ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Kerala and the Rest of India

What We Can Learn from Each Other’s Development Experience

Kerala has shown that it is possible to improve the quality of life of a people even at low levels of per capita income through efficient provisioning of public services in health and education. At the national level there has been a dramatic alteration of production possibilities achieved by intelligent public policy intervention supported by determined resource mobilisation. We now see that what is needed across India's states is a greater synergy between these two approaches.

This is a slightly revised version of the 21st Achutha Menon Memorial Lecture delivered at Thiruvananthapuram on 16 August 2014.

For almost a decade now India has been perceived as a rising economic entity in the world. Its inclusion in the grouping BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is an indication of this. Kerala is a very small region within India, till recently one of its smallest states. However, for close to four decades it has held a place in the imagination of the world’s development economists. Some have claimed that there is a “Kerala Model”. Others have pointed out that the use of the term “model” implies optimality or, in common parlance, the best outcome within the constraints faced, which description to them is contestable. Others have pointed out that “model” implies replicability, and have queried this on grounds of the uniqueness of the historical and social features of the state which have contributed to its development, suggesting that these cannot be expected to prevail elsewhere. So a compromise appears to have been struck with the expression “Kerala’s Development Experience”. Whatever may be the final resolution of this debate, the fact remains that a small state within India has received a disproportionate attention globally, implying that its recent history is of interest to a wider audience.

I consider here what India and Kerala can learn from each other with respect to how to arrange their institutions and design their policies to obtain desirable developmental outcomes. In doing so one would immediately be accosted with the observation that the rest of India itself is not homogeneous. After all it extends to 29 states, and differences yet persist within some of them even after their carving. I deal with this by relating most of my comparisons of Kerala to the outcomes that have resulted from the policies of the Government of India. However, to reap more fully the potential of the comparative method, I shall occasionally refer to the experience of particular states. Indeed, as I go, I would have to switch between these two comparators for Kerala’s development experience.

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