July 28, 2020
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Disquieting Duo

Essential reading for India-watchers

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Disquieting Duo
India: Economic Development And Social Opportunity
By Jean Dreze By Amartya Sen
Oxford University Press Rs. 395; Pages: 292
THEY make an odd couple: the Belgian who lives in Delhi, and the Bengali who teaches at Harvard. Or perhaps, the duality that they carry within themselves makes for the perfect combination to look at the contradictions inherent in the Indian economy. In India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity, Dreze, writing professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Sen, the first man since Adam Smith to hold full professorships in both economics and philosophy at Harvard, reject the conventional definition of economic development--growth in per capita income--in favour of a more meaningful interpretation: the expansion of the real freedoms that citizens enjoy to pursue objectives they have reason to value. And when some Indian numbers are run through this definition, the picture that Sen and Dreze come up with is disquieting.

For India remains a country where there are as many as 58 children for each teacher at the primary level, where the number of hospitals per million persons remains a pathetic 732. There is no country in the world where infant mortality rates are as high as in the Ganjam district of Orissa, or where levels of adult female literacy are as low as in the Barmer district of Rajasthan. While too much government interference in the industrial sector has held back the Indian economy, too little government activity in areas like basic healthcare and education, has kept vast sections of the population deprived of even the basic social opportunities. Policy debates in India, say the authors, have to veer away from the narrow concentration on issues of liberalisation; and creation and use of social opportunities for all require much more than freeing of markets.

Written in a tone that gracefully treads the tightrope between dispassionate analysis and empathy for the underprivileged, India... is food for thought and action for anyone interested in this country its people, or its economy.

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