Gujarat was always a prosperous state fired by its enterprising and innovative businessmen. Gujaratis are rightfully proud of being among the best business minds in the world. They did well wherever they went.
Motels in the United States are jocularly referred to by the Americans as Potels, as the Patels with their roots in Gujarat ran them successfully even as local Americans floundered, unable to creatively cut corners. The Gujaratis are now all over Africa, harvesting the new surge of economic growth. Gujarat has done well because of the Gujaratis.
It is a different matter, of course, that Modi projected himself as a powerful development messiah, citing this prosperity.
Other states also have their own development models. Decades ago, Kerala developed one that is now widely admired for its remarkable development indices in literacy, longevity, maternal mortality, infant mortality, high wages for labour and health. Gujarat will take years to reach there.
Other states like Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu in recent years have also consciously worked on different models to push up inclusive growth and improve development indicators. All the models are different as each state requires a different slant and even method to ensure that it is implemented.
Each state in India is like a different country. It has various edges and nuances in terms of attitude, tolerance, political beliefs, culture and philosophy. That is the magic of India; every state is so different, presenting the diversity that few countries in the world can match up to. You cannot have one magic potion for India. Acquiring even ten acres of farmland in Kerala for diversion to industry will be tough. The political culture of the state is different. So are its people.
It is easy to push literacy in Kerala as it is seen as something vital. But Gujaratis do not really accord the same kind of importance to education, as they would rather see their businesses thrive than study. Money is more valued than educational degrees. Till 2012-13, Gujarat just spent 21.1 per cent of its budget on education.
Can the Gujarat model be replicated elsewhere in India? Unlikely. But the more pertinent question, perhaps, is whether this model is something that should be aspired for. To answer that objectively, one needs to acquaint oneself with some facts about Gujarat.
Development in Gujarat
India’s Human Development Report 2011 showed high rates of child malnutrition in Gujarat with 69.7 percent kids of the age of five being anaemic and 44.6 percent suffering from malnutrition. Gujarat had set Rs. 16.70 a day as the upper income limit for people living in urban areas to seek benefits under the BPL category.
BPL lists have not been updated since 1998 and there is fear that many of the names in the list are fake, excluding the genuinely poor. In 2012, official records showed that there was not a single family in Ahmedabad who had been given a BPL card since 2009. Thirty had applied, but were rejected for being late.
In April 2010, Modi had launched the Rs. 200 crore Swarnim Gujarat scheme where 34 lakh BPL families would get soya bean-fortified wheat flour to overcome protein deficiency rampant in the state. Two years later, in May 2012, it withdrew it saying that the flour was not reaching ration shops in time and BPL families were not getting quality flour!
Based on analysis of data of the NSSO, Reetika Khera of IIT Delhi found that Gujarat has a low and falling per capita PDS consumption and one of the highest rates of food grain diversion. Tamil Nadu fared better on the PDS front reporting less leakages.
Gujarat government data provided to the Supreme Court in June 2013 on the Right to Food showed that the state provided subsidised grain to 7.35 lakh families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana and 24.35 lakh to the BPL families.
But the National Food Security Bill would have provided roughly 77.24 lakh families in the state with five kg of rice or wheat per person every month, or 25 kg per household every month on an average, according to calculations made by the Right to Food Campaign, a network of activists demanding food security.
While Modi has often been vocal in the past about how BJP-ruled states were being discriminated against by the Centre, a CAG report says that 67 percent of central grants in 2010-11, allocated for Kanya Kelavni, the prestigious annual campaign by the state government for education of the girl child, were unused and returned.
Most of the cases where grants were not utilised pertained to education projects like Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikshan Abhiyan scheme, computer literacy in schools, Gujarat Teachers Education University, Gujarat Technology University and development of engineering colleges. The CAG report pointed out that 22 grants of Rs. 138 crore were surrendered as they were not used.
Out of the allocation of Rs. 111.55 crore for implementation of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikshan Abhiyan, 99.2 percent was returned. Of the total provision amounting to Rs 1,543 crore, almost Rs 1,168 crore was surrendered. Out of the Rs 97 crore allocated for computer literacy and studies in schools, 67 percent was returned, according to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Local Bodies published by the government of Gujarat in 2013.
Another sum of Rs. 40 crore for creating a long term flood mitigation project was also returned as it did not have administrative approval. “Gujarat needs to do much more to improve its social indicators and be on par with states like Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra,” says Planning Commission member Sayeeda Hameed.
Gujarat also has a long way to go if it is to improve its indices in health. According to the latest census, Gujarat has an infant mortality rate of 38 per 1000 births while in Kerala it is only 12. The maternal mortality rate in Gujarat is also one of the worst among mainline states.
According to the Economic Survey, states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have more houses than Gujarat with access to safe drinking water.
Anandiben Patel, the new Gujarat chief minister, a protégé of Modi, would do well now to focus on improving development indicators, if Gujarat truly has to become a shining example for other states to follow. Mere high economic indices or growth rates cannot guarantee a better quality of life for the poor.
In the last two years, in response to the flak drawn over poor health, high infant mortality, malnutrition and a dwindling sex ratio in the state, Modi had started work to address these issues, increasing allocations to health and education in his last budget. Some of Gujarat’s new health schemes can be replicated nationally, says Gurgaon-based health activist Heer Choksi.
One of these is the Mother and Child Tracking System to track pregnant women and children under five to ensure they get health care. Gujarat is now setting up electronic web-based health information and monitoring systems right from the block level to ensure better delivery. These have been hailed as good practices.
In the last decade, the Modi government forcibly acquired the farmland of thousands of acres to be converted into industrial zones. Former BJP MLA Dr Kanu Kalsaria got farmers to oppose a government move to allot 700 acres of land in Mahuva to Nirma for a cement plant. But, officials made it appear as if it was just wasteland. In reality, the 300 acres included wastelands plus reservoirs that 50,000 farmers benefitted from. Acting on a complaint from farmers, the Ministry of Environment and Forests cancelled the plant’s environment clearance.
In the late nineties, farmers willingly gave up fertile land to the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, hoping that a network of irrigation channels would carry water from the Narmada Dam to their fields. After a decade of Modi’s rule, they realized that 80,000 hectares of the 1.84 million hectares earmarked to be irrigated had been denotified to divert it for industry.
More land is being identified for denotification under various proposed Special Economic Zones, Special Investment Regions, industrial parks and estates of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation. Farmers are angry and worried.
A study by ten independent researchers, ‘Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat’, suggests that numerous development indicators like employment, social equality, sustainable livelihoods, apart from access to education, health and justice, have been abandoned in the race for economic and industrial growth.
Data from the NSSO also shows that employment growth in the state was 2.69 percent per year between 1993 and 2005. From 2004 to 2010, it came down to almost zero percent. Rural employment suffered as farmers now have less land for cultivation. Land owning patterns have also changed with the growth of industry.
Modi supporters hail him for having brought in economic growth and development in Gujarat, making it the cynosure of all eyes. But the fact is that Bihar under Nitish Kumar emerged as the fastest growing state with a figure of 10.9 percent, overtaking Gujarat which was already developed.
What is more noteworthy is that between 2006 and 2010, Bihar shed its BIMARU status (an acronym for sick states), whereas Gujarat, which had been the fastest growing state between 2001 and 2005 with 11 percent growth, saw growth dipping to 9.3 percent between 2006 and 2010.
This allowed Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Maharashtra and even Odisha to overtake it - a fact not highlighted as these states do not employ expensive PR machinery.
However, it is not as if Gujarat has had nothing to emulate. While the rest of India struggled to satiate growing power needs, Gujarat will soon have surplus power and sell it too. Gujarat’s Jyotigram Yojana has substantially helped improve the power situation, energising rural lives, businesses and industry.
The scheme separates agricultural feeders from domestic feeders so that irrigation pump sets get around eight hours of electricity supply while other consumers enjoy round the clock electricity with fairly good voltage. This has had a positive impact on small-scale industries in rural areas. Strict implementation has brought down transmission and distribution losses.
In an imaginative project, mooted by Modi himself, Gujarat placed solar panels on a 0.75 km stretch of a canal of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam near Ahmedabad. Plans are on to cover more areas of the canal. It not only saves the cost of land on which the panels would otherwise have to be spread out, but also arrests water evaporation. Power from the 3,616 solar panels installed will be fed into the local grid for use by surrounding towns and villages.
The project implemented in collaboration with the US firm SunEdison cost the government Rs 17 crore. However, a normal solar project would have cost only Rs 10 crore. Officials say that the initial cost overruns were high but it would gradually come down as they get a handle on the project.
Modi wanted to make Gujarat the numero uno solar producer of India. By 2022, the state plans to produce 10,000 MW of solar energy. However, other states like Madhya Pradesh are catching up fast, selling solar power cheaper than Gujarat today.
Our Prime Minister’s thrust should, therefore, not merely be to replicate Gujarat in other parts of the country. While some aspects of its growth remain impressive, a lot more needs to be done, and at a higher scale, if he is to become a national icon.