New Delhi: India has progressed during the 25 years of liberal economic reforms but some central issues still remain an issue, notably in the education and healthcare spaces, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has said.
"Any progress that happened here and there has to be viewed in the context of the larger failure to address the central issues," Sen told IANS in New Delhi, on the sidelines of the NDTV and TCS Nobel Solutions Summit on Wednesday evening.
"The basic neglect of education and healthcare and the idea that India could become a great world leader in the field of economy with unhealthy, uneducated labour force is profoundly mistaken," said the soft-spoken welfare economist, commenting on the 25 years of reforms since July 1991.
"The previous government was spending less. But the current government is spending even lesser," he said. "This is very unfortunate."
According to the 82-year-old Harvard professor who was conferred the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, one of the main flaws of reforms — initiated by his friend and former prime minister Manmohan Singh when he held the finance portfolio — was that it confined itself to some narrow goals.
While it was, indeed, desirable, the focus was on removing, to some extent, the intrusion of the government on matters of business and economic decision-making that often proved to be counter-productive, resulting in limited gains for the country as a whole, he added.
"That was a positive thing to do, but I only wish the reforms had been more complete than it has happened. On the other hand, it needed more positive things for the government to be done," said Sen, also the recipient of India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999.
"For things that the government can do, rather than intruding into businesses and going much more into providing education, healthcare, social security and environment care and so on — that did not happen," he said.
"So it's a very mixed record."
But he also listed some positive outcomes — such as the cut in fuel subsidies and elimination of of rich from getting doles for cooking gas and the attempts to spend more money on sophisticated scientific research.
But how does he react to the perceptions of an economy being governed by the stock markets?
In contrast to a stament made by Manmohan Singh at the peak of the securities scandal of 1992 that he does not lose sleep over stock market movements, Sen said the perception of any economy must be sensitive to the market.
But he said the problem does not lie in how the markets move, but whether they also take note of the non-market factors like how people's lives are changing, are preventable illness and morbidity being addressed, whether environment is being protected, and are children getting good education.
"The problem isn't to take the note of the market, that's a natural thing to do, but to confine your attention only to the market," said Sen, also the Master of Trinity College at Cambridge, who is considered an authority on welfare economics.