Inequality: Observations From Rural India

In the sixth lecture in the series, ‘Inequality Conversations’, hosted by the Centre for Public Policy, Prof. Gopal Naik lists experiments done in the last few years in the agriculture and education sectors in rural areas and examines barriers in the development process

18 MAY, 2022: The recently published World Inequality Report has raised serious concerns about growing inequality within and between countries. In a bid to draw attention to the many facets of inequality and stimulate discussions around them, the Centre for Public Policy (CPP), at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), launched a webinar series, called ‘Inequality Conversations’. In the sixth lecture in the series, delivered this evening, Prof. Gopal Naik, from the Economics and Social Sciences area at IIMB, listed the experiments done in the last few years in the agriculture and education sectors in rural India, examined barriers in the development process and suggested solutions.

Prof. Naik observed that growing inequality within the country is alarming in India and needed immediate steps to be taken to address it. “Considerable neglect of rural India, over time, seems to a major factor contributing to this growing inequality. There is an extensive rural-urban disparity in development, especially in eastern India.  Several key indicators show that the rural areas are considerably behind the urban areas in development,” he said.

Need for collective action 

Prof. Naik, who has done considerable work, over the years, with agriculture produce cooperatives and farmer groups, pointed out that agriculture, the main occupation in rural areas, engages nearly half of the population but contributes less than 20 per cent to the GDP and is growing at a much slower pace than the other sectors like industry and services. “The agriculture sector is beset by several intricate problems such as lack of land records, poor resource (water, land, labour) use, lack of quality supply chain, cereal centricity, weak awareness about best practices, input and output market inefficiencies, yield gaps, lack of collective action, etc. This affects the productiveness of Indian agriculture. Collective efforts, especially in information sharing and technology adoption, are required to manage these challenges,” he said, calling for a focus on developing human and social capital in rural India. “Education and healthcare must be our priorities,” he said, pointing out that women and children continue to suffer from severe anaemia in rural India. 

Need for creative interventions

Primary and secondary education, especially government schools, another of Prof. Naik’s research interest areas, was also touched upon in the talk. “Schools, having a predominant role in building human and social capital, are yet to play their role effectively. Many indicators show student learning performance in rural areas is poor and not improving. There is very little effort in achieving overall development of children and creating multidimensional learning opportunities for students, especially in government schools,” he said, adding that government departments, being the major provider of services in key development sectors such as education, agriculture, and health in rural areas, have not delivered. 

As part of the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA), he said, IIM Bangalore has adopted 5 gram panchayats in Tumkur district in Karnataka and is working on employment, drinking water, health and nutrition, education and agriculture in these panchayats. 

“There is a government school in Nonavinakere in Tiptur where we are working on three interventions – providing smart classroom with projectors and computers with internet connectivity and ensuring some topics/ lessons to be delivered by experts from a studio, offering computer training by setting up a computer lab with the help of private firms, and raising a nutrition garden, with help from the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research (IIHR), so that their mid-day meal has fresh vegetables and enhances their daily nutrition, and,” he said, adding that it was striking to discover that there was no attention to PM Poshan guidelines and what ingredients are used in the mid-day meals.

Need for community participation

“Field experiments indicate that human capital and social capital developments are key to enhance the development process. However, achieving this needs a massive collective effort by government departments and communities. They need to be catalyzed to bring awareness, build knowledge and prepare appropriate action plans. Several current government systems are functioning poorly and need to be fixed, urgently. Benchmarks should be established to assess the performance of government departments. Currently, streamlining any one sector takes a huge effort and needs collective efforts of both communities and government departments. The sooner we start, the better it is for the country,” he said.

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