Half Empty, Half Full

Updated: Jul 27 2002, 05:30am hrs
Since 1990, the United Nations Development Programme’s annual Human Development Report with its indices have become widely accepted measures of development. Going beyond considering only per capita income, the Human Development Index uses life expectancy at birth, literacy and gross enrollment ratios as well to rank countries. Inevitably, attention focuses on India’s rank, which happens to be 124th in the 2002 version of HDR. Since its rank was 115th a year earlier, does this suggest a drop Not necessarily. UNDP’s sample consisted of 162 countries last year, which has gone up to 173 this year. Allowing for this, India’s rank marginally improves by one point. As the country’s HDI value is 0.577 (the range is from a low 0 to a high 1), it belongs to the group with medium levels of human development. Norway heads the pecking order with an HDI value of 0.942 and several developing countries are far ahead of us. India’s recent improvements have been due to increases in per capita income but education and health indicators tend to flag in relative terms. The literacy data used pertain to only 2000 and don’t incorporate improvements registered by the 2001 Census. But even if India’s HDI value goes up somewhat next year, the overall impression is that its track record should have been much better.

Nowhere is this better captured than in a chart setting out India’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, to be attained by 2015. The point that India’s income growth has contributed to global poverty reduction is made. The country is also on track for eliminating gender disparity in primary education and improving access of population to water resources, but falls short in reducing hunger, eliminating gender disparity in secondary education and reducing infant and child mortality. In general, health is a reason for concern with 47 per cent of under-five children under-weight, 46 per cent under-height and infant mortality stagnating at 69 per thousand. It is true that in a vast country, all-India indicators mask regional differences. It is therefore welcome that triggered by the HDR, many states have begun to prepare their own HDRs, other than the Planning Commission’s National HDR. HDR also has an overall theme and this year’s happens to be ‘Deepening democracy in a fragmented world’. Given this thrust, India naturally comes in for several pats on the back. However, deepening democracy not only gets into issues of global governance, but also impacts on measuring governance domestically. This is the innovation made in this year’s HDR. While some indicators of governance are objective, others are subjective perceptions. This attempt to measure democracy, rule of law and government’s effectiveness and corruption will inevitably raise hackles, especially when comparisons are made with the rest of South Asia. While the attempt should be made, this is certainly not as robust as the HDI idea. In sum, there is a half empty and a half full glass to look at.