Learning From Doing

Updated: Apr 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
India’s record on human development has been better than her record on economic growth, but the relationship between the two is direct and positive. After a half century of zero growth in pre-Independence India and three decades of modest growth, when economic growth started picking up in the last two decades of the 20th century, it certainly impacted positively on poverty reduction, literacy and gender equality. However, parts of India continue to lag behind others and much more has to be done pro-actively by better managed states to move India further up. If Bihar and Uttar Pradesh can emulate Tamilnadu, think what a difference that would make to India’s economic profile Backward states don’t have to go very far in search of ideas for improved economic performance - there are parts of India that can show the way to others.

The process of policy osmosis may have helped Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to learn from their developed neighbours. That’s the hopeful message of the National Human Development Report, 2001, prepared by the Planning Commission. Yojana Bhavan however could have helped elaborate on how it can catalyse this “learning from doing” process across the country.

The Human Development Index is a function of per capita income, an education index and life expectancy at birth. Per capita income growth has been perceptibly higher in the 1990s and the 2001 census also reports improvements in life expectancy and adult literacy. In the 1980s, gender equality was highest in Kerala, followed by Manipur and Himachal Pradesh. In the 1990s, gender equality is highest in HP, although in general, the South has higher gender equality than the North. What is worrisome is not only that gender equality is low in Bihar, but that the index has deteriorated. NHDR also computes a Human Poverty Index, in the HDR tradition.

This is a function of literacy rate, enrollment and head count ratios, survival probabilities till 40, access to medical and sanitation services, immunisation and malnourishment among children and the like. HPI has dropped in HP, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Kerala. But measured thus, poverty and deprivation are very high in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan. While collection of data through such a NHDR process is welcome, the important question is the policy conclusions one deduces. HDRs have argued that improvements don’t have to wait for per capita income increases. That is, independent of trickle down benefits of growth, the quality of government intervention is also important.

Even in an era of reforms, governments have a role to play in providing social and some physical infrastructure. However, the critical factor here is the quality of governance and the NHDR correctly observes from its comprehensive survey of the Indian situation that “efficient and effective governance is critical for improving the pace of human development”. That’s a relevant last word that the Planning Commission should communicate to its own chairman!