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Vol. XXVII No. 16, December 1-15, 2017

Social progress in TN needs speed-up

by A Special Correspondent

The Institute for Social Competitiveness, India, has published a Social Progress Index for individual States and for the country. Tamil Nadu, with an overall score of 65.34 for Social Progress has done much better than the country score of 54.90. India itself ranks 98 out of 133 listed countries, which is not something to crow about.
Social Progress is divided in the Study into three dimensions. The first dimension is Basic Human Needs comprising nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter and personal safety. The second is Well Being Needs under which are included basic education, access to information and communication, health and pollution-free environment. The third dimension is Opportunity comprising personal rights, freedom of choice and inclusiveness.

From the scores for 2016, it is seen that, generally, smaller States have done well, recording good scores although their GDP size is smaller. Their scores are as follows – Goa 63.39, Himachal 65.39, Kerala 68.09, Mizoram 62.89 and Uttarakhand 64.23. Contrast these with traditionally well administered bigger States like Maharashtra at 57.88, Karnataka at 59.72 and Tamil Nadu at 65.34.

Within the country, Tamil Nadu tops the list, not taking smaller States into reckoning. Ranking is misleading in some ways. You could be a very good performer but low in rank because the class is made up of excellent performers. One being only just above average could shine in a class of mediocrity. Looking at the absolute score of 65.34, it is just above the “middle” category. So, we cannot rest on the distinction of being near the top in the country.

Deeper analysis of the components of each of the three dimensions of the Index provides insight into what our State needs to work on to improve its social progress record. On Basic Needs, we seem to be doing very well with a score of 76.25, but baffling is the high score of 91.28 on water and sanitation that does not tally with our everyday observation and experience.

On Well Being, the State’s performance is 58.84, falling into the average category. Well Being comprises environmental quality, health issues like life expectancy, prevalence of respiratory infections, unsatisfactory level of enrolment in primary and secondary schools, school drop-out rate and gender parity. Greater attention in terms of investment and raising institutional efficacies at the grassroots is necessary on these fronts.
On Opportunities, we just emerge out of the average category at 60.92. The components that offer scope for improvement are in respect of child labour, and access to higher education, like technical institutes.

In sum, health and education emerge as critical factors for social progress and this is corroborated by other studies as well. Funds assigned for health and education are good indicators of policy priority and can be ascertained by comparing Budget allocations for the years 2010-11 and 2017-18 as cited in Budget Speeches. Health related issues were earmarked for Rs. 7265 crore in 2010-11 and Rs. 32,231 crore in 2017-18 reflecting a 4.44 times increase and, in terms of share of total expenditure, it grew from approximately 9 per cent to 16 per cent. Even allowing for inflation and corresponding reduction in real value, the increased importance accorded to the health sector is indeed remarkable. On Education, the corresponding numbers are Rs. 11,899 crore and Rs. 30,762 crore, 2.6 times increase and share remaining constant at 15 per cent.

Overall, the readjusted priorities under the new Government cannot be faulted. It is time, therefore, for the Government to focus on improving the project selection process to ensure higher impact and effective implementation. A bottoms-up participative approach to project identification would ensure that government schemes address community needs and produce maximum impact. A pre-requisite for good governance is also a mechanism that provides for honest feedback on the effect of governmental policies and actions on outcomes. Feedback published at predictable periodicity also serves the need for transparency, accountability and citizen participation.

Studies such as this one enable governments to look back objectively on the impact they have been able to create in terms of actual experience at the recipients’ end. But, specially focused outcome evaluation studies at regular intervals should be commissioned; government should not wait for surveys of external agencies done in a larger context. Quantified findings help to identify areas for increasing public investment and areas where investment has been adequate but not effective, calling for strategy review. Besides being able to prioritise public investments, findings of such studies help sectoral and geographical identification of projects for private sector participation through CSR funding. Companies with CSR funds are on the look out for “good” projects and reliable implementing agencies.

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