Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVII No. 22, March 1-15, 2018
Periodic independent surveys, such as the one published by India Today at the end of last year throw some light on the comparative performances of States – and of interest to us, Tamil Nadu – on the social and economic fronts, but caution is necessary in reading too much into them.
The study covers eleven criteria for ranking States and comparing improvements from 2010-11 to 2015-16. The parameters are: Education, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Inclusive Development, Infrastructure, Law & Order, Tourism, Agriculture, Governance, Economy and Health.
The study divides States broadly as large and small, the latter comprising ten states like Puducherry, Delhi, Goa, Mizoram, and Nagaland. Among the “large” states are the relatively smaller ones in terms of population and territorial expanse, like Kerala and Uttarakhand. This distinction emerges from the fact that such relatively smaller states in the “large” category have cornered all the first ranks for ten parameters. These States are Himachal, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Telangana. It is interesting to speculate whether compactness has been a critical contributory factor for ensuring higher governance standards and more effective implementation through greater physical proximity enhancing accountability. Large states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka that account for 46 per cent of the national GDP have not done well in comparison with the relatively smaller of the “large” category.
Out of eleven parameters and 21 competing “large” states, Tamil Nadu has figured in the top half in respect of seven parameters, but has not been able to capture either the first rank or one of the first three ranks on even one of the parameters. It is not a good sign that it has fallen into the bottom half in respect of education, governance and economy. It is within five ranks only in respect of Infrastructure, Law & Order, and Health.
It is surprising that Education has been cited as an aspect in which Tamil Nadu, in this study, has scored a rank as low as 14 out of 21. Earlier studies have shown that the literacy rate in the State is 73.4 per cent in 2011 compared to the national average of 64.6 per cent. Improvement has been recorded on teacher-pupil ratio from one teacher per 28 pupils in 2010-11 to one per 19 in 2012-13, compared to the national ratio of one per 25 pupils. The drop-out rate is low at 1.20 per cent in the primary level and 1.74 per cent at the upper primary level. Tamil Nadu is known for several original initiatives to motivate completion of school education through free provision of text books, uniform, laptop computers, footwear, bus passes and nutritious noon meals. Education has been receiving steadily increasing funds in the Budget, the share of total expenditure remaining constant at 15 per cent of a rising revenue. While these are material aspects of the system, actual results produced by it, in terms of improvement in mental skills and communication ability, are not in keeping with the efforts put in. The “output” by the Government cannot be faulted, but the “outcome” is disappointing – the two terms representing the quantitative and qualitative aspects of effort. The study’s criteria also refer only to quantitative aspects that we have enumerated to show why Tamil Nadu’s physical output cannot be considered inadequate. If other States produced more employable pupils than Tamil Nadu it is worth knowing how they accomplished it. No information on this is available in the study as published.
In respect of the Economy, the tendency to go overboard on freebies to the neglect of investment in creation of infrastructure and improvement of productive assets could have adversely affected the ranking. Greater attention to infrastructure and social assets would have raised the economy’s capacity to generate income streams.
The record of Tamil Nadu on governance, according to this study, is dismally low, at rank 18 out of 21. While we can subjectively experience the falling standards of governance in Tamil Nadu, it is difficult to believe that that it could be as low as depicted – in the bottom, just above Bihar and losing out to Assam and Uttar Pradesh by several ranks. Percentage of women representatives in panchayats, panchayat devolution index, number of e-services for citizens as percentage of total population, number of operational Common Services Centres as percentage of total CSCs and number of e-transactions per 1,000 people are the yardsticks used in the study to measure governance. Specific comparative data on these have not been furnished.
Apart from lack of specific criteria-wise comparative data, reading too much significance into temporal comparisons and rankings could itself be misleading. Comparison of rankings of each State over an interval has been used to measure the extent of improvement. The limitation is that rise in ranking from the base year does not necessarily imply improvement nor the significance of the extent of that improvement because a given State’s ranking changes depending on how other States have fared during the same period. If other States have not done well, for example, a given State’s rank could rise without its basic status registering improvement. The substantive score for each criterion for each State alone can show where it has improved or deteriorated and place inter-State comparison in correct perspective.
Occasional publication of studies is no substitute for authentic periodic self-audit surveys by reputed rating agencies, commissioned by the Government, to evaluate progress and beneficial effects of development projects.