A Note on Kerala's Development Achievements

By Ramachandran, V. K. | Monthly Review, May 1995 | Go to article overview

A Note on Kerala's Development Achievements


Ramachandran, V. K., Monthly Review


The most conspicuous feature of the Indian economy is that hundreds of millions of India's people live in conditions of appalling deprivation--in conditions of hunger, ill-health, homelessness, illiteracy, and subject to different forms of class, caste, and gender oppression. Among the states of India there is, as is now well-known, one state--Kerala--whose performance in the spheres of social and economic development has been substantially better than the others. Kerala's accomplishment shows that the well-being of the people can be improved, and social, political, and cultural conditions transformed, even at low levels of income, when there is appropriate public action. In Kerala, the action of mass organizations and mass movements against social, political, and economic oppression and the policy actions of governments have been the most important constituents of public action.

The achievements of the people of Kerala are the result of major social, economic, and political transformations. These changes have roots in Kerala's history, but they were also, in an important sense, achievements of public action in post-1957 Kerala (the present state of Kerala was established in 1956, and the first government, a Communist government, took office in 1957). They were possible because there was mass literacy; because agrarian relations were transformed; because there were important changes in the conditions of unfreedom of the people of the oppressed castes; because of enlightened social attitudes toward girls' and women's survival and education, and because of the public policy interventions of governments in Kerala. All of these conditions are replicable.

There has been a progressive transformation in Kerala of the health and demographic conditions characteristic of less-developed societies, and the state is far ahead of the rest of India in respect of these conditions. According to current data, the expectation of life at birth of males is 71.2 years, against an Indian average of 59.1 years, and the expectation of life at birth of females is 73.7 years, against an Indian average of 60.4 years. The birth rate in Kerala was 18.5 per thousand in 1990-1992, against and Indian average of 29.5 per thousand. The death rate was 6.1 per thousand against an Indian average of 9.8 per thousand. The infant mortality rate was 17 per thousand against an Indian average of 79 per thousand, and there were 1,040 females per thousand males in Kerala's population, against an Indian average of 928.

The ratio of medical establishments to population is substantially higher in Kerala than the rest of India. In an area of mass literacy, and where social and political consciousness are high, people demand more health facilities, use the health system more, and use it better. Recent data indicate that the rate of immunization of boys and girls is higher than elsewhere and the immunization is not determined by the level of income. While the evidence is of progressive change in the pattern of morbidity and of improved facilities to deal with illness, medical evidence also indicates that much remains to be done to control the incidence of water-born and air-born infections in Kerala.

Nutrition levels improved in Kerala after the 1970s, and, according to official data, household consumption levels were higher than the Indian average by the late 1980s. The public food distribution system, the best among India's states, gives basic nutritional support to the people of Kerala. There is a two-tier system of public distribution of essential commodities. The system was extended and consolidated from the second half of the 1970s. Of the population of the state, 90 percent held ration cards (which entitle households to buy subsidized rice, wheat, sugar, cooking oil, and kerosene), and the average amount of food-grain bought from ration shops by an individual in Kerala was 69.6 kg in 1991. The corresponding figures for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1989 were 6 kg and 8 kg. …

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