India that depends upon diesel engine trains, while airports are often clogged with delayed flights.
Indian companies lose 30 days in obtaining an electricity connection on an average, 15 days in passing the exports through the customs, and lose 7% of the net value of their sales due to power cuts. Even after decades since the Government of India launched rapid urbanisation policies to modernise and develop India, only about 30% of the nation comes under urban agglomeration.
These problems can be curbed only if India is able to develop capital domestic and international markets. Private companies should help the government to improve the existing infrastructure of the nation.
India has been credited to produce one of the world’s most refined intellectuals. But they are only the creamy layer of the vast population that we have and most of them tend to settle in foreign lands resulting in the infamous phenomenon of brain-drain
. The majority of the population still remains devoid of good quality proper education. But initiatives like ‘Teach India’ which focus on empowering the rural populace and provide them with quality education will definitely help overcome the current educational crisis we are facing.
Furthermore, better incentives and methods to check on teacher absenteeism like biometric attendance and improved school infrastructure will help India to be able to educate the masses. Alongside education, India should also focus on development in sports and games.
The most efficient way of doing so is by privatisation of the sports sector and implement a holistic perspective towards every sport rather than focus on mainstream sports like cricket.
Woman empowerment should also be a major field of growth in the society of India. Equal opportunities and wage distribution should be given to both men and women.
This has already been blooming as today we see more and more women taking up employment in many public and private sector organisations which were predominantly under a male controlled regime. The sex ratio of India has also been improving with a gradual rise in female numbers per 1000 males.
Advancement in technology is the final most important sector which should be given the utmost importance. The most developed nations are also the most technologically advanced countries.
India has to focus on technological development as it helps empower the various sectors of the Indian scenario- be it market, space, defence, lifestyle, communication, transport or any other field.
But this advancement is to be undertaken keeping two vital points in mind- first is to develop indigenous technology, stressing on ‘make in India’ policy; and secondly, the preservation and sustenance of environment by coming up with eco-friendly technologies and special area of research in alternative fuels.
Poverty is a social handicap that has been crippling India for centuries. What India is today, could have been much more different had we not been exposed to the darkness of poverty and ignorance. But as a nation which never stops to fight for itself to flourish and establish its identity as a global power, India has been down the timeline of the world.
Although the rate of growth has been erratic, we have never gone into declination and have always been on the path to development.
As time passes, India is bound to become a super power, but if it correctly identifies its shortcomings in its developmental schemes and works to correct them and implement them with revitalised vigour, the time gap to attain the stature of a super power amongst the nations of the world will definitely reduce.