Skewed progress

The house listing and housing data prepared on the basis of the 2011 census, released by the Registrar General of India on Tuesday, is a mixed bag, showing accomplishments in some areas but pointing to severe deficiencies in  many others.

While there is greater access for people to electricity and gadgets like television and mobile phones, basic facilities of life like sanitation and  availability of clean drinking water are still denied to large numbers of people. The communication revolution which has taken place in the country has ensured that almost half the rural households  and more than 75 per cent of the urban households use telephones. Televisions and computers have penetrated even into rural areas. Communication infrastructure is an important requirement for growth and therefore the growth in this area is a positive sign.

But the failure to make substantial progress in ensuring basic amenities, especially in rural areas, would take the shine away from the achievements in areas like communication. More than 50 per cent of the households go without elementary toilet facilities. Most kitchens are still primitive and use firewood or dung cakes. The non-optimum use of energy and the risks it poses to women’s health are considerable. Safe drinking water is not available to most households. The most basic ingredients of development and  people’s welfare are health and education. The poor record in sanitation is not only a matter of lack of creating awareness but of  making adequate public investment also. Improved access to electricity and banking services does not show that the living conditions of ordinary people have improved substantially.

What the data underlines is that development is still lopsided in spite of the claims of making it broad-based and inclusive. Priorities remain largely on paper and  are not reflected in the implementation of policies and the level of investment in basic facilities. The data shows that people are ready to help themselves, as for example by making use of increased communication facilities. But the government lags in providing facilities like safe drinking water, for which public investment is needed.

The figures show that the bicycle is the primary mode of transport for most people. In the fifties of the last century Jawaharlal Nehru had, with some pride, said that India had entered the bicycle age. In some ways we are still there.

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