India continues to lag in human index

The Human Development Index (HDI) for 2015, which is the latest in the series annually compiled by the UNDP, shows India stuck at the rank 131 among 188 countries, the same position where it was the previous year. The HDI is an indicator of the quality of life measured on the basis of longevity and health, educational level and per capita income of individuals. India’s ranking has always been low ever since the index was first compiled in 1990 and its progress has been slow. This period also coincides with the country’s economic liberalisation programme, which resulted in sustained high economic growth and took its economy to the world’s forefront. But the lack of progress in human development shows that economic growth has been uneven and has bypassed large numbers of people. To stagnate at the same level actually means going backward because India has a very large population, a big segment of which is not getting the fruits of economic growth. There are major challenges in all three areas that determine the quality of life: health and life expectancy, education and individual income. Life expectancy at birth has improved from 58 to 68.3 since 1990 but most people in the rest of the world have a healthier and longer life. The allocation for healthcare has been low. There is a proposal to increase this now. But implementation of better healthcare policies and programmes is not an easy task. The healthcare infrastructure has to be improved to absorb the higher allocation and deliver better services. Access to education and literacy has also increased but still there are millions of children who do not go to school or drop out halfway. The standards of education are also low. Education does not mean only schooling. It also involves awareness about the rights of people, especially weaker sections like children, women, minorities and other suppressed groups and physically and mentally challenged persons. Women’s empowerment is an important factor in human development. There are better policies in some of these areas but there is much more to be done.

Income disparities have widened in the past many years. This means economic growth has been uneven for sections of people and between regions and states. Economic policy should aim at reducing these dispari­ties and putting more income in the hands of those in the lowest rungs and making growth more inclusive. Jobless growth helps only those at the top and expands the GDP without enhancing the welfare of the common people. Most of these tasks need longer-term planning and earnest implementation, and special attention should be paid to the most vulnerable groups.

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