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Will Karnataka’s Mid-Tier Performance on 'Access' Indices Affect the Way it Votes Today?

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Much of electoral politics in the state has ultimately pivoted around local, developmental issues, including those of civic-municipal importance and access to social and economic opportunities.
Voters queue in Belagavi. Photo: Twitter/@ECISVEEP

As Karnataka votes for a new state-government today, it might be a good idea to note the state’s performance across different socio-economic development performance indicators.

A year ago, our Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES) research team developed a multi-dimensional index, to measure a state’s performance on various ‘access’ equality measures. 

More details on the index findings and broader observations have been earlier discussed here and here

Our work has been used to compare observable differences among north Indian and south Indian states, but it also shows how Karnataka performs lower compared to other southern states like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Kerala on most ‘access’ pillars.

Thus, in spite of efforts to communalise the discourse, much of electoral politics in the state has ultimately pivoted around local, developmental issues, including those of civic-municipal importance and access to social, economic opportunities: evident from demands for better jobs, better wages, decent working conditions, healthcare, education, power, drinking water, social security, finance and digital access, to name a few. 

How does Karnataka as a state perform on the ‘access’ indicators?

Given it has become modish in popular discourse (often echoed by government-supported echo chambers) to critique indices, before actually seeing what results they reflect (and testing the validation of those), some conceptual and methodological clarity on the index itself may be warranted here. 

In creating the AEI (Access Equality Index) we have conceptualised “access” in our index’s framework in derivation from a set of theoretical inferences developed by scholars like Penchansky and Thomas amongst others from established discourse present in healthcare policy literature.

Source: AEI Report 2021

Though “access” in general means a way of approaching, reaching or entering a place, as the right or opportunity to reach, use or visit, it is here broadly conceptualised to encompass the “4As”: affordability, approachability, appropriateness and availability.

These four dimensions are not only critical in addressing inequalities in accessing healthcare services but can be expanded to cover various other sectors including basic amenities, education, justice and for addressing socio-economic inequalities.

The index in its analytical framework includes five fundamental pillars of assessment (illustrated in the figure below) for states and Union Territories across India:

  1. Access to education,
  2. Access to healthcare,
  3. Access to basic amenities,
  4. Access to socio-economic security,
  5. Access to justice.

Source: AEI Report 2021

Karnataka’s performance in overall state-wise rankings

Based on the composite ranking score range of 0.67-0.23, states in our index are grouped into three categories – “aspirants” (below 0.33), “achievers” (0.42-0.33) and “front runners” (above 0.42).

Source: AEI Report 2021

As you see from the above figure, Karnataka, in terms of composite performance, ranks as a ‘Front Runner’ (with a score of 0.46), though compared to other front runners, it performs below states like Goa, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.  

Let’s look at the sub-index performance evaluation for the state. 

Access to basic amenities

 In terms of access to basic amenities, which we measured in the context of looking at spatial access for communities across each state to piped drinking water, sanitation, housing, clean energy, nutrition, Karnataka’s overall performance is as a ‘front runner’. But it is below states like Goa, Punjab, Kerala, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.

Access to healthcare

 This pillar captures various indicators that play an important role in accessing health care services in Indian states and UTs. The frontrunners (index value ≥0.57) are Goa, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Karnataka. 

There exists huge inequality in terms of affordability of healthcare services and availability of beds, which are crucial indicators of assessing access to health infrastructure among states. 

India also has one of the least, as well as most unequal, access to health insurance which along with high medical out of pocket expenditure, makes healthcare inaccessible. Thanks to governments’ focus on maternal and child healthcare since Independence through multiple programmes under the National Health Mission, accessibility to maternal and child healthcare has relatively reached a high proportion of the targeted population. 

Also read: Eight Charts to Explain the State of Rural Healthcare in India

In Karnataka, some of the social welfare programmes in health have received mixed success depending on the rural-urban context and the social community based identity markers (say from SCs, STs to other backward castes). The report details this for each state. 

Access to education

In studying access to education, Karnataka, compared to other Indian states, doesn’t do as well as other better performers.

The top five front runner states based on the overall performance in terms of ensuring access to basic education are Punjab (0.47), Goa (0.45), Himachal Pradesh (0.43), Sikkim (.41) and Kerala (0.37). Meanwhile the list of ‘aspirants’ are Arunachal Pradesh (0.22), Jharkhand (0.21), Bihar (.20), Uttar Pradesh (.19) and Meghalaya (0.13). 

In determining performance for this pillar, we looked at sub-indicators like net enrolment ratios, net attendance ratios, pupil-teacher ratios, average expenditure by student on secondary education that a household pays (to assess ‘affordability’ of education in determining ‘access’) and per capita spending on education by government. 

Apart from affordability, social factors like pre-defined patriarchal roles of men and women prevent about 30 percent girls, especially adolescent girls, from attending school by engaging them in domestic activities instead.  For example, availability of girls’ toilets in schools is a crucial indicator representing the appropriateness of the infrastructure. The UNICEF had said in 2005: “Education for girls can be supported and fostered by something as basic as a girls-only toilet.” This is a very important means in ensuring access to education to girls, especially at the secondary level, to ensure menstrual hygiene. 

Karnataka, unfortunately, performs sub-par on most of these sub-indicators. This doesn’t mean it’s performance is very low (compared to Bihar or UP) but is significantly lower than the better performers (Telangana, Kerala and even Punjab outscore it by a decent margin).  

Access to socio-economic security

Access to social security or protection is necessary to reduce vulnerability of citizens when at risk and enhance their capacity to manage those. These risks include unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability, and old age. 

However, government-controlled social security structure in India applies to only a small portion of the population with the overall public expenditure on social protection (excluding public healthcare) being approximately 1.5 percent of the GDP, which is lower than many middle-income countries across the world. 

‘Access to socio-economic security’ sub-index score ranges between .77 and .24 for states. Goa and Lakshadweep are the top performers among the States and the UTs. Sikkim, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu are other front runners for provision of access to social, financial, and economic security. Additionally, among the states, Jharkhand, Assam, and UP have the least access to socio-economic security while among UTs, J&K and Daman & Diu rank the last.

Karnataka ranks sixth on this pillar (only below: Goa, Sikkim, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). The measurement of this is based on the study of ‘access to financial security’ (plus access to decent work, other social security enabled assistance, including to those with disabilities) through the implementation of different state-based welfare programmes or the (better) implementation of Union government funded or supported programmes. 

Access to legal recourse or justice

Much like the other indicators discussed above, the role of infrastructure (physical and digital) and human resource in accessing justice (or legal recourse) is not only imperative for peace, stability and effective governance but is also detrimental to timely justice for the communities.

Karnataka performs the worst on this pillar.

The findings from the index indicate that Sikkim, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana and Maharashtra are front runners. Some of the aspirant states include Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Assam. The index values for the achievers’ range between 0.32-0.38. Delhi, Chandigarh, and Puducherry are the best performers among UTs. 

Karnataka falls in the category of ‘aspirants’ (with a score of less than 0.32) in this pillar along with states like Mizoram, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Meghalaya. It has insufficient number of police personnel and judges (on demographic basis) and is juridically understaffed. 

Our data indicates state level that the number of police per lakh population at all India level averages at 221.4, slightly below the United Nation’s recommended ratio of 222. However, state level disparities indicates that states such as Bihar, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and West Bengal has less than 100 police personnel per lakh population. What is astonishing is that the share of women police personnel across states and UTs is 10 percent which is way below the recommended level of 33 percent. 

Except for seven states including Tamil Nadu, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttarakhand; the share of women in police are below 10 percent. Bihar has the highest share at 25.03 percent. 

The pendency in the police is also reflected in the vacancy rate. Vacancies are highest in Uttarakhand and Maharashtra while Nagaland and Dadra and Nagar Haveli have no vacancy. Delhi reports the highest vacancies among the UTs. As in the case of police, the lack of resources is also reflected in the justice system. The availability of judges to cater to the needs of the population in Indian states are low. 

There are 49 judges per 1,000 people in the state. The population per high court judge is as low as 2,41,818 in Sikkim to as high as 47,55,909 in Andhra Pradesh. The lower the population load on a high court the better the state’s ranking. The shortage of women judges is also a concern. On average, Indian states have 10% women judges while UTs have 16% women judges available in the high courts. 

Even high court judge vacancy rate is high in Indian states. Only Sikkim and Puducherry have less than 20% vacancy rates, with the highest vacancy being observed in Andhra Pradesh, at 70.3%. The continuous vacancy of more than one-third of sanctioned posts is a worrying trend when it comes to the administration of justice in India. More details are explained in the report here.

Can the Congress offer itself as a viable alternative to the incumbent BJP?

As this article explains at some length, voting in Karnataka depends on complex electoral dynamics which are difficult to map – or worse, predict. Voters vote differently when it comes to assembly elections compared to Lok Sabha polls. 

For instance, in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, according to Kaushik and Goyal, “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got about 64% of the state’s seats, but in the Vidhan Sabha elections held the same year, merely 35% seats. In the 2008 Vidhan Sabha, it got 48% seats, but in the Lok Sabha the year after, some 68% of Karnataka’s 28 seats. The next cycle was even more intensely divided”. 

“In the 2013 Vidhan Sabha, the BJP secured only 18% of seats, which went up to 61% in the 2014 Lok Sabha (while the Congress party’s seat share went down from 54% in the 2013 Vidhan Sabha to 32% in the 2014 Lok Sabha). And most recently, again, the BJP’s 46% seats in the 2018 Vidhan Sabha went to 89% of the state’s seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha (as the Congress’s fell from 35% to 4%). At one level, this indicates that the BJP is the preferred party in Karnataka for the Lok Sabha, while not as much during Vidhan Sabha elections”, argue Kaushik and Goyal.  

Despite the complexities evident in the electoral dynamics of Karnataka’s voting patterns, what cannot be denied though is how important the role of enabling ‘access’ to key social and economic services (and public goods) at local levels will be. This could also signal trends for the general elections of 2024. 

Deepanshu Mohan is an associate professor of economics and director at the Centre for New Economics Studies at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, OP Jindal Global.

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