By now most readers should have seen the news that much-maligned Bihar recorded a growth rate of 11.03 per cent. This is well ahead of the all-India average of 8.49 per cent and within a nose of Gujarat's 11.05 per cent.
Let me state without reservation that this is good news. That said, let us not go overboard. Gujarat is far more prosperous than Bihar. When you start from a larger base even a relatively small increase is larger when calculated in actual rupees.
Second, talking about an increase in GDP says little about how it affects the common citizen. Are the benefits being spread around or is this fiscal jugglery that concerns only the few?
That figure of 11.03 per cent was calculated by the Central Statistical Organisation, which operates under the wing of the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation. While digging around its wretchedly designed web site I came across something called the 'Twenty Point Programme'.
The twenty points are Garibi Hatao (Poverty Eradication), Jan Shakti (Power to People), Kisan Mitra (Support to Farmers), Shramik Kalyan (Labour Welfare), Khadya Suraksha (Food Security ), Subke Liye Aawas (Housing for All), Shudh Peya Jal (Clean Drinking Water), Jan Jan Ka Swasthya (Health for All), Sabke Liye Shiksha (Education for All), Anusuchit Jaati, Jan Jaati, Alp-sankhyak evam Anya Pichhra Varg Kalyan (Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Minorities and OBCs), Mahila Kalyan (Women Welfare), Bal Kalyan (Child Welfare), Yuva Vikas (Youth Development), Basti Sudhar (Improvement of Slums), Paryavaran Sanrakshan evam Van Vridhi (Environment Protection and Afforestation), Samajik Suraksha (Social Security), Grameen Sadak (Rural Roads), Grameen Oorja (Energisation of Rural Area), Pichhara Kshetra Vikas (Development of Backward Areas), and E- Shasan (IT enabled e-Governance).
Some of the items on that mouthful of a list are almost designed to fail. ('Garibi Hatao'? Seriously?) Others seem impossible to measure. (How does one state something like 'Jan Shakti' in numbers?) The actual criteria used, however, turn out to be things that can be quantified, including the construction of roads, the number of pumps provided with electricity, seedlings that have been planted, houses constructed under various schemes, and so forth.
I am dismayed to note that, across all criteria, my native Kerala is placed a dismal joint 16th on a list of thirty (all the states, some Union Territories, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi) in the period April-September 2009. (Sharing sixteenth spot, by the way, is that other Left Front bastion -- West Bengal.)
This places Kerala well below its southern sisters, Karnataka (third), Tamil Nadu (joint 4th), and Andhra Pradesh (sixth). I can accept that Gujarat and the other three are placed above Kerala, but it is humiliating to hear that even Jharkhand outpaced Kerala in providing services to its citizens.
Let us take, for instance, roads. The laggard's pace with which they are constructed is the subject of bitter jokes in Kerala; now the Central Statistical Organisation provides actual numbers.
According to Table 17 of the report Kerala was set a target of constructing 71 km of roads in rural areas in the six-month period of April-September 2009. It turns out that only 44 km were actually built, a strike rate of 62 per cent.
How does this compare to the other major southern states? Andhra Pradesh was set a target of building 705 km of rural roads; it built 961 km! (No, that is not a mistake, the state achieved 136 per cent of the set target.) Karnataka was set to build 614 km of rural roads; it built 992 km (162 per cent of the target). Tamil Nadu was asked to build 276 km; it built 736 km (a staggering 267 per cent of the set target.)
Why is Kerala lagging so far behind its over-achieving neighbours? The Central Statistical Organisation dismisses Kerala's performance in road building with a single word, 'poor'. (Anything below 80 per cent is unacceptable according to these statisticians.)
Table 19 of the Central Statistical Organisation report talks about 'Energising Pump Sets', not, perhaps, a headline-grabbing activity but essential for increasing agricultural productivity. How did Kerala fare in the first half of this fiscal year?
Kerala was set a target of providing power to 6,000 pumps; it managed to power up only 3,761. That is a success rate of 63 per cent.
For the record, Karnataka achieved 162 per cent of the target that it was set and Tamil Nadu reached 140 per cent of its own target. Andhra Pradesh could manage to get 'only' 92 per cent of its target, a relative failure. (Keralites can only dream of such failures!)
I suppose it is possible that the Government of Kerala thought it made no difference if pumps were powered up or not since there might not have been any decent water anyhow. According to Table 9 (B), 'Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme', the state was supposed to tackle 118 water quality projects in this six month period.
According to the report, it managed to handle precisely none. No, that is not a mistake, the number against Kerala's name reads 'zero'. (West Bengal was better off; its Left Front government finished off 10 per cent of its projects.)
Housing is supposed to have a multiplier effect on the economy. So how did Kerala perform? It achieved only 68 per cent of the targets it was set under the Indira Awaas Yojana, the rural housing programme. (Andhra Pradesh achieved 165 per cent, Karnataka got 108 per cent, and Tamil Nadu managed 115 per cent.)
When it came to building houses for lower income groups in urban areas, even that fainthearted 68 per cent proved too much for the authorities in Kerala. They could achieve only 40 per cent of the target set. (Gujarat, believe it or not, managed a whopping 565 per cent of its target.)
Yes, Kerala is still better off on many parameters than, say, Bihar. But, first, that state seems to be pulling ahead ever since the Nitish Kumar ministry assumed office while Kerala's performance is mediocre across several criteria. And, second, we should be comparing Kerala against Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu rather than
In case anyone missed the connection, this period, April-September 2009, also covered the general election. And the Central Statistical Organisation tables seem to demonstrate a direct relationship between developmental activity and poll results.
The ministries in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu did a good job in things like building roads and houses in rural areas. The ministry in Kerala put up performances bluntly described by the Central Statistical Organisation as 'poor'. No prizes for guessing which states gratefully voted their ruling parties' nominees to the Lok Sabha -- and which one did not!