Climb up HDI ladder is slowing

The UN Development Programme’s annual Human Development Index (HDI) has been a mixed bag for India. The HDI is a composite of per capita income, life expectancy and years of schooling, and so provides a combined measure of social and economic development. Though over the long term the country has done moderately well, its position is still deep down in the bottom half of the 189 countries that figure in the index. Its HDI value has gone up from 0.43 in 1990 to 0.64 in 2017 which shows a 50% rise, and the rate of increase is higher than the world average. This is because per capita income in PPP terms rose from $1,733 to $ 6,353, life expectancy from 57.9 years to 68.8 years, and years of schooling from 7.6 years to 12.3 years in this period. But in the last one year, the country’s ranking moved by just one place to 130, and the growth has slowed down in the last three years. 

India has also done better than its neighbours, with its HDI value higher than the South Asian average of 0.638. This is specially important because its population is much larger than those of its neighbours. But China progressed much faster than India and is already in the ‘high’ development category. It will not be before 2025 that India can hope to reach that category at the present pace of HDI improvement. Even Bangladesh has been moving faster than India in the recent past, though it still ranks lower. India will have to move faster, lest it be overtaken by countries that are close behind it. 

An important revelation is that India’s development has been very unequal. India’s income inequality is the highest at 18.8% in the region. The income gap is much less in Pakistan and Bangladesh. When corrected for inequality, India’s HDI value falls to 0.468. This means that the higher classes benefitted much more from improvements in the economy, health and education than did the lower classes. The uneven nature of India’s economic growth has been pointed out in the past by many surveys and studies, and the UNDP report confirms that. It shows that the social and economic gains of progress have gone mainly to the rich. Development has to be more inclusive and even, and should involve and benefit lower classes and marginalised sections, women, minorities of all kinds and neglected geographies to a much greater extent than in the past. It should also be environmentally sensitive to be sustainable in the long term. The quality of development is as important as its arithmetic, and it should be just, fair and real for the majority. 

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Climb up HDI ladder is slowing

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