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Growth is not leading to development in India

January 24, 2008

India is an emerging superpower and the economy is growing at 8-9 percent. India also has a politically stable government. Yet the country ranks badly on HDI (Human Development Index). Its rank is 128 out of 175 (countries). The list of countries by rankings you can get here. Here is the world-wide comparison at a glance (map from the wiki):


HDI measures life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living,and GDP per capita…and as is evident from the map, many countries which are poorer than us are doing better than us.

Some poorer nations fare better than India
An analysis by P. Sainath in an article in the Hindu compares India’s HDI to that of some other countries. Here it is briefly:

El Salvador is ranked 103, despite going through a decade long civil war from the eighties.
Bolivia is ranked 117 although it is called South America’s poorest nation. It is 11 ranks above India.
Guatemala, is ranked 118. This Central American country had a long civil war – almost forty years long!
Botswana, in Africa, is ranked 124, ahead of India, despite it being a much poorer country. And it was in a worse position than India last year – at 131. Its improved on its HDI, but India hasn’t.
The Occupied Palestinian Territories are ranked 106. This area is politically disturbed, but it still beats India in HDI!
Vietnam is ranked 105, and this Asian country has had a history of long conflicts. But it is constantly improving on its HDI.
Sri Lanka is ranked 99!
Kazakhstan and Mongolia, countries that one associates with low levels of development are increasing their HDI…while Kazakhstan rose five ranks to 73, Mongolia rose two ranks to 114, and both countries are ahead of India.

What this tells us is that if it wasn’t for our higher GDP we would be worse off. What a shame. And we aren’t improving either. At least not in our HDI, despite GDP growth. 😦

Why are we ranked badly?
Well, that’s a question that every Indian should ask! That’s a question I have been asking myself for sometime now. I guess I know the answers (I think) but I keep telling myself that we have achieved so much. First (very briefly) about our achievements.

Some major achievements
We are expected to reach our target economic growth of 9 percent this year, and 8.5 percent next year, according to our Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram. 12 Indian companies are Asian giants and we have the most billionaires in Asia. True, our infrastructure has a long way to go, particularly where utilities like power and water are concerned, but some aspects are improving rapidly.

1. The Golden Quadrilateral linking Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai with four-lane highways almost done.
2. Indian Railways has achieved a financial and operational turn-around.
3. India saw around $7 billion of transport public-private partnerships (PPPs) reaching financial closure in just one year – 2006.
4. World-class airports are being constructed in Delhi and Mumbai.
5. The telecommunications sector has changed the life of Indians, even in rural India.

The Indian government seems focussed on improving our infrastructure…but is the government focussed on improving people’s health, increasing their literacy levels and improving their standard of living? Well, it doesn’t look like it, although a lot of platitudes are being mouthed. Otherwise it would have shown in an improvement in the HDI. If countries like Botswana, Kazakhstan and Mongolia are improving, why can’t we??

What ails India?
When it comes to Health and Education the answer does lie in increasing budget allocation. India spends less than 5 percent (of GDP) Health and less than 5 percent on Education. But that isn’t the only problem.

Money is one aspect of it. Implementation is another. Developmental funds are not being utilised in the proper manner. At times they are not used, like this instance where funds sanctioned for urban development works were not used. Or they line the pockets of the people concerned, or they are simply used badly, inefficiently.

Sickening corruption
Just this month there was this huge world bank expose of the level of corruption in five projects that are backed and overseen by the World Bank. Everyone is guilty – from bank and government officials and private companies to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The projects where money was stolen are:

1. The 114-million-dollar Malaria Control Project.
2. The 82.1-million-dollar Orissa Health Systems Development Project.
3. The 193.7-million-dollar Second National HIV/AIDS Control Project.
4. The 124.8-million-dollar Tuberculosis Control Project
5. The 54-million-dollar Food and Drug Capacity Building Project.

What’s shocking is that many lives were ruined because of inferior AIDS testing kits which resulted in healthy people being labelled HIV positive.

Corruption in these projects has come to light only because an outside agency like the World Bank is supervising. When our own government supervises, whether central or state, it gets easily hidden.

For example, does anyone know for sure as to why thousands of farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra? My uncle, who is a farmer, points out that this large scale farmer suicide didn’t happen in Gujarat even though BT Cotton is grown there as well. He blames the poor advise given to farmers on how to grow BT Cotton by the government, lack of proper irrigation, and also the abysmal lack of information on the high risk involved. Farmers, without adequate guidance, switched in droves from low yield low risk farming to high risk high yield farming and they failed. Our poor banking system forced farmers to take loans from unscrupulous moneylenders, and as for the funds to alleviate the farmers’ grief – they were were eaten up by corrupt officials. Well, I guess I have diverted from the main subject here!

But not really. I am trying to say that it is the government’s ineptitude and dishonesty which is making our country suffer.

Update: There are other instances, where lakhs of rupees collected by Red Cross societies in Punjab for Kargil War Relief, Orissa Cyclone Relief and Gujarat Earthquake Relief never reached the victims.

At one time, in one of my earlier write-ups I was quite hopeful that corruption in our country will soon be on the decline, and the government would get it’s officials to become more accountable, but I have changed my mind. Corruption seems to be on the increase. Some NGO’s too are into it. How much more corrupt do we need to get before we start to improve?

(Acknowledgments: The article which set off this chain of thought was P Sainath’s article and this was sent to me by Vivek Khadpekar. Thanks Vivek. I have also used an article on our infrastructure projects sent to me by Vishal. Thanks to you too.)

Related Reading: Is Poverty declining in India?
Why more Indians do not opt for Social Service
India to be number two economically by 2050
Globalisation ahoy!
Indians want more money to be spend on health and education
Economic disparity not that wide in India.
Highest pay hikes to be in India in 2007

India’s population explosion
Budget 2007
Fighting corruption in India
Does the US produce more engineers or does India?
Ministers misuse slum funds
Street children are being denied education

54 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2008 9:20 am

    Nita, One of the main problems is our level of education and the population. The Govt needs to be do something…introduce some policies that would control the population of the country. I like the way China is handling this issue.

  2. January 24, 2008 9:51 am

    you raised a very good point….
    genuine and needy farmers are not catered by the banks.
    and only the rich and ones with political connections get loans from Public banks… and the irony is that it is these loans that get waived off… and not the loans given to the needy and destitute.

  3. ulag permalink
    January 24, 2008 10:02 am

    Yeah i agree with Ruhi. The main reason we’re so low on the HDI is due to our huge population. Trying to give literacy and health to one billion people is no easy task for a country the size of India. El Salvador has a population of 6.7 million. Thats about the number of people in Bangalore alone!! Bolivia has about 9 million and Guatemala has around 2 million. For this reason alone i feel its not proper to compare the countries on this scale. With a population of 1 billion its also natural that our per capita income will be lesser leading to a lower HDI.

  4. ulag permalink
    January 24, 2008 10:14 am

    But even though its no easy task i feel that we should be much better off than we are now. Thats not happened because of the rampant corruption in the system and the string of populist policies the govts these days are doling out. The govt is giving people free fish instead of teaching them how to fish on their own. When they give free power the fact is its almost always misused with the rich farmers with large tracts of land keeping their water pumps on for long periods using water recklessly and resulting in groundwater depletion too. This even adds to the state debts. Such kind of mindless populist measures must stop and the govt must involve itself in doing some useful work.

  5. Raj permalink
    January 24, 2008 10:36 am


    I do not know how to thank you for writing this article! But I think that this post may not get the kind of response that it deserves when compared to certain ‘hot’ topics 😦

    As an ardent admirer of P.Sainath,I am delighted that his articles have set off a chain reaction.Sainath always manages to whack my conscience out of its slumber whenever I read anything penned by him!

  6. January 24, 2008 12:19 pm

    It happens when you go beyond the normal economic indicators like DGP, percapita income etc and wonder how good things are… and really really forgetting about what magic statistics can do… India can show the same percapita income and gdp, if everyone except anil ambhani is Poor in India… I mean even if the entire wealth is with single person, those indicators will show the same…

    I think Govt is doing only half of their duty these days.. Just focusing on how to make wealth .. more and more.. but never thinks about the distribution part of it…. they are missing the crucial part of “the basic economic problem” as Economics calls it.

  7. January 24, 2008 12:44 pm

    @ Ruhi: What is sauce for the goose is not always sauce for the gander. So what works in China will not work in India.

    In the 1970s, Sanjay Gandhi tried forced vasectomies on poor people. A eugenic experiment by any other name. That combined with other heavy-handed tactics used by Indira Gandhi precipitated a long period of political crisis for her. A democracy is a difficult thing to run like your own private estate! If people did not stand for this top-down patriarchy (oops, matriarchy) in those socialist times, do you think they will now? In freer, more liberal times?

    Also what parallel form of the Chinese policy would you recommend for India? And you probably know what happens to surplus children in China. I can assure you that with our penchant for the boy child, a China-like policy for India will ensure no girls live to see the light of day.

    Education would help many things but that is one of the lowest investment areas in India. The link between education and population is hard to break and it is easier and safer to break it at the education link, by introducing compulsory – and high quality – schooling for all till the age of 18. That is the ideal. However poverty keeps many children away from schools and toiling in factories and fields. So once again it is more complex than it looks.

    I think the solution lies not with the government but with a mix of sectors participating in delivering the aim of universal basic education. And that requires standardisation across the board. _That_ requires government participation. And it is not just too much political commitment, but it is also a political minefield with the diversity across Indian regions who are unlikely to agree on any uniform standards. So it may have to be done at state-level and who will manage the uniformity and standardisation then?

    So, much more complex than saying ‘government should do this or that’.. 🙂

    @ Dinsan: Other countries’ experiments with Robin Hood socialism suggests that unless the value systems are robust, the system will only produce scroungers. Besides are people in India willing to pay over 50% of their income in tax, so such socialised medicine and education can be made available? These are the downsides of a free market but it is like a horse being out of the barn – you can hardly go back to being in the 1970s, unless of course you are an African nation, which, by recent experiences, can be dragged right back from the brink of prosperity to the stone ages. With some effort…

  8. January 24, 2008 1:02 pm


    When I said that I like the way China has handled the issue, I knew that of course, it won’t work in India because of the way this country is run. Even policy has its own loopholes. I’m yet to come across something that’s worked perfectly. We already have such a high level of female infanticide even without policies …and with all those human rights laws etc.

    I think it’s very easy to say that we need to introduce compulsory education for kids etc. Even that won’t work. Why? Because the parents of these kids will have to be educated first in seeing the importance of a sound education.

    Actually, Shefaly, to tell you the truth- I’m a little tired of reading about India and it’s sad state. Just tired. We keep talking and discussing in these blogs. That’s all.

  9. January 24, 2008 1:15 pm

    Typo- Line 1- IT’s not Even, but Every* policy

  10. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 24, 2008 1:34 pm


    Thanks for the first clear-headed, comprehensive and balanced comment on this thread. I’ll admit I *was* a bit alarmed when I read the sentemce:

    //And that requires standardisation across the board.//

    But you immediate follow-up to it set my apprehensions at rest.

    //…with our penchant for the boy child, a China-like policy for India will ensure no girls live to see the light of day…//

    Do you think the Chinese are significantly different from Indians in this regard? The little I have read and the statistics I have seen suggest they are not. And the single-child norm has, in fact, led to severe imbalances in sex ratios. Fortunately, it seems to have been seriously enforced only in metropolitan areas.

  11. January 24, 2008 1:39 pm

    @ Ruhi:

    “We keep talking and discussing in these blogs. That’s all.”

    Wrong again! 🙂

    The reason why I made that comment about many sectors participating to solve societal problems is because it is happening and it is working. Problems that the government would not touch with a barge pole such as AIDS awareness, prostitutes’ children’s welfare, reducing child labour, self sufficiency in women.

    Many of my friends and I are involved in providing financial, advisory and operational support to these organisations. Some of my IIMA friends have founded non-profit foundations right out of b-school and have made major changes at state and regional levels.

    You are young – you would be more hopeful about life, one may think! 🙂

    To paraphrase Kennedy and to edit him down – ask not what your government can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

  12. January 24, 2008 1:44 pm

    Good Write-up

    unless we control the population everything will be like this. govt. should put family control in place across all community. Even now i can see educated people having 3rd child that too with pride!!!!!!

  13. January 24, 2008 1:56 pm

    @ Dhans:

    “Even now i can see educated people having 3rd child that too with pride”

    If they can afford to bring up their children with dignity, without making them into ‘child labour’, without depriving them of education, and without relying on handouts for health/ food etc, what is the problem? Why should they not have them?

    It may surprise you but the most wealthy people I know – investment bankers and traders – have ‘portfolios’ of children, with anywhere between 3 and 6 children! One of the highest profile bankers in Britain has 5 children and she defies all the links between education and number of children.

    In ‘developed’ countries, whom India is so keen to emulate, it is rich people who are having more children. It signals they can afford to have children each of whom will cost them some £0.5M pounds over 18 years of life.

    The key flaw in your argument is that it starts with a macro perspective on population and uses a micro example to illustrate it.

  14. January 24, 2008 2:15 pm

    Ruhi, Raj, Ankur, Dinsan, Vivek, Dhans, Ulag, thanks for your views.
    The more I read everyone’s views the greater the problem seems to me!
    Ruhi, For me at least, reading, writing and discussing gives a better understanding of it all. I enjoy hearing what others think. And writing is what I consider a wonderful occupation. Everyone contributes in their own little way and I feel if my writing can go a little way in crystallizing someone’s thoughts (either way), or (do I dare hope?) motivate someone to do something, it’s thrilling.
    Shefaly, thanks for your very comprehensive comment! Talking of children, I wanted to have about 4 of them but it horrified my husband who wanted just 1 and finally we compromised at 2. 🙂

  15. krenim permalink
    January 24, 2008 2:26 pm

    It is unfair to compare India with tiny countries mentioned in your post,Palastein etc can be fed and kept above ruin with substantial aid not a 1 bill+country,

    Your only real comparison is china which on surface is streets ahead but had to undergo calamities like the great leap forward and the cultural revolution which India never had on balance the jury’s still out.

  16. January 24, 2008 2:33 pm

    Shefaly- At least most of us keep talking and do nothing, which is easy. I applaud the effort of your friends who have taken such a noble step. I’m not sure if I would be able to do it at this point of my life.

    Kennedy was one of the most influential political figures. Thanks for mentioning that quote. I love it, but I don’t know if I would think about India *that* way.

    Nita- Yes, writing definitely clears your thoughts. It makes one realize what’s really missing.

  17. January 24, 2008 3:26 pm

    @ Ruhi: “Be the change you want to see” is all I can say. 🙂

  18. ulag permalink
    January 24, 2008 3:41 pm

    I think 2 basic reforms will help India a lot. The first being universal literacy which seems to have kicked off in the right note with the “sarva shiksha abhiyan”, atleast for now. Good education will help people make better choices and reduce female foeticide and maintain smaller families. With education hopefully people will vote for candidates based on other factors than caste. This should prevent corrupt inefficient politicians being elected solely because of their caste. Itll help farmers move to more scientific methods of agriculture and with better knowledge of loans debts etc.

    The second reform badly needed is in our police-judiciary. Corruption is rampant because there is a lack of fear of being punished and even if the case goes to court it would take years for any charge to be proved.

    Even though the Lok Ayukta in Bangalore has caught various bureaucrats for corruption, no action has been taken against them so far. The cops hesitate to do anything because they dont want to earn the wrath of their political masters. This must stop. Politicians should not have any control over the police dept. Instead of the govt the police should come under the control of an independent body(on the lines of the election commission) so that it can work freely without fear of politicians. The judiciary too must clear up its huge back-log of cases and must provide speedy resolution of all pending trials. This will help in controlling corruption. With reduced corruption we’ll find that we have enough resources and time for rapid development of all our sectors.

  19. January 24, 2008 4:31 pm

    @Nita – I must say u are in good company of these 2 ladies @Shefaly and @Ruhi.

    @shefaly – u are right we should not be think of -ves we should be keep working for the towards the goal no matter what comes in. In India it can worthless they way things are done now as our values have eroded. Education and health are vital for us, are we doing anything seriously no at all…..
    Getting FDI is fine, democracy is fine, open markets, religion is fine, but few fundamentals of our nation are not right at all. Someone said we just chat or write in blogs, i have felt so many times like that, and i think we need to do something, only thing is we need to find right people to come together and DO IT rather than wait.

    Other thing, since we are on development. I live in australia which is a developed country and people enjoy far better facilities in health compared to rest of the world, but tax slabs are from 10% to 47.5% (for 150K+, even SCANDENAVIAN countries have high tax) do we have that high tax for rich people, probably not even though i don’t think high direct taxes are good but when u have a crisis where rich are getting richer and middle class is also because they are educated and have more exposure, its only people who are not educated who are suffering the most, unless u are a politician 🙂 People who are poor and not enjoying life some blame has to go to them as they have built their wealth from their fair share. I do believe we are also culprits and part of the problem.

  20. January 24, 2008 5:52 pm

    Krenim, seems like more than one person feels the comparison is not fair! I didn’t feel that frankly. True, smaller countries with smaller, homogeneous populations, are easier to handle, but not all such countries do well. The fact the fact that these countries are doing well is something to admire. The impact of war and large scale deaths is felt more strongly in smaller countries than larger ones. And not all countries with aid do well either.
    India with it’s huge unwieldy population has many complex problems but I think we should look at these smaller countries and learn a thing or two from them. There is no point comparing ourselves with countries which are worse than us is there! Like Pakistan.
    Where HDI is concerned, I would doubt any statistics coming out of China.
    Ulag, you have very good points. Thanks.
    Vishal, here even upper middle classes pay about 40% of their income as taxes. It’s very high I think! However, again it’s not the question of taxes, but collection. Only salaried people like us actually pay as the tax is cut at source. Many small businessmen, including doctors, lawyers and film stars cheat the govt. so by raising the taxes you are burdening the already burdened salary class. what requires to be done is proper collections and high fines for those who evade!
    And don’t I know how lucky I am to have the company of Ruhi and Shefaly! 🙂 Not to mention some others. 🙂

  21. Vipul permalink
    January 24, 2008 6:19 pm

    Hi Nita,
    I wanted to make a few quick points on this topic …
    1. It always surprises me that we Indians often act ‘surprised’ at the results of such studies. If I might, the very 2nd sentence of your blog starts with a ‘Yet’. We’ve taken the economic superpower / GDP growth / Indian NRI CEO / Sensex highs / Tata Corus etc. rhetoric to a level where the urban Indian themselves pretend / project that we are 1st world country. This is not true. We all know it. It will take a few decades of sustained above benchmark growth for us to even come close. We need to be present to this fact in order to start any sort of building process.
    2. Education and population are huge issues but I believe economic success is the only way out of these. Calls for ‘lets stand up and do something about it’ I feel are misplaced. Piecemeal solutions, NGO type activities, hand outs do not work at a structural level. They never have, anywhere in the world.
    3. Economic success and the trickling down of wealth takes time. It will produce big winners and big losers. It might increase disparities in the short term but the long term results will be positive. The answer is not to increase taxes or to ‘target’ the super rich. Rather we need a culture where when someone makes it big, people want to emulate the person (US) rather than diss them (UK). The trickle down effect is not about the rich subsidizing the poor, but rather the economic system becoming so robust that opportunities are created at every level.

  22. Raj permalink
    January 24, 2008 6:40 pm


    I agree with you that we have a lot to learn from smaller countries.

    Botswana,wikipedia tells us,has been hard hit by AIDS.One in three persons in that country are infected with AIDS which is sure to have a major effect on life expectancy.But still they have managed to surge ahead of us at a scorching pace!

    Kazakhstan used to be a part of the USSR which was a superpower till its unfortunate break-up.So I am sure that the infrastructure for health and education would be present in that country but would have decayed after the Soviet Union’s collapse.It is good to see that they have been able to get moving again!

    Let’s not forget Cuba,that tiny little Caribbean country that always exists with the potentially fatal threat of being gobbled up by Uncle Sam.Cuba’s achievements in the fields of health and education will put many “first world countries” to shame,especially considering the fact that they are able to manage their health and education with a meagre GDP.Cuba falls in the high HDI category.Hats off to the revolutionary old boy Fidel Castro!

    I may sound like a communist sympathiser,but I am only admiring the inescapable fact that the “second world” countries that were socialist in character have managed to outperform the “third world” countries that are usually “mixed economies”.

    And here is a corruption map,also from wikipedia.

    Does everyone see what I see?The similarities between the two maps are too obvious to be missed!

  23. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 24, 2008 7:01 pm


    Thanks for a very thought provoking response, though I am not entirely in agreement with the points you make. I am even more pessimistic than you.

    “Rhetoric” is too polite a word you’ve used. It’s sheer hype. It will take much more than the “few decades” you suggest for us to get even somewhere approaching sustained development. Of course what is meant by “sustainable development” is a whole different debate, and this blog is probably not the place for it.

    Education is certainly a huge issue, but its crux lies not in who gets to study how far, but what is the quality of the education they receive, up to whatever level. If we can recognise and act upon the ideal that education is about “learning to learn”, then even without a very high level of formal education we can still be a country with tremendous developmental potential at the grassroots. If we can somehow evolve such a system of education, then population size will cease to be a “problem”. It will become the greatest developmental resource we have.

    Economic success will certainly take time if you uncritically accept that wealth has to trickle down. It has to seep upwards hygroscopically. The real glory of a pyramid is not the height of its apex; it is the stability of its foundations and its base. If these are sound the apex and even the layers below it do not really matter.

    So true development can happen only if it is bottom-up. The potentiality for this was first repressed by the British and then choked by our own people who took over the reins from them. And after killing it off we are now embarked upon a path of top-down development based on policies and processes that have little real understanding of the base.

    The inevitable result is the growth without development that this blog is about.

  24. January 24, 2008 7:13 pm

    Raj, we too were a socialist country for a long time. In fact the tag ‘socialist’ is still there in our constitution even if we are moving away! Socialism did not help India. I think Socialism may work in some cases, but we had a go for almost 50 years and it did not help. I think Shefaly brought out an important point. I quote her here:

    Other countries’ experiments with Robin Hood socialism suggests that unless the value systems are robust, the system will only produce scroungers. Besides are people in India willing to pay over 50% of their income in tax, so such socialised medicine and education can be made available? These are the downsides of a free market but it is like a horse being out of the barn – you can hardly go back to being in the 1970s, unless of course you are an African nation, which, by recent experiences, can be dragged right back from the brink of prosperity to the stone ages. With some effort…

    And look at West Bengal today! I lived there for four years, not very long ago and the poverty there is shocking. I shifted to Mumbai immediately after Kolkata and the difference was palpable. West Bengal knows this and they are now trying to become more ‘capitalist.’
    Today we are seeing poverty levels go down, and the reasons is because our economy has opened up.
    Actually I wholeheartedly agree with Vipul, as I am a capitalist at heart. I too believe that it takes time for wealth to trickle down and let me add, we are not doing a good job of it at all, but the solution is not to go back to Socialism. The solution is to have the correct priorities – we cannot build a strong nation unless we develop our people and provide equal opportunity for all. To my mind the main problem is corruption, at all levels.

  25. wishtobeanon permalink
    January 24, 2008 10:17 pm

    Hi Nita, I don’t have an expert opinion. But like you said, the most important reason that India is in this state, is corruption. If all the money that were allocated for various projects throughout the years had been really used for what they were meant, I am sure that we wouldn’t be complaining so much.

  26. Raj permalink
    January 25, 2008 12:17 am


    I am not advocating that we become a socialist country.(Though we have had the word ‘socialist’ added later to the preamble of our constitution,we were never a truly socialist country at any point of time).Socialism as it existed in the former Eastern Bloc is bound to fail if applied in our country because of corruption and the mindset of Indians.

    I may sound like a dreamy-eyed socialist,but actually I am an egalitarian to the core.I just find that socialism is much more egalitarian than free-market capitalism,in which the capitalists are ‘free’ to exploit the rest of the society.I have gone through terrible times slogging away for greedy,inhuman capitalists for a pittance to have any nice feelings left for capitalism or for capitalists.

    I have only been to West Bengal once,and that too quite some time back,so I trust your observation on the state of West Bengal completely.

    But I have been to Kerala many times as it is one of my neighbouring states,and I frankly think that the alternating Left and Congress-led governments have done wonders for Kerala.Kerala is India’s most developed state in terms of HDI.Infact,with respect to certain indicators,Kerala is almost on par with the high HDI countries.Kerala also happens to be India’s least corrupt state by a wide margin.The literacy rate in God’s Own Country is well over 90% and is inching towards the 100% mark.Kerala is quite an egalitarian state when compared to Tamil Nadu.(I am comparing my own state to Kerala because the cultures and the languages of the two states are somewhat similar).

    Ofcourse,Kerala has its own problems like the lack of job opportunities and lack of investment as Kerala has managed to scare away investors till recently.Things are changing there now just like in West Bengal.I hope that Kerala becomes India’s first ‘developed’ state and shows the way to the rest of the country.I say this because the Kerala has got the fundamentals right and is in a position to achieve that status in a shorter span of time when compared to the other states.

    I am sorry if I have bored a capitalist like you with my socialist talk 🙂 but I am not advocating outdated Eastern Bloc socialism for our country as I know that it is bound to fail.But maybe something like Hugo Chavez’s “socialism of the 21st century” might achieve quick results for our country 🙂

  27. January 25, 2008 1:12 am

    Hi Nita, as an eternal optimist I do believe that India is on the right track. After receiving blow after blow (1998 malaise, tsunami etc) India is still standing.

    Little I know of NGO’s but I do know that there are people working real hard to make a difference. Being pessimistic would be, in my opinion, a dismissal of their efforts.

  28. January 25, 2008 1:26 am

    wow great post this time great analysis

    maybe its the way things work ie the system or maybe its the political setup or maybe its the bits and soundbytes like nregs and garibi hatao that the congress has used or maybe it is the corruption at the highest levels or maybe a mix of all the stuff

    the prob is the govt wants dependent people who are incapable of thinking beyond their next days meal /survival and that sort of things. they are easy vote banks

    and raj in indian communism the capitalist is substituted by the party bosses or polit bureau members
    kerala economy depends on Gulf revenues from expats
    plus most keralites are literate in malyalam
    how much use is it outside kerala ?

  29. January 25, 2008 1:33 am

    and i find the socialism as the biggest hindrance to growth as nita pointed out

    eg the bank strike of psu banks, which is supposed to benifit the customers –just how care to tell me ?
    what is wrong with bank mergers and why is it bad for a customer?
    they want benefits plain and simple
    these bankers are kings working on a 3.5 % spread
    compare the same situation to west which works on .5 to 1% spread

    the bank like hdfc which is run by half the staff works more efficiently than the local psu bank , the officer in our local psu bank is busy openly dabbling in the stock mkt during mkt hrs

  30. Raj permalink
    January 25, 2008 2:18 am


    I do not know if you are a Malayali but I do not think so (as you have got the spelling of Malayalam wrong-I am not blaming you as it could be a typo 🙂 ).But I am extremely delighted that they are literate in Malayalam and English to a certain extent.You do not expect them to be literate in Hindi,do you?I,for one,am happy that Malayalis do not lick the boots of the ‘nazi’onalists and that they are proud to be literate in their mother tongue and English.

    Contributions from Malayalis living in the Gulf plays its part,no doubt,but Kerala’s economy does not depend on those contributions,as many people believe.

    I do not bat for PSU banks but I would prefer to take a loan from them rather than from banks who would send criminal goons to thrash their customers and drive them to suicide if they delay the payment of a single EMI.

  31. January 25, 2008 2:32 am

    Wow. This has gotten crowded in a very short time.

    I think this post has been well discussed, and I find it hard to add anything extremely constructive.

    I would like to say something though. No matter where you find the problem to be, be it corruption, or lack of a good education system… you will find the ONLY place to tackle it systematically is to do it from within. It is like the mothership in Independence Day (pardon me for such a crude analogy). No matter how many dharnas , morchas, petitions are held, you are “asking” from a person who stands to lose it all if he/she does agree to your demands. No solution is going to be viable unless that is kept in mind.

    On a slightly unrelated note (following a chain of thought that would be too laborious to mention over here) I have a question. How many parent’s would a) take their kids seriously b)accept their kids decision to enter politics? I find that the answer to this question is probably the only key to the mess we find ourselves in.

  32. January 25, 2008 6:21 am

    @Nita – The reference to tax was not something i was proposing 🙂 i was curious to know how things are in India on that front and to compare.
    anyway your are right on the money when u ssy corruption has become the core issue and is increasing day by day.
    Now to me their is no solution to corruption as such, because looking at fundamentals, we as human being have degraded our values and ethics to such a level thet
    we all have become hungry animals. Before independence people were far more honest and ethical, they had a purpose.
    Look at Gandhi – was he corrupt ? no
    Indira – she was, infact she started all this, even though we will never know.
    Shastri – was he ? no
    VP singh – may be –
    Narshima Rao – yes
    Atal Bihari – no
    Manmohan singh – no
    Abdul kalam – no
    Mayawati Jaylalita and Laoo – big time.
    By giving these example what I’m saying is our social and ethical value have degraded in every sense in just 50 -60 years immensley. We need to tackle this and thats the root cause of all the things frankly. Otherwise no matter how much money comes, development happens we are not going anywhere.
    Example in terms of development we are building roads and bridges new brand, but i can assure, we will be repairing them in next 10 to 20 years or may be rebuilding it because the
    process in place is full of corruption. Think of what Britisher’s build and it still their for 100 years, because process was robust, sound and no corrupting was involved to compromise the quality. Do we practice those things in India, but back here in Australia, i see why things last, because things are done with great detail, making sure its done right in one go. We don’t do that which means more wastage of time, money, labor, cost of lost opportunity in enormous, but we don’t care do we. because if 1 die or 100 die doesn’t matter in India. The value of life is same as of animal, where as here in australia value of animal is same as human beings, what a starkling difference.
    Anyways, Having said that their are few wise men and women, but in next 10-20 years if we don’t tackle the social and ethical values issue we as a society will be in big trouble, in fact thats why we are are having these discussions.

    We as so called educated people need to do more, having discussion is not enough we need to start participating in some form of nation rebuilding, whether it is via an NGO (non corrupt hard to find) or coming together as a group. We should do something in concrete action. Nita you are doing a god job by writing because it is bringing people of some common thoughts here and it is helping them in understanding the problem and making an opinion. But we need more actions on the ground i think

  33. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 25, 2008 6:55 am


    //Contributions from Malayalis living in the Gulf plays its part,no doubt,but Kerala’s economy does not depend on those contributions//

    This has been my impression too, but I have been unable to find statistics to either support or refute this. My impression is based on several visits to Kerala over approximately 25 years (i.e virtually since the beginning of the trickle of Gulf earnings in to the state), and I find that the incremental cash flow thas largely been directed to obscenely conspicuous consumption by individuals and to the sacrifice of rich and varied environmental resources at the altar of ridiculously skewed and lopsided development supportive of such consumption. Very little seems to have been invested in economic development of the state as a whole for its people.

    “God’s own country” was an extremely well thought-out, seductive, and effective campaign, which helped create awareness around the world (and bloody noses among Delhi-based tourism babus too myopic to see beyond the Taj and Jaipur) about India’s tremendous diversity. Unfortunately the very assets of Kerala on which the “God’s own country” campaign was founded — lush tropical forests, breathtaking landscapes, perennial streams, rich mangroves — are now under threat, and what was originally of, for and by the people has been hived off for the benefit of tourists (white, dollar-paying) served by obsequious menials — “Massey Sahebs” among their own people. The campaign — its very title — now makes me want to puke.

    And while the footprint of the “God’s own Country” tourists affects a relatively small part of the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin domains, the rest of the state, all the way to the very threshold of Mangalore in neighbouring Karnataka, is being raped by the ugly monstrosities of would-be palaces that grow like fungus amid the humus of Gulf income.

    A classic picture of growth without development.

  34. January 25, 2008 9:46 am

    wishtobeanon, thanks.

    Raj, I do not have a very high opinion of Kerala’s economy. I see it high on HDI factors yes, but as you also mentioned, the overall economic development is not good. This still causes large scale migration out of Kerala. But I do hope that Kerala changes, and hopefully it will learn from the mistakes of W Bengal.

    Purnima, I too believe that India is on the right track. We have become conscious of what is wrong and trying to improve. We need more conscientious and honest politicians though.

    Prax, that’s what I think too! The politicians are quite happy with the illiteracy as it becomes easier to manipulate the electorate. In any case quite a few of our politicians are either uneducated or they are criminals.

    DD, Vishal,
    true, we need more right thinking people to join politics! But as you say, it isn’t really happening. Right thinking people don’t usually get elected even if they join politics. I remember reading about a party of ex-IITians, wonder where they are now. Haven’t read anything about them lately.
    Actually, voting in India at times happens by bribing and I have written about it on my blog here. Large scale bribing happens in slums and as people are desperately poor I don’t really blame them for taking money and voting. And guess who has the most money to bribe?? But no, I am not saying that the right people don’t get elected at all, I am just saying it’s very tough and it puts off genuine candidates. However I feel that every citizen, if he is honest in his own dealings helps the country, whether he/she is in politics or not. Everyone contributes in his own way. If we get education to the masses, things will automatically change. they will elect the right people.
    Vishal, there’s Vajpayee too! And as for getting a group together well, I think there are many people working to improve this country. There are a lot of positives even in terms of NGO’s. I don’t think the readers of this blog are the kind of people who would actually join politics. But frankly, I don’t think that is necessary. As I mentioned, as long as one is not corrupt oneself and is a productive member of Indian society, one is contributing. There is corruption everywhere today, in business, in schools, colleges…so let each one of us simply live an honest life. Our country will change.
    Vivek, you mentioned bottom up development. I am not sure what this means though.

  35. Raj permalink
    January 25, 2008 11:42 am


    My travels to Kerala have been mainly restricted to the somewhat central region of that state.But my friends from different regions of Kerala share your views about the effect of “income from the Gulf”.Some of them think that it has created a divide.Even among Gulf returnees,there are different categories.The better paid professional classes are those who indulge in ridiculously conspicuous consumption while their less fortunate brethren toil away in difficult conditions,send monthly contributions home to support their families,save some money and return to their home state to find that it is changing,but not always to their liking.And ordinary Malayalis seem to have a mild dislike for those Gulf returnees who indulge in conspicuous consumption.Atleast that is what I feel when I hear different Malayalis speak about their home state.

    I,too,share your contempt for the way in which the tourism thing has turned out in recent years.But I like to use the phrase “God’s Own Country” as I am simply in awe of Kerala’s natural beauty.

    I also find that there is a certain concept of ‘dignity of labour’ in Kerala that is lacking in other states,including my own.I may have noticed it because I keep an eye out for the kind of egalitarianism(or lack of it) in the places that I visit.

    I am worried that Kerala may lose all its positive things if it rushes into the kind of ‘trickle down development’ that all other states sadly seem to have adopted.This kind of ‘development’ may never trickle down to those who need it the most.


    Yes,I agree that lack of job opportunities in their own state has led to Malayalis leaving their beautiful state in search of greener pastures.But I also find that almost all Malayalis,wherever they live seem to have a kind of love for their home state and homecities/towns/villages that is simply lacking in those from other states.I am yet to hear a Malayali speak with the kind of contempt about their state that quite a few people from India as a whole have for their motherland and homecity/town/village when they have moved to greener pastures.This is yet another character that I admire in Malayalis.

  36. January 25, 2008 12:52 pm

    Raj, talking of pride in one’s home state, well one finds it in many communities, not just Malayalis. The Tamils and the Bengalis for instance have great pride in their regions. So do gujaratis I think. But finally it depends on the individual.
    Pride in one’s own region and state is fine, but it should not blind one to reality. And often a person may not speak freely with whom he does not trust (who are often whom he sees as outsiders) but will criticize his own home and state in front of his own people. It’s like you may talk against your mother to your father (just an example!) but not to anyone else!

  37. Raj permalink
    January 25, 2008 1:18 pm


    Thanks for the reply.Yes,I think I may have made a sweeping statement that is not applicable generally.I think I may have vented my frustration at SOME of those who return from abroad and start an obnoxious verbal assault on all things in their hometown.These people make me so sick that I try to avoid them if I can.Well intentioned criticism is fine and welcome but what moral right do these people have to speak with such contempt about their motherland,especially when they themselves have contributed almost nothing?

    And thanks for that example!There could not have been a better one to illustrate what you meant! 🙂

  38. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 25, 2008 1:40 pm


    A small but significant thing I have noticed: Most Indians working in India but away from home, when they are going home on leave, say “I am going to my home town (or home village)” and may name the town or village, but generally not the state. A Malayalee, however, will always say “I am going to Kerala”, and generally not name the actual city, town or village. This sense of overwhelming identity with the geocultural region is tremendous. It bespeaks a strong sense of not just “home” but of “homeland”, which I find wonderful.

    The first time i went to Kerala, it was from Kannyakumari to Thiruvananthapuram, via Padmanabhapuram (which, though an exclave in TN, marks for me the beginning Kerala). The transition, however, was not all that dramatic. Kannyakumari district was historically in Kerala, relatively recently transferred to Tamil Nadu.

    On my second visit I entered by train through Palakkad (Palghat). Early in the morning, around 4 o’clock, when the train left Coimbatore (the last major halt in TN) most of the passengers were awake, their faces glowing in anticipation. About an hour later, when we crossed the Palghat Gap, the expressions turned to sheer bliss. No exclamations of joy, no excited conversation, just the entranced happiness at having arrived. Many of them still had anything from two to eight hours before they actually reached their destinations. But in their minds and hearts they were already home.

    This was before “God’s Own Country”, and before the Konkan Railway. Since then I’ve entered Kerala by several other routes and modes of transport (air by all its three airports [except the new Kochi airport], train, bus, car; from Mangalore, Coorg and even, in an unplanned instance, from Colombo). But that entry by train through the Palghat Gap and the joy on those faces around me will remain permanently etched in my heart.

  39. January 25, 2008 2:00 pm

    Vivek, thanks for that aside!
    Raj, now you got me wondering whom you were referring to, because there is no one on this post who is like that. I think perhaps you are referring to some comments on the North South post, and frankly I feel it’s time to leave that post behind. there are some people there who are making repetitive comments and it’s irritating. Because the contempt and negativeness and bitterness and hatred is evident. Rest assured one day I am going to delete those repetitive comments. The same person saying the same thing.
    I don’t want the discussion on this post to deteriorate into a regional one, so let us think of India as whole. We all need to work together to improve our country. If someone criticized Kerala don’t take it personally. Kerala is our country. Not yours or mine. We all have a right to take pot shots at it!

  40. January 25, 2008 5:59 pm

    a great post…
    population is definitely a problem. And, an uneducated population even more so …. #
    But, the biggest factor as far as our developmental problem is corruption. It is estimated that less than 15% of the monies set aside for development reach the intended…. Maybe the solution is to treat corruption as treason or even high treason and deal with it accordingly….

  41. wishtobeanon permalink
    January 25, 2008 8:26 pm

    Hi, I saw this video through one of the links on your blog. It shows a documentary on Norway, one of the countries with the highest HDI.

  42. Raj permalink
    January 26, 2008 12:34 am


    Thanks for that explanation! That is exactly what I wanted to convey,i.e. the pride that Malayalis take in their homeland.But being a pessimist,I tried to explain it using double negatives and ended up getting entagled in my own words! I think you are an optimist 🙂 because you have succeeded in conveying the message using strong positives!


    Reading my own comments now,I know why I got you wondering! Apart from the fact that I messed up my comment the first time (thankfully Vivek has said what I meant to say),my second comment was somewhat irrelevant! I assure you that I was not referring to anyone in this post or indeed anyone on this blog! I was just contrasting the attitude of Malayalis with some people I met *in person* recently,who after returning from a long stint abroad,began to speak of our country with utter contempt.I hope I have cleared the confusion atleast now! 🙂

    And I won’t take things personally if those who live in India criticise our country(or any of its constituent states),if the criticism is well-intentioned help us improve ourselves.Well intentioned criticism from Indophile foreigners is also welcome!

    And yes,I think that I have posted enough comments about my neighbouring state(Kerala).So from now,I will try to post comments that concern our country as a whole! 🙂

  43. January 26, 2008 8:19 am

    Harini, thanks for that ballpark figure! I agree that corruption should be treated as high treason. It is high treason according to me!

    Wishtobeanon, thanks for the interesting link.

    Raj, as you said there is no harm in constructive criticism. People who have nothing but derision and contempt for India are not my favorite people either. Don’t worry about such people though. These people most of all have contempt for themselves!

  44. January 26, 2008 8:19 am

    @Raj: I don’t think you are wrong when you say people often speak of India with contempt. I do too, at times, I must admit. I don’t have any brilliant excuses, and I don’t apologise for those moments. I truly despise certain attitudes that WE indians have (I have that in caps because people keep reminding me I am part of that very India, even though I always make sure I stress on it) and when I am forced to tackle those attitudes, I am not just indifferent, but cold.

    I don’t know if there are other people like me, or if I am alone, feeling the way I do, but I ricochet between feelings of “uber-patriotism” and spitefulness (and I hope this is just a phase). I went through some of my blog posts and I realised the contrast in certain posts. As I have said, I can’t explain it.

    “I don’t think the readers of this blog are the kind of people who would actually join politics.”

    I would hope that is not the case. I am sure a more conscientious electorate can take a welcome step forward, but that will remain a baby step unless we stop frowning and demotivating our youth from venturing into the world of politics.

  45. January 26, 2008 8:25 am


    I wanted to clarify something that I think is too vague. When I said we should stop frowning and demotivating our youth, it wasn’t necessarily directed at your earlier comment but at the general outlook on politics we indians have, though I did find the comment to be somewhat pessimistic.

    I visited the North vs. South post. The comments are getting ridiculously stupid and spiteful. I am sure wordpress has a way to stop comments… though that has the danger of stopping well intentioned visitors as well. But I guess that is a choice you have to make based on whether things are getting out of hand.

    “These people most of all have contempt for themselves!”


  46. Raj permalink
    January 26, 2008 9:21 am

    The Depressed Doormat,

    Thanks for that comment.I must say that I always find your posts on this blog to be balanced even if they oscillate between the extremes at times.But I hope that the ‘uber-patriotism’ does not morph into its next phase i.e. ‘nazionalism’ 🙂 (Please note that this is somewhat different from the word ‘nazi’onalism that I am fond of using)

    Here is my personal observation (and I maybe incorrect) on why people like you oscillate between the extremes.Since I guess you live abroad,you must be tired of the ill-informed comments that SOME people make about our country (for instance,India is a land of snake-charmers and rope-trick magicians 🙂 ) But this is changing,and unfortunately SOME people are thinking of India in very different terms these days-you must have heard the term “Bangalored” (it should actually be called “Bengalurued”) often. (And I often wonder whether they have coined its equivalent term yet-something on the lines of “Guangzhoued” or more likely “Cantoned”).These comments may arouse feelings of uber-patriotism at times and spitefulness (both for India) at other times.

    Nita,Depressed Doormat,

    //…These people most of all have contempt for themselves!…//

    I wholeheartedly agree with the above statement! It may hurt at times,but it is 100% true! Outward superiority complex arises out of deep inner inferiority complex! A person who is a civilised human being does not have any complex (superiority or inferiority)!

  47. January 26, 2008 9:31 am

    Raj, what you said is right. I too think DD’s comments are balanced! In fact the very fact that he is acknowleding that he gets a little harsh on India at times is proof of that.

    DD, I think our comments crossed otherwise I might have been more diplomatic! But actually I wasn’t referring to you at all. And about more people being encouraged to join politics, yes as a a general statement I agree with you completely. However I also feel that those who are honest and productive do a great job of being nationalistic. There is a certain type of personality one needs to do well in politics and those who have that should certainly make an effort in that direction.
    About closing comments I want to close comments on the north south post but this theme (Digg) does not allow it. Not all wordpress themes allow it. I did try and all comments disappeared! Luckily the action was reversible. Then I went to wordpress forums and found out that not all themes allow the closure of comments. I have tried to tell people to stop commenting but they continue to do so. Today I spent half an hour editing a ‘gentleman’s’ comment on that post. It’s a total waste of my time.

  48. January 26, 2008 2:28 pm

    @Raj: Ironically, I despise uber-patriotism.

    I should, however, differentiate between my usages of uber-patriotism. When I said uber-patriotism, I meant the kind I had when I was a kid. To quote myself: “as a starry-eyed, quixotic, almost over-zealous patriot,”

    @Nita: Unfortunately, I hardly know anything about wordpress. I would recommend backing up all your files from the server (if you can) and then try to figure out a loophole to block comments.

    @Raj, Nita: I am glad my views don’t come across as too skewed. I often have the tendency to be bigoted and extreme, though it has been a conscious effort on my part to be more open-minded. Sometimes it works, sometimes not…

  49. Raj permalink
    January 26, 2008 7:23 pm

    The Depressed Doormat,

    Thanks for that link.I went through it (I’m sorry as I failed to leave a comment there as I’m very lazy at times and though I have a look at the blogs of many commentators who post comments here,I post comments only very rarely) and I share your feelings about uber-patriotism.And it is more than just a coincidence,but even I was almost ridiculously uber-patriotic when I was a child (I may still have some traces left in me,but I was never a ‘nazi’onalist or a ‘nazionalist’ at any point of time).As I grew up,however I realised that empty patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,especially when their actions are decidedly unpatriotic.So I have made a real effort to move away from uber-patriotism to the kind of patriotism that is backed by action.I hope I succeed 🙂

  50. January 28, 2008 12:26 am

    harini u raised an interesting point treat it as treason
    well someone had said something on these lines about the hoarders

    hang them by the nearest lamppost
    guess what happened and guess who said that

    …..u know what happened and how corrupt our society is
    this is easier said than done
    and the person who said it was
    none other than Pt Nehru our first prime ministers

    yes raj psu banks r better – they give loans if ur paperwork is perfect and/ or if u bribe officials or if there is a directive from the fm to dispurse loans to particular persons or to particular communities (at least 50% of which they expect to add to npa list )

  51. January 29, 2008 6:18 pm

    hey, late poster here 🙂

    There are two separate things here

    1. Growth vs. development
    2. HDI rankings of nations

    India’s growth IS leading to development. It’s HDI has been improving. This is a fact. So, I was very surprised with the title of the post!

    However, in relative rankings, it lags many nations for various reasons. And it’s relative ranking has slipped by a position. It does not mean our HDI has slipped.

  52. January 29, 2008 7:24 pm

    Anand, I agree that the HDI is improving but it’s improving very slowly and that is worrying. If one considers how fast we are developing economically and how much more money the government has in it’s coffers today, the HDI growth is very low indeed. I think the reason for this is corruption. We have the money but it’s not reaching the right people. If we don’t do something, our HDI will soon start dragging down our economic growth.

  53. vish permalink
    May 25, 2008 8:54 pm

    A nice article…

  54. December 20, 2009 4:48 pm

    I think that CORRUPTION is the worst problem for development of our country.Moreover we also can’t neglect high illiteracy rate…unemployment….ever growing population of INDIA!!!!!!!!

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