Poor HDI ranking reflects India’s paradoxes

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That India remains a land of incredible paradoxes was reinforced further on Thursday with the release of the human development index (HDI) rankings, which put the country in a poor 135rd position out of 187 countries in the world. At a time when prime minister Narendra Modi is calling upon the scientist community to develop a `Saarc satellite’ and take its rightful place in the comity of nations, the other side of the picture holds equally true.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report reveals that India’s position remains unchanged since last year, reflecting little improvement in the living standard of its people.

"India's HDI value for 2013 is 0.586 – which falls in the medium human development category – positions the country at 135 out of 187 countries. Between 1980 to 2013, India's HDI value increased from 0.369 to 0.586," the UNDP report said.

India, which recently played an important role in setting up of the Brics bank, has the lowest HDI value among the five countries. In fact, none of the Brics nations fare any better in HDI value.

"India is the lowest performing country among the Bricks nations in all categories of the HDI with the exception of life expectancy, which is lower in South Africa as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," the report said.

Among the Brics countries, Russia, Brazil and China are in the high HDI category. Russia secured the highest rank at 57, followed by Brazil at 79 and China at 91. South Africa and India rank in the middle category, securing 118th and 135th position respectively, the report said.

The HDI reflects long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human lives – a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. The study covered 187 countries.

Life expectancy at birth increased by 11 years, mean years of schooling by 2.5 years and expected years of schooling by 5.3 years between 1980 and 2013, it said.

However, India’s 2013 HDI of 0.586 was below the average of 0.614 for countries in the medium human development group and also lower than the average of 0.588 for countries in South Asia. “From South Asia, countries which are close to India in 2013 HDI ranking are Bangladesh and Pakistan with 142nd and 146th position, respectively,” the report said.

On the gender inequality index (GII), based on reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity, India ranked poorly 127 out of 152 countries. “India has a GII value of 0.563, ranking it 127 out of 152 countries in the 2013 index. In India, 10.9 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women, and 26.6 per cent of adult women have reached at least some secondary education compared to 50.4 per cent of their male counterparts."

Despite India’s growing clout as an economic powerhouse, it remains equally true that India’s sanitation problem of open defecation remains the worst in the world. According to India’s own estimates, close to 130 million households lack toilets.

The UNDP report says female participation in India’s labour market is 28.8 per cent compared to 80.9 for men, it added.

On the parameters of multi-dimensional poverty index, which identifies multiple deprivations in the same households in education, health and living standards, India's 55.3 per cent of population were multi-dimensionally poor while an additional 18.2 per cent were near multi-dimensional poverty, it said.

Some experts, however, say the HDI rankings are essentially statistical. Rajiv Chhibber of the public health foundation of India says it may not be too accurate to compare India with countries, which are either highly developed or much smaller in land size. “While it is true that we have gone down in some areas like inequality and education, our life expectancy has gone up from 30-35 in 1947 to 70-plus today, thanks to much better health care facilities. I would not be deterred by HDI rankings.’’

The report reflects on India’s unequal treatment of its deprived population and denial of rights, which leads to social unrest. “At times, groups or communities seek to redress inequities through violent means. In India estimates range from a tenth to a third of districts having insurrection movements or armed struggles in one form or the other by such dissident groups as the Naxalites and other Maoist groups,” the report said.

Says former national advisory council member NC Saxena: "The HDI reflects sadly on us. In education, out quality is very poor and enrolment means nothing because teachers do not attend schools and doctors are absent at clinics. Crucially, state governments could not care less and it is doubtful if they have even heard of the HDI rankings.’’

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