Noted development economist Jean Dreze has pitched for more inclusive and active social policies in India, saying even a high rate of economic growth has failed to improve the quality of life of a large section of people in the country. Dreze also expressed concern over widespread underemployment and stagnating wages, which according to him, reflected 'lopsidedness of economic growth in India.' "What is even more worrying is that relatively fast economic growth continues to go hand in hand with sluggish improvements in people's living conditions and the quality of life. Addressing this requires not only more inclusive growth but also more active social policies," Dreze told PTI in an interview. Dreze, a former member of the former UPA government's National Advisory Council, said that had India's economic growth been more labour-intensive then the country would have seen an increase in real wages, and possibly an increase in women's participation in the labour force. "Instead, real agricultural wages have remained more or less constant for the best of the last four years, and women's workforce participation is stagnating at one of the lowest levels in the world.
The stagnation of real wages is a clear sign, among others, of the lopsidedness of economic growth in India," he asserted. Contrary to business propaganda, Dreze pointed out, the social spending in India is quite low by international standards as a proportion of GDP. "If it rises in the run-up to the next elections, that will be good news, as long as the money is well spent," said Dreze, who has done extensive work in India on issues like hunger, famine, and the MNREGA. Talking about rising intolerance in India, the eminent economist said that ideally the people should not just tolerate each other, but befriend each other. "If a Hindu marries a Muslim, we should celebrate rather than tolerate. Someone said that a well-integrated society is one where 'everyone is a potential friend'. If that is the aim, we have a long way to go,"he emphasised.