India’s Poor human development

AS A major driver of world growth, India’s record on human development is very disappointing. The fastest growing economy of the world after China ranked a poor 119 on the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Index of 169 countries, trailing behind even countries with modest growth, in indicators such as education, health and overall living standards. Clearly, strong economic performance has not improved people’s access to social infrastructure. That is worrisome. The country needs reforms in governance if its efforts to reduce poverty and improve the record on human development are to yield the desired progress.

Today, the biggest challenge in education and health is governance. After accounting for inequality in health, education and income, India loses 30% of its HDI value from 0.519 to 0.365. The high rates of absenteeism by teachers, particularly in rural areas, undermine the objectives of programmes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

There is no getting away from improving the quality of teaching at government schools that account for bulk of primary schoolchildren. Surely, a fundamental right to education falls short of a revolution in education. The other big concern for India is undernourishment.

Deprived children have a fraction of the vocabulary of their counterparts from high income groups. We cannot allow the sorry state of affairs — lack of education, frequent infections worsened by poor hygiene, lack of primary healthcare — to continue. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme has not delivered, though on paper the scheme provides health and nutrition education for mothers of infants. The benefits do not reach those intended. Merely spending more money is not the answer.

Governance reforms for effective delivery of services are a must. Technology or technique cannot fix governance by themselves. Only political mobilisation and empowerment of the people at large can guarantee governance. And this is a challenge primarily for political parties and not for the government. Are our political parties listening? That is the real challenge.

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