Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
The Economist had this to say about Uttar Pradesh (UP) in its article about the upcoming UP election: “Politically speaking, Uttar Pradesh is India’s weightiest state. And this is not only because it has more people—218m of them—than any other, meaning that it sends more members to parliament, supplying 80 of the MPs who sit in the lower house, the Lok Sabha. UP itself sits next to Delhi, India’s capital and its politics are seen as a springboard for the national stage: both Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister, and Rahul Gandhi, the most prominent opposition figure, hold seats from UP.”
Being India’s most populated and politically most crucial state, one would expect UP to be relatively more developed or better off than other states in the country.
In that case, one would be wrong.
Uttar Pradesh fares poorly in nearly all development and human development indicators. From agricultural growth and maintenance of toilets to healthcare and criminals in politics, UP’s numbers are grim and uninspiring.
But don’t let that bother you while you are distracted by the saas-bahu-styled movie that is the 2017 UP Assembly election, with its high-intensity political dramas and low-quality political rhetoric. In India’s heartland, political drama has shadowed ideology and ideation.
The Logical Indian describes how UP fares on several development parameters – and questions why these aspects are not the driving forces of public debate in the state (and, indeed, the country) during the ongoing campaign.
A demotivating economy
UP is among the top three Indian states when it comes to debt to GDP ratio. This essentially implies that the state is notorious for borrowing beyond its ability to repay the interests.
While UP, on account of its size and population, is a key driver of India’s GDP, the 6.1% growth UP registered in 2014-15 is among the lowest among its 8 neighbouring states. GDP growth has been erratic in the past decade, driven by uncertain monsoons and even more uncertain politics. At the same time, UP is the lowest among the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and UP) in annual growth rate in the period between 2004 and 2013 according to an ASSOCHAM study.
According to the last national census, UP has the seventh lowest literacy rate in India. Literacy in UP, as in most Indian states, is sharply divided between women and men. While the male literacy rate is 77.28%, the female literacy rate is 57.18%.
No country for unhealthy people
The state with the worst malnutrition rates. Around 34% of children (age 0-5 years) are underweight in UP while almost half were reportedly stunted. Even the improvement in UP has been slower than that of its neighbours. For example, immunisation coverage improved by about 58 percentage points for Bihar between 1998-99 and 2012-13. The corresponding improvements for MP and Rajasthan are 44 and 57 percentage points respectively. But UP has just gained 33 percentage points in the same period. Despite these regressive statistics, UP’s health spending is the lowest in India.
Agricultural growth has suffered at below-3% levels in the past few years. Two successive years of drought wreaked havoc on UP’s rural economy. Numbers show 29 of the 71 districts in the state are having a deficit of rainfall. With as much as 42% of the districts receiving poor rainfall, agricultural infrastructure is a formidable challenge.
A disdain for sanitation
UP is among the worst-performing states when it comes to the condition of rural sanitation, school toilets, and household latrines. This is a reality despite the fact that UP avails the maximum amount of funds from the centre on this issue. UP’s track record on sanitation is among the worst in India.
UP’s non-employability crisis
In 2015, when the UP government placed an advertisement for 368 posts of peons – something that a middle-school dropout could be eligible for – a staggering 2.32 million applied for these jobs. Let that be repeated: 2.32 million applied for 368 jobs. As many as 255 of the applicants had PhDs while more than 25,000 of the applicants had Master’s degrees.
UP’s struggle with creating a pool of employable youth is well-documented. This is a reality despite the fact that the state has the highest number of colleges than any other state (6,026), and boasts of the highest college enrollment in India.
Criminals on the streets
The state has a dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of crimes against women in India. According to information by the National Crime Records Bureau, while crimes against women have risen by 34% (as of 2015), Uttar Pradesh is among the most unsafe states for women in India with 35,527 cases in 2015 alone. Of course, the estimate of unreported cases is anybody’s guess.
It also has the highest incidence of violent crimes in India. It accounts for 12.1% of total violent crimes in India (24,851 out of 2,05,656). UP also reports 10% (5,480 out of 32,481) of total murder cases in the country and 18.4% (4,997 out of 27,230) total attempts to murder cases. Again, the estimate of unreported cases is anybody’s guess.
Criminals in the Assembly
How did it change when the new Assembly was elected in 2012? According to the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR), 47% of the MLAs in the State Assembly have criminal cases registered against them.
One would assume that the political parties would mend their ways and not give tickets to criminals and lawbreakers. But one would be wrong. According to the ADR, while there has been a 12% fall in the number of candidates for the 2017 election compared to 2012, the number of those facing criminal charges is abysmally huge. As the election proceeds phase-wise, each phase has reported 12%-20% of candidates as those facing criminal conspiracy.
HIV crisis that has been ignored
According to the Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (UPSACS), there are 21,000 HIV-positive people in the state; unofficial figures could run into hundreds of thousands. The fact that the maximum cases of HIV infections are among youth between 15-40 years is a disturbing trend, as analysed by UNICEF.
Despite being banned since 1929, child marriage continues to be a social reality in India today. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), there has been an overall decline in the percentage of women aged 20-24 married before the legal age of 18, from 54.2% in 1992-93 to 44.5% in 2005-06. However, this number remains insultingly large and existent for the Republic of India. A disproportionate number of girls in rural and semi-urban areas who are married off in childhood, as compared to boys. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of married children (2.8 million) – over 1 million more than the next state, Bihar. The state also has the highest number of children born to children at 1 million.
Issues that should matter, but are lost in the political rhetoric
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