The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- India’s human development record has incrementally improved

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi

Since human development reports started in 1990, each version has a theme and computations of indicators like human development index, gender-related development index and gender empowerment measure. The theme for HDR 2003 is the Millenium Development Goals, to be attained by 2015. Most media attention however focuses on HDI, because HDI values are used to rank countries. We love rankings and this year, the HDR tells us India is ranked 127th out of 175 countries. HDI is based on three kinds of indicators — per capita income in purchasing power parity terms, health (life expectancy at birth) and education (adult literacy rate, gross enrolment ratio). There is also a time lag and HDR for 2003 will usually have data for 2001.

India’s PPP per capita income is $ 2,840. Life expectancy at birth is 63.3 years. The adult literacy rate is 58 per cent. I don’t quite understand the literacy figure. This is for 2001 and didn’t the census for 2001 give us a literacy rate of 65 per cent' On page 73, the HDR does quote a literacy rate of 65 per cent. The gross enrolment ratio is 58 per cent. I don’t quite understand this either. This 58 per cent is a combined gross enrolment ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Today (2000-01), the gross enrolment ratio at primary level is more than 95 per cent and that at secondary level is more than 80 per cent.

I don’t have a ready figure for the tertiary level. So is the tertiary level pulling India down to 58 per cent or is India’s success in education (as is the case with literacy) being under-played' There is no need to over-estimate success. But there is no need to under-estimate it either. These three sets of indicators give India a HDI value (the higher the better) of 0.590 and thus a rank of 127th. Once education indicators have a better fix, I suspect India will have a HDI value of around 0.640 and a rank of around 120th.

Per capita income growth has reduced poverty in India. The HDR acknowledges this several times. For example, “If global progress continues at the same pace as in the 1990s, only the Millenium Development Goals of halving income poverty and halving the proportion of people without access to safe water stand a realistic chance of being met, thanks mainly to China and India” (page 2).

It is sub-Saharan Africa that messes up the record. What do you expect if income growth is negative' Even in an otherwise successful country like Botswana, the HDI record has worsened in the Nineties. Naturally, there are inter-state and inter-regional variations. “In Brazil, China, India and Mexico overall progress has been excellent. But some areas and groups are not benefiting enough, while wealthy segments of the population continue to surge ahead” (page 34). Those who question comparability of the National Sample Survey data for 1999-2000 with NSS data for 1993-94 question the degree of poverty drop (from 36 per cent to 26 per cent), not the fact that poverty reduction did take place. This poverty reduction seems difficult to reconcile with a HDR figure that 34.7 per cent of the Indian population is below the international poverty line of $ 1 per day. 34.7 per cent is indeed a HDR figure. But it is a HDR figure for 1990-2001. Not for 2001, or even for 1999-2000. Therefore, there should be no reconciliation problem.

But for the following. “According to World Bank estimates based on consumption surveys, the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day declined in China from 33 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2000, and in India from 42 per cent in 1993/94 to 35 per cent in 2001” (page 73, this is actually Box 3.4). For a start, there wasn’t any consumption survey in India in 2001. So what does this mean' Do you believe 34.7 per cent for 1990-2001 or do you believe 35 per cent for 2001' I have no answer. This particular section on page 73 has another problem. “India also harbours stark regional variations. In 1992-97 per capita economic growth ranged from -0.2 per cent in Bihar to 7.8 per cent in Gujarat.” The Gujarat part is fine and we also know that Bihar’s record is pretty dismal. But Bihar didn’t have a negative per capita state domestic product growth from 1992 to 1997. It was marginally positive. Had the HDR said 0.2 per cent, it would still have been off the mark, but marginally so. Minus 0.2 per cent is not on.

Other than income growth and poverty reduction, educational outcomes have clearly improved in India in the decade of the Nineties. The HDR especially flags Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. This is less obvious for health. This explains the following quote (page 64). “Poverty has been dramatically reduced and improvements made in education for both males and females. There has been tremendous improvement in gender literacy gaps, particularly in the poor Central states of Madhya Pradesh and, to some extent, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar…Largely due to widespread under-nutrition and poor infrastructure, infant mortality rates remain high in the poorest, rural, scheduled caste states, particularly among mothers and children. Between 1992/93 and 1997/98 infant mortality rates fell in all states except Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.” However, the HDR also flags Sulabh International’s success. Independent of the HDR, we need to figure out what went right with education in the Nineties. And conversely, what went wrong with health'

Despite the pats on the back, the HDR has several caveats on the Indian performance. First, the number of HIV/AIDS cases is estimated to increase to 70 million by 2025. Second, the missing women phenomenon has become less acute in Bangladesh, Pakistan and most Arab States, but there have only been small improvements in India. Third, public spending on education has increased, but that on health remains low.

That section on page 73 (Box 3.4) I referred to earlier, was probably written by someone who didn’t read the HDR carefully. We again have a problem with figures. In 1998-2000, public expenditure on education was 4.1 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to the tables given at the end of HDR. According to Box 3.4, public expenditure on education is 3.2 per cent “today”. There is quite a bit of difference between 4.1 per cent and 3.2 per cent. According to the tables, public expenditure on health is 0.9 per cent of GDP. According to Box 3.4, public expenditure on health is 1.3 per cent of GDP. Again, there is a substantial difference. Perhaps there is a Central government cum state government issue. But surely, some explanation was needed. Incidentally, Box 3.4 also gives a PPP per capita income of $ 2,358 in 2001. I hope you remember the $ 2,840 I gave you earlier. Which is correct'

Fourth, a large number of Indians still go hungry, 23.3 million people, if you want an exact figure. Except for Kerala, the public distribution system doesn’t work in rural areas. Fifth, very few female farmers own land, only 1 in 10. Sixth, public sector delivery of education is pretty bad. Understandably, there is quite a bit about decentralization, accountability, transparency and right to information.

For India, the HDR isn’t just a human development report. It is also a human deprivation report. The warts and the blemishes in India’s development record are obvious. But as I said earlier, these HDRs began in the Nineties. This was also the decade of reforms in India. And almost as a corollary, despite warts and blemishes, India’s human development record has incrementally improved. However, the United Nations Development Programme’s HDR is usually (though not always) at an all-India level. Warts and blemishes become more pronounced when one considers inter-state cum inter-regional variations. That happens through the planning commission’s national human development report or state-level HDRs.

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