Is India’s New Growth Reaching the Poor?

India is often heralded both as the land of diversity and as the land of unity. This is a claim reinforced by the wealth of religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity coexisting with many things uniquely “Indian” within the country’s boundaries. Now, with India’s impressive growth, “income” can be added as an element of “diversity”; can the same be said for improving its status as a land of unity? “India: How’s it Growing?” published in Developments magazine asks the question “How many Indias are there?” and tries to evaluate the inclusiveness of India’s economic growth.

For anyone who has lived in a city in India, the question “How many Indias are there?” is immediately understood. In major cities, for example, it is not uncommon to have people sitting in Western styled air-conditioned coffee shops paying Rs. 40 for a coffee, with a roadside tea-stall selling tea and coffee for Rs. 3 a few minutes walk away, and with slum children crowding the sidewalk in between the shops. Major roads are shared by pedestrians, bullock carts, autos, personal and hired cars, government busses, and luxury tour busses. While on a short walk, one can easily meander from a posh neighborhood with houses with manicured yards and elaborate fences to a sprawling slum where it is impossible to distinguish one house from the other.

But beyond simply noticing that there is now a new “rich” or “upper middle class” in India, “the deeper question is whether the new rich in India are leaving the old poor behind—or whether the benefits of a careering economy can help lift the poorest from poverty” (Wroe & Doney, 2007, p. 6). Opinions are mixed, but in some cases, improvements have made their way to a larger portion of the population. Some slums, for example, may benefit from regional infrastructure development such as improved roads, drainage, and drinking water facilities. In general in India, more people are going to primary school and receiving better health care.

Development organizations are also helping to narrow the inequalities and promote a more “unified” India. Women’s self-help groups, for example, not only help empower women within the household; they also empower poor families and raise their societal standards. Water management projects help to improve livelihoods for farmers by making them less vulnerable to water scarcity and by providing them alternative income sources (for example, breeding fish in ponds). This financial stability results in healthier families and also helps in mainstreaming some of these families to the “new India.”

Aside from these changes, it is also reassuring to see some strong efforts emerging from several Indian organizations to promote development initiatives within India. Saurav Adhikari, Corporate Vice President for Strategy of the HCL Group in Chennai is quoted as saying that the HCL Group is “trying to bring employment opportunities to poor areas of cities and increase their skill sets” (Wroe & Doney, 2007, p. 13).

While changes like the ones mentioned in this summary may be small, they do help poorer families in India cope with the income “diversity” which is happening as India positions itself firmly in the global marketplace.

For more information, read the entire article in Developments, Issue 39.

Wroe, M. & Doney, M. (2007). India: How’s it growing? Developments, 39, 4-13.

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