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Task cut out for govt as India languishes in global rankings

SPI does not consider GDP but focuses only on these parameters all of which are given equal weightage
Last Updated : 04 June 2023, 19:45 IST
Last Updated : 04 June 2023, 19:45 IST

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The aim of all governments is to improve the quality of life of their citizens. To this end, a government’s role encompasses a whole range of activities, from providing employment opportunities to funding schools and offering affordable health care to providing good infrastructure — in short, ensuring
good governance.

How well they do this depends upon effective planning, implementation and monitoring. India, too, is no different.

The government’s aim is to do all this and more — to uplift the poor. The government is committed to the ideals of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayaas to build an Atmanirbhar Bharat. These ideals are our vision, both for domestic and global governance.

One of the key objectives of Niti Aayog, the apex public policy think tank of the Union government, is to “actively monitor and evaluate the implementation of programmes and initiatives, including the identification of the needed resources, so as to strengthen the probability of success and scope of delivery”.

Niti Aayog also studies the performance of the states against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, and embraced by us as a reliable measure of progress across a whole host of matrices.

The SDGs, among other parameters, envision elimination of poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, clean water and sanitation, economic growth, reduced inequalities — in effect all the parameters which would improve the quality of life across the spectrum.

It is always better if progress is validated by external agencies. Ultimately, what gets measured gets done and ensures improvement. It is against this backdrop that we should read the May 24 report of the Social Progress Imperative (SPI).

SPI is a Washington-based non-profit that has, over the years, found acceptance because of the integrity of the process adopted by it. The Social Progress Index combines 52 social and environmental outcome indicators and ranks
170 countries globally. The scores are calculated for all the years over the 1990-2020 period.

Social progress has been defined by SPI as “the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential”.

It alludes to three broad elements of social progress, referred to as dimensions: Basic human needs, foundations of well-being and opportunity.

Under each dimension, there are four parameters: nutrition & basic medical care, water & sanitation, shelter & personal safety under basic human needs; access to basic knowledge, access to information & communication, health & wellness and environmental quality under foundations of well-being; and personal rights, personal freedom & choice, inclusiveness & access to advanced education under the head of opportunity.

SPI does not consider GDP but focuses only on these parameters all of which are given equal weightage.

It is difficult to find fault with either the definition or the criteria adopted. One could quibble and suggest that economic dimensions also ought to be considered, but so long as the criteria adopted are uniform across countries, one cannot have any serious objection.

Based on these parameters, the SPI has ranked Norway at number 1. India has been ranked 110 out of 170 countries, below Guatemala and just above Nepal, Timor-Leste, Egypt and other countries.

This would come as a rude shock to many of us. Before we rush to denounce the SPI rankings as a deep conspiracy to show India in a poor light, it would be necessary to compare these rankings with similar studies.

The UN Human Development Index (UN HDI) ranks nations on the basis of GDP and health and education parameters; in other words, economic criteria are considered.

India’s ranking as per UN HDI 2022 is 132, below Tuvalu and Marshall Islands (do you even know where these countries are?) and above Ghana and Federated States
of Micronesia.

SPI is also closely linked with the 17 UN SDGs, which are also aimed at eliminating poverty and seeking inclusive development. As per the global ranking on the basis of steps being taken to achieve the SDGs, India is ranked at 121, above Gambia and San Tome & Principe and below Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago.

There is another report which seeks to rank countries on the basis of well-being and happiness — the World Happiness Report. The criteria adopted in this report includes GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

The assessments are made by individuals on the basis of these criteria. India as per the World Happiness Report 2023 is ranked at 126, below Ethiopia and Liberia and above Madagascar and Zambia.

Thus, our rankings across global surveys in matters of providing citizens with a good life range from 110 to 121, 126 to 132. Obviously, we have our work cut out.

(The author is former chairman, Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs)

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Published 04 June 2023, 18:09 IST

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