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Tehelka Magazine,Vol 4, Issue 44, Issue Dated Nov 17, 2007
Dubious Claims

The Gujarat government is harping on the state’s development indices for the Assembly elections. But even its official figures tell a different story. SHIVAM VIJ reports

Photo: Janak Patel

Looking for farm house in the green fields? Or a bungalow with a garden? An evening with a play and [sic] dinner thereafter? An art class? A plunge in a cool pool? A sun-drenched afternoon watching cricket? We have a suggestion: Live in Gujarat.

- “Vibrant Gujarat” website

GUJARAT CHIEF minister Narendra Modi’s sustained campaign to project himself as an efficient administrator whose priorities lie in development rather than communal politics has garnered approval from the national media since 2002. That Gujarat‘s development indicators seem better than the “Bimaru” states helps. The December 2007 elections, then, could also be a referendum on these claims of development.

However, a lot of these claims are related to industry and private sector investments and even if they make a difference in people’s lives, they are often exaggerated in Modi’s speeches. The claims are often belied by the Gujarat government’s own admissions in the Assembly or in response to RTI applications.

An unpublished report by development worker Avinash Kumar, based until recently in Ahmedabad, pins these lies. For instance, the chief minister likes to say that the state’s growth rate is 12 percent, three percent higher than the national average of nine percent. But a report by the Gujarat government, Review of Socio-Economic Status in Gujarat: 2006-07, puts the growth rate at 8.11 percent. Besides, Gujarat is one of the highest indebted states of the country as its liability swelled from Rs 70,228 crore in 2005 to Rs 95,000 crore this year, an average of Rs 19,000 debt per citizen (Gujarat has a population of five crore).

“Gujarat has only regained a high growth rate in the last few years, just like the national growth rate,” says Prof Darshini Mahadevia, who teaches at CEPT Ahmedabad, “The Gujarati middle class is happy with the path Modi is taking Gujarat on,” she adds, “but the picture might be different for farmers and the poor.”

According to the third round of National Family Health Survey, anaemia and malnutrition in Gujarat have in fact increased from the second round by a sharp 60 percent. For instance, in the 6-35 month age group for children, the percentage of anaemia has gone up to 80.1 percent in 2005-06 from 74.5 percent in 1998-99. Incidentally, Gujarat is taking the lead in privatising public health infrastructure.

The state has found a simple way of showing a decline in poverty figures. It has redefined poverty lines for both rural and urban areas. So you would be counted as poor in a Gujarat town if you earn Rs 541.16 a month ($0.45 a day) or less. In a Gujarat village, the figure is even lower — Rs 353.93 a month or 30 cents a day. Most of the other states, including the poor ones like Jharkhand, keep the poverty net wider. The internationally accepted figure is a dollar a day. This removes large numbers from the BPL list and prevents them from receiving the benefits of poverty alleviation and development programmes.

Planning Commission figures show that the gulf between the rural and the urban population in Gujarat is only widening. The state has 63.49 lakh (19.1 percent of the rural population) BPL people in rural areas as compared to 27.19 lakh (13 percent of the urban population) in cities. Thus, despite the jugglery of BPL figures, Gujarat’s rural BPL population is greater than that of urban areas, both in percentage and absolute terms, just like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Jharkhand.

According to the census of 2001, roughly 46 percent population of the state is dependent upon agriculture (27.67 percent cultivators and 17.91 percent agricultural labourers). Together they contribute only 15 percent to the state’s GDP, while industry and services contributes 39 and 46 percent, respectively. Consequently, there has been a gradual decline in food grain production (from 65.71 lakh tonnes in 2003-04 to 51.53 lakh tonnes in 2004-05), raising doubts about the food security of small and marginal farmers. An NSSO survey in 2005 found 40 percent of the farmers saying that given an option, they would give up agriculture.

The NSSO 2005 figures say that Gujarat’s farmers are reeling under an average debt of Rs 15,526. The official government policy about the agrarian crisis has been of denial, but Modi finally admitted in the Assembly that between January 2006 and January 2007, 148 farmers had committed suicide. His reasons were, however, attributed to anything but agrarian debt. Last month, in response to an RTI application the government admitted to as many as 403 suicides in five years. The real numbers are much higher, as NGO surveys reveal.

A study by the Vadodara-based Centre for Culture and Development says that between 1997- 2004, two million people in Gujarat have been displaced in the name of developmental projects. Displacement from land for industries only intensified with Modi’s policy of wooing industries at any cost.

The Gujarat government repeatedly advertises that it is the country’s only electricity ‘surplus’ state, even selling power to neighbouring states. But the Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited said in April 2007 that the state was facing a shortfall of 900 mega - watts. While cities continue to get uninterrupted power, rural areas often face shortfalls. Many rural areas get only 4-5 hours of power supply a day, badly affecting irrigation during the sowing season.

Farmers also face irrigation problems as the canals of much-hyped Sardar Sarovar Pariyojana carrying the Narmada waters hasn’t reached them and is unlikely to be operational in the drought prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra, northern Gujarat and Panchmahal before 2021. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report has objected to an unauthorised sub-plan being added to the Sardar Sarovar dam scheme. Under this sub-plan, 255 MLD (million litres per day) water is to be diverted to Gandhinagar and to the water intensive industries of Kutch. While the need for Gandhinagar was estimated to be around 49 MLD, it was allocated 90 MLD water.

Although Gujarat has been marketed as an ‘already prosperous’ state that’s becoming even more prosperous with investment worth lakhs of crore, it has three of the 100 most backward districts of the country, as listed by the Planning Commission. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme allocated Rs 22 crore for Gujarat but the state government has barely used half of it, stating shortage of officials to implement the scheme. The chief minister did announce early this year a combined package of Rs 39,000 crore for the upliftment of specific segments of the poor. But no money was actually being allocated in this year’s budget of Rs 43,000 crore. The plans, nevertheless, look good in Vibrant Gujarat. “Vibrant Gujarat is nothing but event management,” says Ahmedabad- based activist Gagan Sethi.

THE JUGGLERY of figures extends even to the most hyped aspect of “Vibrant Gujarat” — investment from corporates. Modi claims that MoUs worth Rs 4,60,000 crore have been signed with private industry and investment worth two lakh crore has been received. But these declarations take a long time to materialise. For instance, in a written reply to the consultative committee of the General Administration Department, the chief minister admitted that out of a total of Rs 66,068 crore worth of MoUs signed during 2003 and Rs 1,06,16 crore during 2005, only Rs 25,450 crore worth of investments till January 2007 and only Rs 13,170 crore, respectively, have fructified so far.

Despite these investments, employment has remained stagnant. That is because Gujarat has as many as three lakh small-scale industry units. Many of them are languishing as only a paltry Rs 115.20 crore has been invested in them in the past five years.

The figures about Gujarat prove how it is just another socio-economically vulnerable state. In that sense the “Vibrant Gujarat” campaign is reminiscent of the NDA government’s “India Shining” campaign of 2004, which the Congress countered with the “aam aadmi” rhetoric. This is why the Congress in Gujarat wants ‘development’ to be the key issue in the elections. Modi is likely to use the Ram Setu issue. Even after TEHELKA’s exposé, the VHP is once again distributing communal CDs to foment polarisation in the state and use it as its trump card. Gujarat’s voters have time till December 9 to decide.


Tehelka Magazine,Vol 4, Issue 44, Issue Dated Nov 17, 2007

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