What the Narendra Modi govt should worry about

What the Narendra Modi govt should worry about

India’s low ranking on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) and persistent failure to move up the ranks through the years has reflected poorly on the country, even as the economy has grown and there was progress in many areas. For the past many years, India’s ranking has been in the 130-135 range among 189 countries and it was in the bottom third for most parameters that go into the making of the index. This year, the country has slipped by one rank to 131, and though it is stated that this is not because India did not do well but other countries did better, that is poor consolation. The poor performance is especially disquieting because it involves the living standards and welfare of hundreds of millions of people. 

The HDI is a measure of a nation’s health, education and standard of living. Bhutan and Bangladesh have rankings similar to India’s, but Nepal and Pakistan have lower rankings. All are in the ‘medium’ human development category and have a lot of distance to cover and much to do before they can be said to ensure minimum standards of life and wellbeing for their people. India’s gross national per capita income, based on purchasing power parity, fell to $6,681 in 2019 from $6,829 in 2018. The country also has a ranking near the bottom on the World Hunger Index. The report pointed out, like other reports have done, that there are more malnutrition-related issues among children and that girls are affected more than boys. It also underlined the need for greater empowerment of women by ensuring better financial security for them and giving them ownership of land. Year after year, the HDI comes as a reminder of the challenges the country has to face in providing a better life to the people, and unfortunately, the next year’s index fails to cheer again. 

This year’s report covers 2019 only and does not account for the impact of Covid-19. So, next year’s report is bound to present a much worse picture. This year, the report has introduced a new metric, called the Planetary Pressures-adjusted HDI, to reflect the impact caused by each country’s per-capita carbon emissions and their material footprint. This is a relevant measure in the time of climate change, and India would move up eight ranks if this is taken into consideration. It would change many other rankings, and Norway, which tops the index now, would fall 15 places. As many as 50 countries would drop out of the high development group if this metric is used. It will clearly gain more importance in the future.