GDP numbers and state of happiness in India

Misbah Shah and Bakhtaver Hassan
India has come a long way in the growth of GDP from the time of independence to present day period. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its World Economic Outlook update estimated that the Indian economy would grow by 7 .8% in 2019,which will make this country the world’s fastest growing economy in 2018-2019, the top ranking; it briefly lost in 2017 to China. From a low GDP of 2 .7 lakh crore to 135 lakh crore in 2017, India has surely succeeded in fulfilling the objective of increasing economic growth. The credit of this acceleration in Indian economic growth must be given to the policy changes in the early and mid-1980s and especially to the policy reforms in the early 1990s .If we look at the growth performance of India before 1990s, India with average GDP appears more or less normal .But after the policy reforms India has been performing exceptionally good in terms of growth.
The important question that one misses when talking about the spiking growth rates and increasing GDP numbers is that – is the growth in GDP all that makes a nation happy? Or is the notion of GDP only a hyped one which needs to be deconstructed? The answer lies in the fact that India, despite achieving much on the front of GDP ranks 122nd in the World Happiness Index, even lower than what it was in 2016 (118th rank) . India comes below China (83rd rank), Pakistan (92nd rank), Palestinian territories (108th rank) and Bangladesh (110th rank) .Gross National Happiness (GNH) includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of a population by giving equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being. It takes into account factors like GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption .Does India’s poor rank in GNH allude to the fact that India is unhappy?
In India there are many factors that have a bearing on the happiness and emotional well-being of the people and which are knowingly or unknowingly left out of the basket of indicators of happiness .First, according to NSSO survey, 270 million people in India live below the poverty line as defined by Tendulkar Committee .India is home to world’s largest poor population .The rate of malnutrition among children in India is almost five times greater than China. The idea of “Happy India” cannot be materialized unless growth percolates down and becomes more inclusive.
Second, growing GDP with so many people being denied of its benefit, points to growing inequality. Income inequality has reached historically high levels. According to Oxfam study, India’s top 1% bag 73% of the country’s wealth and according to World inequality report 2018, India’s top 1% receive 22% of the national income. This is the classic case of rich becoming richer and poor poorer .We cannot deny the fact that people are unhappy in unequal societies.
Third, spending on education as a percentage of GDP is woefully low in India .India spends less than 1% of its GDP on education .In India; 12 million children spend their childhood at work and not in classroom.
Fourth, another sensitive area is health, and India spends only 1 .2% of GDP on healthcare. The area which demands greater interest is the status of mental health in India .According to National mental health survey, at least 13 .7% of India’s general population has various mental disorders, 10 .6% of them require immediate intervention. Roughly, 75 million people in India suffer from psychosocial disabilities .Despite all this, India’s mental health care is underfunded .India spends a mere 0 .06% of its health budget on mental care, compared to developed nations such as United States and England. Even Bangladesh trumps India on its mental health expenditure budget
And finally, crime rate in India is very high. A Thirteen-year analysis of crime data reveals there is one rape every 30 minutes in India. One in five honor killing cases comes from India internationally every year (UN). The worst affected state to our surprise is Kerala with 455 crimes per lakh of population. Despite being on top in almost all indicators of development, Kerala remains to be unsafe.
With this picture of India in mind, India’s low rank in the WHR is no surprise. All this forces a contemplating mind to be detestful of GDP as a true measure of well-being of a nation. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, IMF head Christine Lagarde and many others are of the same opinion .According to Professor Stiglitz, “GDP is a poor indicator of progress”. GDP has been and is being widely used to measure economic progress but it is limited to material progress only. There is something more important than material progress and that is “happiness”. There is large support to the view that “Money doesn’t buy happiness”. A surveyby” charity action for happiness” revealed that majority of the British people (87%) would choose happiness over money for their society and this can apply to India as well.
People are happier in societies where they feel safe, where they are trustful of the members of the society, where they are not subject to mental pressures and where income inequality is low .The holistic concept of Gross National Happiness (initially developed by Bhutan) will take all these factors into account and can be a better measure of a country’s progress as one sound nation. According to Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s most eloquent spokesperson for GNH, “GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society” .Gross national happiness is more than a concept .It means the creation of a society in which collective happiness is the main goal .It is about the shift in focus from material progress to more subjective well-being and happiness. This definition of happiness implied in GNH index is very much different from the popular understanding of happiness .Happiness is not just about feeling good, it is about serving others, living in harmony with nature, feeling safe and making others feel safer, it is about freedom – freedom to be the master of your own life, to realize your true self and help others in the same.
The concept of GNH is now having influence all over the world .In 2011, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution: “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development” urging member nations to follow the example of Bhutan and measure happiness and well-being and calling happiness a “fundamental right”. In India as well, a start has been made by the state of Madhya Pradesh by creating a “Happiness Department” tasked with ensuring happiness in the lives of common people, much on the lines of neighboring country Bhutan. There is a telling need for similar departments to be created in other states as well. GNH is not meant to replace GDP altogether rather to supplement .The large focus GNH places on happiness will make human beings the focus of any policy making and will reconcile economic growth and social well-being of nation .Let’s hope that this change takes people of India to new heights of prosperity and happiness .
(The authors are PGs from Department of Economics, University of Kashmir)
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