Bengal's economy struggles to regain its past glory
Dr Ashwani Mahajan
The Government of West Bengal will have to see that various parameters of Sustainable Development Goals are seriously considered. Special efforts will be needed now to revive its industrial sector which has been falling behind for the last two decades
Some of the most backward states of India (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh) are traditionally called 'Bimaru' states by generally adding the first alphabet of their names. The important thing is that not only was the per capita income of these states low, in terms of indicators of human development, they were counted among the most backward states. Time changed, efforts were made for economic development in these states and their growth rate as well as their human development indicators started improving. Despite these efforts, these states are still far behind in comparison to the developed states.
Kerala In Forefront
For the last two years NITI Aayog has been publishing the report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for various states and union territories of the country. According to the NITI Aayog’s report 2020-21, on SDGs, Kerala continues to be on the top among states, with 75 points and Bihar is at the bottom with 52 points. Although many states have moved from aspirant (that is, those with less than 50 points) to performer category, yet seven states are still below 60 marks, though, no state is less than 50 points today. That is, all states have reached the category of either performer (with 50 or more, but less than 65 points) or 'front runners' (those with a score greater than 65).
UP Can Overtake Bengal
The situation of every state is different, thus we need to analyse the performance of the states individually. However, if the performance of two states Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal is analysed then very interesting facts emerge. In 2019-20, the per capita income of West Bengal was 115748 annually, whereas the annual per capita income of Uttar Pradesh was only Rs 65,704. If we look at the Sustainable Development Goals data, Uttar Pradesh was only slightly behind West Bengal's 62 with 60 points and it seems that if Uttar Pradesh continues to improve its performance in the same way, it may soon overtake West Bengal.
In 2018, West Bengal was ranked 17th in the country with 56 points in the Sustainable Development Goals, while Uttar Pradesh was at the bottom with 42 points. By 2020, West Bengal rose only 6 points to 62, while Uttar Pradesh jumped 18 points to 22nd. That is, while West Bengal has increased by only 6 points in two years, Uttar Pradesh's jump of 18 points has pushed it ahead of many other states.
As per the report of NITI Aayog, West Bengal's performance in poverty alleviation was unfavourable last year, because the workers under MGNREGA got less employment than demanded. From the point of view of the health indicators, though the mortality rate of children under five years of age has decreased, maternal mortality at the time of delivery, increased
West Bengal Trails
The issue here is not just for the last two years. West Bengal has been lagging behind in terms of development in the last almost 20-30 years. If the journey from the 8th to the 11th Five-Year Plan is seen, then it is found that the rate of GDP growth of West Bengal was lower than the national average, except in the 9th Five-Year Plan. The main reason for the low rate of GDP growth of West Bengal is that in the first 12 years of the last two decades, while the rate of industrial growth of the country was very high, the rate of industrial growth in West Bengal remained low or even negative. So much so that the contribution of industrial sector in the GDP continued to decline. The contribution of West Bengal, which was an industrialised state, in manufacturing, in terms of GDP, declined from 11.1 percent in 2004-05 to 9.21 percent in 2011-12 as per the Central Statistical Organisation's 2004-05 series of estimates.
Due to some conceptual changes in the 2011-12 series, this share was reported to be 13.4 per cent in the new series, but that too declined to 10.6 per cent by 2019-20. That is, there has been continuous erosion of the industrial sector, especially manufacturing in West Bengal.
Casualisation of Labour
It is well known that more employment opportunities are there in the manufacturing sector, as compared to other sectors, namely agriculture and services. With the decrease in manufacturing, employment opportunities also come down. In order to survive, people who engage in petty occupations become casual workers. Its effect was that whereas 24.1 percent of the workers in the country were in casual employment, in West Bengal 29.8 percent of the workers were in casual employment. It can be said that there has been casualisation of labour in West Bengal. On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh, which was a very backward state in the past, has improved its position and the percentage of casual laborers in the workforce in 2019-20 was only 19.6 percent, less than even the national average.
Bengal's jute industry is hanging by a thread
It is generally believed that if there is development in the manufacturing sector, with improvement in employment opportunities, well-being of the people also improves. The economy of West Bengal shows no signs of improvement in the last almost 20 years. This is the reason that while other states have improved significantly on the Sustainable Development Goals, West Bengal's performance has been utterly unsatisfactory.
Widening of Wages
As per the report of NITI Aayog, West Bengal's performance in poverty alleviation was unfavourable last year, because the workers under MGNREGA got less employment than demanded. From the point of view of the health indicators, though the mortality rate of children under five years of age has decreased, maternal mortality at the time of delivery, increased; though the percentage of institutional deliveries increased. There is a slight improvement in the field of education, but there is no significant improvement in the situation in gender equality, rather the difference in wages between women and men widened. There is very little improvement in terms of level of work and economic development. From the point of view of environment, on one hand the use of chemical fertilizers has decreased, the menace of hazardous waste has increased on the other, and on other parameters also, the environment has not improved.
With Uttar Pradesh faring better than West Bengal, it appears that per capita income alone cannot be the only criterion for sustainable development. The Government of West Bengal will have to see that the various parameters of sustainable development are seriously considered. Special efforts will be needed to revive the industrial sector which has been falling behind for the last two decades, by making possible better investment opportunities to make possible better and more employment, with the ultimate aim to make lives better.
(The writer is Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)