HYDERABAD: Former chief justice of India, MN Venkatachaliah, on Thursday made a strong plea for democracy as the most efficient way to govern and to provide an accountable system of governence. Delivering Dr B.R Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on “The Social Pillars of Economic Development” at the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), he said economic development could not be looked at in a vaccuum. It has to be accompanied by social development too, he argued.
Stating that India’s current per capita income was 940 dollars, he said that four steps were essential to ensure further development: 20 percent of University aged population should have access to higher education, 1 percent of India’s GDP should be spent in promoting science, Private industry driven R&D should be focused on real research and not marketing costs and finally, the social pillars of economic development must be in place.
It was a mistaken belief that a country’s wealth could percolate down to the weakest sections, the so-called ‘trickle down’ effect.
For the poorest sections to benefit a number of human develompent indices like health, education and security had to be delivered by the government. A strong legal system was essential for this to happen, he said.
Quoting the Human Development Report that Democracy had expanded in the world in the last few decades, he said that there were 81 more democracies in the world and 70 percent of the world’s population enjoyed the benefits of a free press. Civil rights and freedoms in developing countries had increased while newspaper circulation had gone up from 21 to 71 per 1000 population.
Venkatachaliah argued that there was a view that democracy and development were not compatible, the so-called ‘lee kuan yew’ view (after a former leader of Singapore), who said “if you want development forget democracy and if you want democracy forget development”. Debunking this view, he said the two were not incompatible, citing the example of Kerala as having the best human development indices in the world. Further, the richest countries in the world were functioning democracies and even India had made slow, but steady progress since Independence in improving the condition of its people. In a speech replete with the sayings of eminent thinkers like Amartya Sen, Adam Smith and John Locke, Venkatachaliah said India was a country of contrasts where a third of the world’s poor lived, but which also recorded the fastest growth of millionaires since economic reforms in 1991.
Dwelling on the current global economic crisis, he said that ‘homo econoicus’ was a victim of his own success. The current crisis presents an opportunity for introspection about the future direction of society. The advent of technology can increase knowledge to end poverty and hunger, but that knowledge must be accompanied by wisdom or else disaster awaits.
ENS 30 Jan 2009