India has a large economy with a huge consumer base generating growth mainly through domestic demand. It has over 1.3 billion people, declining population growth and increasing life expectancy yet has a large young and motivated labour force. India is characteristics of high economic and social diversity; as well as differentiated poverty and deprivation such as amongst the SCs/STs and Muslim community (socio-religious communities, SRCs). Recent empirical evidence suggests high disparities in outcome measures and widening growth differentials.
This presentation will argue as to how and why Indian’s opportunity and capacity to reap the demographic dividends are constrained; emanating from concentration of deprivation amongst clearly identified economic and social groups. Recent data on economic, social and educational dimensions is analysed to argue that inclusive development polices of the national, state and local level governments must be reviewed and reconsidered. The systemic bias, exclusionary practices and unconventional interpretation of constitutional and legal provisions are dominant constraints to removal of extreme levels of deprivation in India.
Institutional approaches are best suited to address the issue of inequity and disparity. Higher political representation of the excluded communities at the third-tier of governance structures such as the panchayats and nagar-palikas is a prerequisite to equity. Strategic engagement of the civil society and community organisations with the local bureaucracy is essential. There is an immediate need to establish ‘equal opportunity commissions’ at the national and state level to address the issue of systemic bias and group inequity prevalent across India.
Dr Abusaleh Shariff is Executive Director and Chief Scholar at the US-India Policy Institute, Washington DC and President, Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi.