Saturday, 16 June 2018

An agenda for New India

Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

Empowering deprived population will yield greater dividend

The policy paper- Nurturing Human Development: A Strategy for New India - provides a pragmatic and workable agenda for NEW INDIA based on the concept on Social Inclusion.[1]  India has been trying to achieve inclusiveness through reservations in government jobs and higher education. If the reservation system had truly worked to empower deprived or backward communities, the decades of its operation ought to have ensured an inclusive society. But we have seen that India is most unequal society in the world.  The paper provides an alternative framework to achieve social inclusion.

Productivity is a major determinant of economic growth and provides the basic trust for the improvement of the standard of living.  As per the International Monetary Fund, India became the seventh largest economy in the world in terms of GDP in 2016 but still it has a very-very low per capita GDP. As a result it is placed at 123rd position among 186 countries. This is perhaps the most visible challenge.

The results of the cross country analysis indicate that the level of productivity is negatively related to income inequality.[2] Even though India has made remarkable progress in various fields, pockets of exclusion continue to prevent millions of its people from realising their true potential. It is because of this that India has been ranked the most unequal large country in the world. The concern raised by many experts is that this equality is rising much faster than expected.  The top one per cent richest individuals in India appropriated six per cent of total income in the early 1980s, and now, this figure has gone up to twenty two per cent.[3] This suggests that wealth is not trickling down to the poor and India is turning into a ‘republic of inequality’.

As a result, over fifty per cent of India’s population (Box 1)  still has little or no access to basic facilities, such as quality education, health or sanitation even after the adoption of market-friendly strategies during the 1990s and record-high GDP growth in recent years.[4]   

Box 1
Sizable deprived population
Around 700 million (70 crore) out of the total population of 1350 million in March 2018 can be classified as deprived or Vanchit population. And, without empowering this population of 140 million (14 crore) families, mainly comprising Dalits, tribes, other lower castes including OBCs and Muslims, India cannot think of becoming a developed country.

What is the way out? The paper is based on the premise that only the well-being of the deprived population, capable of actively participating in the development process and in market economy, can ensure sustainable and inclusive development of the country. Bill Gates and Ratan Tata rightly noted:  “Human capital is one of India’s greatest assets. Yet, the world’s fastest growing economy hasn’t touched millions of Indian citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”[5] It will, therefore, be more effective and rewarding if we can focus on the poor families and provide opportunities to them for upward mobility.

In fact, in the changed situation the poor people want upward social mobility, as evidenced by recent violent agitations. But the irony is that most political parties insist on imposing a social identity on their vote banks without in the least realising that these deprived people want other identities, or at least be associated with it – probably a more neutral identity which is not as closely linked with their given identity. These aspirations have come largely through media exposure, and through what one sees others doing (as proposed by M.N. Srinivas in the concept of “Sanskritisation”). Both Indian politics and society would, therefore, will be better served if we could move our discourse more towards identities like ‘aspirational’ middle class   rather than “be fixated around supposedly immutable ascriptive identities” like caste and religion.[6] This move will help the vast downtrodden population in achieving middle class identity leading to the creation of an inclusive society in the real sense. Now the crucial question is how to translate this premise into a concrete fundamental plan in policy framework and programme?

For this, India has to empower its people through a dedicated human development approach/strategy. The proposed approach is the central point of the paper, focuses on enhancing the richness of human life rather than simply the richness of the economy. It will enable ordinary people to decide who they want to be, what to do, and how to live. Also, it will help India transform its demographic dividend into an asset.

To start with, the process of human development must focus on five interventions, namely:  Improving the quality of school education, Strengthening WASH factors (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Enhancing primary health, Reducing gender gap, and most importantly Stabilizing the population by minimizing incidents of unwanted childbearing incidences and bringing down infant mortality. In addition, we recognize that shifting of excess labour from agriculture to non-agriculture sectors and managing climate change including the quality of air and water are important inputs in the process of human development.

How to implement the strategy? It may be recalled that the Government of India  has launched various pro-poor  schemes in  recent years such as ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Ujjwala’, ‘Saubhagya’, and ‘Ayushman Bharat’ among others for financial inclusion and unlocking human potential. These schemes give new wings to aspirations of the poor.  However, it appears that these schemes may not serve the purpose since most of these are being implemented on a piecemeal basis and in isolation from the wider process of holistic development. No doubt, India needs a comprehensive policy package in place of incremental approaches to expedite the process of human development.

The paper, therefore, suggests a strategy entitled ‘HDPlus’ to identify the right beneficiaries or the target population. Additional inputs may be added looking at the needs of specific people/area. Hence, the framework has been termed as “HDPlus”.  It is based on a ‘whole child’ concept, that is child and his/her family should be the fulcrum of human development efforts and is being referred as ‘HDPlus families’. The concept is being described by policies, practices, and relationships which ensure that each child is healthy, educated, engaged, supported and encouraged. For this, integrating the child and his or her family more deeply into the day-to-day life of school and home activities represents an untapped instrument for raising the overall achievements including learning skills and health parameters, and hence improving overall productivity. In other words, creating an enabling environment at family and school levels is a way out to empower people.
Now the question arises how to identify the target population or HDPlus families?  In this framework, all government school-going children, aged between 6 and 14, and their families will be the target population for action. Most BPL (Below Poverty Line) families send their children to government schools, though some of them have started sending their children to the private ones too. The suggested framework will be implemented by government agencies in collaboration with civil (society) organizations as was done in the Pulse Polio campaign during the 1990s and the 2000s to eradicate the polio virus (Box 2).

Box 2
HDPlus framework: at a glance
HDPlus is an affirmative action framework to change the circumstances that lead to (or have led to) social exclusion.  Its main features are:

·         The focus of action will be all school-going children, aged 6 to 14, in government schools and their families (HDPlus families).
·         The focal point of various governments’ pro-poor schemes along with HD interventions will be HDPlus families.
·         The framework will be implemented by government agencies in collaboration with civil organizations.

India’s future is apparently bright, but it will depend on which direction our policies lead us to.  India has to develop not only in wealth but also in human potential. HD, therefore, is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of increasing productivity, reducing inequality, promoting sustainable development and building good governance (Box 3).  It is high time that the Government of India and research institutions focus on developing effective and smart human development agenda to unlock the human capital. And, the paper suggests a prototype - HDPlus.

Box 3

The major Benefits of the proposed HDPlus strategy:


·         It will trigger rapid economic growth on a sustainable basis, and India can be a developed country in a generation.

·         It will open new vistas for social mobility or an aspirational middle class identity, which are urgently needed for sustainable development of the country.
·         It will help to solve an array of seemingly intractable problems such as the battle over caste reservations, gender inequality and lack of opportunity for youth among others. 
·         It will redesign India’s future by providing its youth with innovative ideas/jobs, involving robotics and artificial intelligence.
·         It will reinforce the faith in liberal values.

[1] Based on the policy paper: Nurturing Human Development: A Strategy for New India by the author. It analyses what actions to be taken in the next 5 to 10 years to empower the people, especially the Satar Crore Vanchit (deprived) Bharatiya. It can be an effective political slogan.  For details, contact: Dr.  Kothari at: E mail: & Mobile: 91 9829119868.

[2] DiPietro, William R. 2014.  “Productivity Growth and Income Inequality,” Journal of Economics and Development Studies, Vol. 2 (3): 01-08.

[3] Chancel, Lucas and Thomas Piketty. 2017.  “Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?”  WID, World Working Paper Series No. 2017/11, World Inequality Lab, Paris School of Economics.  Also refer at:
[4] Chancel, Lucas and Thomas Piketty. 2017.  “Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?”  WID, World Working Paper Series No. 2017/11, World Inequality Lab, Paris School of Economics.  Also refer at:

[5] Gates, Bill and Ratan Tata. 2016. “New nutrition report underscores the importance of leadership in addressing stunting in India” at:

[6] Kapur, Devesh. 2018. “Middle class is an aspirational identity … people want other identities not as closely linked with their ascriptive identity” at:

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