India’s economy has grown by about 6 per cent per year since the 1990s and by more than 9 per cent between 2005 and 2008. Even though the economy has slowed down, the growth was still around 7 per cent 2011.
Growth, particularly within the IT and other service sectors, has made an impression on the rest of the world. India’s middle class is growing and it is estimated that about 1 per cent of India’s poor is able to climb above the poverty line every year. However, economic development has mostly benefited those who live in cities and poverty remains a major challenge in rural areas.
The rapid economic development is divided unequally between rich and poor states. Half of India’s poor live in the north and northeast states, in what is known as the “cow belt”. People in these regions are extremely poor. States in western and southern India have reached economic and social levels that are fully comparable to middle-income countries.
A society full of contradictions
According to laws and regulations, all Indians have the right to basic education and health care. In practice, the government is not capable of delivering these rights and large groups do not have access to reasonable education or health care. India has launched extensive welfare programmes but the problem is that they do not always reach out to the people in need.
The biggest challenges for India are about reducing the high levels of tuberculosis, malaria, malnutrition among children and youth and maternal mortality. There is a gender aspect to these problems since they affect women and girls to a larger extent.
But there is also another side to the country. India is the world’s largest democracy with a well-developed civil society. Examples of improvements are increased literacy rates and reduced infant mortality rates. Elections are held every five years, and the country has an independent judiciary and a well-developed legal system. Despite many languages, religions and cultures, the country has handled and solved many serious conflicts within the framework of democracy.
Severe environmental degradation
Economic development in India has taken its toll on the environment and environmental awareness in the country is low. Each year, reoccurring natural disasters, particularly floods and droughts, affect millions of people. Climate change, with glaciers in the Himalayas melting fast, is having an effect on coastal areas and the heavily populated river delta in north and east India.
Because India has a population of 1.2 billion people and a fast-growing economy, the country is a key player in the work against global climate change.
The country accounts for a significant part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, climate change poses a great threat to India. The environment and climate are topics that are consistently rising in importance on India’s political agenda.
Sida’s focus areas in India: