Narendra Modi government needs to shed ‘obsession’ with economic growth: Jean Dreze

Vastavam web: The Narendra Modi government needs to shed its “obsession” with economic growth and take a broader view of what development is about, argues noted economist Jean Dreze.Author of a number of books on development and policies in India, he also feels that the Centre is “abdicating” its responsibilities in many sectors and handing them over to the corporate, or to the state governments.

In an interview, he was asked about the impact of the NDA government’s policies on social and economic life of the lower strata of the society and his concerns on the widening rich-poor gap and Aadhaar-based public distribution system.The Belgian-born Dreze, now an Indian citizen, held that development also requires wide-ranging public action in fields like education, health, nutrition, social security, environmental protection, public transport, to name a few.

“The Modi government is abdicating many of these responsibilities and handing them over to the corporate sector in one way or another, or to the state governments. To illustrate, the most important foundation of development is universal quality education. This is evident from recent development experiences around the world, and in India itself,” he said.Noting that despite demonetisation, the economy somehow managed to remain close to the trend growth rate of 7.5 per cent around which it has hovered for much of the last 15 years, he said rural wage rates have more or less stagnated in real terms.

“Women’s workforce participation also remains very low among the lowest in the world,” said the author of books like “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” and “India: Development and Participation”.He said these are two important signs that rapid economic growth is failing to generate adequate employment and income opportunities for the masses.The gap between the last two National Family Health Surveys, in 2005-06 and 2015-16, was as long as 10 years, in comparison with two or three years for other south Asian countries, he said.

Dreze, visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University, claimed the Modi government has turned its back on social policy.”There have been no significant initiatives related to education, health, nutrition, social security or related matters in the last few years, with the partial exception of Swachh Bharat Mission, if you ignore its authoritarian aspects.Dreze further claimed that there was no evidence that Aadhaar helps to reduce corruption in the PDS.”On the contrary, in Jharkhand at least, it seems to have led to more rather than less corruption. One reason for this is that when people fail the biometric test, their food rations are appropriated by the PDS dealers,” he claimed.