Business, Finance & Economics

Mixed story in India's Human Development report


A street child sleeps in a makeshift hammock by a roadside in Mumbai on January 23, 2011. Some 42 percent of Indians, or 455 million people, live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank and India's statistics on health, infant mortality and malnutrition are worse than those for sub-Saharan Africa.



A new study of India's progress on various "human development" indicators over the past decade showed that rapid economic growth has benefited the population across the board -- contrary to conventional wisdom -- but also that hunger and malnutrition continue to be intractable problems.

The report, released by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Friday, said India recorded 21 percent growth in the human development indicators (HDI) of health, education and income, Business Standard reported.

HDI is a composite index, comprising three indicators—consumption expenditure (a proxy for income), education and health, the paper said. The report compares HDI growth to the global human development report rankings. It says over the eight-year period, HDI rose 21 percent, compared with a rise of 18 percent in India's HDI over 2000-2010, as reported by global HDR-2010.

In comparison, China recorded a rise of only 17 percent, Business Standard cites the report as saying.

Santosh Mehrotra, director-general of the Indian Applied Manpower Research and the report's lead author, said the country was moving towards social inclusion, with social indicators of Dalits, tribals and Muslims showing vast improvement, according to the Times of India. He also said there had been a marked improvement in the performance of poorer states, indicating greater social inclusion.

But the findings were not all rosy.  As India Today points out, on perhaps the most important measures -- hunger and malnutrition -- India performed poorly despite its rapid economic growth.  And the richest states, Gujarat and Karnataka, were among the worst performers.

In fact, on the hunger front it has been one long slide downwards. All states, according to the report, are facing "a serious to extremely alarming situation of hunger." Even as the Indian economy boasts of an average growth rate of over 6 per cent per annum, the calorie and protein intake of the poor has declined consistently, according to figures for 1983 to 2004-05 which were taken into account to prepare the report.

The telling impact of this on health is all too evident. During 2000-07, nearly half of India's children under the age of five years were malnourished.
This is the worst in South Asia and, shockingly, worse than the worst performer in the African region - a dubious distinction that dents India's image. Further, the eleventh five year plan document says that the absolute weight and height of Indians, on an average, have not shown any significant improvement over the last 25 years.

Interestingly, the report slammed business-friendly Gujarat--which hogs the lion's share of private investment--and praised Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for the very caste-based political mobilization that has often come in for criticism during the reform era.  Gujarat recorded as much as 69.7% kids up to 5 being anaemic and 44.6% suffering from malnutrition, while the report said "It is worth citing the progress achieved by two of the economically backward states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar," according to the Times of India.