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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2016-10-04

Assam HDR 2014: State lost 30 per cent human development potential due to inequalities

Assam lost about one-third (30 per cent) of the potential aggregate human development over the past one and a half decade due to the prevailing inequalities underlying achievements in education, health and income dimensions. The loss due to inequality is the highest in the income dimension (about 44 per cent) followed by health (32 per cent) and then education (9 per cent). Assam Human Development Report 2014 titled ‘Managing Diversities, Achieving Human Development’ released by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in Guwahati on Monday reveals this.

The report states that the level of human development achieved by Assam over the past 15 years is just about half the desired level.  It estimates the Human Development Index (HDI) in Assam at 0.557. The first Human Development Report of Assam published in 2003 estimated the HDI for the state at 0.407.

The report states that the observed gender inequality in key dimensions of human development, that is, education, health and income, results in the loss of about 37 per cent of potential human development achievement in the state in general. It estimates that overall human development of women, in general, is lower than that of men by some 14 per cent in the state.

This is the first Human Development Report prepared in the country with new UNDP method. Guwahati-based think tank Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development (OKDISCD) and New Delhi-based Institute for Human Development have compiled this 272-page report on behalf of the Planning and Development Department, Government of Assam with support by the UNDP and the NITI Ayog.  

Principal Coordinator and Lead Author of the report, Joydeep Baruah of OKDISCD says that the report is based on primary data collected in the largest survey ever conducted in Assam for development evaluation. The sample size was about 40000 households and about 1,90,000 individuals, which is ten times that of the National Sample Survey Organisation rounds and about eight times that of the National Family Health Survey in the state. This is the second Human Development Report of Assam.

The publication of the report was delayed, as the previous Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government had apprehension that its publication might cast a negative impact before the 2015 assembly polls and therefore kept it on hold. The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led coalition government in the state headed by Sonowal decided to release it and also seized the opportunity to reinforce the campaign, based on some key findings of the HDR survey, that the Gogoi-led Congress governments over the past 15 years had failed to deliver which triggered strong discontent among the people of the state.

The previous Congress government’s apprehension over the report appeared to have stemmed from a key finding in the report that about two-thirds of the people in the state are dissatisfied with most of the key processes in governance. “The level of satisfaction in the domain of governance has been low across all spatial categories with an abysmally low level of 2.6 percent in the hills. Barring the districts of Bongaigaon and Lakhimpur, the maximum percentage of people satisfied in the governance domain is found to be only 35.7 percent. This implies that about two-thirds of the people in the state are dissatisfied with most of the key processes in governance. The percentage is really low in the districts of Goalpara (only 2 percent satisfied), Karbi Anglong (3 percent), Dima Hasao (5.2 percent), Cachar (5.6 percent), and Kokrajhar (only 6 percent). These awfully low levels of satisfaction suggest some serious problems with the critical processes of governance in these districts, in particular, and, perhaps, in the state in general,” the report adds.

The satisfaction in the governance domain was measured in terms of confidence in government, provisioning of social goods, social protection programmes, public safety, and security, observance of basic rights such as freedom of speech and corruption-free good governance. Besides, people’s participation in various institutions and processes of governance, their responsibility towards fulfilment of citizens’ obligations were also considered under the domain of governance.

“Accordingly, confidence in the government in Goalpara is found to be extremely low (only 5.4 percent). Similarly, confidence in the government in Dima Hasao is just 31 percent. It is further seen that people are, indeed, grossly dissatisfied with provisioning of social goods. Except Bongaigaon (49.7 percent), in all other districts the percentage of satisfied people is extremely low (less than 25 percent). In 13 districts, the percentage is less than even 10 percent. In Goalpara, it is as low as 0.16 percent. Thus, it is evident that provisioning of social goods and service delivery is a major area of dissatisfaction expressed by people.”

Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also holds the portfolios of Health and Education, harped on this observation in the report, to launch a scathing attack on the previous Congress government and alleged that while the Gogoi-led government had insisted that people were happy with schemes such as distribution of freebies like blankets, yarns, mosquito nets etc, the HDR showed that the people were not at all happy. Dr Sarma was a key minister in the Congress government for 12 years (2002-2014) during three successive tenures of Gogoi, before he quit Congress party and joined the BJP in 2015. 

However, the opposition Congress can be expected to cull a key observation in the report “that the overall level of human development in the state has shown a steady and continuous improvement over the last 15 years” to counter the present BJP-led coalition government’s campaign.

The report estimates that 30 per cent of the population in Assam is multi-dimensionally poor with an intensity of deprivation of at least 4 out of 10 indicators. Further about 17 per cent of people are vulnerable to become multi-dimensionally poor. “The poverty head-count is the maximum in Darrang with more than half of its population being multi-dimensionally poor. However, the intensity of poverty is the highest in Cachar (45.87) with the poor in the district being deprived of about half of the indicators.”

Moreover, the incidence of multi-dimensional poverty is found to be the highest in Char areas (44.59) while the intensity is the highest in the hill blocks. The proportion of people vulnerable to multi-dimensional poverty is the highest in flood affected areas. It is further found that lack of six years of schooling, adequate sanitation facilities, access to improved fuel for cooking and housing are the four major areas of multi-dimensional deprivation in Assam, the report states.

The HDR survey estimates the average monthly per capita income in the state as Rs. 2,000. It is however, observed that variations exist in the estimates across districts and spatially diverse categories. The estimated average monthly per capita income is highest in Kamrup Metro (Rs. 5,287) followed by Jorhat (Rs. 3,222) and Sivasagar (Rs. 3,092). On the other extreme, the reported monthly income per capita is less than Rs. 1,500 in Hailakandi, Marigaon, Dhubri, Dhemaji, and Darrang. Monthly income levels are relatively lower in the border areas (Rs. 1,499) and hill blocks (Rs. 1,505) compared to the general blocks (Rs. 2,168), but flood-affected blocks (Rs. 1,967) show relatively higher income. Income amongst the Muslim (Rs.1,519) and Christian (Rs. 1,339) households is found to be comparatively low.

The report concludes that, given the multi-layered and multifaceted complexities and diversities of the state, there cannot be a generic set of policies, rather there is need for a focussed, specific set of policies to address the issue of human development.

While the ruling BJP and its allies hope to use the HDR-2014 to keep alive the campaign that the Congress had failed to provide good governance despite being in power for three successive terms, the report presents a hard reality that Sonowal-led government too faces a daunting task to restore confidence of the people in governance.

Sushanta Talukdar

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