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Human Development Index

Human Development Index

Amid reports of mob lynching, oil price rise and constant fall in the value of the rupee vis-à-vis the dollar, India finally has a positive report to celebrate and to act upon. We are now at the 130th position out of 189 countries on the human development index (HDI), calculated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Even though it is only one notch up from the last year’s HDI, the report reveals certain glaring facts, which the Indian government must ponder upon. The report is based on certain indicators that the UNDP has developed for calculating the progress made by different countries across the world in terms of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Based on the progress, the countries have been grouped as very high, high, medium and low human development countries. India is among the medium human development countries.

The index is calculated keeping in mind the statistical data available on different indicators for measuring the progress on the SDGs. For an upward trend, the country has to progress in terms of health, education, and income.

The report shows that despite glaring disparities, India has been able to shift millions out of poverty. Since 1990, India has made considerable progress in terms of life expectancy, education and gross national income per capita. During the last 27 years, India’s HDI has increased by nearly 50 percent from 0.427 in 1990 to 0.640 in 2017.

Over these years, life expectancy at birth has increased by 11 years. And so has the number of years a child is expected to be in school. The report says that a child is expected to stay in school for 4.7 years longer than was the case in 1990. It shows that a chance of a child dropping out of school early is lesser now, as compared to 1990. The gross national income per capita has increased by a staggering 266 percent since 1990.

However, a closer look at the report will help the government in choosing the measures that it must take to climb up the ladder from middle to high and then to very high development countries.

If we narrow down upon the first parameter, which says that life expectancy at birth in India has increased by 11 years, it also shows that there is a huge scope for improvement. The report suggests that a child who takes birth in India is expected to live for around 68 years, while in very high-human-developed countries, life expectancy is around 80 years. Now, how can we improve our life expectancy?

The report says that we have nearly seven physicians and seven hospital beds against 10,000 people while Norway has 44 and 33 respectively. It points out the kind of investment we need to make to improve the quality of life as far as health is concerned.  We neither have educated nor qualified physicians or adequate health facilities for our people.

Similarly, in terms of education, our teacher-pupil ratio is 1:35, only 70 percent of our teachers have got some kind of training to teach the students and 4 percent schools are equipped with Internet connectivity for facilitating the learning process. Comparatively, Norway, the top-most country has a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:9. All the schools are equipped with smart learning platforms. We have been grouped in the bottom third performers as far as education is concerned.

The indicators on the standard of living revolve around the proportion of people engaged in vulnerable employment, those having access to electricity in the rural areas, improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities.

It is sad to mention that 77.5 percent of our population is engaged in vulnerable employment and only 44.2 percent of people have access to improved sanitation facilities. There has been considerable improvement in terms of access to safe drinking facility and electricity but a lot still needs to be done to give equal access to all.

Despite the strides made, the report has calculated another index called inequality-adjusted human development index (IHDI). It is calculated in view of the factors that drag a country back towards digression. While the global IHDI is 20 percent, India has 26.8 percent. Now, what does it mean?

The report says that ideally the HDI and the IHDI should be equal. The greater the inequality, the higher would be the IHDI. Globally, inequality in income contributes the most to overall inequality followed by education and health. India has a higher IHDI than the global average. In India’s case, the major contributor towards inequality is unequal access to education and life expectancy at birth. Inequality in income is not the highest contributor, yet it is higher than that of other South Asian countries. For instance, inequality in income stands at 11.6 percent and 15.7 percent in Pakistan and Bangladesh while it is 18.8 percent in India’s case.

In terms of gender development index (GDI), life expectancy at birth and expected years of schooling are higher for women than men but there is a huge disparity in terms of mean years of schooling and GNI per capita.  A woman in India has only 4.8 years of schooling compared to 8.2 years for a boy! India has a GDI of 5, placing it in the least developed countries in this respect. The closer a country is to 1 the lesser the gender gap is.

Another parameter that the report speaks of is the Gender Inequality Index (GII). The index shows gender-based inequalities in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. Reproductive health has been evaluated on the basis of maternal mortality and adolescent birth rates and economic activity is measured in terms of labour participation rates. Empowerment is calculated on the basis of the share in parliamentary seats and proportion of women having higher and secondary education compared to men.

India has been ranked 127 out of 160 countries on GII. The results are disturbing, as only 39 percent of women have attained at least secondary education. For every 1,00,000 live births, 174 women die from pregnancy-related causes; and the adolescent birth rate is 23.1 births per 1,000 women falling in the age group of 15 to 19 years. Female participation in the labour market is 27.2 percent compared to 78.8 for men. Only 11.6 percent parliamentary seats are held by women.

While we may be a little ahead of the neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, that does not give us any respite. As far as socio-economic sustainability is concerned, we may be among the top countries in terms of Net savings but our capacity to service debt (sum of principal repayments and interest actually paid on long-term debt, including International Monetary Fund) puts us in the bottom while Bangladesh has a better economic sustainability.

Again, the ratio of education and health expenditure to military expenditure is only 3.5. It only shows how concerned we are towards the security and safety of our country at the same time it also points out our indifference towards education and health of the teeming millions that form India.

The UNDP report must act as an eye-opener to the government. Despite our commitment to achieving the SDGs, it actually shows the half-hearted approach with which different schemes are being announced and implemented. Countries like Ireland and Turkey have shown how development can take place over a period of five years. Ireland has moved up 13 places since 2012 while Turkey jumped 8 points. These are the biggest strides.

India, too, can progress but it can happen only if our elected representatives can rise above petty politics, think beyond the mean vision of the parties they belong to and embrace development as their mantra. One must not forget the lesson that we learned in Class II “where there is a will, there is a way.” If our GNI can increase by 266 percent over the past two and a half decades, why can’t other indicators?

(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at

(Published on 24th September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 39)