Column Misplaced identities

Written by Bibek Debroy | Updated: Aug 21 2008, 06:21am hrs
In 2004-05, using the uniform recall period, poverty ratio in Jammu & Kashmir was 5.4%, lowest in the country. The all-India figure was 27.5%, and Chandigarh at 7.1% was the next-best performer. In many ways, Orissa (no longer Bihar) is an image for worst forms of human deprivation. In 2001, J&Ks literacy rate of 55.52% was lower than Orissas 63.08%. In 2006, J&Ks infant mortality rate of 52 was significantly lower than Orissas 73. On poverty and health indicators, J&K performs better than the worst states, though one cannot extend the argument to education. In considering J&Ks economic performance, it is remarkable how little data is available, except at an aggregate level. For instance, Madhya Pradesh was the first Indian state to produce a human development report (HDR) in 1995 and since then, seventeen states have produced HDRs.

Apparently, J&K has now produced a HDR. But it is in draft form and still not publicly available. Inequality isnt always inter-state. It is intra-state too and state HDRs bring this out. Visit some J&K government websites and you will still find data from 1981 Census being reported. Together with annual budgets, several states now publish economic surveys, though this isnt mandatory.

The first time J&K did this was in 2006-07 and that also seems to have been the last time. That survey showed an unemployment rate of 4.21%, with an urban rate of 7.33%. Second, state domestic product (SDP) growth has chugged along in the 5.5-6% range, a little below all-India averages, with per capita income considerably lower than all-India averages. There is an immediate conundrum of matching low poverty ratios with relatively low per capita incomes. However, the answer depends on distributions of income (expenditure) and there is also a difference between per capita income and per capita state domestic product. Third, there are low levels of physical and social infrastructure. Better physical and social infrastructure can be public goods, though not necessarily so. They can also be merit goods, warranting subsidies. But in either event, given scarce public resources, there is a question of prioritising expenditure and that requires targeting, individually or geographically. For instance, in what districts will Central (or other) funds be spent Where are J&Ks 160,000 unemployed located If 50% of labour force is estimated to be under-employed, can the answer be in government employment or in creating a facilitating environment for private employment generation

Figures float around, suggesting that 69% of J&Ks unemployment backlog is in Jammu. That seems like an implausible figure. However, had one possessed the requisite disaggregated data, it would have been easier to counter this number. What one does know is that Jammu district has a very high literacy rate of 77.02%, though this is not invariably the case throughout the Jammu region. This compares with 59.75% in Srinagar. At 60.85% in Kargil and 65.34% in Leh, the Ladakh region also has high levels of literacy. But the Jammu work participation rate of 33.25% is only marginally higher than the Srinagar one of 31.99%, though Ladakh figures are higher. There is an unemployment problem, not just in Kashmir, but in Jammu too. Indeed, in Jammu it gets compounded by higher levels of educational attainments and consequently, higher expectations, combined with higher levels of urbanisation63% of J&Ks urban population is in Jammu and Srinagar. If there is a perception that public resources are being spent in some parts of the state rather than others, individual resentment becomes collective. And such perceptions become worse if 67% of Jammus population happens to be Hindu and 51% of Ladakhs population happens to be Buddhist, compared to a 95% Muslim population in Kashmir.

Should one deduce there is an unemployment problem in Jammu or should one deduce there is a Hindu unemployment problem in Jammu Are Hindus and Buddhists discriminated against in J&K That is an important distinction. There is no respectable cross-country empirical literature anywhere in the world demonstrating development to be a function of religious background, unlike other determinants of development. But the highlighting of religion as identification can be ascribed to the present government, the Sachar Committee being a case in point. Take the statement that Muslims have a lower-than-average literacy level. Thats a factual statement and need not be disputed. However, is this because of being a Muslim or because of income and educational attainments of parents (especially mothers, for girl children) Without controlling for other variables, such generalisations are no different from assertions that Muslims have higher birth rates and are dangerous, not only because they lead to wrong policy solutions, but also because they focus on religion as an identity. The issue is no different for SC/ST/OBC status. Having sown the wind, one reaps the whirlwind, because Hindus in Jammu can now legitimately demand reservations in cabinet, legislative assemblies and centrally sponsored schemes.

The author is a noted economist