19 Sep, 2008
The Economic Times, New Delhi.
By John Samuel
Development is the expansion of human freedoms to enjoy and sustain life and environment. Development involves strengthening of the capacity of human beings to realise the full potential of human creativity for the greater common good of people, society, environment and civilisation . Human dignity and democratisation — social, economic and political — need to be the defining force in the envisioning and process of development.
Economic growth and social development should feed into each other to empower people and the nation. Empowerment of people involves the ability to ask questions, seek solutions, make strategic choices and claim human rights. India is empowered when its people are enabled, educated and empowered. An agenda for social development needs to be based on transforming India economically and socially. We need to envision a process of social development that help economic growth, protect environment and strengthen just and democratic governance. We have to strengthen economic growth that helps us to decrease social and economic inequality.
An agenda for social development should prioritise five key areas: food sovereignty, women's empowerment, universal quality education, universal primary health care, and the right to livelihood. We need to envision a new partnership between the government, non-governmental organisations and the corporate sector to make India free of hunger and poverty in the next 20 years. This requires new imagination, investment as well as a transformation of our governance.
Food sovereignty calls for a long-term strategy to increase food production and distribution by revitalising agriculture, particularly the small and medium-level agriculture. This would require new investment in technology, rural infrastructure, support for small farmers and a viable market mechanism. The most important challenge is to develop sustainable agriculture without harming the environment.
In spite of India's economic growth, we are far behind in terms of ending poverty, malnutrition and maternal mortality. Social, economic and political empowerment is a crucial step in addressing both causes and consequences of poverty. There is evidence that reveals a correlation between women's empowerment and social development. We need to increase our investment, manifold, to ensure women's empowerment at every level of the society. Women's right to land and access to other productive assets are crucial. There has to be special focus to strengthen women's self employment and their right to livelihood. In most of the poor families women are primarily responsible for food security and nutrition. Hence, there has to be a universal programme for economic empowerment of women.
It is important to go beyond the minimalist ambition of universal primary education and seek a vision of universal quality education at all levels. While there has to be an intensive five-year strategy to make sure every single child will have access to affordable and quality education, we also need to have a whole strategy to create a highly skilled workforce through dramatically increasing vocational streams of education, particularly in consonance with the demands of the growing economy. The key to long-term social and economic development is quality higher and technical education , particularly with special focus on research and developing technological solutions. While we have to commit around 8% of GDP for improving education, this can be done only through new financing mechanisms. A new partnership among government, non-governmental organisations and the corporate sector is needed. A mix of public and private financing is also necessary. Education is a key lever for economic development. However, the state has to ensure access to quality education to everyone, especially those who have been historically marginalised. Education is an arena where we can combine the agenda for social justice and economic development.
In the past 20 years, quality and access to primary healthcare have decreased even in relatively more advanced states. Access to affordable primary health care should be able to address issues of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition and increasing instances of communicable diseases, including malaria, TB and HIV. However, this may require a whole new strategy for public health in India. Public investment in primary health care is low in India. That has to go up. Local self-governments should be made responsible for the management of primary healthcare institutions and primary education. A new partnership between local selfgovernments and community-based organisations at the grassroots level is possible. State and central governments may invest in developing basic infrastructure and set minimum standards of service and quality, but operational responsibility should be with local self-governments.
The agenda of social development meets the agenda of economic growth in the area of the right to livelihood. Social development and economic growth are two sides of the same coin. New strategies to ensure rural livelihood, which may include agriculture, agro-industries, non-urban-based knowledge parks, and revitalisation of small and medium scale industries in the rural area, are needed. This will slow the unbridled rural-urban migration in search of livelihood and regenerate rural market and economy. Programmes under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme should create enabling assets for rural economic generation and long-term employment opportunities to satisfy its intent.
It is important to develop a 20-year perspective with clear operational strategies focusing on these five pillars of social sectors. This also means finding new financial and institutional resources to ensure the concerted, continuous and sustainable efforts. It is in the long-term interest of the corporate sector and key economic actors to ensure social development to decrease inequality and strengthen and democratise governance. Entrenched inequality, poverty and marginalisation are recipes for increasing violence, and consequent social and political instability. Political and social stability is crucial for economic growth and development. It is all the more reason for combining the agenda of social and economic sector development with a vision of a strong, stable, prosperous and peaceful India, an India empowered enough to transform the world.
(The author is a policy expert and the international director of Actionaid)