Category Archives: John Koshy

John Koshy

The ‘kerala’ model


Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. While this definition relates to conventional economics and social objectives of development, the second part of the definition talks about the long term view including consideration of environmental issues. It has become common to isolate four factors that determine sustainable development : Natural capital, Physical or produced capital, Human capital and Social capital. Sustainability of future generations to meet their needs, is ensured when the total stock of these assets remains constant or is increased in the production process. Development theory has commonly acknowledged that economic and social developments are interrelated. Economic growth is desirable because it makes poverty alleviation easier.

Social development , is also means to increase economic growth. Extension of basic education , better health care, more effective land reforms and greater access to provisions of social security would enable the marginalised sections of society to lead a less restricted life. The expansion of the social opportunity calls for public action from the state and the local governments. But lack of economic growth and fiscal crisis often affect the political will of governments to invest in social services such as health and education. NGO’s and community organizations have limited resources and reach for replacing crucial state services. What is needed for sustainable economic development is both an active state enhancing social oppurtunity and a strong economic base . Social sustainability includes the strengthening of community- based collective action for achieving the goal of sustainable development.

Environmental sustainability includes the upkeep or improvement of essential ecological processes, biological diversity and the natural resource base. Environmental sustainability is important for for developments because we humans are, through our bodies, part of nature, thus the environment is important for our survival, health and social life. Human life relies on natural capital for food production, drinking water, energy. Air and water quality have significant impact on human health. In developing countries the relation between health and environment are particularly strong because growing agro-industrial pollution and risks added to the environmental health problems roots in underdevelopment.

The Indian state of Kerala, with a population of 29 million (larger than Canada’ s), has become an enigma to analysts of international development, social progress and peaceful social change in the Third World. In less than 30 years, Kerala has made a transition from a society with high infant mortality rates, high fertility and population growth rates, and a high crude death rate to one with a low infant mortality rate, very low population growth, and a low crude death rate. While growth-based and planned development programmes did not make a dent in reducing poverty, population growth, inequalities in income and resource distribution, and ecological destruction in the Third World, Kerala has stood out in demonstrating through democratic means that radical improvements in the quality of life of ordinary citizens are possible without high economic growth and without consuming large quantities of energy and other natural resource Kerala is far more progressive than many other Indian states for a variety of reasons. It has the highest human development index, has had large economic growth and increasing GDP, and has recently decentralized its government. In 1992 Kerala added the 73rd and 74th amendment to their constitution to decentralize government by creating a third, local form of government called Panchayats. Creating local governments throughout the state of Kerala has made development processes more sustainable by allowing local residents to participate in those processes. Forty percent of the states’ budget is now allocated to these local governments! This increased revenue has furthered sustainable efforts by creating jobs, uplifting women, and including citizens in community development.

Experts look to several factors to explain Kerala’s successes.  One is the state’s natural and human resource distribution.  The fact that its population density is among the highest in the world has, in some ways, worked to Kerala’s advantage.  The proximity of people has made it easier to provide quality health care and education.  It has also helped to prevent an urban-rural economic gap from developing.

Water, an important natural resource, has not been a problem for Kerala; the state has traditionally had sufficient rainfall.  However, increasing deforestation has resulted in decreasing precipitation; if this trend continues, water may cease to be abundant.  Clearly, this would have a major impact on a largely agrarian society.  Kerala is dependent on its coconut groves, rice fields, and garden produce for food.  Other agricultural products, from spices and teak wood to tea and rubber, are important cash crops.

Even more important than natural resources, however, is Kerala’s history as a place with strong activist leaders and organizations and public agitation for equality.  The state has never experienced communist or socialist revolution, but has instead worked through a strong democratic system.  Regardless of who is in office, peasant and worker movements have organized and won many radical reforms.

One very important reform has been Kerala’s land policy.  In 1969, tenancy on cultivated land and on house compounds was abolished.  The landed classes thereby lost a great deal of power.  Before the reforms were passed, tenants were often forced to pay exorbitant rents, sometimes upwards of 75% of their incomes, under the threat of losing what little income was left them from their cultivation of the land. The reforms bought land from large landowners (at below market-value) and distributed it to some 1.5 million families.  Not only did this eliminate the eviction threat and allow additional produce to former tenants, but it also pushed many former landlords into useful professions such as teaching, government administration, and medium-sized farming, whereas before, they had lived off rents.

Kerala has instituted a number of striking reforms with widespread benefits in other areas as well.  The state has had a number of pension, unemployment, and welfare programs since the early 1980s.  High spending on health services—from proper sanitation to hospital maintenance to construction of housing for the poor—has dramatically decreased levels of infant mortality, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases are still prevalent in much of India.  The state subsidizes rice and other necessities for the poor and provides free lunches for all children in schools and nurseries. None of these reforms were easy to win; all of them took years of struggle on the part of Kerala’s citizens.  Many scholars attribute the high degree of political mobilization in Kerala to the high levels of education and literacy.  The many libraries and remarkably wide circulation of newspapers keep people informed and promote political involvement.  There has also been a history of strong grassroots organizations and labor unions in Kerala, which continues to the present day.

Kerala’s development experience shows several things.  First, it disproves the theory that economic growth must precede relatively high standards of living and equality.  Its counter-example is especially important in the wake of the 1997 collapse of the much-lauded “Asian Tigers.”  These countries attempted to follow the model by which Western industrialized nations developed over the last two centuries, focusing on growth.  Initially, the level of inequality increases sharply, but eventually, growth should reach everyone, resulting in increased equality and wealth for all.  Perhaps it worked at one time, but in the present context of foreign investment and export of profits, among other factors, the model fails.

There are still many proponents of the neoliberal development ideal, but it seems that another model is necessary.  Kerala provides such an alternative.  The state’s focus on achieving equality through redistribution of wealth has worked to raise the standard of living for the vast majority of its people.  High numbers in areas such as life expectancy and literacy prove this.  Per-capita GNP can be high, but such a number will not reflect what may well be a small but very rich group balancing out a large number of poor.  Percentage of literate adults, however, can only rise when literacy has spread across a large number of people.

Of course, Kerala has its problems.  Perhaps the worst is its chronically high rate of unemployment.  This statistic has stayed at approximately one fourth of the labor force for several decades, three times the all-India average.  High levels of education have helped the country to export professionals, many of whom send portions of their income back to Kerala, but they also seem to be leading many youth to scorn the labor-intensive work that is most readily available in the state itself.  The state therefore imports unskilled labor despite high unemployment.  As a consequence of this and other related factors, the state’s economy is floundering, and many programs are stagnating.

There is still work to be done, but overall, Kerala does present an incredible example of a state which has achieved a high standard of living with very limited financial resources.  The activism of Kerala’s people has played a large part in this, and it must continue if the remaining problems are to be solved.  Popular engagement with politics across class, and a focus on equality over economic growth, are concepts that other states, both inside India and out, can certainly learn from.

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