India: The Need for a Freedom-Based Perspective of Development in the Bundelkhand Region


Dr Deepak K Srivastava

The parameters traditionally used to measure the development of a nation or of a society are based on GNP and levels of personal income, industrialization, technical advancement, etc. But these measures take the focus away from the 'human value'. This has proved to be a not very good way of thinking about development, which has to be concerned with advancing human wellbeing and human freedom. Income is one of the factors that contribute to welfare and freedom, but it is not the only factor. Also, the process of economic growth is only one factor among many for judging the progress of a country. For example, if some people in a society earn illegally or by corruption, the society may still be perceived as economically developed, but not on the grounds of human value. Further, it is not necessarily the case that high-income societies will have a high life expectancy. Therefore development should be seen in a broader perspective. Not only in terms of growth rates, but also in terms of progress in areas of human values. Eminent economist Amartya Sen, in what is known as the Freedom-based perspective, gives one such broader perspective of development. The idea behind the Freedom-based perspective of development is to make human life much richer by focusing on the determining factors that influence the quality of human lives.

According to this perspective, development should be seen as enhancing people's capabilities, enabling them to lead the kind of lives they value, and have reason to value. This, according to Amartya Sen, is achievable by providing people with five basic freedoms. These freedoms, which can be regarded both as ends as well as the means to achieve other ends, include political, economic and social opportunities within a transparent framework that guarantees a measure of protection.

Freedoms require the removal of poverty, tyranny, poor economic opportunities, social deprivation, the neglect of public facilities as well as the intolerance or over-activity of repressive states. Only public policy can ensure it.

It is difficult to think that substantial development can do without use of markets, but that does not undermine the role of the state and social welfare. Even Adam Smith, who was a firm advocate of the market, did not hesitate to investigate the economic circumstances in which particular restrictions may be proposed.

This Freedom-based perspective of development is imperative in designing public policy especially in under-developed regions. Economic reform has stimulated growth in certain sectors of the economy and in certain regions, while elsewhere the economy has either stagnated or even regressed. Such unevenness of reform outcomes has also been evident in the Bundelkhand region. The Bundelkhand Region of central India is a semi-arid plateau that encompasses the regions of northern Madhya Pradesh (MP) and southern Uttar Pradesh (UP). The Bundelkhand region includes the districts of Chhatarpur, Damoh, Datia, Panna, Sagar and Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Banda, Chitrkoot, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur and Mahoba in Uttar Pradesh.

Bundelkhand has become a symbol of backwardness in economic and social development. This region consists one of the most disadvantaged sections of society and is one of the poorest regions in the nation.

This region can be characterized as a feudal area and a person new to the region would be surprised to see men openly carrying guns. To some extent this is a status symbol. The nexus between the politician and the criminal may reach right up to the highest-level. Bundelkhand is famous for at least a dozen gangs of bandits. The bandits also occasionally terrorize ordinary citizens. They usually target businessmen, rich farmers, teachers and contractors. Therefore, many villages are deserted after attacks by bandits. The economy of Bundelkhand is almost entirely based on agriculture, owing to the predominantly rural population and the lack of exploitable natural resources. However, the agriculture is not very developed. People's livelihoods are mainly dependent on subsistence rain-fed, single crop agriculture and small-scale livestock production, with wheat and oil seeds the predominant crops. Large numbers of farmers are highly dependent on the monsoon rains. Moreover, poor soils and uncertain rainfall have made agriculture difficult in many areas. Crop productivity is among the lowest in the country, and even the value of agricultural production per hectare in the region is 1.4 times less than for Central India.

Industries are mostly absent in this region. According to the Website of Development Alternatives, there is only one factory for every 100,000 people, while there are 6.3 per 100,000 people in the rest of Central India. The main reason for the backwardness in Bundelkhand is its unattractiveness to investment due to insecurity and poor infrastructure.

The state can ensure development through five basic freedoms as follows:

- Political freedom through the non- criminalization of politics,
- Economic facilities through creation of employment and production opportunities,
- Social opportunities though betterment in education and health facilities,
- Transparency in the bureaucracy through good and accountable governance,
- Security through protection from the criminal elements.

Reform should be targeted at enhancing freedom in this manner. The state itself needs to be reformed so that a more responsive and accountable system may be developed. Economic reform should convey a determination to promote freedom and social progress rather than only numeric growth.

WATCHPOINT: Development should be viewed as an integrated process of enhancing freedoms.


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