by Andrew Redpath, Executive Director at Jeevika Trust
The UN’s latest Human Development Report was published just before Christmas, and has hit not only Indian but international headlines – with a corresponding level of explanation and, it must be said, defensiveness from Indian sources – because it has again confirmed that India’s positioning at a dismal 130 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) contradicts the ‘shining’ image that India cultivates as a global country with its own nuclear, space and foreign aid programs.
Reactions of the India press to the country’s positioning so far down the HDI are partly sober and partly determined to show the upside and how fast the picture has been changing in the past 15 years.
As the planet’s soon-to-be biggest single nation, set to overtake China in population within 20 years or so, India is weighed down by awesome facts and statistics. These include, for example, the sheer scale of ‘below-the-poverty-line’ (BPL) poverty – the 8 poorest states in India containing more BPL poor than all 28 developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, – and child malnutrition – India has one-third of global undernourished children. More importantly, India has failed in one Five-Year Plan after another to apply clear and radical urbanisation or village development strategies to address the urban/rural balance and the challenge of stagnant rural poverty and unplanned ‘urban drift’: 70% of the population or about 830 million people are still classed as rural, and of these more than 300 million – compare that with the entire population of the US or Europe – are BPL.
As The Hindu newspaper emphasises in its report of 16 December 2015, “There is now no doubt that the last 10 years were a time of extraordinary human development in India”. It goes on to record that between 2009 and 2011 India had witnessed the fastest-ever decrease in the percentage of its ‘below-the-poverty-line population’, that between 2000 and 2014 India’s Gross National Income more than doubled and its Human Development Index value went from 0.462 to 0.609 , a far higher increase than in the previous 15-years. “This was driven by improved economic growth and increase in life expectancy as a result of improved health care, and less so from improvements in educational outcomes, which have been harder to achieve, especially for women” – an important admission given the critical role of nationwide education in any definition of human development.
In terms of the oft-quoted measure that India hosts one-third of global child malnutrition, the India Health Report: Nutrition 2015 just released by the Public Health Foundation of India points out that “Child undernutrition, …. has begun to fall at historically high rates; between 2006 and 2014, stunting rates for children under five declined from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, translating into 14 million fewer stunted children”.
Let me conclude with the article’s up-beat summary: “ These are extraordinary achievements …. but India must build on its human development successes with better redistributive justice”- namely between rural and urban, between states, and between gender, caste and class.