HDI: Positive but no cause for cheer

There is a positive for India in the Human Development Index (HDI) for 2015 published by the UNDP last week. The country’s ranking has moved up by five notches from 135 to 130 among 188 countries. This was corresponding to the rise in HDI value, in the medium category, from 0.586 to 0.609. However, the ranking should be no cause for any great cheer. The increases in life expectancy, per capita gross national income and mean years of education among adults are the reasons for the higher place in the index. These factors are important in measuring human development, but the country has not performed well on most other factors, some of which may even be considered more important.

India is ranked lowest in South Asia, and is even behind Pakistan, on maternal mortality. Both Bangladesh and Nepal, where the average income levels are lower, have fared better than India, on some key parameters like infant mortality. China and Sri Lanka are far ahead and are in the high category.These comparisons take place every year when the HDI is released. Unfortunately, the country does not move forward fast enough in the achievement of human development and welfare expressed in terms of a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a good standard of living. These are the three main development goals which are measured by various criteria to create the HDI. Basically, the index uses factors other than income to judge the quality of life. Though the ranking went up by five notches, the average annual improvement in the country’s HDI in the last five years was slower than in the previous decade. This was when the country’s economy was the fastest growing large economy in the world. The meaning of the slow pace is that the country was unable to translate economic growth into human development in the same measure.

This shows that growth is becoming more lopsided and the poorer and weaker sections of society are increasingly getting left out of it. This is also proved by the decline in women’s participation in the work force, growing gender inequality and unequal health and educational outcomes for different classes. This year’s report had a special theme of work, which showed that the quality of employment in India was poorer than in most other countries and that the workers are more vulnerable and generally lacked social security cover. The usual excuse that smaller countries have an advantage in achieving better human development is not acceptable. China disproves the notion.

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