Monday, Jul 14, 2003
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THE INDIAN ECONOMY grew at an impressive pace during the 1990s. India is in the top 20 of the 175 countries for which the 2003 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme has estimated growth rates of per capita income between 1990 and 2001. Yet, in recent years this economic performance has not been translated into an improvement in human development. The Human Development Index (HDI) the composite measure of longevity, educational status and per capita income did steadily increase in India during the 1990s. By 2000, India had moved up from the low to the medium category of countries grouped by human development. But the 2003 Report has brought to light some disquieting features of human development in India.
India's drop from 124 to 127 between 2000 and 2001 in the country ranking of HDI has attracted critical attention. The explanation that has been given for this fall that two new countries, Bosnia and Palestine, have been included in the global list at higher positions and that one country, Botswana, has done better is only a statistical one. The simple fact is that India's performance, as measured by the HDI, was not as good in 2001 as in previous years. However, a concern about year-to-year changes in the global ranking of human development serves little purpose. What is important is India's record in the process of human development, which sees economic growth not as an end in itself but as the means to expand people's choices by improving their lives. This is where India has been found wanting in the 2003 Report. There are countries such as Cuba, Vietnam and even war-ravaged Sri Lanka which have achieved much more in human development, as measured by the HDI, than others have at the same level of income. There is a second group of countries, such as Saudi Arabia and South Africa, which, in spite of fairly high average incomes, have done poorly in human development. India has for years been in the middling category with human development and income at more or less the same level but the bad news is that it has now fallen into the second group. In 2001, India's HDI rank of 127 was 12 rungs lower than its position of 115 according to per capita income. In other words, the country did much less in 2001 to improve its basic standards of education and health than was possible with its per capita income. On the assumption that the statistics in the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Human Development Report are accurate (substantial data revisions are not uncommon), the data of the components of the HDI tell a disappointing story of what India is not doing with its economic growth. Per capita income increased from $2,358 to $2,840 (in purchasing power parity values) between 2000 and 2001, but life expectancy remained stagnant, and both the adult literacy rate and the school enrolment ratio increased only marginally between the two years.
Notwithstanding the current drive towards universal primary education, India's recent record in the social sector has not been adequate. Government statistics have indicated a slackening in the pace of improvement of health indicators. There have been major inequalities between regions, between social classes, and between males and females in the population. The 2003 Report cites statistics that point to an increase in infant mortality rates in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh during the 1990s; rural infant and child mortality rates that are over 60 per cent higher than urban levels in four States; and an improvement in immunisation rates that is restricted to the Southern States. In short, there is an unacceptable and unconscionable widening between India's economic performance and its human development record.
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