Escalating Inequality in South Asia: A Challenge to Political Managers

By Muhammad, Ayaz | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Escalating Inequality in South Asia: A Challenge to Political Managers


Muhammad, Ayaz, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Introduction

In this era of modern technology and communication no one can deny the importance of equal and equitable distribution of resources. This is considered an essential feature of democratic as well as dictatorial regimes. The notion of equity is often correlated with justice. Rawls (1971) explains that the primary subject of justice is the way in which principal economic and social arrangements distribute fundamental rights and duties in a society so that: (i) each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others (ii) social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage. In social and economic terms, everyone is assumed to be equal to fulfill everyone's basic needs giving 'essentially equal treatment for equal cases'. Hence under the first condition economically and socially just world would fulfill the basic needs of everyone. This notion of equity is grounded in the concept of social justice, which represents a belief that there are some things which people should have, that there are basic needs that should be fulfilled, that burdens and rewards should not be spread too divergently across the community, and that policy should be directed with impartiality, fairness and justice towards these ends. (1) Solow (1992) considers the equity as intergenerational issue of 'who gets what' and labels it 'distributional equity'. The equity also encompasses relationship of human species to the natural system of which humans are a part. This conception of equity demands equity between the environment, the economy and the societal good, equity between less developed nations with natural resources and developed nations with excess demand for these resources, equity between those who economically have plenty and those who suffer in poverty, equity between urban demands and agricultural space, equity between humans and all living species. This list of equity issues goes without limits. Each group and individual raising questions about equity from their particular points of interest trying to discover what is just and fair within their own framework. Shrader-Frechette (2000) expands the circle of equity up to future generations. He observes that the equity is grounded, in part, on a social-contract theory that according to which all humans share a social contract by virtue of being members of same species and sharing the same interests and resources; as a consequence, members of all generations deserve equal treatment. The strong emphasis on equity requires sturdy role of precautionary principle. For example, precautionary principle suggests the possibility to give up or change a technological path in case equity principle is in danger. It is argued that this will only be possible, if decisions are equitable, as such decisions generally carry greater legitimacy and encourage parties with differing interests to cooperate better in carrying out mutually agreed actions.

Responsibility of Rich Nations

Prevailing inequity among different countries and among different communities within a nation is one of the most urgent and thorny problems today faced by the developing countries. The national perspective of intragenerational equity requires that the well-being of strong groups will not be at the expense of weaker segments of the society. To the developing countries this social dimension of sustainable development seems the most important and challenging. (2) Ikeme (2003: 195-206) and Agyeman et al. (2003) put the responsibility on the shoulders of rich countries to narrow the gap. It is argued that based on 'polluter pays' principle the industrialized countries should contribute not only to the costs to help protect it but also to help the poor countries to gain access to the economic benefits derived from the use of these resources so that as beneficiaries of the planetary legacy, all members of the present generation are entitled to equitable access to the legacy. …

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