A state of disparity

Print edition : June 22, 2002

MAHARASHTRA has a reputation for progress and development in economic terms. However, in the matter of human development the State has performed miserably, according to the recently released Human Development Report (HDR) for the State. Essentially, the high per capita incomes that Maharashtra is known for has not resulted in corresponding levels of human development. The report concludes that widespread inequalities in the distribution of resources have led to glaring regional disparities, acute poverty and a high level of unemployment.

Maharashtra's HDR, its first ever, is the product of a collaborative effort by the State government, the State Planning Board and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Maharashtra is the fifth State in the country to come out with a report based on the United Nations' HDR pioneered by Mahbub-ul-Haq and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

The Human Development Index (HDI) methodology employed in the report takes into account population, education, gender, health and nutrition as the more accurate indicators of the quality of life in and the progress made by the State. According to the report, Maharashtra's average HDI stands at 0.58. (The value of HDI ranges between 0 and 1.) It ranks fourth in terms of HDI after Kerala, Punjab and Haryana.

The HDR team, headed by Ratnakar Mahajan, Executive Chairman of the State Planning Board, published the report after a study that lasted one and a half years. The report comprehensively and, in some ways candidly, captures the state of socio-economic development in Maharashtra. Severe disparities exist among the districts and the regions of the State in the areas of health, education, population and economic development. Policy-makers, in fact, say they have been aware that the northern regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha lag behind in development. The study, which was conducted for each district, showed that Gadchiroli (Vidarbha) and Nandurbar (North Maharashtra) have the lowest HDI and Mumbai has the highest.

The most disturbing finding in the HDR is reflected in the statistics on gender categories. For instance, the sex ratio in the State has fallen sharply from 934 in 1991 to 922 in 2001. "In the absence of gender discrimination, a population should contain as a norm at least 1,050 women for every 1,000 men, because of the inherent biological superiority of women," says the report. The declining sex ratio is a consequence of the migration of men to the State for employment, and a high mortality rate for girls and young women. The State's child sex ratio for the 0-6 age group in 2001 was 917 and this reflects the situation with regard to female foeticide and the neglect of the girl child. The increased gender discrimination and oppression in the State had every speaker at the report's release ceremony questioning the government's policies on women's issues.

Maharashtra holds the dubious distinction of the state recording the fourth largest number of crimes committed against women in the country. The police registered 10,875 such cases in 2001; of the crimes, torture was the most prevalent. The increasing number of child marriages has resulted in a high total fertility rate (TFR). Nearly half the girls in the State are married by the age of 16. In Kerala, the median age at marriage is 20 years. In fact, in Maharashtra women in the 15-19 age group account for 25 per cent of the TFR whereas the corresponding figure for Kerala is 10 per cent. Inter-district disparities in female literacy, lower wages for women for most forms of work and fewer women in elected positions are some other issues. Health is also a critical issue. Fortynine per cent of the women in the State are anaemic.

"These horrific numbers on gender issues have really shaken us. Gender imbalance to this extent was not expected," Ratnakar Mahajan told Frontline. He believes that the affluent are primarily responsible for the discrimination. "They are the ones who have access to facilities like amniocentesis tests." Furthermore, Mahajan says the fact that Maharashtra has this record is particularly shameful given that it has historically had a strong women's movement. The report, however, points out that it is this very movement that has been inadvertently responsible for the problems. "Multiplicity of (women's) schemes has led to resources being spread thin and is perhaps a deterrent in making a real dent on women's economic and other positions," it says.

Population, another factor that determines HDI, also appears to be an area of concern. With a population of approximately 97 million, Maharashtra is the second most populous state in the country after Uttar Pradesh and accounts for 9.4 per cent of India's population. It is also the second most urbanised State in the country; it accounts for 14 per cent of India's urban population. The report says that the 2001 Census revealed several troubling demographic trends in the State. For instance, by 2021 the population of Maharashtra may go up from today's figure by 30 million. Life expectancy at birth and the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the State are better than its TFR, but not low. Its IMR is 48 per 1,000 live births - a far cry from Kerala's 14.

The growth in urbanisation has led to migration, which, the report says, has had an impact on the State's population. Migration is a fallout of development with the focus on non-agricultural sectors. And a fallout of urbanisation is the proliferation of slums, it points out. Almost 49 per cent of Mumbai's population lives in slums. The report says: "Growth has been urban-centric, creating pockets of affluence in the midst of acute poverty." The uneven contribution to the State Domestic Product (SDP) from the districts is further indicative of the role that unequal resource distribution plays. Parts of the State other than Mumbai and the western districts do not have a reliable infrastructure. Mumbai, with a population share of 12 per cent, accounts for 25 per cent of the State's income. Nashik, Kolhapur, Pune, Nagpur, Raigad and Thane, which together account for 23 per cent of the population, contribute about 35 per cent of the SDP. The remaining districts make up 65 per cent of the population but contribute only 40 per cent of the SDP. Dhule is the poorest district and Greater Mumbai the richest.

"In Maharashtra, the stark differences among districts is staggering," says Seetha Prabhu, area head of the UNDP's Human Development Resource Centre. Although the situation is not peculiar to Maharashtra, the presence of Mumbai, the financial capital and the economic hub of the country, makes the difference, she says. Hardly 30 kilometres from Mumbai, one can find an extremely poor tribal belt which has little access to resources that must have once belonged to tribal people, Seetha Prabhu told Frontline. "The western belt of the State is so rich because of sugarcane. One-third of the sugar produced in India comes from western Maharashtra. About 60 per cent of the irrigated water is given to this region when the total area under sugarcane cultivation is a mere 4 per cent. In a state which is drought-prone, is it wise to grow a crop like sugarcane which is so water-intensive? And is it fair to the rest of the State?" asks Seetha Prabhu.

According to the HDR, "...a true reflection of an individual or a society is to be found in the nutritional and health status attained." Unfortunately, Maharashtra's health facilities and medical infrastructure are completely skewed. More than 80 per cent of the beds in the public and private hospitals are in urban areas while the rest of the State has just 24 doctors per 1,00,000 people. Mumbai has some of the best medical facilities in India and they cater not only to the State's needs but to those of the entire country. At the other extreme are Vidarbha, Marathwada and northern Maharashtra, a clear indication of the rural-urban divide. The report says that the deceleration in the State's public health expenditure has obviously had an adverse impact on long-term growth and may lead to further human deprivation. The nutritional status is also not encouraging, in both rural and urban areas, says the report. About 57.4 per cent of the rural and 54.8 per cent of the urban households consume less than the standard 2,700 calories a day. Except in the case of leprosy, disease control has been minimal. Maharashtra accounts for over 50 per cent of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases in the country.

If there is a silver lining, it is in the area of education. In this Maharashtra has been something of a success story, the reports says, but warns that there are indications of some adverse trends. Since 1960, there has been not only a two-fold rise in the number of primary institutions of education but a three-fold rise in enrollment in primary schools. The number of centres of higher learning has increased by an order of 10 times and enrollment in them by eight times. However, government expenditure on primary schools is much less compared to that on higher and technical education. More emphasis on primary education is extremely essential for a higher growth of literacy, says the report. The literacy rate in the State is 77.27 per cent. While Vidarbha lags behind western Maharashtra and Mumbai, some districts here have an almost 80 per cent literacy rate. In northern Maharashtra and Marathwada, the literacy levels remain low.

A crucial area that has been left out in this context constitutes the State's tribal belts. Seetha Prabhu and other experts on the panel agree on this but say that there are several categories that have been unintentionally left out - including environment and energy concerns.

Apart from identifying the State's shortcomings, the HDR suggests policy changes. It does not give specific answers, nevertheless it identifies areas that need to be strengthened. Seetha Prabhu says that an important need is the dissemination of information. "Either you follow up immediately and keep the momentum going, or it goes into cold storage," she says.

The State government has committed itself to presenting the report in a popular format. Pamphlets will be distributed to the zilla parishads shortly. "We have to sensitise people in the rural areas as well. They need to know why they are lagging behind, and should be empowered to demand their rights," Seetha Prabhu says.

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