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Rich-Poor Divide: WILL DISPARITY BE CORRECTED?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 26 January, 2017 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 26 January 2017

Rich-Poor Divide


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Recently a report by New World Wealth found that India, with total individual wealth of $5600 billion, was ranked 7th ahead of Canada ($4700), Australia ($4500) and Italy ($ 4400) which occupied the 8th, 9th and 10th slots respectively. The US is obviously the wealthiest in the world in terms of individual wealth ($48,900 billion) while China stood second and Japan third with total individual wealth of 17,400 billion and $A 15,1000 billion respectively. Though the ranking of India as one of the top wealthiest countries in the world may be attributed to its large population, it is indeed distressing to note that a very small per cent – around 5 to 6 per cent – control around 80 per cent of the above wealth.


Another report found that India’s 100 richest people have more money than two-thirds of the population put together. Wealth X, the global leader in providing intelligence on wealth, found the top five business houses accounted for 47.5 per cent ($85.5 billion) of the total $ 180 billion held by 103 Indian billionaires in 2014. To put it in simple terms, India’s richest one per cent owns more than 58 per cent of its total wealth of $3.1 trillion, higher than the global average of 50 per cent, as per a just released study titled ‘An Economy for the 99 per cent’ by Oxfam. Moreover, the study found that just 57 billionaires now have same wealth ($216 billion) as that of the bottom 70 per cent of the population.     


However, comparing this with other parameters presents a very negative scenario. India is ranked a lowly 97th among just 118 developing countries for which the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was calculated this year. India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and China are all above our country. Moreover, the World Economic Forum recently ranked India 60th among 79 developing nations on inclusive growth.


The 2016 GHI data from India was derived from the fact that an estimated 15 per cent of the population (215 million) has been found to be undernourished. The latest report of the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) found that even though the Indian economy has been growing steadily in the post-reform years, more and more people in rural India were eating less and less over the same period. In fact, the majority of the rural populace has been consuming fewer nutrients than are required to stay healthy. 


The reason for rural India eating less protein or calcium when availability is not a constraint  may be attributed to the growing number of landless agricultural labourers. The NNMB found that over the last four decades, the proportion of landless people in the countryside has grown from 30 to 40 per cent and the proportion of people, who were owners and cultivators, have gone down to almost half. Thus 35 per cent of rural men were found undernourished and 42 per cent of children underweight.  


The GHI data has shown that the share of under 5 children who were ‘wasted’ is about 15 per cent while the share of children who are ‘stunted’ is a staggering 29 per cent. This reflects widespread and chronic lack of balanced food. Is it not a shame that a nation that talks of becoming a super power cannot look after its children?


These reports are quite indicative of the fact that the country faces staggering inequality which has been widening steadily. Successive governments have not cared to analyze these data and understand the reasons for this neglect of a significant portion of our population. Only during the past few years we hear frequent usage of the word ‘inclusive’ growth but the above statistics make one wonder that the political class is befooling the people.


As is well known, all development is geared for the rich and the middle class and their interests are carefully looked into so that these sections get the maximum privileges. That the system is geared to help the rich and the powerful is demonstrated by a recent finding of the Supreme Court that 57 debtors owe Rs 85,000 crores to banks. While revealing these figures, the bench of former CJI Thakur rightly questioned the RBI why the names of these defaulters should not be made public?


The entire system with the politician-bureaucratic nexus works for the rich and powerful corporate houses which are incidentally the financers of political parties. The reason for the growing black money is also attributed to this nexus which controls and dictates the corridors of power. There cannot be any political will to change the system as the political class aided by the urban-oriented bureaucracy has no interest in drawing a comprehensive plan of action regarding reducing this inequality.


It is surprising that a Government which boasts of being the largest democracy of the world with Mahatma Gandhi as the ‘Father of the Nation’ has thought it fit to neglect, over the years, around 40 per cent of the rural population which lives in squalor and poverty. While there are thousands of crores being spent for modernising airports, starting bullet trains, undertaking ‘smart cities, the expenditure for transforming the vast rural areas of the country is sadly meagre.     


The urban bias in Indian planning has been a phenomenon manifest over the years, The reason being the slow development of the countryside. Lack of social infrastructure for such a huge population residing in the villages and not allowing them access to the benefits of development has been continuing for decades together in spite of the passage of the 74th and 75th Constitutional Amendment Bills. Famous economist Prof. Michael Lipton formerly with University of Sussex, rightly pointed out about two decades back that in India the rural poor were subsidising the urban middle class.    


Even after the panchayats were recognised as centres for grass-root development, statistics reveal that either adequate resources were not made available to them or they failed to carry out the necessary rural transformation. But experts believe it was the former reason behind the present rural distress. Add to this is the wanton corruption prevalent in these areas.


For inclusive growth and sustainable development to really take place, a change in strategy along with necessary political will and sincerity is required. This change is easily talked about but very difficult to implement in the present set up. The panchyats are still not involved in the planning process and have to implement whatever they are directed from the top. The top down approach has to change and involvement of the people at the grass-root level has to be ensured.


This would obviously be considered a sustainable and inclusive approach with the majority benefitting from development. A synthesis of economics and ethics is what can be called a truly Gandhian socio-economic decentralised order whose relevance is not only of our times but of all times and not just in India but in all countries of the Third World. Gandhiji’s emphasis on bottom-up approach cannot be ignored by the leaders who swear in his name but do not care to adhere to his dictum. 


The possibility of witnessing any change in narrowing the rich-poor and urban-rural divide appears quite remote in the years ahead but a genuine attempt needs to be made. India’s stature will not improve if the balance is not rectified and the agony of the rural poor will continue to haunt us. ---INFA    


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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