HAVING done economic modelling all my life, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, which boasted of the Wharton model and Lawrence Klein, and later, in the days when planning still mattered, while heading the modelling division of the Planning Commission, I find it bewildering that Gujarat’s substantial real achievements and equally real problems are being thrown about casually by people who know better. It has struck me that this has little to do with reality and a lot to do with positions people want to take in the uncertain period before the election results.
Arvind Panagariya and Surjit S. Bhalla have both descended on Dalit and Adivasi Gujarat. We are told that poverty levels in the state, and among Dalits and Adivasis, in particular, are lower than in the rest of India. But given that Gujarat is a richer state, this is a no-brainer. After analysing data trends, they conclude that poverty has fallen faster in Gujarat. One would be surprised if this were not so. The richer a state is, the lower its poverty levels. Gujarat has grown at a fast pace for many decades. But now, other states are doing equally well, if not better, though Gujarat is still at the top end of the rankings. Given his global experience, Panagariya is ideally placed to tell Gujarat what to do when its growth rate falls, as it did in 2012-13, because of the slow down. But his interests seem to lie elsewhere.
Gujarat’s agriculture was growing at around 6 per cent annually, benefiting from the Sardar Sarovar project, which became operational around the beginning of the last decade. But unless we build lower-level distributaries, this source of growth cannot be sustained. I have been saying this for a while now, and in 2012-13, the state’s agriculture sector actually only grew 4 per cent. As a noted agricultural economist, Ashok Gulati could have given us some much-needed advice but he preferred to posture instead, saying agriculture was growing at 10 per cent.
At any rate, these areas are not where Gujarat’s problems lie. That the corridor between Palanpur and Vapi is progressing and poverty levels there are lower doesn’t address the key issue. Gujarat’s problem area is its poorvi patti (eastern belt) — districts where large numbers of Adivasis live. This is a highly scrutinised area, as shown by the various research studies on the territory, including the excellent NSS