I am not anti-growth, nor am I against FDI, or globalisation…” Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is no stranger to controversy but as the debate over differences in policy priorities between him and his equally renowned peer Jagdish Bhagwati get projected as the age-old growth versus development debate, Sen clarified his position.
Sen prefaced his discussion by clarifying that his call for a greater focus and spending by the government on social services like health and education is not anti-growth. “To say that this is an anti-growth story would be a huge mistake because may be a higher growth rate would have made us do even better, we have to think about it,” said Sen while comparing India's relatively poor track record in social development indicators in comparison to countries like China.
“Growth is really vitally important and I've never wavered from that.. I have been a great believer in economic growth but not as an end in itself, but as a means to enhancing human lives,” he said. India spends 1.2% of GDP on governmental healthcare while China spends more than 2.7%, he added.
While reiterating his argument that pro-rich subsidies like those on electricity and diesel needed to be cut before cutting the pro-poor ones, Sen contextualised his support for the Food Security Bill which has been criticised for not just its costs, but for the flaws – 50-60% leakages in delivery.
“If the Food Subsidy Bill as it is conceived is full of mistakes, then it is full of mistakes. It's not a bill I devised. It’s bad enough that I had to defend it but I defended it mainly by saying that we have to do something about nutrition,” explained Sen, adding that it was important to devise ways to tackle under-nourishment which, to him, is not just about calories but requires much greater attention on the nutritional balance.
On MGNREGA, he agreed other options like giving industry more flexibility to create jobs — the textiles industry designed a MGNREGA-type scheme the government is considering — was a good idea. While he said its impact on raising rural wages was good, he added that the impact of such schemes on the ground must be studied carefully.
On FDI, Sen said FDI could do a lot of good. “Global trade is one of the best things that has happened in the world. It is absolutely natural to think that investment