OPINION | Need to revisit ‘Karnataka development model’

OPINION | Need to revisit ‘Karnataka development model’

Vidhana Soudha

The ‘Incredible India’ statement that Karnataka represents ‘one state and many worlds’ and is representative of the very diversity of India is no euphemism. The quintessential diversity of India is amply reflected in the many regions, dialects, culture and the people of Karnataka.

What is more important, however, is that the same is also reflected in the development model adopted by the state. The ‘Karnataka development model’ has diversities as well as imbalances, and the latter needs to be addressed.

The model is supposed to stand on two pillars: ‘technology-led growth, and local government reform’ (Kadekodi, Kanbur and Rao, 2007). In this, ‘technology-led growth’ has become synonymous with ‘Bengaluru-led growth’, that is why the emergence of Bengaluru as a ‘primate city’ for the entire state.

Secondly, the local government reform has come to mean only rural local-government reform, with little urban component. Development in Karnataka is characterised by high ‘urban primacy’ wherein the size of the first city is several times larger than the second city leading to the emergence and dominant feature of ‘primate city’ of Bengaluru.

According to the 2011 census, Bengaluru with 8.42 million population is bigger by 9.49 times than Mysuru, with a population of 8,87,446, and bigger by 8.9 times than the second biggest city, Hubballi, with a population of 9,43,857.

This pattern of development connotes not only a concentration of population but also concentration of capital in urban areas. This is reflected in the growth of industry, service sector, migration to the city and informal sector, all in the primate city.

While Bengaluru is also a matter of pride for Karnataka, this pattern  development takes place largely at the cost of development of districts and lower rungs of cities and of course, agriculture as a sector, in the process accentuating the imbalances in development process.

In this connection, we studied two district-level cities and their governance - Udupi in South Karnataka and Dharwad in North Karnataka. We found that the governance and planning in these cities is poor. Relatively, Udupi is better governed than Dharwad.

While reasons for the poor governance of the district and lower rung cities are to some extent internal to the cities, it is also caused by larger policy inattention towards them. This is true of all the districts and lower rung cities in general and of our sample cities in particular.

Given the above reality, there is a necessity to reconsider the earlier Karnataka model of development - both the technology-led development and, reform in local-government.

Technology-led development or Bengaluru-led development should be more spatially broad-based and the prevailing concentration of capital and labour in one city should be reconsidered. Secondly, it is high time that local government reform is extended to cities as well. The latter requires more serious and sincere implementation of the 74th Amendment to the constitution, leave alone the other projects and schemes.

Finally, the Karnataka model of development needs to meet the criteria of spatial justice and needs to be socially and economically equitable. While Bengaluru remains the crown jewel of development, the regions of Hyderabad-Karnataka and Bombay-Karnataka remain backward in several aspects.

Cities in these regions are underdeveloped and agriculture remains backward and drought-prone. We are here arguing that these imbalances are writ into the very model of Karnataka development.

It is interesting to note that some economists have called the Karnataka development model an ‘elitist development model’. Is this true? It is time a stock of this model and ‘course correction’, if necessary, is carried out.

Secondly, it is also important in this regard to consider the software industry itself. Overall, Karnataka is the largest exporter of software in the country, of about 43% of the total.

While we all must be proud regarding this, we must also note that the internal manpower and labour practices of this industry remain largely neo-liberal. The industry is often given a go by from the labour laws and software-labour works without being organised and be able to question policies of ‘silicon-capitalism’.

Thus, we must note that the strongest pillars of the Karntaka model of development has built into it highly neo-liberal model of capital-labour relations. And given the hegemony of this silicon corporate sector on the industry, the same capital-labour relations are sought to be replicated across the state economy. This is certainly a cause for concern.

In these two aspects, the ‘Karnataka model of development’ has indeed accentuated urban-rural, sectoral, intra-city and inter-city inequalities. Therefore, it is time we wake up to the consequences of this model.

Equitable, justifiable

Considering all the aspects mentioned above, we need to rethink the model. It is imperative that we now search for a more socially and economically equitable and spatially justifiable model of development for the state in particular and nation in general.

Who will take the lead for the new model? Firstly, the Karnataka model is a making of the policies of the successive governments. Therefore, the ‘course correction’ for the model, if it is to be carried out, must be done by the state government.

This should begin by creating infrastructure and other facilities for the industry in backward regions and districts for silicon capital to decentralise its base and spread the development it carries out to the backward districts.

Secondly, within the silicon-capitalism itself, the capital-labour relations must be more labour-oriented. Finally, the second pillar of the Karnataka model, the reform in local-governance, must focus on giving real powers to urban local-self governments  at the district and lower levels.

Karnataka, since the time of late chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde, has played pioneering role in Panchayat Raj reforms. Why cannot the same type of leading reforms be carried out in the urban governance focusing on district and lower tiers of the cities? It is high time these concerns are put high on the agenda now.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)