India's struggles


POSTED: Monday, June 08, 2009

India pats itself on the back with pride at the supposedly stellar performance of its economy. Nothing sounds better than the 6-9 percent GDP growth per annum for the last few years as touted by its central governments. Nevertheless, this information must be tempered with hard facts.

First, average annual inflation has not been less than 6.5 percent per year. Next, taking a large cross-section of a basket of goods and weighing them appropriately, it is not conceivable how inflation per annum could be less than an aggregate of 7.5 percent per year over the past 50 years. Moreover, governments are perennial liars in reporting the inflation accurately. In contrast, outlays in India's five-year plans have increased at roughly 9.25 percent compounded yearly since the first five-year plan to the current five-year plan. Though government outlays are not the only indicator of growth, the value added by the construction and industrial outlays is a good indicator. Bring a population growth of 2.5 percent per annum into the picture, and let's add the numbers up. We find that, empirically, 9.25-7.5-2.5 percent = -0.75 percent has been the real GDP added to the nation overall since 1951. Governments in India have probably lied to the nation and world. So, what is it India is proud of?

In real terms, India has been unable to compete with the rest of the world. Nations that were born alongside India in the 1940s and 50s are two to 28 times richer. In 2004, China's industrial growth rate was 30.4 percent while India's was 6.4 percent. More than 40 countries have reported growth rates of more than 6 percent per year in the last five years. Thus, India's growth rate of 6-8 percent per year is nothing extraordinary.

India has 700 million living below the World Bank poverty marker of US$2 per day. Another 150 million earning less than US$4 per day are marginalized. That leaves only 250 million really contributing to the economy and paying taxes, actually less. The propaganda that India pulled 300 million out of poverty in the last 15 years appears deceitful.

Indian literacy has risen, but ranks 146th in the world alongside Sudan, Rwanda, Malawi, and Burundi. The International Energy Annual of 2002 reported that the aggregated sum total of electricity consumed by Africa was 800 KWh per person per year, compared to India's 600 KWh per person per year. It is easy to see how India has become the Africa of yesterday. India's maternal and infant mortality are the worst of SAARC countries. The United Nations reported that air pollution of particulate matter is the worst in New Delhi out of the whole world. Forty years ago, we enjoyed seeing the stars at night; today, we can't see the sun in the day because of dust and smog.

While India may have more homes hooked to cable TV, more consumers using mobile phones, many millions communicating by e-mail, telephone connections easily available, and more cars than ever before, these things do not secure a country. In all respects, the factors that make India insecure are much more than those that make it secure: growth is haphazard, with new townships being added without comprehensive urban planning; traffic congestion has made commuting times four times what they used to be 30 years ago, especially in Delhi, not to mention that 125,000 deaths take place on Indian roads annually. In 1960, people could drink tap water in Delhi, but then they had to boil it by the mid-1970s, and now must filter it, as well; they still can't free themselves from the microscopic contaminants in water as a result of excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Groundwater tables are depleted to an extent that only in India do they talk about future wars over water. The River Yamuna is unfit for bathing, and unfit for drinking even by animals. Malaria is as rampant as ever before, typhoid is still endemic, and immunity-related diseases are increasing.

“;Slumdog Millionaire”; was right on the money as far as my perception goes. Waste landfills are far and few between, such that India needs 10-12 times as many landfills as it currently has, but 40 times as many if it were to become industrialized like the United States. None of this indicates an improvement in the quality of life that economic development is supposed to bring. This is not the India Indians had dreamt of.

Even India's security is at risk. Internal disturbances affect every state, while in 1947, when India became independent, there were none.

India's political parties are reported to have themselves fomented internal disturbances in multiple states. In a competitive world where big fish eats small fish, the Chinese dragon is breathing fire, while the Indian tiger is not only asleep, but faces extinction. India's defense preparedness has suffered tremendously, to say the least. It appears that India's leaders never understood technology nor how to use it beneficially.

I raise my voice in constructive criticism, since I fear for the future of India at the rate it is going. India could well have been a superpower from West Asia to the China Sea, but the set of items that affect life—air, water, health, environment, and internal civil disturbance are at severe risk in India.


Amarjit Singh is associate professor of construction engineering management at the University of Hawaii.