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Is growth a synonym for development?

Saleh Akram | May 05, 2018 00:00:00

Bangladesh has been consistently achieving a growth rate of over 6.0 per cent since 2008-09. There is nothing exceptional about it, but it is remarkable given that most nations of the developed world were under recession during the period. Balance of payments is satisfactory and until recently the country's foreign exchange reserve was delectable. Saving and investment rates were up in recent years and population growth showed a declining trend. Mega infrastructure projects are being implemented to facilitate business and travel. Power problems recorded marked improvement and the country is poised to graduate to next UN category of development by 2024.

Most other factors of development exhibited a positive trend and these statistics shall lead anybody to conclude that the country is forging ahead. Last but not least, per capita income has also recorded a steady rise. Official data released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) have shown that the per capita income of the country has risen to $1610, an increase by 9.9 per cent over that of the previous year. This means that if the GDP of the country were distributed equally among people in the country, everyone would have been richer by 9.9 per cent. The gross domestic product (GDP) is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy. In absence of a better or more convenient alternative, the economic well-being of a country is usually measured by gross domestic product (GDP).

But the rhetoric bears very little meaning for majority of our people. They are convinced that the development activities did not enhance their real income as they are hard pressed against commodity price hikes and other rising costs of living. Unfortunately, we do not have reliable data on incomes of various groups for the recent years. However, the figures available strongly suggest that the real income of groups of people has either declined or did not increase significantly.

In addition, the development tide has not touched a large section of the youth, particularly the educated youth. Issue of women's employment remains largely unaddressed. Although participation by women increased, newly introduced marriage policy will further aggravate the situation as considered by Nobel laureates Amartya sen and Joseph Stiglitz. Women who make best contribution to development of garment industries, are being compelled to live below the poverty line. Another section of the population is the group of the salaried employees who receive their salaries from the government exchequer in accordance with the government pay scale. The salaries in real terms declined substantially in the years following the award of a pay scale in 2009. The government awarded them a new pay scale in 2015 to offset the loss and the new scale doubled their salaries and allowances. This was fully implemented by July 2016. However, by now the increase in the real take-home salaries have become insignificant. Overall employment figures also do not exhibit an upward trend.

So the principle of inclusive development has not been pursued while implementing development activities. Growth of GDP is only an ingredient of economic development and the two are not synonymous. Growth does not signify development unless it is combined with among other things progressive reduction in wealth and income inequalities, ensuring higher standard of living, affordable living costs and non-discrimination among communities. Cost of living is already up by more than 8.0 per cent making things further difficult for the common people.

The crux of the problem is that a large part of the population apparently did not gain much from the much hyped high GDP growth. The broad smile of success on faces of state functionaries is not visible on faces of the common people as they continue to be hard pressed by rising cost of living and reduced real income. Hence, they have very little to rejoice.

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