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Is inclusive growth an election slogan?

Is inclusive growth an  election slogan?
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Dr S Saraswathi The 'development mantra' flaunted by Narendra Modi in recent speeches is countered by his Congress opponents raising the issue of...

Dr S Saraswathi

The "development mantra" flaunted by Narendra Modi in recent speeches is countered by his Congress opponents raising the issue of "inclusive growth" for the forthcoming general elections. Variously termed as "development with equity" or "accessible development", this dimension of economic reforms has acquired enhanced significance as a poll issue.

However, the concept of "inclusive growth" is not an innovation. It was spelt out as a goal of the 11th Plan (2007-12) and strategic initiatives to reach the target are also being taken. The current 12th Plan also focuses on "inclusive growth" to bring more and more poor and marginal groups under its ambit. It has adopted "faster, sustainable, and more inclusive growth" as the key development paradigm.

In fact, the importance of social sector planning as part of economic planning has been acknowledged long time back. It is intended to ensure that the benefits of economic planning reach all sections. Basically, inclusive growth means comprehensive and broad-based, shared and pro-poor growth. It is oriented to the clientele as much as to the substance of growth and hence people-oriented.

Importantly, it aims at reducing the rate of poverty and disparities, removing deprivation, and also enhancing involvement of people in the growth process. Inclusive growth is more concerned about the impact of development on the life of the poor more than on the total growth of goods and services in the country. It is therefore, a socio-economic concept.

Besides, growth is quantitative and is indicated in GDP. Inclusive growth adds qualitative element to it and is reflected in the Human Development Index.Rahul Gandhi recently spoke of his vision of inclusive development at the annual CII meeting in New Delhi. He sought partnership with the corporate sector, but deprecated what he termed as the "politics of alienating communities". He claimed that the UPA Government had achieved faster growth because it lessened tension between communities.

The Congress No 2 leader himself criticized the existing system for keeping the aam aadmi away from decision-making, a situation which would be remedied by an inclusive system of management.

As it stands, India's quest for inclusive development has been going on for several decades. It is carried on in various names and in different forms. Social justice, reservation policy, decentralization, Panchayati Raj and empowerment of women are some of the results of this policy of inclusiveness pursued by all Governments. The policy underlies the Constitution itself, and is specifically incorporated under the Directive Principles of State Policy.

Notably, in the context of economic reforms and globalization, inclusive growth needs to be specially stressed. For, there is a genuine fear that reforms are likely to leave the poor untouched or even exploited; primarily because the term "economic growth" is a quantitative term signifying increase or decrease in the value of goods and services produced.

The term "economic development" takes into account the mode of production and distribution and hence qualitative. Though the terms, in common parlance, are used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Clearly, growth is necessary for development and is indeed a vital part of it, but development is wider and touches the common man more intimately.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted by several countries, including India, has set eight targets to be reached by 2015. They include eradication of poverty and hunger, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, empowerment of women, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and global partnership for development.

True, economic growth which focuses on rising income is necessary, but not sufficient to reach all these MDGs. The need of the hour is that all services should reach the poor people. This accessibility is the true indicator of inclusive development. It is another name for human development approach.

Further, an indispensable element of this is enlargement of people's choice. It can be achieved only when growth and equity are simultaneously pursued, and productive economic opportunities are open to the poor and vulnerable sections as for the rich. Consequently, financial inclusion is a key area in this.

It is achieved by ensuring access to financial services and timely and adequate credit where needed by vulnerable groups, such as weaker sections, marginal farmers, etc.

In addition, forcible acquisition of land for development projects, eviction and relocation of people to make room for industrial expansion, submergence of villages for construction of dams, deprivation of forest tribes of their traditional rights so as to establish a common system of law and administration are some of the major reasons giving rise to the demand for inclusive development.

Undeniably, project-affected people generally nurse a grievance that the benefits of the projects would go elsewhere. Therefore, we not only need big projects but also have to ensure that benefits are widely shared. Resettlement of project-displaced people must get priority over other issues.

The present trend of cornering of public amenities --- water, energy, etc --- by the well-to-do must give way to amenities for all. Health care, education, sanitation, transport, etc. should be equally accessible to all. Law, justice, police, and public administration should look upon every citizen without fear or favour. All these are essential ingredients of the policy of inclusiveness.

Indisputably, in India's present-day politics, inclusive growth is often equated with populist policies and programmes. Subsidies, loan waiver schemes, freebies, direct cash transfer, food security schemes, small unskilled employment guarantee schemes offered by the Union and State Governments are mistaken as pro-poor strategies for equitable distribution of resources and services.

However, these are only crutches, a means to an end, and should be short-term arrangements to tide over crisis situations. They must be designed to help recipients build their capacities to stand on their own.

In sum, what we witness today is bitter competition among political parties in expanding their pattern of largesse but there is little effort to see that development is total. Clearly, all regions, States, rural and urban areas, every economic sector and all communities must be part of the development process and also the beneficiaries.

Sadly, inclusive growth has become a mere election slogan like Garibi Hatao!

� INFA

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