Saturday, April 23, 2016

What is development?

In 1971, Indira Gandhi gave "Garibi Hatoa (Remove poverty)" as the election war cry. The slogan has been used since then by various political leaders, in a bid to hit the bull's eye.  The cliche recently has been replace by "Vikas (Development)".  Atleast, in a sarcastic sense, we have gone from a more negative connotation of removing something to doing something. What a positive change. And then there is more positivity added by saying "Vikas, tej gati se Vikas aur charo taraf Vikas" (Development, Faster development, All round development). 

There is a concept of poverty line, which is quite used (and misused by Indian policy makers). The poverty line reminds me of a joke about river crossing the danger line during floods. The politician argues that by shifting the danger line above, floods can be avoided. The poverty line is, as per personal fancies, moved up and down. A couple of point down, and we move a number of people out of poverty. If this would have been so easy.

Do you know what is the current recommendations for poverty line. Rs. 32  a day in rural and Rs. 47 a day in cities. The guys who know English, and who would be reading this, will find it hilarious. We spend four to five times of this in an upscale coffee shop doing intellectual discussions. In spite of this ridiculously low number, we have 363 million (~36 crore) people, who are poor. Actually this number is not so bad, if you really do the maths. At Rs. 32 a day, a family of four would mean Rs. 3480 per month. The bigger question is, with this money one can survive, but will they be able to support a good living. We say that human is the most developed animal on earth and who fails to ensure even food for its fellows. Do we have shortage of food? The world has enough food but what the humans lack in is intent.

This comes to the original discussion of, how we define development or Development with big D? Politicians and policy makers have used this term loosely to suit their inclinations. Go ask any politician, does not matter if they are in power or in opposition. Ask them to define development and most of them will have no clue. The kinds of statements you might hear are:
"We need everyone's development".
"They only promise fake development, when we come to power we will do real development"
"Development is about ensuring everyone is developed"
"Development, Development, Development..."

And there are some smart once (not learned once), who would quote development in terms of making roads, making high rises and  probably running fastest trains of the world. That may be fine to do but is that development will help those 36 crore people in any way. By a stretched logic, you will be pointed to generation of more employment for many of them. Granted, many of them will be uprooted from their traditional homes, turn into laborers and destined to live in inhuman conditions around those sky rises.  Once the sky rise becomes operational, the people living in sky rise will fume about people degrading the show of their building. The same people who made the sky rise. That's the irony of the world.

And that's where the whole juggernaut of Development starts breaking. We humans are approaching the whole notion of development in a myopic way. Faster trains, high rises, multi storied roads are convenience and not development.  The people like us, who get their meal with fair amount of certainty fume about bad roads, because they bring inconvenience.  I am ignoring the broader aspect of corruption and poor planning and that's a matter of another discussion. The point I am making is we are confusing the issues of development with issues of convenience.

So that brings us to the moot question of how to define development. I believe as a human race, we will have to define development in terms of the biological needs of human and that basically boils down to ensuring the following.
  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
Ensuring the above to everyone is the true test of development. Rest all in this world is convenience. including your smart phone. You will not die if you don't have one.

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