It has been observed that India is a rich country inhabited by the poor. This paradoxical statement underlines the fact that India is very rich, both in material and human resources, which have not been properly used and exploited so far.
Poverty amidst plenty seems to be the main problem of India. The majority of our population lives in rural areas. But following the rapid growth in the number of large cities and towns, there has been migration from rural areas to these cities and urban industrial complexes on an unprecedented scale. It has not helped much in the alleviation of the rural poverty. Obviously, unless our efforts and planning are rural-oriented, nothing appreciable can be achieved. ‘Go rural’ should be our watchword.
Over 80% of the income of the rural poor is spent on food and the expenditure on shelter is also very high. The urban poor also spend almost the same proportion of their income on these two items. The remainder is too meager to meet their demands of clothing, health, education, and entertainment, etc. The purchasing power of the Indian rural masses is miserably low. They are unable to afford even the basic needs of life. The problem of economic inequality and improper distribution of national income has been a chronic one. Consequently, the rich are becoming richer and the poor more poor. The growth in industry and agriculture in the past few years has further encouraged concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of a few. What is needed are radical changes in our planning and implementation of schemes to remove all these inequalities, distortions and imbalances in the distribution of national income and resources.
We must ensure land- reforms, self-reliance, quick redressal of the grievances of the weaker and vulnerable sections, like landless labourers, scheduled castes and tribes and the womenfolk. We should ensure that these weaker sections of the society are liberated from the vicious grip of the money-lenders, big farmers and landowners. Effective planning is the only way to eradicate poverty. There should be no faltering and hesitation in the implementation of our planning. Soon after our independence, we launched our Five Year Plans, which have yielded good dividends. Consequently, there has been self-sufficiency in food grains.
The Indian farmers are now ready to take risks because they are sure of speedier supply of agricultural inputs, modern irrigation facilities, quicker and easier loan and credit facilities by the government. And yet we cannot rest on our laurels. As far as pulses and oil-seeds are concerned, self-sufficiency is still to be achieved. Moreover, our population is growing very fast. The growth rate in food production has barely kept ahead of the growth of our population. The per capita availability of food grains in India has not risen appreciably. As far as fine and superior varieties of grains like wheat and rice are concerned, our achievement^ have been really laudable. But in coarse grains, like maize, barley, bajra, and jowar, etc., there have been no significant achievements; it only means that the interest of the poor masses has not been adequately served. They mostly consume coarse grains as their purchasing power is very low.
The Community Development Programme, started in 1952, should be further strengthened and expanded. This programme has helped significantly in development of villages. The scheme chiefly aims at providing more employment ,production by the application of latest methods of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, and fisheries, etc., and the establish-mend of subsidiary and cottage industries.
The whole country has been divided into a large number of community development blocks, with each one of these having about a 100 villages under it. Thousands of officials, administrators and gramsevaks have been engaged in the scheme. Consequently, there has been significant improvement but we still have a long way to go.
In a country like India, with a population of more than a billion people and a population growth rate of about 2.2%, the poverty eradication programme is bound to be arduous and long drawn. Over 35% of our population is estimated to be living below the poverty line, in spite of the fact that the main emphasis of our Five Year Plans has been on poverty eradication, modernisation of the economy and industry and self-reliance. For example, the main objectives of the Seventh Plan, beginning in 1985, were growth in food-grain production, increase in employment opportunities and rise in productivity. Obviously, our plans have to play a greater role as an instrument of growth and development in times to come. And this can be done only by greater and enlarged participation of the masses, especially in villages and small towns.
One of the main objectives of our Five Year Plans has been the expansion and creation of more employment opportunities in rural India. To achieve this objective, sufficient funds have been allocated under various employment schemes. For example, under the Jawahar Rozgar Yojna, the various states and Union Territories have been given funds in proportion to the number of people living below the line of poverty. Special consideration has been given to such areas as the hills, deserts and the islands under the scheme.
Further, the devolution of funds to village Panchayats is determined by the proportion of the scheduled castes and tribes and the backwardness of the region. The expenditure under this scheme is to be shared between the Centre and the states, in the ratio of 80: 20. With the involvement of village panchayats in the scheme, wider participation of the rural people is envisaged. Jawahar Rozgar Yojana is the biggest of its kind in the world and a sum of Rs. 2,600 crore was earmarked by the Centre to implement it. The utilization of funds is at the sole discretion of the gram and village panchayats and there will be no state intervention in the matter of selection of projects, etc. Based on decentralised planning, the scheme is bound to help thousands of families living below the poverty line in rural areas. It further shows that democracy is compatible with rural growth and development. In April 1999, a new scheme known as Swaranjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana was launched with a plan outlay of Rs. 1000 crore, to eradicate poverty and unemployment.
The economic reform process, now gathering momentum, will further help reduce poverty in villages and towns. The government’s liberalisation policy has helped in rural employment because of the various incentives granted to the industries established in the backward and rural areas of the country. With industrial growth picking up, the picture will be still better. In the long term, the economic and industrial growth will increase the income of the poor substantially. Initially, the results of liberalisation and opening of the Indian economy may not be as appreciable as desired, in terms of poverty eradication and increase in employment for rural people, but ultimately it will result in reduction of poverty. It also ensures reduction in inequalities, because it has been found that distribution of national income and assets under a more open economy is less unequal. Privatisation will also help the government to devote its resources in a better manner to its social obligations.
Therefore, the alleged contradiction between liberalisation, growth and social justice is unfounded. With liberalisation, India is bound to grow rapidly by virtue of its huge natural and human resources. The growth will be marked by improvement in standards of living, removal of poverty to a great extent and emergence of India as a great economic power. Thus, it is clear that eradication of poverty is intimately linked with the raising of productivity and employment, both in agricultural and industrial sectors. As removal of poverty, increase in employment and living standards of the people are our main priorities at this point of time, we shall have to strike a balance between the development of agriculture and industry.
We cannot think of India without villages and agriculture. At the same time, industries cannot be asked to wait. Sometimes it is asked, should we give priority to agriculture over industry, or should industries get priority over agriculture? Perhaps both should go hand in hand in order to make India poverty-free, and an industrial major in the world. Food and agriculture are like the same sides of the coin while industries are the reverse. In the Indian context, both are ultimately interrelated and important. Items produced in mills and factories will be purchased by the masses only when they have enough money to buy them. And our masses in villages depend on agriculture for their livelihood and improvement in their living standards. Consumerism pre-supposes a sound agriculture base and income.