Perils of ignoring social infrastructure

‘Abhivruddhi’ in Kannada language is progress or development in English. In today’s world progress and development are no more defined in terms of per capita income and economic growth. Rather it is characterised by the Human Development Index (HDI) which combines per capita income with literacy rate and longevity of life of citizens.

If budgetary allocations of the state government and Bruhut Bengalaru Mahanagare Palike (BBMP) are any indication, the BJP which came to power on the ‘Abhivruddhi’ platform has transformed it into a scheme for self-aggrandisement. The three state budgets presented by the BJP government have allocated four times more money to physical infrastructure than to social infrastructure. The recently unveiled BBMP budget, first ever by a BJP majority city council, allocates eight times more to capital projects than to social development.

By overly focusing on capital projects and ignoring social infrastructure, progress under the BJP government can have adverse consequences for the state. It is a travesty and does not bode well for the welfare of citizens — especially the poor who live on the margins of society.

Drop out problem

The state’s social infrastructure is appalling. While there are 58,000 primary schools, there are only 12,000 secondary schools leading to a significant drop in enrollment. Less than 10 per cent of the primary schools are equipped with all eight basic infrastructure facilities.

A major reason for girl student dropout is the non-availability of girl toilets in 60 per cent of the primary schools. The state has around 50 hospitals and a little more than 2,000 primary clinics with a bed to population ratio of 1:1120 — hardly sufficient for providing health care to a population of six crore.

Hospitals that cater to the poor are ill-equipped and do not stock adequate supplies to treat patients. Many of the poor lack access to basic services like drinking water, toilets, sanitation and housing needed for a decent standard of living.

The state social statistics bears testimony to the lack of social infrastructure. According to the State Planning Commission, Karnataka has a HDI of 0.65 and ranks seventh in the country. The overall literacy rate is 66 per cent with female literacy rate at a dismal 56 per cent.

The literacy rates for scheduled castes and tribes are even lower at around 55 per cent. Infant mortality rate is 45 for every 1000 births and under five year mortality rate at 71 is a lot worse. The state hunger index as computed by International Food Policy Institute stands at 23.7 indicating high levels of child under nutrition and calorie insufficiency. In a recent Union urban development ministry report, Karnataka was singled out amongst southern states for the largest increase in slum population.

To change course, the state government and BBMP should follow the true tenets of development and adopt a balanced growth model that focuses on building both physical and social infrastructure. Financing human development must be as much a priority as financing physical infrastructure.

Along with pronouncements to build highways, parking lots and flyovers, there should be a commitment from government to build schools, hospitals and improve access to basic amenities for the poor.

Apart from developing the required facilities in all primary schools, government must build more secondary schools that will provide an opportunity for the young to complete grade schooling. It should also build more primary health centres to make health care affordable to all.

The state needs to reduce infant mortality and ensure proper nutrition to children in the first three years of life. To enhance the standard of living especially of urban poor, access to basic amenities and housing needs to be addressed.

Higher public investment is required to meet the basic human development needs of the most vulnerable sections of society. Both the state government and BBMP must provide for higher budgetary allocation in order to improve state’s social infrastructure.

Progress of a society is first and foremost judged by social welfare of its citizens. Introduced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990, HDI is a much better indicator to judge progress and development than per capita income and economic growth.

Building physical infrastructure with no strategy to develop social infrastructure will lead to skewed development and an increase in income inequality in society. The state government as well as the BBMP must abandon their overly focus on physical infrastructure and need to take a holistic approach towards development that will benefit all citizens.

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