Are Indians very poor 1


Bharat Dogra

is a journalist and book author. His pulicist work focuses on development policy, environmental protection, human rights and social change. He lives in New Delhi.

Translation: Stefan Mentschel

The downside of growth and economic development in India

India's government has enjoyed impressive economic growth for years. There is still progress in the country, albeit at a slower pace. However, not all 1.2 billion inhabitants benefit from the Indian development model. On the contrary: Large parts of the population continue to live in dire poverty with no prospect of improvement. In many cases, the upswing has even exacerbated the need.

Almost half of all children in India under the age of five are malnourished, according to the United Nations. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

"If you have doubts, or if you are overwhelmed by yourself, try an experiment: remember the face of the poorest and weakest person you've seen and ask yourself if the next step you should take intending to be of use to him (her). Will he (she) benefit from it? Will this move give him (her) back control of his (her) life and destiny? " - Mahatma Gandhi

Despite the current slowdown in growth, India is still considered to be a rapidly and dynamically developing economy. However, the successes appear in a different light if we take Mahatma Gandhi's experiment mentioned at the beginning as the basis of consideration. No one can deny that in India, despite high growth rates for several years, there is still enormous poverty and a large number of people have to live a life full of hardship.

The renowned development economists Jean Dréze and Amartya Sen sum up India's basic problem in their book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions: "In the history of development there are few, if any, examples for an economy that has been growing so rapidly for such a long period and has had so few results in the fight against poverty. "

Other economists have also referred to the government's embellished statistics, according to which there has recently been a significant return of poverty in the country. Critics argue that the poverty line has been set at a ridiculously low level - 32 rupees (37 cents) per person per day in the cities and 26 rupees (30 cents) per person per day in the countryside. If this limit were to be raised only slightly to a practical standard, it is said that the government would have to massively correct its poverty figures upwards.

According to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report, 28.6 percent of India's population live in extreme poverty and another 16.4 percent are at risk of poverty. That is around 540 million of the total of 1.2 billion inhabitants. In China, on the other hand, only 4.5 percent of the 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty. Another 6.3 percent are at risk of poverty. The difference between the Asian great powers in this area is enormous, although at the end of the 1970s both were almost on par in their economic development and had similar social problems.

Malnutrition: Half a million children die

In 2012, the non-governmental Nandi Foundation published a study on the nutritional situation of Indian children. According to this, around 42 percent were malnourished, and a further 17 percent had lagged behind in their development due to malnutrition. The National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB), an authority responsible for monitoring the nutritional situation in the country, came to similar conclusions. In addition, according to the National Family Health Survey, which is regularly commissioned by the government, half of all deaths in children under the age of five are related to malnutrition. That corresponds to around half a million dead children a year.

The physical consequences of poverty can also be demonstrated in adults. In rural India, for example, the body mass index (BMI) for around 35 percent of people is below the limit of 18.5, which indicates lower-level food and thus chronic malnutrition. For tribesmen - the Adivasi or Scheduled Tribes - the BMI is even 42 percent lower than 18.5. Studies by the NNMB have also shown anemia (anemia) in 55 percent of men and 70 percent of women, as well as significant deficits in the supply of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.

Despite the economic boom in India, there has been little improvement in this area in recent years. Nutrition expert Yogesh Jain confirms this: "Malnutrition and malnutrition are the main obstacles in the fight against child mortality." In 2013 the government introduced a new law to guarantee food security - the National Food Security Bill - which guarantees a needy family 35 kilograms of grain such as rice or wheat per month at a greatly reduced price. However, in the opinion of critics, it falls short, as pulses, vegetables, fruit, milk and other foods that are important for the supply of proteins, vitamins and minerals are becoming more and more expensive in the markets and in the shops.

Inequality has many facets

In addition, the purchasing power in rural India has barely increased in recent years, despite economic growth. Official government surveys show that there was just a one percent increase between 1993/94 and 2009/10. Income in agriculture has also increased much more slowly than in other areas - in the 1990s only by about two percent per year. That only changed in 2005 with the adoption of a state employment program, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It guarantees a member of a poor family 100 days of work a year at a fixed minimum wage and thus a small but secure income.

The inequality between the social groups in India is enormous and has many facets, as Jean Dréze and Amartiya Sen write in their book: "All countries in the world have to deal with it. In India, however, the dimensions are extreme, because there is a unique and dangerous cocktail of demarcation and inequality - from the huge gap between rich and poor to the massive disparities between castes, classes and genders (...) The result is a repressive social system in which the lowest strata are not only economically disadvantaged but are also deprived of their rights. " This development has recently intensified.

Land reforms are necessary - and are being neglected

For example, smallholders are losing their land in more and more villages. According to the government, the poorest 60 percent of the rural population now own only 5 percent of the arable land. The number of households that can live exclusively from agriculture has accordingly decreased by eight to nine million within a decade (2001 to 2011), which corresponds to around 2000 farming families per day who are dependent on additional income or who are looking for other occupations have to.

Land reforms are therefore sorely needed to protect smallholders and to provide them with arable land. But the government has shown little interest in it in political practice in recent years. On paper, however, she is well aware of the problem. A document on the tenth five-year plan (2002 to 2007) states: Owning a small piece of land enables a family to lead a more dignified life. They can increase their income and improve their nutritional situation. In addition, she would have access to loans due to the collateral available (in the form of real estate).

A working group working on the eleventh five-year plan (2007 to 2012) admitted that the issue had been neglected for years. At the same time, it renewed the call to decision-makers in government and parliaments to put land reforms back on the political agenda. The civil rights activist P.V. Rajagopal from the Ekta Parishad organization would welcome that. But the reality is different: "Due to huge industrial, infrastructure and mining projects, many smallholders are threatened with the loss of their land. So it is not only about helping the landless to a piece of land, but also protecting the rights of those, theirs Land is threatened. "

Laws have little effect

The Adivasi have suffered particularly from injustice and displacement in connection with the economic boom in recent decades. One hope for positive changes was therefore the Forest Rights Act of 2006, a law that, among other things, should put questions of forest ownership on a new basis and protect the rights of the Adivasi. (see box) But the effect of the law has so far been far below expectations.

There have been numerous efforts based on the law to protect or restore the land rights of the Adivasi. In many places, however, the situation continued to deteriorate, such as in the Kotra region in the south of the state of Rajasthan. "We had great expectations of the Forest Rights Act, so we worked hard to get it passed," says Kotra activist Dharmchanda.

"After the entry into force, around 62,000 complaints and claims (for the return and protection of land) were received by the authorities, of which only just under half were accepted. Only a small part of the accepted submissions were then approved. If the final result is ours Years of efforts looks like this, then Adivasi and forest dwellers will continue to lose land instead of gaining their rights. " The activist Devlibai has already observed how windy business people and bureaucrats are active, especially in the villages near larger cities, to steal their land from the residents with the help of dirty tricks and threats, which actually prevents unauthorized access due to the coming into force of the Forest Rights Act should be protected.

Poverty Migration and Child Labor

In addition, there is poverty migration in the Kotra region, such as the emigration of Adivasi to other areas due to a lack of income opportunities. One consequence of this is child labor, because many families are dependent on the additional money. In Kotra, for example, children and young people are recruited to work on the cotton plantations in the neighboring state of Gujarat, where they sometimes have to toil under poor conditions and for starvation wages. Media also reported deaths after children were exposed to dangerous pesticides. There were also reports that the children were imprisoned and even chained overnight by their employers to prevent them from escaping from bondage.

But there is also poverty migration from many other regions of India - for example from Bundelkhand in the border area between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. "Injustice and oppression as well as the plundering of natural resources are forcing more and more people to move away from here and look for work in distant regions," complains Bhagwat Prasad, director of the non-governmental organization ABSSS. Many people end up in the metropolises of India, where they join the army of the poor and homeless. There are no programs to support them.

The fact is: Millions of people in India do not have the opportunity to improve their living conditions under the existing development model. Often they even suffer from it. Indian economic growth and the upswing of recent years will therefore only become a success story if those responsible take Mahatma Gandhi's experiment to heart, if they meet the needs of the poor and weak part of the population, pay them attention and give them access to resources. In addition, the massive socio-economic inequalities must be reduced considerably and equal opportunities in the country improved.