'Poorer countries have done better than India.'
Every year the UNDP’s Human Development Report presents a dismal picture of the quality of living of India’s people and the report released last week is no different. The country ranks 119 among 169 nations, though it is among the top 10 in terms of income growth. The conclusion is that the growth in wealth is not being translated into welfare, measured by the basic requirements of life like access to heath, education and the condition of weakest sections of society like women, children and those belonging to the lowest strata of society. Measured by the human development index India has moved up by just one rank in the last five years, though the economy has grown by more than half in the same period. China has improved its ranking to 89 the position in that period, in spite of the iniquitous growth that country has also witnessed.
Even much poorer countries have beaten India on many parameters. Nepal performed well, and Bangladesh and Pakistan beat India in terms of life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling and female participation in labour force. Eight states have poverty levels on par with 26 poorest African countries. A third of upper caste households, two-thirds of scheduled castes and four-fifths of scheduled tribes are poor by most standards. What should rankle is that measured by gender inequality index, introduced for the first time in this year’s report, India ranks 122 out f 138 countries while Pakistan is better placed at 112. It is a dismal indicator of the state of maternal mortality, reproductive health and women’s empowerment in the country.
All the statistics are pointers to the failure of the government and society to improve the lives of the majority of the people in the country. Programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and child nutrition plans have not made any noticeable changes in the lives of the people whom they are supposed to benefit. Huge money is ostensibly being spent on these schemes but much of it is probably lost or misspent. Unless the growth of wealth is well distributed and the poorest and weakest sections of society are enabled to participate in progress, social and political tensions will only accentuate. Claims of status of an emerging economic power does not mean anything when there is so much poverty and basic rights are denied to the people.