Towards Inclusion

Written by Sandip Das | Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | Updated: Oct 29 2011, 08:23am hrs
As a report card of the last decade of the performance of the governments at the centre and the states, the India Human Development Report is a useful summary.

Overlooking the problems that a ten-year summary can possess for a billion-plus population, the report is a good beginning. The major inferences that it draws show that the overall

direction of the growth-led development in the country is headed in the correct direction. There is also an element of under-statement in the calculation of the countrys human development index. The rank is calculated on the basis of consumption expenditure and not income. As Surjit Bhalla has pointed out, the consumption index in the NSSO data understates the true values by more than 50%, which means the extent of improvement in the HDR is lower than what has happened on the ground.

With this caveat, what follows next is a summary of the main findings of the report with respect to (a) rural-urban differences, (b) inter state status, (c) health, (d) education, (f) employment and poverty and (g) difference between religious and caste groups. Most of the HDI comparisons run for the period 1999-2000.

(a) Rural-urban differences: The results in the report on poverty, one of the critical differentiators of rural-urban differences, are based on the criticised uniform recall period survey. But that makes the results suspect only on the overall decline. Every trend shows the rural-urban difference on life chance are declining. Whereas in 2004-05, the incidence of poverty was 28.3% in rural areas and 25.7% in urban, the numbers have become almost identical in 2007-08. This has been carried through by a decrease in unemployment in rural and urban areas between 2004-05 and 2009-10. Rural areas experienced a decrease in the unemployment rate probably due to a shift in the pattern of occupations in favour of the non-agricultural sector, notes the report.

Further, the unemployment rate among SC and ST workers decreased in both rural and urban areas, which is a vital improvement in the Indian polity. The same trend is discernible among the Muslims as well.

The other factors that impact differentials are the supporting infrastructure. A significant rise in pucca houses, electricity, roads and, to some extent, of health infrastructure, has cut down the rural-urban divide. More than two-thirds of India had a pucca house in 2008-09, while the proportion of households with electricity connections has risen to 75%.

Nine states including Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra among others have higher urban poverty than rural, reflecting the changing map of poverty in India.

(b) Inter-state differences: The most heartening result from the HDI emerges here. In the eight years from 1999-2000, the Indian HDI rose by 21%. In the same period, most of the poorest and populous states have done better to improve the human development score for their people than the better-off states. This has not changed the relative position of these states in the overall India rankings, but has brought them closer to the national average.

So, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Assam were the initial runners. Gradually, states like Uttar Pradesh have also started showing impressive results on several indicators. But as HDI across states shows, the ranking of the states by level of HDI has remained almost the same over this decade. As a result, the top five ranks in both the first and the terminal years go to the better performing states of Kerala, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Punjab. In terms of movement up the ladder, even the seven north-eastern states have done remarkably well. In these years, this group has climbed three rungs.

In terms of the two other constituents of the HDIeducation and healththe inter-state differences show interesting variations. In education, the best scorecard has been shown by the more backward states. The index here overturns the overall score and shows the BIMARU states plus Rajasthan with better achievements than the better-off states.

(c) Health: There is a rare Indian state that has unequivocally improved the health parameters of its inhabitants. The pace of improvement in the Health Index for India has, therefore, lagged the income and education indices, notes the report. It adds that, with the best public health system in the country, Kerala has the highest life expectancy at birth. There are, however, some developments at the bottom, too. Bihar, for instance, which ranks the lowest in terms of almost all human development indicators, has a life expectancy at birth at par with the national average.

This means the states have begun moving. So, while the better-off states like Kerala, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and even Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have moved less on the scorecard, the poorer states have made the largest strides. Within the poorer states, the social deprivation for the SC, ST and others is worse. The fact that these states lack access to service infrastructure as well as resources is one of the important causes of social inequalities.

A comparison with other countries of BRICS shows that India has the highest child mortality and the proportion of women receiving ante-natal care is far lower than Latin American and the Caribbean nations. This picture, the India HDI says, is changing. Infant mortality, from a combined high of 68 per thousand (rural and urban), has dipped to 50 in 2009.

The major health intervention, the National Rural Health Mission, has risen, but because states cannot provide matching hikes, the percentage of unused funds is the most in states with poor health records, like West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The report recommends comprehensive health schemes that straddle ministries to improve quality of delivery.

Because government support is sporadic, only in the north-eastern states did the majority of the public approach the public sector for treatment. In all states, except Kerala, J&K, Orissa and Rajasthan, private sector health services dominate. The concomitant malnutrition means the percentage of children with anaemia is 69.5% for India. Even Kerala has 44.5% of its children up to 5 years with some sort of anaemia.

(d) Education: The country has made the most impressive stride in the education sector, but mostly without state intervention. Within this, removal of illiteracy and skill development at the higher education level show different grades of achievement. Most of the illiterates are concentrated in the four states of Rajasthan, UP, Bihar and West Bengal. As many as 58% of the illiterates among Muslims reside in the last three states.

Nearly 21% of students across all castes and religious groups go to private schools and this is true for both Hindus and Muslims. But while the net enrolment ratio has reached global standards, the net attendance ratio (those who attend schools regularly) is way below those standards. The problem gets acute as compared with other developing countries because teacher absenteeism is far higher (25%) in India. For Peru it is 11%, Bangladesh 16% and Indonesia 19%.

In higher education, the out-of-pocket expenditure on education for all social groups has climbed to R14,710 in 2007-08. Even SCs spend almost R9,000 on their children. The report, therefore, notes that this cost is a major hindrance as skill becomes more important in the economy; the poorer classes get systematically excluded from higher education, perpetuating the poverty cycle.

Despite these shortcomings, the Education Index has improved by 28%, the best among all the indices between 2000 and 2008. The report says this also highlights that income is not a necessary condition for improvement in educational standards. Typically, the worse-off states on income indices have outperformed the better ones. This is converging the HDI outcomes across the states.

Stressing the need for affecting the implementation of mega-government programmes, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act for providing employment opportunities to the large rural population, the report notes that the unemployment rate is higher in rural India as compared to urban India, due to the creation of jobs thanks to steady economic growth witnessed during the last many years.