Another Indian-origin economist, after Amartya Sen, has been added to the winners' list of Nobel Prize for Economics – Abhijit Banerjee. A professor in Massachussetts Institute of Technology, USA, he shares the Economics Nobel this year with his wife and colleague Esther Duflo and a Harvard Professor Michael Kremer. The three were cited for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty eradication. When the Nobel committee citation states that "in just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics", there is much in it for the world to look forward to.
According to World Bank figures, at least 70 crore people of the world live in abject poverty. Nearly as many people struggle without getting even minimum wages. What was done under the leadership of Abhijit Baanerjee was a research project to save that segment, forming nearly a sixth of world population, from economic distress and poverty. In this era of stark economic inequalities left behind by a capitaslistic world order, this also constituted a noble humanitarian task to ensure the right to lead a life with honour and health for victims of this state of affairs.
There is much for Indians to feel proud of, when an Indian-born economist gives the lead to such a mission. On the other hand, there are factors for Indians to bow their heads in shame also before Abhijit's distinction. Firstly, the poverty of the world that Abhijit deals with, caught his attention in India itself. When it transpires that his insights and theories about poverty were derived from the realities of the slums in Kolkatta and Mumbai, that should lead our governments to introspection and much self-criticism. Look at the hunger index of the world where India ranks a low of hundredth place.
The same report portrays India's position as worse than that of countries facing civil war, racial riots and refugee crises. After Nigeria and Congo, India is the country where the largest number of poor people live. According to a related statistic of World Bank, 58 per cent of Indians have a per capita income of less than Rs 200 per day. And as per a similar report released by Asian Development Bank, the poverty-stricken people of India form 22 per cent of the population. When it comes to economic disparities, the situation gets worse. One per cent of the population is said to own nearly the entire wealth of the country. The picture is more than clear from such data.
An easy inference from such reports is the simple fact that the soul of India lies in slums on the outskirts of metro cities, and not in the inflated stories of 'economic growth'. In his pursuit of that soul, Abhijit Banerjee and his team were able to bring quite a large section back to life. Through experimental models conducted in Rajasthan, Kolkatta and Mumbai, he proved how the crores of rupees spent by governments and voluntary organisations in health and education sectors could be effectively utilised. However, our ruling establishments failed totally in continuing the operation of these models.
It is significant that Abhijit Banerjee's hour of glory comes at a time when our country has sunken to economic recession. Although debates about economic crisis became pronounced with the World Bank report that in the global ranking of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), India slipped from the fifth place to the seventh, those like Abhijit Banerjee had forecast this well in advance and had cautioned those in authority. It may be recalled that when the note-ban crossed fifty days, he had come out against that move.
Later, when the Modi government introduced 'economic reform' schemes including GST, he did point out their flaws right at the beginning. But such criticism was only used by those in authority to show their propensity to list him among the 'anti-nationals'. And most recently, when he wrote an open letter to the prime minister exposing the deceptive statistics about economic growth, he again became a 'traitor'. But now, all his forewarnings are in front of us as reality. In his press meet after the declaration of the Nobel Prize, he repeated such warnings. The pertinent question at this hour is whether our government would lend an ear to those like him at least now.