The United Nations development programme’s human development reports have been around since 1990. Since HDRs document human deprivation as well as development, India’s case is always reminiscent of a half-empty-cum-half-full glass. But this year, the leaning is more towards the half-full side. HDRs also compute indices like the human development index, gender-related development index and gender empowerment measure. The HDI is based on three sets of indicators — per capita income in purchasing power parity terms, education and health, and based on HDI values, countries are ranked. India’s rank is 127th out of 175 countries, slipping from the 124th of last year. This drop is apparent rather than real, since two more countries have now been included in the rankings. Specifically, India’s PPP per capita income is $ 2,840, life expectancy is 63.3 years, adult literacy rate is 58 per cent and gross enrolment ratio is also 58 per cent. This year’s HDR theme is the millennium development goals, targetted for 2015 by the UN.
There are eight separate MDGs, and most developing countries are way behind target. On income poverty, HDR makes the point that thanks to growth and resultant poverty drops in China and India, the MDG of halving income poverty may well be attained. However, inter-regional variations within India are highlighted (Bihar is picked as an example of marginal growth), as is the phenomenon of hunger (23.3 million hungry Indians). India’s progress is also acknowledged in improved educational indicators, and this includes reduction in gender disparities in relatively backward states. However, the missing women phenomenon remains, although there have been improvements in Bangladesh, Pakistan and most Arab states. Public spending on education and health remain low. HDR is more concerned about the state of India’s health and this is not just about the projected 70 million HIV/AIDS cases by 2025. Infant mortality rates have shown little decline in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and health outcomes are particularly bad among the poor, scheduled castes, rural areas, mothers and children. Understandably, HDR also throws in governance, decentralization, transparency, and right to information laws. Other than specific figures, there isn’t much that was not already known. Nor should one be obsessed with India’s HDI rank. HDRs started in 1990 and the subsequent decade witnessed reforms in India. India is not sub-Saharan Africa and understandably, liberalization reduced poverty and improved educational indicators. Success is less palpable for eliminating hunger or improving health indicators. That is where the challenge lies.