Economic growth represents opportunity. India’s per capita GDP growth was 1.5 per cent during the notorious Licence Permit Quota (LPQ) Raj from 1950 to 1980 (Nehru, Indira Gandhi 1). The reversal of these failed policies in the 1980s (IG2, Rajiv Gandhi) almost doubled the per capita growth rate to 3 per cent. This was further raised to about 5 per cent (1992 to 2012) by the reforms of the 1990s (Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee). The decline of per capita growth to
2 per cent in 2012-13 has come as a shock to the youth who have grown up in the decade of 6 per cent average growth.
The media exposure of high-level corruption at the Centre and pervasive governance failure across the country has heightened the outrage against the government for depriving them of this new hope of a bright future. There is also a perception that the decline in growth is due partly to the indifference of the ruling party and its ministers to the role of economic growth in creating opportunities for all, including the generation of revenues so essential for enhancing opportunities for the poor through the supply of public goods (public health, basic education and employable skills). For instance, despite decades of talk about supply bottlenecks in infrastructure, lack of productivity in agriculture, leakages in PDS-FCI and abysmal sewage systems, there is little public evidence that state and Central ministers responsible for the areas critical to growth and opportunity are applying their minds and efforts to solving them. Don’t people in a democracy have a right to good governance?
Perhaps we need a “Right to Growth and Good Governance Act” to ensure that government at every level — from the ASHA worker or primary worker in the village to the humblest babu in the Block office, to the collector or magistrate at the district level, to the chief secretary of the state and all politicians holding office in state governments or autonomous bodies — can be held accountable for economic growth.
The Chinese experience suggests that this could be an effective way of achieving sustained development and faster poverty reductions. Since 1980, when the Communist Party of China (CPC) instituted market reforms, China has had an average per capita growth of 8.8 per cent, double the 4.3 per cent average achieved by India. One of the major factors has been its primary focus on economic growth