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close this bookThe Basic Needs Concept and Its Implementation in Indian Development Planning (ILO, 1978, 106 p.)
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View the documentPreface
Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsI. Formulation of approach
Open this folder and view contentsII. Implementation
Open this folder and view contentsIII. Lessons
View the documentAppendix
View the documentNotes to the Main Text
View the documentReferences
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A.1 In this section we shall be discussing some of the special features of the Minimum Level of Living approach as adopted in India which marks it off as somewhat different from the various ‘Basic Needs’ concepts that have been discussed during recent times in various papers, some emanating from ILO sources, some from World Bank sources, and some carrying the names of individual authors. The distinction of the Indian approach lies mainly in the matter of the scope.

A.2 As the phrasing “Minimum Level of Living” indicates, the scope of the Indian approach has been restricted to the concept of the level of living in the narrow economic sense. By contrast it has been emphasised in many writings on Basic Needs that, by ‘basic’, one should not understand any such thing as minimum subsistence. Thus, the action programme of the ILO states: “In no circumstances should it be taken to mean merely the minimum necessary for subsistence”. However, in Indian planning, the Minimum Level of Living has been squarely meant to represent precisely the minimum subsistence level (notwithstanding the acknowledged difficulties of any concept of subsistence). Thus the Fifth Plan observes:

“When we talk about the elimination of poverty as a goal of development, what we have in mind is not the relative concept but a definition of what could reasonably be considered as an absolute level of poverty”.

A.3 It would however seem that the “Basic Needs” concept is taken to include, in the thoughts of many advocating the concept, many things which are better regarded as belonging to the areas of fundamental human rights or general objectives of planning (other than that of the needs of certain target groups) or to the domain of economic policy instruments in general, and therefore not particularly relevant to any Minimum Level of Living or Basic Needs approach. On purely logical grounds there is not much fault to find with the Indian approach. And, in the matter of logical consistency, the other broader concepts that have been suggested suffer from a certain looseness, as we shall point out below. On the other hand, as noted in Section 14, the extremely narrow way of conceiving the Minimum Needs Programme in India made it too inadequate for providing a basis for the vast programme of social reorganisation which an effective and meaningful basic needs approach calls for.

A.4 As an example of what appears to us to be loose logic in the various writings on Basic Needs, we may refer to the ‘Programme of Action’ of the ILO mentioning a whole set of macro-economic policies as being essential parts of “any national employment centred development strategy aiming at the basic needs of the population as a whole”. Many of these recommended policies are such as would be called for in any development effect. (They have not therefore been, in Indian planning literature, related in any special manner with the concept or the approach of Minimum Level of Living, and rightly so). Examples of such general policies, unavoidable in any development strategy, yet recommended in the ILO’s Action Programme as being especially relevant for the Basic Needs approach, are: increase in the productivity of labour, increase in resource mobilisation for investment, control of natural resources, protection of the environment, suitable reforms of the price mechanism and the tax mechanism etc. There are some other recommendations in the nature of particular development policies, not all of which would be regarded universally as indispensable parts of any development strategy; and which, while relevant to the process of rapid development, are not particularly called for by any Basic Needs or Minimum Level of Living approach. Examples of such policies recommended in the Action Programme are: progressive taxation of income and wealth, land reforms, trade among developing countries etc.

A.5 Thus, in terms of the model set out in para 2.4 of Section 2 (of the main text), any strategy that would call for the rapid development of the economy would call for growth in the values of the macro-economic measures Y (aggregate output), C (aggregate consumption) and K (aggregate capital formation). Given certain initial resources and a certain technology, Y would be higher for higher K. It would of course be desirable to have the technological functions aij (Xj) to be so chosen as to make Y as high as possible or as equitably distributed as possible, given the same K, and that would bring in the consideration of “appropriate technology”. Given the same volume of A (net inflow of foreign capital), K would be higher if S would be higher, and that makes the case for mobilisation of domestic savings; which in its turn would call for the consideration of prices and taxes. Minimisation of A, net inflow of foreign capital, is an objective in itself in Indian planning - the objective of self reliance - and one way of achieving this is through trade with other developing countries. These are important ideas which have all received due attention in the Indian plans. However, they would be important and basic considerations whether or not the targets of C (aggregate consumption), G (government current expenditure) and K (gross capital formation) are based upon calculations with respect to any Minimum Level of private consumption, c, and any minimum government expenditure, current and capital, for the programmes going under the Minimum Needs Programme of public services (g and K). As such, in Indian planning, all these considerations are taken up in detail, but as part and parcel of the plan as a whole and not in relation to or as part of the Minimum Needs Programmes of private and public consumption.

A.6 This of course does not mean that these policy discussions have to be in any way disjointed from, or in contradiction with, the fundamental objective of some Minimum Level of Living objective. Such disjointment or contradiction would be prevented if all parts of the plan, whether concerning production, employment and investment, or choices with regard to import of technology or policies with regard to prices, taxation etc., would be carried out within a unified logical framework, a bare outline of which has been sketched in Section 2.

A.7 However, the fact that certain policy issues are treated separately, and not as part and parcel of considerations of the Minimum Level of Living norms and targets, does not perhaps constitute a feature of Indian planning that needs to be contrasted sharply with the other Basic Needs approach we have in mind. What is really important is the difference in respect of certain objectives and certain policies which many others regard as being implied or necessitated by the Basic Needs approach and which have not been regarded in that light in Indian planning. A case in point is the idea expressed in the following words taken from the Action Programme of the ILO: “A basic needs programme implies the participation of the people in making decisions which affect them through organisations of their own choice”. (Many statements of identical purport occur in various individually authored papers).

A.8 Participation of the people in making decisions which affect them through organisations of their own choice is a democratic ideal which enjoys wide support among people at this point of history. It cannot also be denied that this ideal is as yet far from having been attained in any present day society. As is well-known, there is no one concept of democracy. But whether one thinks of the democracy of the liberal variety with the multi-party parliamentary system, or the democracy of the kinds practised in the countries of Eastern Europe or China, it is nowhere true that masses take all the decisions that affect them. Division of labour is as essential in the administering of societies and economies as in any production process. As such, to make the attainment of people’s participation as an ideal a pre-condition for a particular strategy of development is to say in effect that the strategy cannot be taken up for implementation for an indefinite period of time.

A.9 It would however be eminently desirable if the Basic Needs approach incorporates participation by the people to the maximum feasible extent as an objective. But it is something quite different to say that the satisfaction of basic needs implies participation by the masses, and that it is an integral part of it. The former is a statement about the working of social systems and the latter a statement of an objective. On prima facie grounds, historical evidence would seem to rule out the former proposition. Thus, many societies in the developed capitalist and socialist parts of the world are providing all its citizens with levels of private and public consumption which could be reasonably regarded as above any basic or minimum levels. But most of them have done so without having institutions of mass participation in many of the decisions that affect the masses.

A.10 One can also look at the proposition in its concrete application to particular cases. Thus consider the idea set out in the following words by one writer on this subject {19}:

“People agree on a list of basic commodities which their collective effort should produce. The choice could also extend to questions of the necessary productive and distributive arrangements for attaining these objectives. Furthermore, in this conception there is no role for the manipulation of tastes or consumption patterns; the choice is essentially voluntary with no preconceived outcomes to impose and hence there would be no need to manipulate consumption behaviour to fit this preconceived pattern”, (op. cit. p.64)

Apart from the fact that production and distribution arrangements to be settled at the same time as decisions regarding what to consume can be visualised only in an organisation of the Chinese Commune kind, the consumption pattern thus arrived at may be expected to be different, as the author himself points out, from one that would recommend itself on grounds of nutrition, expenditure minimisation etc.

A.11 The later considerations, called ‘technocratic’ by the above author, are far from being irrelevant. If consumers individually or collectively could, without the help of the relevant technological knowledge, arrive at satisfactory dietary and other consumption patterns, there would not have been any problems of unbalanced diet and irrational expenditure patterns, not only among the poor but also among the rich, and not only in developing countries but also in the developed ones. In India even the very rich are known to suffer from the ill effects of unbalanced diet, and those who get indebted because of imprudent consumption habits (with propensity for lavish expenditures on ceremonials, rituals, litigation etc.) are to be found also among the rich.

A.12 This is not to deny that popular participation in the supply of public services could “provide a product more closely related to the needs of the people”, nor to deny that popular participation in any social or economic decision-making process, if properly organised under the right kind of leadership (which need not necessarily be either paternalistic or autocratic), could be highly desirable. But to describe something as highly desirable is quite different from calling it a pre-condition for the success of a programme. And mass participation under effective leadership is a concept that ascribes a crucial importance to the role of leadership which the phrase mass participation with its undertone of spontaneity as such does not give.

A.13 The same comments would apply to the idea contained in the following proposition by the same author {19}: “a broad degree of equality in political and economic power is a pre-condition for satisfying basic needs efficiently” (italics mine). Once again nobody would differ from the position that equality is “an attribute desirable on its own right”, and we have seen in Section 1 that reduction in the inequality of distribution of income, wealth and economic power has been a goal in Indian planning. But this objective is not a “pre-condition” for the success of any Minimum Level of Living approach or any Basic Needs Programme. As we have argued, equality, mass participation etc., are best regarded as constituents of the approach rather than pre-conditions for them. We cannot say that we could regard this as a lacuna or a failure of Indian planning.

A.14 Even more esoteric seems to be the idea of regarding basic human rights, self-reliance, local self sufficiency etc., as integral parts or pre-conditions of such planning. To stress this is important for demarcating the Indian approach as well as our own view from the approach to Basic Needs as conceived in such documents as, say, ILO’s Employment Growth and Basic Needs and Paul Streetne’s “Basic Needs: An issue Paper” prepared in the World Bank in 1977. Thus the former document makes the following statement as constituting an element of “Basic Needs”:

“The satisfaction of an absolute level of basic needs as so defined should be placed within a broader framework - namely the fulfilment of basic human rights, which are not only ends in themselves but also contribute to the attainment of other goals”.

A.15 In India all the basic human rights one can think of are enshrined in the country’s Constitution. Indeed, a whole lot of lofty objectives, which many writers on basic needs have been at pains to insist upon as constituting essential elements of the approach, are included lock, stock and barrel in the Indian constitution through the inclusion in it of a not-too-clearly-defined concept of “socialism” as one of its guiding principles. Yet it would be entirely true, if not trite, to say that the enshrining of basic rights in the Constitution does not necessarily make them effective; that in India, as in other developing countries, millions are denied their basic rights in their everyday existence, in conditions characterised by the oppression and the exploitation of the masses by a microscopic minority of the privileged and the powerful. No difference to this fundamental dire reality can be expected to come about by repeating the declarations of these rights in the chapters on Minimum Needs in planning documents.

A.16 As to self-reliance, it has been mentioned before that it has been one of the explicitly stated fundamental objectives of all of India’s five-year plans. Indian planners would not agree on the direct linkage between its approach to Minimum Levels of Living and the objective of self-reliance as is postulated in propositions of the following kind:

“A focus on meeting basic needs of the people should imply a lessening of the dependence of the Third World on the markets, capital and technologies of the developed world; a greater potential for trade expansion among developing countries; an improvement in their terms of trade vis-a-vis the industrialised world; a reduced dependence on and role for multi-nationals and sophisticated technologies; a reorientation of development assistance” {19}.

That does not mean that there could be any difference of opinion on the point that any planning approach with

“emphasis on self-reliance; on changes in patterns of demand, consumption and production; on utilisation of local material and human resources to produce goods and services to meet essential needs of the people; on labour-intensive technologies and often small-scale production, has implications for a wide range of international economic issues such as the structure and terms of trade, the transfer of technology, international migration, multi-national enterprises and development assistance”.