Criticisms Of Development Models

Critics of development have pointed out that the kind of development models which have been adopted in many countries has proved very costly for the developing countries. The financial costs have been enormous, putting many countries into long-term debt. Africa is still suffering from the enormous debts which it ran up by borrowings from the richer countries.

The gains in terms of growth have not been commensurate and poverty and disease continue to plague the continent.


The Social Costs Of Development

This model of development has also had high social costs –

  • A large number of people have been displaced from their homes and localities due to the construction of big dams, industrial activities and mining activities, or other projects.
  • Displacement results in loss of livelihood and increases impoverishment.
  • If rural agricultural communities are displaced from their traditional occupations and regions they end up at the margins of society, swelling the large number of urban and rural poor.
  • Traditional skills acquired over an extended period may be lost.
  • There is also a loss of culture because when people are relocated they lose a whole way of community life.
  • Such displacement has led to struggles in many countries.

Displaced people have not always accepted their fate passively –

  • You may have heard about the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ which has been leading a movement against the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada for many years.
    • The supporters of this big dam claim that it will generate electricity, help irrigate large areas of land and also provide drinking water to the desert areas of Kutch and Saurashtra.
    • The opponents of the dam dispute these claims. They claim that almost one million people have displaced. They have lost their lands through submergence, or construction, and consequently lost their livelihood. Most of these people belong to the tribal and dalit communities who constitute some of the most under-privileged groups in the country. Some even argue that the dam would greatly upset the ecological balance submerging large tracts of forests.


Environmental Costs Of Development

Development has indeed caused a high degree of environmental degradation in many countries and not just the displaced people but all of the population is beginning to feel the consequences –

  • When the ‘tsunami’ hit the South and South-East Asian coasts last year it was observed that the destruction of mangroves and the building of commercial enterprises along the shore line was the reason for the greater extent of the damage caused.
  • The ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is melting because of increased emission of green house gases into the atmosphere and this has the potential to cause floods and actually submerge low lying areas like Bangladesh and the Maldives.

In the long term the ecological crisis will adversely affect all of us –

  • Air pollution is already a problem which does not discriminate between the rich and the poor.
  • In the short term, indiscriminate use of resources tends to adversely affect the under-privileged more sharply.
  • Loss of forests affects the poor who use forest resources for a variety of subsistence needs like firewood, medicinal herbs or food.
  • Drying up of rivers and ponds and falling ground water levels means that women have to walk longer in order to procure water.

The model of development we are pursuing is heavily dependent on the increasing use of energy. Most of the energy currently generated in the world is from non-renewable sources like coal or petroleum. Large tracts of the Amazon rainforests are being deforested in order to provide for the increased consumer needs.

Are there enough of these non-renewable resources which can allow not only the advanced countries but all people in the world to enjoy an affluent life style? Given the finite nature of these resources, the answer would be no. What about the future generations? Are we going to hand over a depleted earth and multiple problems to them?


Assessing Development

It could not of course be said that development has had only negative effects for the world. Some countries have had some success in increasing their rate of economic growth and even in reducing poverty. But over all, inequalities have not been seriously reduced and poverty continues to be a problem in the developing world.

It was assumed that the benefits of growth would trickle down to the poorest and most unprivileged sections of the society and thereby raise the standards of living of all. However the world over, the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening.

A country may have high rates of growth but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a fair distribution of its benefits. When economic growth and redistribution do not go together the benefits are likely to be cornered by those who are already privileged.

It is now increasingly being recognised that there is a need to adopt a broader notion of development. An excessive focus on economic growth has not only given rise to a wide range of problems but even economic growth has not always been satisfactory. Hence, development is now being viewed in broader terms as a process which should improve the quality of life of all the people.

If development is understood as a process which aims to improve the quality of life of people, it could be argued that measuring the rate of economic growth alone would be an inadequate and at times misleading indicator of development. There is now a search for alternative ways of measuring development.

One such attempt is the Human Development Report which is annually brought out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This report ranks countries on the basis of their performance in social indicators like literacy and education levels, life expectancy and maternal mortality rates. This measure is called the Human Development Index.

According to this conception development should be a process which allows more and more people to make meaningful choices and the pre-condition for this is the fulfilment of basic needs like food, education, health and shelter. This is called the basic needs approach. Popular slogans like ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’, ‘garibi hatao’ or ‘bijli, sadak, pani’ convey the sentiment that without the fulfilment of basic needs, it is impossible for an individual to live a dignified life and pursue her desires. Freedom from want or deprivation is the key to effectively exercising one’s choices and pursuing one’s desires.

In this view, if people die of starvation or cold due to lack of food and shelter, or if children are working instead of being in school, this is indicative of a state of under-development.



You must have often heard terms like pollution, waste management, sustainable development, protection of endangered species and global warming.

These are the buzz words of the environmental movement which works to protect natural resources and ecosystems.

Environmentalists maintain that human beings should learn to live in harmony with the rhythms of the ecosystem and not manipulate the natural environment to serve their immediate interests. They believe that mankind is using up and destroying natural resources to such an extent that we will bequeath only a barren earth, poisoned rivers and polluted air to future generations.

The roots of environmentalism can be traced back to the nineteenth century revolt against industrialisation. Today, the environmental movement has become a world-wide phenomenon with thousands of non-governmental groups and even some ‘green’ political parties.

Some well-known environmental groups include Green Peace and the World Wildlife Fund and in India we have the Chipko Movement which emerged to protect the Himalayan forests. Such groups try to pressurise governments to modify their industrial and developmental policies in the light of environmental goals.



Imagine that a hidden treasure is found in your backyard. How will you feel if the treasure is taken away little by little by authorities in the name of development? This development is not reflected in your standard of living or even in facilities for the colony you stay in. Further, your house as a site for the treasure is constantly vandalised by people who claim to use the treasure for development. Isn’t it gross injustice for the people in whose house the treasure has been unearthed?

Oil had been found in the region of Ogoni in Nigeria in 1950s which resulted in crude oil exploration. Soon economic growth and big business created around it an entangled web of political intrigues, environmental problems and corruption. This prevented development of the very region where oil had been found.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, an Ogoni by birth, was recognised as an author, journalist and television producer in the 1980s. In his work, he observed and reacted to the exploitation around him as the oil and gas industry took riches from beneath the feet of the poor Ogoni farmers, and in return left the land polluted and the people disenfranchised.

Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent struggle with the launch of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1990 — an open, grassroots community-based political movement. The movement was so effective, that by 1993 the oil companies had to pull out of Ogoni. But Saro-Wiwa paid the price for this. The military rulers of Nigeria framed him in a murder case and the military tribunal sentenced him to death. Saro-Wiwa said that the military rulers were doing this on behest of Shell, the multi-national oil company that had to withdraw from the Ogoni region. Human rights organisations all over the world protested against this trial and appealed for his release. Ignoring this world-wide protest, the Nigerian rulers executed Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.


Bibliography : NCERT – Political Theory


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