A worker carries a container of sand on his shoulder at an under construction site near the village of Dholera, Gujarat, India, on November 22, 2017. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

Gujarat’s Strong Economy, But Poor Social Indicators

BloombergQuintOpinion

Gujarat is a fast growing industrial state, as we saw in our last column. It is also poor in terms of performance in social indicators particularly of women and of the poorer sections of society, particularly the dalits and adivasis. Millions of farmers, agricultural workers and artisans are moving from smaller villages to larger villages, from larger villages to smaller towns, and from there to larger towns. They are doing so for better opportunities and that is good. If policies create institutions to support them, the process would be benign, otherwise, the transition is inevitably taking place and is of a cruel kind. The voter won't forget it.

There were more than 122 large villages in Gujarat in 2001, which had, according to the 2001 Census, all the characteristics of towns but were not measured as such. The actual growth of urbanisation was around 5 percent and not half of that. In Gujarat, urbanisation went up from 37.4 percent in 2001 to 42.6 percent in 2011, not in line with official projections of 40.4 percent.

About two million persons and their needs were ignored. They vote with their tired feet.

It is well known that Gujarat does badly on most women and girl indicators compared to similar richer states. The sex ratio in Gujarat (surviving females per 1,000 males), at 919, is worse than the national average of 943. In urban areas, it is roughly comparable but in rural areas, the Gujarat figure of 880 is much worse than the national average. Among children, the sex ratio at 890 in Gujarat is much worse than the national average of 918. This shows a possible demographic loss in the future rather than a dividend. Interestingly in the tribal districts of Gujarat, the sex ratio is much better. It is greater than 950 in Narmada, Dangs, Tapi, Dabhoi, Amreli, Junagadh and Sabarkantha.

Getting back to the general population, the drop out rate of girls before Class 7 is fifteen percent higher for boys.

  • Out of the 17,847 villages of the state, a little less than half at 8328 get Narmada drinking water the rest through wells, hand pumps and 3,669 from pipes. 1,832 villages are still supplied through tankers.
  • 4.45 million households defecate in open in rural Gujarat and so do 0.47 million urban households according to the numbers published by the Statistics Bureau of Gujarat State, distributed with the last Budget.
  • 1.17 lakh households have no lighting.
A woman carries a water pot in Lakhtar, Gujarat, India. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)
A woman carries a water pot in Lakhtar, Gujarat, India. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)

Poverty statistics by religion and caste are available for an earlier period but Srijit Mishra’s estimates at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research had shown that in the Poorvi Patti (eastern belt) poverty is the same as in the BIMARU states. On the other hand, Gujarat has excellent industrial infrastructure. The same cannot be said of its social facilities. One could look at the problem from the higher education end.

Out of the 1.48 million students in higher education, only 0.63 million are girls.

Why Were These Not Political Issues Earlier?

A society which was not gender sensitive in general, despite Mahatma Gandhi’s benign protests and placing women upfront in the freedom movement as well as the efforts of powerful NGOs like the Jyoti Sangh and SEWA later, did not change the inherited structure. So when the pushback came from conservative politics there was no great resistance. This is fairly well documented by scholars like Vidyut Joshi, BB Patel, Achyut Yagnik, Indira Hiraway, and Amita Shah. When the farmer moved from the village to a large village or a census town, even though in many cases she was a lady, the lack of facilities was not a severe political issue. It is now beginning to be so.

Men use a fishing net near the village of Dholera, Gujarat, India, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)
Men use a fishing net near the village of Dholera, Gujarat, India, on Wednesday, November 22, 2017. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

It is beginning, with jobs.

You can’t run a very poor and inadequate educational system in a fast-growing area and not pay for it sooner or later.

Political parties in Gujarat run educational institutions. Some societies have become rich. They are all politically influential. The old Bombay University Act had a strong Senate and one more college meant another Senate member. They believe skills is all that is needed to be imparted. The Jawaharlal Nehru University pattern where skills — whether of science or technology or of social engineering — are imparted in a socially aware environment never occurred to most persons, including some who encouraged thinking on new educational issues.

It was, in fact, ironic that the intelligence and police chiefs monitoring Kanhaiya were JNU-ites. They learned 360-degree thinking in JNU debates. But Moraji Desai’s Gujarat Vidyapith only concentrated on basic education. Jagadish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagriya are right in saying that poverty has gone down in Gujarat. But they don’t seem to worry about the adivasis, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and the poorer areas of the state, like the Poorvi Patti and parts of Saurashtra. The time when the founders of my institute, the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research — an Amrutlal Hargovandas or Kasturbhai Lalbhai —worried about all this is now history. We need to rekindle that spirit.

Meanwhile, the agro-based sector was growing fast in Gujarat. I succeeded my hero Verghese Kurien as the chairman of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand. But in management institutes, the kids came through national competition from outside the state.

If we had good colleges in Gujarat to feed the higher institutes with local students, and by now 20,000 girls and boys from Patel families got jobs say with a salary above Rs 20,000 a month in the agro-based sector, Hardik Patel would not have got the mileage he has.

He would, probably, be thinking differently.

Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel. (Source: PTI)
Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel. (Source: PTI)

So now the issues are out in the open. At least the media is full of them. Particularly the vernacular newspapers. In the Nav Nirman agitation in 1972, I thought we would build a new world in Gujarat. But many of my friends then are now grey-haired like me. Manish Doshi and I share pleasantries. Our chief then is the dada of a new private educational trust which has teachers agitating and students not being able to afford fees. Will the younger leadership leading the phalanx against the old order succeed? “The answer my friend...”, sang my favorite singer when I was at Wharton, “...is blowing in the wind”. You will know on Dec. 18.

Yoginder K Alagh is an economist who was a union minister and a former Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament from Gujarat.

The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.