This topper is a fake

The president should not have given India Today’s first prize to Punjab which has failed to score even pass marks

Mohan Guruswamy Delhi

There is something not quite right about newspapers and magazines giving awards to states as if it were a beauty contest. It is the job of the media to inform and even make comment, leaving the judging of performance to the people. Besides, it is downright unethical if the awards are dished out just before the somewhat less objectively chosen state went to the polls.

This is what India Today has done in the case of Punjab when it ranked it as first among Indian states. To compound this, the president of India was the one who handed over the award lending it an official imprimatur. This is indeed unfortunate and it is best that constitutional authorities like the president, who should be well above partisan politics, kept away from such beauty parades where the criterion can only be subjective.

If the governance of a state has been good, the people of that state have seldom failed to reward the ruling party, as we see in the case of West Bengal which has posted the highest growth in incomes over the last decade. It was in another such India Today beauty contest that

VS Naipaul castigated Marxism for ruining West Bengal, when the facts are quite contrary to that.

There is about as much Marxism in West Bengal as there is in Punjab, thank God for that, as the practice of Marxist orthodoxy is not possible under our constitutional arrangements. What you have had in West Bengal is just better focus on the core issues, which is why West Bengal was the fastest growing state after the advent of liberalisation. This is despite no great leap forward in industrialisation.

With Rs 30,701, Punjab has the highest per capita income in India in 2004-05. Almost 85.15 per cent of all land is arable with 89.72 per cent of it with irrigation. More than half of this is due to the huge central government projects, Bhakra Nangal being the most notable among them. Punjab has benefited by a disproportionately large recruitment into the armed and paramilitary forces giving a good many rural families a second stream of income.

I have no intention of provoking acrimony on this score. But the point is that the large contributions of such employment to general prosperity by way of salaries and pensions cannot be overlooked any longer. If there was a more equitable basis of recruitment, rather than on the British bequeathed notions of martial races, then either we would have a much larger military or recruitment from Punjab would be down to a trickle. It is not without reason that the annual pension flows to ex-servicemen in Punjab is considered classified data.

Punjab has had the highest per capita income in India since 1950. However, what should cause concern is that this growth rate has now slowed down considerably. In each of the last five years, Punjab’s growth has been well below the national growth rate. Even if just the performance of the financial year gone by was employed as the criterion, the growth was 5.9 per cent at 1993-94 prices as opposed to the national average of 7.7 per cent.

Surely this should weigh as much as the actual placing when what purports to be recognition for good governance is handed out by the president of India?

While the growth of income is probably the best indicator of the success of a government, there are other criteria that need to be considered. It has been said that prosperity is the best contraceptive. But this is apparently not so in Punjab. With the highest per capita income in the country one would have thought Punjab’s population growth ranking would have been commensurate with its income. That honour must go to the state with the second biggest per capita income, Kerala.

The population growth in Kerala was a mere 1.11 per cent as opposed to Punjab’s 1.85 per cent. All the other south Indian states and West Bengal are better than Punjab in this regard.

The sex ratio in Punjab is not so happy. It was 874/1,000 in 2001 having dropped from 882/1,000 in 1991. Only Haryana had a worse performance than this. Things all over the country have improved somewhat when the ratio moved upwards from 927/1,000 to 933/1,000 between 1991 and 2001. Every other day there are harrowing tales about aborted female foetuses being recovered in Punjab and while there is no accurate data available it would seem that in terms of female infanticides Punjab should rank quite high.

Another related statistic that should cause concern is the relatively high infant mortality rate (IMR). It was 51/1,000 as opposed to Kerala’s 11/1,000 in 2003. Crucially, in the decade ending 2003, Kerala IMR declined by 30.1 per cent while the decline in Punjab was by 7.3 per cent. Mind you, the per capita incomes of both these states are pretty close. But what makes Punjab’s performance truly unacceptable is that it is worse than states like West Bengal (49) and neighboring Himachal Pradesh (36), which come nowhere close to it in the per capita income rankings. Similarly, even in terms of average life expectancy, Punjab rates lower than Kerala by as much as three years.

The female literacy rate in Punjab was 63.55 per cent, a good 14 per cent below that of Kerala. The decadal change in the female literacy rate was only around 13.14 per cent and this was lower than the country’s average of 14.39 per cent.  This and the adverse sex ratio should be considered a huge demerit when judging standards of governance. When it comes to the number of students in primary and secondary schools, Punjab’s performance is shocking. It is 137 per 1,000 population, whereas the national average is 181. School enrollment in Punjab is the lowest in India.

Given the abundance of irrigation and the willingness of the Punjab farmer to innovate, Punjab has for long been one of the main granaries of India. Its performance in agriculture has always been spectacular, but we must not forget that almost 90 per cent of agricultural land is irrigated and there now seems little prospect of extending that further. Therefore, the answer lies in a spectacular rise in farm productivity. Unfortunately, that has not happened, due to a variety of factors, many of which are beyond the control of the state government.

The annual percentage industrial output growth rate for the period from 1993-94 to 2003-04 was 4.97 per cent for Punjab while the all India growth rates stood at 6.19 per cent. Worse is the trend in industrial value addition. It has stubbornly remained at 2.9 per cent of the national total. The real answer to this riddle can be gleaned from the sluggish implementation of investment plans in general.

Against the national implementation ratio of 38.1, Punjab’s is 28.3. Its share of the total national investment in projects in 2004 was just 1.3 per cent of the Rs 20,74,894 crore invested in projects in India. Punjab comes last in the list of the larger states with an investment of just Rs 27,769 crore.

The performance of Punjab has not been good one the people have much to be dissatisfied about. I have no problem with it being chosen first in a beauty contest where income is the sole criterion, but if good governance is a factor, Punjab can hardly be considered to be among the top performers.

The elections in Punjab are due in a few months and people will judge the performance of its Congress-led government. The only thing going for the Congress is that the choice is between them and the Akali-BJP alliance. Clearly, it’s a no choice – between the devil and the deep sea!