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Updated: November 30, 2010 15:25 IST

Human development and six States

V.K. Natraj
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Backwardness in economic and social terms is a challenge in a national context that contains several paradoxes especially in the recent past. The one alluded to most often is the persistence of pervasive inequalities. One facet of this has come under increasing scrutiny of late — namely, the impressive growth of the economy not translating into comparable improvements in terms of human development. And the United Nations’ latest report on human development, where India finds itself in a pitiably low place, provides yet another testimony. Similarly the persistence of backward regions, termed in this collection “backwaters of development”, poses problems for both the analyst and the policymaker.

The focus here on six States, the original BIMARU group (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh) and Jharkhand and Orissa. The acronym used to denote this group is BOMARU. The papers, as also the introductory and the concluding chapters, are heavily influenced by the human development approach. Clearly discernible also is the influence of Amartya Sen’s concept of development. While this perspective is acceptable, the ‘overview’ and the comparison of the six States provided in the last chapter leave the reader somewhat unsatisfied for the reason that the theoretical foundation reads more like an add-on rather than an integral part of the work. This, however, is not to deny the importance of the concepts employed by the editor and his co-author in the concluding chapter. As stated earlier, the approach is academically acceptable. But one felt that the two contributions could have made more of an effort to weave this into the comparative picture.

As a whole, this collection makes interesting reading and should prove valuable for a researcher looking for data analysed from the standpoint of backwardness. Also, the range of issues dealt with is impressive. The sectors/sub-sectors/areas that come in for special treatment are: economic growth, employment, status of women, health care, poverty, and the role of the state. There are some differences across States in the treatment. This is understandable, given that the situation obtaining in the States varied.

The usefulness of the study would have been enhanced, if a political economy approach had been employed. For instance, the problem of governance is not one that can be reduced to administration. Ideally, it should encompass the manner in which the state approaches the entire field of development. And it is that overall political economy and development-governance approach that is missing, to some extent, in this study. In some parts, the treatment is not state-specific, meaning that the issues raised and the analysis offered have the air of general applicability. Also, in a few cases, issues do not get the close look they deserve, as for instance the demographic trends in Orissa.

In the overview, Kerala is cited as an example of a middle-income State with an enviable record in respect of human development. While this view is shared by many, there are critiques of the Kerala model and its long-term sustainability. Some reference to them would have been in order. This absence could possibly be explained by the basic orientation of the papers. Similarly, in an evidently brief account of the plight of the tribes in the North-East, it is said that some of them have seen a higher standard of development than their counterparts elsewhere. While this is broadly true, an analysis of demographical and other features of the region that set it apart from the rest of the country would have helped place this fact in proper perspective.

A significant feature of the volume is the attention given to social security, which has come increasingly recognised as a crucial component of human development. The concluding chapter also discusses people’s participation in development, another issue of crucial importance. The subject merits much greater attention than what it has received.

The limitations adverted to in this review are intended only to indicate how the collection’s quality could have been enhanced, nothing more. There is no doubt that the work is a valuable addition to the debate on a theme that will gain greater importance in the future.

BACKWATERS OF DEVELOPMENT-Six deprived States of India: Edited by Shovan Ray; Published by Oxford University Press. Price Rs.750.

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