Prof. Sukhdeo Thorat,


Distinguished guests,


Ladies and gentlemen


In a moment of weakness many months back I succumbed to the request of my friend, Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, to be here today to inaugurate the first conference of your Association.

The occasion, and the date, is of relevance on many counts. We celebrate November 26 as the Constitution Day. It is also the anniversary of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s return to India after studies abroad and I do not have to tell this audience about the role he played in the awakening process associated with his name.

To me personally, and I hope I am not alone in saying so, the date is important because it follows the day in 1949 when Bhimrao Ambedkar made his most important, his most succinct, his most relevant speech, for India and Indians. In it, he summed up the constitution-making process and unambiguously spelt out the targets, the benefits and pitfalls, for his audience in the Constituent Assembly and for future generation of citizens.

Allow me to repeat the three things he said citizens must do to maintain democracy in form and in fact:



  1. To hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives and to resort to unconstitutional methods only when there was no way left for constitutional methods.
  2. Take care not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or trust him with power which  enables  him to subvert their institutions’ because ‘in politics Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship’.
  1. Must not be content with mere political democracy that cannot last ‘unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.’

Ambedkar defined social democracy ‘as a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life, as interdependent, as a trinity that cannot be separated.

Having outlined the ideal, Bhimrao Ambedkar was brutally honest in assessing the prevailing reality in our society and asking his audience to accept that there is both an absence of equality in our society and a lack of recognition of fraternity as a basic principle.

The objectives were thus clearly spelt out and were inscribed in the Constitution. Their implementation over a period of almost seven decades gives us a fair opportunity to assess it on three counts:

  • What has actually been done?
  • What are the shortfalls?
  • How should we proceed from here?

The theme of this conference, namely: Emerging Challenges of Socio-Economic Equality and Erosion of Secular State thus gives us an opportunity to examine the score card.

There should also be no ambiguity about the intrinsic linkage between the two dimensions of the subject since, in a diverse and composite society like ours, no effort at seeking socio-economic equality between citizens is possible unless the State as the implementing agency is secular in letter and spirit and acts at all times to implement the provisions of Article 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution.  Any erosion in the secular functioning of the State is thus detrimental to the totality of the objectives set out in the Constitution.


The focus of today’s conference is on problems of poverty and inequality in Maharashtra. The specific subjects listed in the concept paper can be summed up in three categories: poverty, education and employment.

Since its creation in 1960, Maharashtra has made considerable progress in terms of Human Development indicators such as income per capita, poverty, nutrition, education and civic amenities:

  • poverty level in the State has been reduced from 49 percent in 1993 to 17 percent in 2012;
  • literacy rate has improved from 65 percent in 1991 to 82 in 2011; enrolment in secondary and high secondary education has improved from 71 percent in 2007/8 to 87 in 2014/15; enrolment rate for higher education has improved from 20 percent  in  2007/8  to  31 in 2014/15;
  • availability of housing, drinking water, electricity and latrine has improved; the percentage of households without safe drinking water, latrine and elasticity that was 36, 65, and 22 percent respectively in 2001 was reduce to 32, 47, and 16 percent respectively in 2011.

Similar improvement has occurred in income, poverty, education, civic amenities, and civil rights for SC, OBC, ST, high caste de-notified tribes, women and minorities (the Muslim and the Buddhist).

However, development has been unequal, poverty and Inequalities still persists and the goal of securing better life for all remains elusive. Progress in human development indicators is slow. The poor have benefitted less than non-poor, making the development in Maharashtra less pro-poor and unequal. In many respects it compares less favourably to States having lower per capita income. Thus in 2012 Maharashtra ranked:


  • second in per capita income but 6th in poverty level,
  • highest in malnutrition,
  • sixth in proportion of anaemic children and fifth in proportion of anaemic women.
  • 9th in enrolment rate of higher education 9th and 14th in secondary/higher secondary,
  • lag behind in indicators like poverty, malnutrition, health and school and higher education despite being 2nd in per capita income.

The Reports released today for discussion focus on (a) the nature of the unequal development in the State, (b) its causes and (c) policy reforms to bring improvement in the wellbeing of the poor people.


Unequal Human Development is measured by looking at two sets of inequalities: Inter-personal and Inter-groups.

The inter-personal inequalities are between individuals such as poor and non-poor and would include differences between male / female, scheduled caste, OBC and high caste, tribal/nomadic and de-notified and non-tribal, and between Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. These, despite reduction in poverty levels, show that in 2012 about 17 percent persons were poor of whom about 25 percent were rural and 9 percent urban. The poorest  amongst  these   are   casual  wage  labour;  worker in   informal


sectors, small farmers and small non-farm entrepreneurs are poorer. This is reflected in data relating to availability of drinking water, housing, latrine facilities, children’s health, illiteracy and housing and results from inequality in ownership of wealth, in regular salaried employment, unemployment and education. These bring forth inequality in income and result in to high poverty for those who lack assets, employment and education.

Wealth includes land, building, farm and non-farm machinery and share and deposit. In 2013, top 20 percent households owned 84 percent of wealth while 80 percent owned only 20 percent.  The   top  20     percent household owned 72 percent of State land, 86 percent of building, 57 to 62 share/deposit, and finance deposit; but the bottom 20 percent of the household owned 0.4 of land, 0.2 percent of building, and 0.5 percent to 1 percent share/deposit and finance.

Land assets are an important source of income in rural area where half of the population lives. In 2013, the top 10 percent owned almost 56 percent of agricultural land, as against only 0.1 percent by bottom 10 percent. As a result, the proportion of small farms (less than 5 acres) is almost 72 percent. This results in low income and poverty among them.

Similar inequality is observed in ownership of private enterprises or businesses that are the main source of income for about 11 percent of household in rural and 30 percent in urban area. Their turnover and income is low.


Persons who are without income earning assets depends on the wage labour. In 2012, wage workers were 53 percent of the total workers. Of these, the regular salaried workers were about 26 percent, and remaining 26 percent were casual labourer on even lower wages.

In the final analysis, employability is dependent on educational levels. This in turn is reflective of inequality in income groups. In 2014, the enrolment rate in higher education for the bottom income group was about 16 percent, for the middle income group 22 to 25 percent, 38 percent for upper middle and 75 percent for top income group.


Even more pervasive is the category of Intergroup Inequalities relating to disparities between caste, tribes, religious minorities and male-female.

In Caste/Tribe terms, the ST, (54 percent) and SC (20 percent) are the poorest compared with OBC (14 percent) and high caste (9 percent). The OBC are less poor than SC/ST but more poor than high caste. The SC/ST also lag behind the OBC and high caste in educational attainment, availability of civic amenities, like housing, water, latrine, and elasticity at home.

The scheduled caste also faces denial of civic and economic rights in many spheres, if not all, on account of the  persistence of  untouchability


and caste discrimination. This is clear from data for the twenty year period (1995 to 2015) in which the SC in Maharashtra registered a total of 22,253 incidence of denial of equal rights.

Among religious groups Buddhists are poorest (28 percent), followed by the Muslim(19 percent), and the Hindu (12 percent).  Buddhist and Muslim also lag behind in education and access to civic amenities. Differentiation on grounds of sex is reflected in women and girl-child, particularly among SC and ST, suffering from higher levels of malnutrition and anaemia. In demographic terms, Buddhists constitute 5.8 percent of Maharashtra’s population, Muslims 11.54 percent and Hindus 79.83 percent.

The sources of group inequality and poverty vary among groups. The main reasons for low income and high poverty among the SC, compared with OBC and high caste,  is  low  ownership  of  income  earning   assets  like agricultural land and private enterprises, and a range of critical handicaps on education, employability and wage structures.


A recently published book on Caste, Discrimination and Exclusion in Modern India has shown with irrefutable data that ‘underpinning all forms of disadvantage is the practice of untouchability’ with regard to Dalits and consideration of Muslims ‘being seen as “others”.’ It pleads for equality not only in law but in actual practice.


The conclusion is unavoidable that human development in Maharashtra like in other parts of our land is unequal and that the requirement of justice and social peace demands that it be addressed on a priority basis and be made equitable. This is the target this Association has set for itself; it highlights the importance of group action and also sets a model for emulation for other States in the country.

Jai Hind.