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Social Development in India

in India India: Social Development Report by Council for Social Development; published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006;
S MAHENDRA DEV Since independence, the government of India has claimed that it has wanted to work towards social development. On the eve of independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing the constituent assembly, declared that the independence meant the redemption of a pledge. But he also stated that this achievement

Social Development

in India

India: Social Development Report

by Council for Social Development; published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006;

p xx 226, Rs 395.


ince independence, the government of India has claimed that it has wanted to work towards social development. On the eve of independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing the constituent assembly, declared that the independence meant the redemption of a pledge. But he also stated that this achievement “is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the great triumphs and achievements that await us (...) the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity”.1 A lot has been achieved in the past half century. The incidence of poverty has declined from over 50 per cent in the 1950s to less than 30 per cent in the late 1990s.2 The literacy rate has increased from less than 20 per cent in 1951 to 65 per cent in 2001. According to the recent Human Development Reports of UNDP, India has moved from the category of “low” human development to that of “medium” level and its present rank is 127. Nevertheless, the performance of India in social development is far from satisfactory, and could have been much better [Dreze and Sen 1995].

In the last few decades, it became clear that India and other developing countries had neglected social aspect of development. As Amartya Sen says in his writings, social sector development has both instrumental value (means to development) and intrinsic value (an end in itself in terms of increasing capabilities, opportunities and freedom). The UNDP’s global and national Human Development Reports since 1990 focused attention on various aspects of human development. The concept of social development is supposed to be broader than that of human development. The Council for Social Development (CSD), New Delhi has now brought out a volume entitled India: Social Development Report. The difference between this report and UNDP’s reports is that the present one analyses social processes, social attitudes and institutions. The social problems of contemporary India including the exclusion problem are rooted in history and culture. Many of these problems have not been seriously addressed by government policies and strategies since independence. In the post-reform period, while there have been improvements in economic growth, increases in foreign exchange, the IT revolution, acceleration in export growth, etc, social exclusion has continued in terms of low agriculture and employment growth, concentration of poverty among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, an increase in inequalities and regional disparities. Liberalisation and globalisation have not improved social development in general, and social exclusion in particular.

People voted against the ruling party in the May 2004 elections partly because of the social exclusion problem.The United Progressive Alliance government came to power and it promised to address social policy issues and exclusion as mentioned in the common minimum programme. This government wanted to give more focus, among other things, to agriculture and rural development, employment and other social concerns. There have been some initiatives like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Right to Information Act, Rural Health Mission, etc, to improve the conditions of the poor and marginalised sections. The NGOs and other civil society organisations have been urging the government to concentrate more on social development. In this context, the publication of the volume India: Social Development Report is very timely.

The main purpose of the report is to present an “overview of the trends and patterns of social development along with policies and programmes and identify the key areas of concern and measures of possible intervention” (p XX). The CSD hopes to bring out this report at regular intervals in future.

The report has two parts, the first covering the major areas of social development such as poverty, unemployment, health, education, urban governance, women, SCs and STs, communal relations and decentralisation. The second part of the report deals with conditions of the children in India. In the end, the report provides a ranking of states in terms of social development index (SDI). Amitabh Kundu (editor-in-chief of the study) provides a very good overview of the report in the introductory chapter. The chapters in the report are basically commissioned studies. In the subsequent reports, the CSD would like to include studies based on inhouse research. The main findings of the report with few comments are given below.

Social Development Index

First, we look at the SDI across states. An attempt is made in the report to construct a composite social development index

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006 by taking into account six major dimensions of social development. Each component has several indicators. They are:

(1) demographic parameters; (2) health care indicators; (3) basic amenities indicators like ‘pucca’ house, safe drinking water, toilet facility, electricity; (4) education attainment indicators; (5) unemployment and poverty indicators; and (6) social deprivation related indicators such as literacy of SCs, STs and females in relation to total, the ratio of consumption of Muslims to total, the ratio of female unemployment to total and the child sex ratio.

By aggregating these six components, a social development index is constructed at two points of time – 1991 and 2001 – for 20 large states and nine small states. While the index is given for both rural and urban areas in large states, only a combined (rural and urban) index is given for smaller states. The UNDP uses a range equalisation method for constructing the human development index (HDI) so that they have scale-free values varying between 0 and 1. This report also uses a similar method for computing SDI. The UNDP ensures comparability of values of HDI over time while in the present exercise of SDI, temporal comparisons of values are not possible. However, the comparison of ranks of states in terms of SDI can be attempted. The authors caution that construction of SDI is only an exploratory exercise and it can be improved in the subsequent reports.

Table 1 provides values and ranks for large states in 1991 and 2001. We look at the ranks since values cannot be compared. The rank of rural Andhra Pradesh (AP) was 12 among 20 large states in 1991. The rank improved to nine in 2001. Similarly, the rank for urban AP improved from 13 in 1991 to six in 2001. If you go by these numbers, there has been significant improvement in social development in AP. These results are in contrast to the HDI prepared by the Planning Commission which showed a decline in the rank of AP. The differences could be due to the use of different indicators and data sets in SDI and HDI.

One can see significant improvements in the ranks of rural areas in AP, Haryana and Uttaranchal while a significant decline occurred in Assam, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The urban areas of AP, Karnataka and Uttaranchal improved their


ranks. The reasons for a significant improvement in both the rural and urban areas of Uttaranchal and a huge decline in the rank of Maharashtra are not known.

It may, however, be noted the top ranked states are Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and J and K. The backward states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, etc, remained backward in social development between 1991 and 2001.

The SDI for smaller states is provided in Table 2. It shows that Goa, Mizoram and Delhi occupy the top three ranks in both 1991 and 2001. The states which are in the bottom in terms of SDI are Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura in 2001. There was a significant decline in the rank of Nagaland between 1991 and 2001.

While it is a good attempt to construct social development index, there are some anomalies particularly in the case of Maharashtra, Uttaranchal, AP and Gujarat. The reasons for these differences in SDI as compared to other indices are not explained in the report. One hopes that this exploratory exercise in the present

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006

report will be further improved in the subsequent reports.

Major Areas of Social Development

Second, turning to major areas of social development, the analysis of poverty and unemployment shows that they are concentrated both geographically and in terms of social categories. The rural poor are being concentrated in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and the urban poor are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, poverty is being concentrated among agricultural labourers, SCs and STs. Poverty alleviation strategies adopted in the last five decades can be classified in to four broad groups: (a) institutional reforms; (b) empowerment of the poor;

(c) development of resource deficient areas; and (d) special employment programmes and safety nets. The study advocates that improving agricultural growth in the semiarid regions is important in order to meet the challenge of poverty and unemployment. It also argues that poverty alleviation programmes must go beyond the minimalist approach of safety nets and the schemes can be made more effective through decentralisation. The study should have elaborated much more on east Asian, particularly the Chinese, experience in reducing poverty and unemployment.

In the health sector, there are significant inequalities in expenditures across classes, regions and gender. A review of policies and programmes shows the well known fact of deterioration in the quality of services in public healthcare system. The poor cannot afford the private health systems because of high costs. Reviving health care deliveries requires not only higher expenditures, but improvements in management and technical innovations. One has to wait and watch whether recent initiatives like the Rural Health Mission, etc, can improve the health delivery systems in the country. In education, significant achievements have been made in terms of the number of schools, teachers, students and skilled manpower through governmental programmes. While one can appreciate these impressive achievements, we have to admit that there are also shocking failures. The failure to universalise elementary education, wide disparities across gender, regions and social groups are the major failures in this sector. Poverty, the high cost of good education, low quality of education are the major factors at the household level for high dropout rates among the poor. It may be argued that while poverty may be one of the causes for dropouts, inequalities in quality education are a major factor for dropouts. The study on education argues that the government must play a major role in providing quality education to all in order to make education a tool of social change. Similar to health and education, wide disparities can be seen in drinking water and sanitation in both rural and urban areas.

The problem of exclusion is most visible if we look at the social and economic development of marginalised groups such as SCs and STs. There have been many programmes and legal provisions and yet they failed to bring about significant improvements in the social and economic conditions of the marginalised social groups. It is argued that necessary changes in policies are needed in order to enhance access to productive assets including land, employment opportunities, education, health and eliminate discrimination for ensuring fair participation in the public and private sectors. Recently, the government has proposed extending reservations for other backward classes (OBCs) in the central educational institutions and also job quotas for marginalised sections in the private sector. This type of “affirmative actions” is important for a fair participation of socially disadvantaged groups. In order to have more sustainable socially inclusive policies, inequalities in the opportunities in employment, health and education have to be removed.

In the case of women, the dominance of Hindu patriarchical ideology which was prevalent in the colonial period continued even in the post-independence period. Although we have a constitutional commitment to equality and changes in feminine discourses for equality of women, it has had only a limited impact in reducing disparity and discrimination of women. The data for men and women show that exclusion is taking place in social, cultural and economic spheres in rural and urban areas across the states, as well as among the SCs and STs. The study rightly argues that gender equity should be a concern for the society as a whole including changes in the perceptions of men instead of concentrating the issue among a select few feminist scholars or activists.

Another issue is exclusion in terms of religion. The report demonstrates that Muslims continue to be underprivileged in terms of basic indicators like literacy, income, consumption expenditure. Also,

Table 2: Social Development Index (Aggregate of Six Components) for Total (Rural and Urban Combined): Small States, 1991 and 2001

Index of Social Ranks Development 1991 2001 1991 2001

Arunachal Pradesh 24.97 35.85 9 8 Delhi 50.88 52.72 3 3 Goa 56.29 65.63 2 1 Manipur 45.34 44.26 5 5 Meghalaya 25.01 24.14 8 9 Mizoram 62.37 58.71 1 2 Nagaland 47.17 39.18 4 7 Sikkim 41.04 48.66 6 4 Tripura 30.97 42.89 7 6

Source: Same as Table 1.

Table 1: Social Development Index

(Rural, Urban; 1991 and 2001)

States Rural Urban Index of Social Development Ranks Index of Social Development Ranks 1991 2001 1991 2001 1991 2001 1991 2001

Andhra Pradesh 29.99 40.22 12 9 35.06 52.37 13 6 Assam 36.43 38.83 6 12 46.64 53.49 6 5 Bihar 16.03 16.13 20 20 22.45 27.10 20 19 Chhattisgarh 20.86 28.87 15 15 28.35 36.35 14 16 Gujarat 38.85 39.68 5 11 44.84 51.56 7 8 Haryana 35.36 44.85 9 5 44.09 48.83 8 10 Himachal Pradesh 51.84 63.55 2 2 65.32 70.37 2 1 Jammu and Kashmir 47.80 52.26 4 4 60.34 NA 3 NA Jharkhand 16.85 16.22 19 19 22.48 33.96 19 17 Karnataka 32.34 41.30 10 8 40.48 54.90 11 4 Kerala 69.55 68.73 1 1 67.32 62.94 1 3 Madhya Pradesh 19.76 26.56 16 17 27.51 41.63 15 14 Maharashtra 36.26 40.16 7 10 47.23 46.48 5 12 Orissa 24.50 27.29 14 16 27.44 37.37 16 15 Punjab 49.92 57.59 3 3 50.84 64.49 4 2 Rajasthan 31.06 34.93 11 13 35.77 46.09 12 13 Tamil Nadu 35.90 44.08 8 6 42.70 47.68 9 11 Uttar Pradesh 17.81 23.65 18 18 23.61 33.94 18 18 Uttaranchal 18.44 42.48 17 7 23.84 49.59 17 9 West Bengal 29.80 33.82 13 14 40.61 52.31 10 7

Note: The aggregate index is obtained by range equalisation method. Source: Compiled from India: Social Development Report, 2006.

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006 there has not been a significant improvement in their conditions over time compared to other religions. However, the demographic (e g, high population growth) and social characteristics are not due to religious factors, but are linked to economic background and social deprivation. The report also states that many of the myths relating to the Muslim community such as their high incidence of polygamy, non-acceptance of contraception practices or modern education, mistreating women, their being pampered by the state, etc, are not proved by the data. Some of the facts such as Muslims having a sex ratio above that of the general population, a large number of Muslims practising contraception, a low percentage of anaemic women and a low infant mortality rate (IMR) would question such myths regarding the Muslim communities. Reducing inequalities in health, education, employment and other opportunities and “carefully conceived affirmative programmes” can improve social and economic development of Muslims.

The report also discusses the unbalanced development of urban areas, decentralisation and governance and social security in the organised sector. Although the process of devolution of powers to local governments has been slow in many states, there is an optimism regarding the future devolution as empowerment of poor and marginalised communities increasing in the villages. The report should have also discussed social security in the unorganised sector instead of restricting it to the organised sector.

Issues on Children

Third, the special theme identified for this report is the child (put together by Razia Ismail Abbasi). An overview on child development shows that there has been limited success in improving health, nutrition and educational status of children since independence. Discrimination against the girl child is reflected in gender differential death rates, dropout rates, malnutrition and most importantly foeticide. Although there has been significant progress in quantities regarding school education, the disparity in quality of schooling facilities is very high. The quality of education in government schools deteriorated as the elite and the rich and middle class relied more on private schools and tuitions. The study also indicates that the special problems of several categories of disadvantaged children are not being addressed. These categories include “children of working mothers in need of day care/crèche facilities, street children, delinquent children, sexually abused children, chidren who are victims of trafficking, children of sex workers, abandoned and destitutes children with AIDS and AIDS orphans, children affected by drugs, child beggars and other similarly placed children in difficult circumstances” (p 176). On child labour, it is argued that the official claim of a decline in child labour is a myth as there are large sections of “nowhere children” (neither in the labour force nor in schools) in many states. It is also emphasised that there should not be a distinction between hazardous and nonhazardous activities regarding child labour. The bottom line is that in keeping with a child rights perspective (86th Amendment to Constitution) every child is entitled to free and universal education. The country’s social obligations to the Indian child are also discussed in the report.

To conclude, the Social Development Report has addressed the issue of exclusion and social backwardness. The efforts of the CSD in bringing out this report should be appreciated. Social exclusion of regions, social and marginal groups, women, minorities and children is taking place. Fortunately, these issues of social exclusion are being discussed by politicians, bureaucracy, policy-makers and civil society. The social development situation should be monitored continuously at a disaggregate level in order to improve social consciousness, changes in social attitudes and to develop a consensus for appropriate policy actions. The agenda of social development has to be given highest priority in order to reduce exclusion, social tensions, inequality and improve overall economic development.




1 Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at the Constituent

Assembly, New Delhi, on August 14, 1947.

Quoted from Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen (1995)

Economic Development and Social Opportunity,

Oxford University Press, New Delhi. 2 There is a controversy on the estimates based

on NSS data for 1999-2000.


Dreze, Jean and Amartya Sen (1995): Economic

Development and Social Opportunity, Oxford

University Press, Delhi.

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Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006

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