Indian states: social parameters

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Karnataka, like Gujarat, lags in social parameters

Sujit John, TNN | Aug 17, 2013

The Times of India

BANGALORE: Karnataka has had a lost decade, says Prof Narendar Pani of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. This may sound bizarre to Bangaloreans who have lived through a period that has seen the most rapid rise in prosperity in the city's history. But, in many ways, Pani cannot be more correct.


Karnataka is a bit like Gujarat. Its social development has painfully lagged behind economic growth. And even the somewhat reasonable economic growth numbers are largely because of the growth in and around one location: Bangalore.

Social parameters

The number of people below the poverty line in Karnataka stands at 23.6%. This places the state at the 20th spot among 32 states and Union territories ranked in order of increasing poverty ratios. For comparison, among major states, Kerala's poverty ratio is 12 and Punjab's 15.9. The monthly per capita expenditure in rural areas, another measure of poverty, is lower in Karnataka than the all-India average.

The infant mortality rate - the number of deaths of children less than one year of age per 1,000 live births - stood at 35 in 2011, placing the state 19th among 35 states and Union territories ranked in order of increasing rates. In comparison, Kerala had an infant mortality rate of 12 and Tamil Nadu 22.

Nutrition deficiency among children in Karnataka is acute. A few years ago, about 40% of children up to age 3 in the state were underweight or stunted (too short for their age). In different measures of nutrition deficiency, Karnataka was placed 18th to 21st among 29 states and Union territories ranked in order of increasing deficiency percentages. Kerala and Tamil Nadu fared much better than Karnataka, and even Andhra Pradesh had a better record. In late 2011, the woman and child welfare department said that in Raichur district alone, 2,689 children died due to malnutrition in the previous two years.

D Muralidhar, former president of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FKCCI), attributes the problem to the highly skewed development in Karnataka. "Bangalore accounts for over 56% of the state GDP. In Andhra Pradesh, the Hyderabad region accounts for a much lower 45%. Tamil Nadu, too, has a far better distribution of industry by region," he says.

Karnataka has failed singularly in spreading the fruits of Bangalore's development to the rest of the state. It remains one of the few states to have just one city, Bangalore, with more than 1 million people. Kerala has seven, Tamil Nadu has four, Andhra three and Maharashtra six.

" North Karnataka has been untouched by development. Even in a place like Shimoga (in central Karnataka), the facilities are so poor that no industry wants to go there," says Muralidhar.

Economic indices

Pani notes that manufacturing in Karnataka has collapsed. He attributes this to the government's failure to create opportunities for local capital, especially wealthy agriculturists, to move into industry. "Look at the Nadars (a landed entrepreneurial caste) in Tamil Nadu who are consistently generating capital for industry, or similar other new groups that are emerging in the state. In Karnataka, I can't remember the last group that made such investments. The government here is busy wooing industrialists from outside the state. But why would someone outside want to invest when locals themselves are not investing?" Pani says.

The state has a strong sericulture sector, but it's weakening. Pani says the state has done little to increase the quality of sericulture or to ensure investments in forward linkages so that the silk is used within the state for the manufacture of silk fabric.

Prof K Gayithri of the Institute for Social & Economic Change notes that Karnataka's per capita public investments in human and capital infrastructure have actually been high, almost on par with that of Tamil Nadu. "But our social indicators have in some cases worsened, even as those in Tamil Nadu have improved. Is it a problem of planning? Is it one of implementation? We really need to do a detailed study to understand where we are going wrong," she says.

Pani calls it an intellectual crisis. "The intelligentsia has failed Karnataka. The need, for instance, to transform rural capital into urban capital is not even part of our discussions," he says.

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