Glaring inequality & HDI

Despite the best phase of economic pr­ogress, In­d­ia losses qu­a­rter of its HDI value due to inequality. It requires more attention to bridge the regional and gender inequality to improve its relative rank globally.

The Indian economy, expanding at 7 per cent plus ra­te during the last decade, has achieved the tag of fourth-fa­stest growing economy in the world. This economic achi­e­v­ement contributed substantially in the reduction of pov­e­rty and rise in people’s income. But the human develo­pment index (HDI), unvei­l­ed in 1990 by United National Development Programme (UNDP), which assess the status of well being of the people in the world showed India ranked poorly at 130 am­ong 189 countries in 2017 putting it alongside po­or African nations such as Morocco and Namibia.

This index assess the pro­gress in three basic dimensions of human development – health as measured by life expectancy at birth, knowledge measured by mean yea­rs of education and expected years of schooling, and standard of living measured by per capita gross national income. A higher HDI rank reflects better human development opportunities compa­red with other countries.

India made remarkable progress in the human development indicators between 1990 and 2017 with more people today having access to education, health and sanitation; life expectancy at bi­r­th increased by nearly 11 ye­ars; even more significant ga­­ins in expected years of schooling as children can expect to stay in sc­hool for 4.7 years longer than in 1990; while per capita gr­o­ss national income increased significantly by 266.6 per cent.

But the worrisome part is around 27 per cent of India’s HDI value get lost on acco­u­nt of inequalities – a greater lo­ss than for most of its So­u­th Asian counterparts as the average loss for the region is 26.1 per cent. It reflects In­dia has experienced unequal progress across society and regions, which is exclusive rather than inclusive. Gender and regional inequalities are considered two most important issues for India’s poor HDI performance.

Despite considerable pro­g­r­ess at the policy and legislative levels, gender ineq­u­a­lity in opportunities, achi­e­v­ements and empowerment is fairly evident in India. Women still remain significantly less politically, economically and socially active compared with men. Wo­m­en hold only 11.6 per cent of parliamentary seats, and on­ly 39 per cent of adult wo­men have reached at least a secondary level of education compared with 64 per cent of men. Women’s participation in the labour market is 27.2 per cent against 78.8 per ce­nt for men and substantially less than neighbouring cou­ntries Nepal (79.9 per cent), Bhutan(66.7 per cent), Ba­n­g­ladesh (57.4 per cent) and Sri Lanka (35.1 per cent). No­ting that despite overall pr­ogress, women continue to be deprived of healthy life, knowledge and a decent sta­ndard of living in the country.

Across regions, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live birth is worse in Madhya Pr­a­desh (47), Assam (44), Od­i­s­ha (44), UP (43), Rajasthan (41), Uttarakhand (38), Bi­h­ar (38) and Andhra Pradesh (34), which is much higher than wealthier Indian states like Goa (8) and Kerala (10), and also neighbouring countries like Bangladesh (31) and Nepal (29), and the Af­rican nation of Rwanda (31). Similar difference is obse­r­v­ed in economic terms in annual per capita income acro­ss states. Real GSDP per cap­i­ta (lakh rupees) of Delhi (2.50), Haryana (1.43), Utt­a­­rakhand (1.33), Gujar­at (1.33), Maharashtra (1.31) & Kerala (1.28) is far ahe­ad of Bihar (0.27), UP (0.39), MP (0.52), Jharkhand (0.54) and Odisha (0.64).

Oxfam’s recent reports say three-fourth of the weal­th generated in the country went to the richest 1 per cent, on the other hand as per the World Bank report India had the largest number of people living under the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. While the proportion of people below the national poverty line or poor in India with huge variation across states with highest in Chhattisgarh (40), Jharkha­nd (37), Bihar (34), Odisha (33), MP (32) and UP (29) lowest in Goa (5), Kerala (7) and Punjab (8).

Further, the ratio of pupils dropping out children at the primary level schooling var­ies widely across the states, from a peak dropout ratio of 15.4 in Assam, to a low of 0.64 in Himachal Pradesh. India’s wealthier states tend to have the lowest levels of students dropping out, such as Karnataka (2.02), Maharashtra (1.26) and Gujarat (0.89). More children than ever before are enrolled in secondary schools, yet differences across states are wide –UP (68), Jharkhand (78), Bi­har (74) has much less enro­lment rate than Kerala (102) and Delhi (107).

This analysis shows the rate of development varies wi­dely across states with substantial gender gap. Human development indicators of wealthier states like Kera­la, Goa, Gujarat, Punjab, Ma­har­ashtra, Delhi and Tamil Na­du are similar to the top HDI ranked countries, while poor states like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, MP and UP have similarity with bottom HDI-ranked countr­i­es. The Niti Aayog CEO said rightly at a recent event, “wh­ile some parts of the co­u­n­try are improving, there is complete backwardness in the other parts, if this continues then India cannot grow for a long period of time; unless we don’t bridge the regional disparities and inclusive development, the higher HDI rank can’t be expected”.

The government has initiated several efforts such as ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Swachh Bharat, Make in India, MGNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna, PMKVY, Pradhmantri Ujjawala Yojana and Ayushman Bharat with an aim to universalise school education, create more employment and healthcare opportunities, which are crucial for ensuring the upward trend on human development indicators. Gender gaps in early years are closing, but inequalities persist in adulthood. It is time to narrow down the gap that exists across regions, gender and people belonging to various social and economic groups. The region-specific policies and programmes targeting to excluded groups with proper implementation mechanism is need of the hour. Both central and state governments should work in partnership to bridge the regional inequality and uplift the excl­u­ded groups that would make a huge impact on India’s HDI and its image of emerging economic superpower.

It is also argued due to high inter-regional variation, it is meaningless to disc­uss an average HDI for In­dia. Hence, the HDI ranks sh­ould be interpreted with caution and simple conclusions based on ranks sometime can be misleading due to inter-regional variations and other methodological issues.

(The write is Fellow at the Institute for Human Development, Delhi)