The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 7, 2002

Bottom-up approach to development
Rakesh Datta

Dynamics of Development: A Sociological Perspective
by S.R. Mehta. Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
Pages 252 Rs. 400

DEVELOPMENT is a complex, intricate, knotty and slippery concept. The difference lies in it being conceived differently by scholars belonging to varied fields. To comprehend it fully one has to have an appreciation and understanding of various disciplines that have bearing on it.

The book under review throws up a configuration of economic, social, cultural, psychological and security factors which set in motion the forces that may ultimately lead to human happiness, progress, advancement and growth. A compilation of 13 essays on various facets of social development with emphasis on ‘putting people first’, are author’s exclusive preserve from his long journey in action and academic sociology.

According to the author, there is a need to consider development, and its opposite underdevelopment, in the context of third world nations. The developing countries by mid 80’s writes the author, were 45 times poorer than the industrialised ones and five decades of development strategies have not brought any fundamental change in the lives of the poor.

In fact, the sociology of underdevelopment amongst the developing nations was viewed by the author as a sequel to the development of developed nations where the latter actively managed the modern industrialisation process in their favour and instead kept the developing nations in a state of perpetual backwardness.


Two major problems such as unemployment and poverty loom large on India’s face. In this context, appropriate technology has to be provided to raise production of agriculture and agro-based industries in the rural areas; while revitalisation of the institution of Panchyati Raj is an important measure to ensure rural development.

However, according to Professor Mehta, our political masters and planners are caught in a strange dilemma. On one hand, there is a resource constraint for development purposes and the political elite is responding to free market economic forces. On the other hand, they are compelled to provide basic minimum needs to half and quarter of the population residing in villages and targeted as potential voters. Such distortions, keeping in view the size of India, have resulted increasing disparities including social tensions, unrests, violent movements in various parts of the country.

Drawing a value perspective on globalisation, ethnicity and development, the author examines the concept of globalisation which instead of homogenising the world social order, taking evidence of the last 10 years, has brought greater heterogeneity as a consequence of development initiatives. Likewise, on the ethnic front, only small section of population was beneficiary of high technology and industrialised economy leaving the rest to gloom over given issues of non-development.

Emphasising the significance of communication and development, the author writes about information based human development keeping in view inadequate financial resources, technology and large population. Our communication experts have failed to design strategies which could raise the aspiration level of poor and the under privileged. Consequently, they develop apathy towards societal tasks resulting aggression or regression behaviour, counterproductive to development efforts. He talks about communication as a pre-requisite to strategy of development permitting the flow of information in weak areas where it is needed most. Such an information system must be built up from bottom upwards for a more realistic planning.

Analysing the factors responsible for unplanned development in the country in the essay on dynamics of Development in Indian Society, Professor Mehta has given count of five year plans which were basically economic plans stressing economic growth in terms of industrial and agricultural output. However, they did not focus on social and cultural factors equally relevant to total development processes. It is for this reason that the planning processes have failed to break down the social solidarity groups like caste and kinship allowing ethnic identities to be more pronounced.

There is a need to evolve system which empowers people, releases their capacities and give them incentives for change. Without this, no influence of trans-national economy or global investment and technology would work. The author observes that the developing nations as a reaction to the centripetal forces of modernising economy have given rise to centrifugal forces resulting in uprising and strengthening of ethnic and cultural identities. For sustainable social and cultural development, a wider representation of these groups in a democratic set up should to be taken in any future plan.

In his concluding essay, using Habemas’s framework, the author argues that without a negotiated understanding between the developed and developing nations, even if they manage the internal dynamics of the economy, the state, the public and the private sphere, will remain a difficult proposition.

The issues and perspectives highlighted in the book provide useful insight into the development processes to policy planners, administrators and students of development sociology and anthropology.