Let me share with you some facts about an
Indian state that is supposed to have achieved the one of
the most impressive growth rates over the last decade. Until
the end, I won’t let you in to the name of the state, but
will call it the Master Blaster in honour of the uncanny
precision with which Sir Don Bradman scored his runs; and
you must promise that you won’t let your eyes stray to the
bottom of this article. What I would like to demonstrate is
that the ‘official’ GDP growth estimates of this state are
not only out of synch with statistical patterns that one
normally expects with such data, but also don’t square up
with other evidence.
As we all know, economies have their ups and
downs. Today, we are lauding India’s GDP growth of 6.9% in
2004-05 coming on the back of 8.5% in 2003-04. Equally,
however, 2002-03 was a relatively poor year, when growth
fell to 4%. In fact, if one were to track the progress of
GDP growth since 1993-94, it would be a bit like a yo-yo:
above 7% growth for the first three years; then down to
4.8%; then up to the 6.1% to 6.5% range for the next two;
then down to 4.4%; rising to 5.8%; only to fall to 4%; and
finally increasing first to 8.5% and then a bit lower to
6.9%. That’s how economies generally behave — some excellent
years, some average and some poor. The only exception in the
1990s has been China — and, despite its fondness for the
colour red, the Master Blaster state is no China.
Statistically, for the period 1993-94 to
2003-04, the average GDP growth for India has been a bit
over 6%. But, given its ups and down, the standard deviation
— or more simply the variation around this average — has
been 1.5%. That’s normal, and to be expected.
Now consider the Master Blaster state.
Between 1993-94 and 2002-03, it claims to have clocked the
second highest inflation adjusted GDP growth among all
states in India — an average of 6.8% per year over these ten
years. But that’s not all. There is almost a precision about
the annual growth rates: 6.8%, 7.4%, 7.0%, 8.3%, 6.4%, 6.9%,
6.4%, 7.2%, 6.9%. Even when the country as a whole was going
through a lean patch, Master Blaster’s growth rate never
dropped below 6.4%. Thus, not only has this state clocked
the best growth after Gujarat, but it also had the lowest
standard deviation of 0.6%. In other words, the deviation in
growth of India as a whole over the same period was 2.67
times that of the Master Blaster state.
Its fascinating to compare this state with
those that we generally consider the more prosperous, faster
growing ones. Master Blaster’s average growth for period was
6.8%; Maharashtra’s was 5%; Tamil Nadu’s 5.2%; Andhra’s
5.5%; Haryana’s 5.9%; and Kanataka’s 6.3%. Only Gujarat did
better by achieving an average growth of 7.5%. Each of these
states had their ups and downs. Thus, Maharastra’s standard
deviation was 7.3 times that of the Master Blaster; Tamil
Nadu’s 6.7 times; Andhra’s 6.3 times; Haryana’s 5.1 times;
Karnataka’s 6.3 times; and Gujarat’s 11.5 times. Compared to
these states, Master Blaster was steadiness personified.
Second highest average growth with the lowest possible
deviation from the average. Who can ask for anything more?
The rulers of the Master Blaster state have
consistently claimed that the growth miracle has occurred
because of agricultural prosperity arising out of systematic
land reforms from the late 1970s through the 1980s. If that
were so, we ought to expect significant betterment in rural
real expenditures as well as in the ownership and use of
assets and amenities. Statistics and standard deviations
aside, this is where things begin to unravel.
Here are a few nuggets. According to the data
collected by the National Sample Survey (NSS), in 1999-2000,
over 31% of the rural populace of this state were below the
poverty line — worse tan the national rural average of 27%.
The average per capita rural expenditure of the state was
the sixth lowest in the country, and not much different from
that of people in Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar or Orissa.
According to the 2001 Census, only 13% of rural households
owned TVs, which was below the national rural average of
19%. Only 25% of rural households of that state had
permanent (or pucca) houses in 2001, versus an all-India
rural average of over 41%. A mere 20% of the state’s rural
households had electricity connection in 2001, compared to a
national average of 43.5%. In terms of expenditure as well
as the ownership of basic assets and amenities, the Master
Blaster state has been at the bottom of the pack — with
Orissa, Bihar, Assam and occasionally Madhya Pradesh and
Chhattisgarh for company.
Here lies the rub. The official data
published by the state is showing it to be the second most
powerful growth engine of the nation — not only in term of
growth rates but also in their sheer constancy. Moreover,
the rulers claim that this growth has been driven by
agricultural reforms. Yet, the rural heartland of the state
is abysmally poor in terms of expenditure, assets and
amenities. So, what is true?
The state is West Bengal.