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9th March – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents:

  1. No green shoots of a revival in sight as yet
  2. Having an ear to Adivasi ground
  3. Missing at birth

NO GREEN SHOOTS OF A REVIVAL IN SIGHT AS YET

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why is news?

On February 28, as per its release calendar, the National Statistical Office (NSO) put out the third quarter gross domestic product (GDP) estimates, that is, for October-December 2019.

Is it Economic Revival?

Domestic output grew at 4.7% at constant prices (that is, net of inflation) in 2019, compared to the same period of 2018.

Hence, many concluded that the economic slowdown witnessed during the last six quarters has “bottomed out”; government spokespersons endorsed the view.

However, a closer reading reveals that the latest data release has revised the estimates of the first two quarters of the current year (2019-2020) upwards to 5.6% and 5.1%, from the earlier figures of 5% and 4.5%, respectively.

The slowdown has continued, not bottomed out; hence, there is no economic revival in sight as of now.

Why did the current year’s Q1 and Q2 GDP estimates get revised upwards?

  • The answer is this was simply because the corresponding figures for the previous year (2018-2019) got revised downwards.
  • Many viewed the revision of last year’s estimates as evidence of lack of credibility of the NSO’s revision process.
  • Such doubts are well taken, given the long-standing debate and unresolved disputes on the veracity of GDP figures put out since 2015, when the statistical office released the new series of National Accounts with 2011-2012 as base year.

Why the annual GDP estimates undergo revisions?

  • GDP is a statistical construct — unlike the temperature on a thermometer — prepared using many bits of quantitative information on an economy’s production, consumption and incomes.
  • Many statistical models and methods are used following standardised analytical procedures in line with the international guideline called the UN System of National Accounts (UNSNA).
  • The GDP revision followed the latest (2008) edition of UNSNA. As there are lags and unanticipated delays in obtaining the primary data, the GDP estimates undergo several revisions everywhere (except in China).
  • GDP estimates are revised five times in India over nearly three years.
  • The initial two rounds, the advanced estimates, are prepared mainly using high-frequency proxy indicators (which probably contain more noise than information), followed by three rounds based on data obtained from various sectors.

What is the Quality of GDP Estimates?

  • Since 1999, quarterly GDP estimates are being prepared, as per the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s data dissemination standards.
  • Nearly one-half of India’s GDP originates in the unorganised sector (including agriculture), whose output is not easily amenable to direct estimation every quarter, given the informal nature of production and employment. Hence, the estimates are obtained as ratios, proportions and projections of the annual GDP estimates.
  • Hence, the quality is subpar as the primary data needed quarterly are mostly lacking.

What does the Latest Data Show?

  • If we accept the latest data, it is clear, though in an alarming way, that there has been an undeniable decline in the GDP growth rate over seven consecutive quarters, from 7.1% in Q1 of 2018-2019 to 4.7% in Q3 of 2019-2020.
  • Considering that physical indicators of production, such as the official index of infrastructure output, or monthly automotive sales, continue to show an unambiguous deceleration, the economic slowdown has apparently not bottomed-out
  • More seriously, the quarterly GDP deceleration comes over and above the annual GDP growth slowdown for four years now: from 8.3% in 2016-17 to 5% in 2019-20 (as per the second advance estimate).
  • Further, it bears repetition that many have questioned the entire GDP revision since 2015 to the new base-year for possible over-estimation of output growth.

Conclusion

  • To conclude, India’s quarterly GDP estimates have limited primary information in them.
  • Their revisions are largely extrapolations and projections of the annual figures.
  • Hence, one should be cautious in reading too much into the specific numbers.
  • They are helpful to discern the broad trends in economic activity, which appear grave at the moment.
  • Economic growth continues to drift downwards, from a peak of 7.1% in the first quarter of 2018-19 to 4.7% in the third quarter of the current year.
  • It probably suggests more pain ahead, as the green shoots of economic revival seem nowhere in sight.

HAVING AN EAR TO ADIVASI GROUND

Focus: GS-I Indian Society

Why in news?

  • In November 2018, among the Adivasis of Jhargram, West Bengal- seven adults of the KhariaSavar community died within a span of just two weeks.
  • Their lifespan is approximately 26 years less than the average Indian’s life expectancy.
  • Their lives are full of uncertainties, and death is considered the most normal of happenings.
  • The dead were cremated without any autopsy being performed, and thus the cause of the deaths could not be medically verified.
  • State authorities said that it was not undernourishment. They died of tuberculosis and excessive drinking.
  • What is intriguing, however, is the factor of alienation that emerges from this.

Who are Adivasis?

  • Adivasi is the collective term for tribes of the Indian Subcontinent, who are considered indigenous to places within India wherein they live, either as foragers or as tribalistic sedentary communities.
  • However, India does not recognise Tribe as Indigenous people.
  • The term is also used for ethnic minorities, such as Chakmas of Bangladesh, Tharus of Nepal, and Bhils of Pakistan.

Mainstream Views on Adivasis

  • The uncertainty of Adivasi life has a strong connection with the ‘mainstream’ view about them.
  • There exists, both in the public and academic domains, a wide gap in knowledge about this selectively forgotten and pragmatically remembered population.
  • In popular discourse, the socio-economic disadvantages of the Adivasis as compared with the rest of the population are often seen through a lens of benevolence.
  • The views about the ‘underdevelopment’ of the Adivasis typically subscribes to this section of the population being the ‘takers/receivers’ of governmental benefits.
  • Policies and practices rooted in this approach, fail, in most cases, to accommodate the question of the participation of the Adivasis in the ongoing processes of the nation as co-citizens.
  • This in turn not only deprives the Adivasis of the socioeconomic progress they are capable of but also results in a loss to the rest of the nation.

How are Adivasis affected by this knowledge gap?

  • This knowledge gap leads to democratic denial for the Adivasis.
  • The imposed superiority of the outside world has resulted in the Adivasis considering themselves as inferior, primitive and even taking a fatalistic view of their subjugated life.
  • This pushes them to the margins, even making them abandon some of their socially unifying customs and cultural practices — particularly democratic norms and human values that have evolved through a protracted journey of collective living and struggles for existence.
  • One outcome of this is the erosion of their great linguistic heritage (in some sections).
  • However, Adivasi acceptance of the ‘imposed modern’ does not guarantee their inclusion in the apparent mainstream. Rather, the opposite happens. They are often reminded of their primitive roots and kept alienated.
  • Again, pushed to the side by exploitation and oppression, marginalisation and subjugation, Adivasis, in many cases, cling to oppressive behaviours such as witchcraft which only make the label of them being primitive even more indelible.
  • The vicious cycle of political-economic deprivation and social alienation continues to keep them subjugated to the ruling modern.
  • A situation where they are a source of cheap labour and live lives where they are half-fed with no opportunities to flourish and develop their human capabilities seems unalterable.

How could things be different for Adivasis?

  • The rich moral, cultural and social values, and linguistic and other practice-acquired developments that the Adivasis have been nurturing throughout history could have added immensely toward strengthening our democracy.
  • Mutual co-operation, decision making through discussion, peaceful co-habitation with others and with nature, age-old and time-tested practices of environmental protection, and other such high civic qualities observed by them could have added to the country’s “democratic curriculum”.
  • However, the politics of dominance, economics of immediate gain, and a social outlook of separateness have charted a very different path for the Adivasis.

How to bring about Changes?

  • It is important to go beyond the administrative convention of bracketing Adivasis into a single category. Rather, policy framing requires mandatory recognition of their wide diversity so as to address the different problems faced by different groups — by community as well as by region.
  • It is also important to abide by the general constitutional rules which are often violated by the state.
  • The very common instances of violations of the Forest Rights Act, the Right to Education Act, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — which affect them — have to be eliminated.
  • The possibility of fair implementation of public programmes, however, is contingent to an agentic involvement of the communities concerned.
  • Instead of being considered to be mere passive recipients, Adivasis must be respected as active agents of change and involved in all spheres of policy, from planning to implementation.
  • It is imperative that the entire outlook on the Adivasi question is reversed.
  • Instead of considering Adivasis to be a problem, the entire country can benefit a great deal by considering them as co-citizens and sharing their historically constructed cultural values which often manifest the best forms of democracy and uphold the notions of higher levels of justice, fairness, and equality — better than those prevalent in seemingly mainstream societies.
  • By ensuring their right to live their own lives, the country can in fact guarantee itself a flourishing democracy.

MISSING AT BIRTH

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • Recent case of infanticide in Tamil Nadu’s Usilampatti, historically notorious for its crude methods of killing female babies, sent a chill down the spine of the country.
  • Years after it was believed that awareness generation and targeted behaviour change communication had led to people giving up the inhuman practice of feeding female infants with the toxic milk of a local herb, the news that a couple had reportedly used the same method to kill their second girl child, just a month old, had child rights activists wringing their hands in frustration.

India and Sex Ratio at Birth

  • Few things cast a long shadow on human failing as much as sex selection does.
  • To choose on the basis of gender and eliminate new life if the gender is not ‘favourable’ can easily be among humanity’s worst moments.
  • Data on sex ratio at birth (SRB) culled from the Civil Registration System, show an alarming fall over the years. From 903 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2007, it dropped to 877 in 2016.
  • Four States have an SRB equal to or below 840: Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan (806), Bihar (837), Uttarakhand (825) and Tamil Nadu (840).

How is India Handling Female Infanticide?

  • Activists point out that while infanticide may have come down, sex selective abortion at scan centres continues as the preferred vehicle for parents (and grandparents) obsessed with son preference.
  • This despite the fact that the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act was enacted and amended to arm the state to wage a war against this pernicious practice.
  • The Centre’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign aimed at saving girl children has a huge unfinished task in front of it.
  • Tamil Nadu, at one stage under the leadership of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, effectively employed the Cradle Baby Scheme to counter infanticide, along with effective awareness campaigns.
  • The cradles are still there, and the babies are coming too, but the SRB has been steadily dropping since 2011.
  • It is time again for the government to ramp up awareness building exercises, and this time use technology to monitor every single pregnant woman right down to taluk levels until at least one year after birth.
  • While punitive aspects might offer a measure of deterrence, true change can only be brought about by a change in attitude.
  • As Amartya Sen argued: while at birth boys outnumber girls, ‘after conception, biology seems on the whole to favor women’. The weapon that the government needs to use now is one that will be powerful enough to eliminate the perversion of son preference from people’s minds.
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