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India’s Indices

The terms ~development and freedom ~are common. However, careful consideration would reveal the intricacy of the two words. Development for whom? What is freedom? There certainly exist various types of freedom, like freedom of speech, freedom to write and express views and ideas, freedom of thought.

Parthasarathi Chakraborty | Kolkata |

India ranks 129th among 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index, according to a report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on 9 December. Last year, India’s human development value of 0.647 had placed it at the130th rank. The perceived inequality in the spheres of health, education and economy can of vast number of people is to be attributed for this sordid state of affairs. Though India’s HDI value increased by 50 percentage points (from 0.431 to 0.647), the incidence of multi-dimensional poverty varies substantially and is a matter of grave concern.

It accounts for 28 per cent of the 1.3 billion multi-dimensional poor despite apparent progress in certain areas. The neighboring countries like lagging behind India ~ Bhutan (134), Bangladesh (135), Pakistan (152) and Afghanistan (170). Various development projects have been initiated by the central and state governments, and these are aimed at ensuring the welfare of the common people. The ruling party and its coalition partners are vocal on the success of development and performance, and this is supported by reports and statistical data. On the other hand, the Opposition describes all this as propaganda, a hoax and an illusion of development.

It wonders whether development in various sectors can be measured only by citing statistics. The real test is the fulfillment of basic needs with regard to food, housing, clothing, health care, education and employment opportunities. The qualitative indicators of development as conceived by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are unique. Monitoring development over time is important in order to improve the life-styles of the common people. Some typical qualitative indicators are literacy, mortality and morbidity rates, income etc. Consequently, development with a human face and a pragmatic analysis of the broader dimensions of human-well being ought to be of riveting interest to policy-makers.

The UNDP has over the years focused on the inter-relationship between human development and human rights. It has analysed the impact of growth, economic structures, human rights development and reiterated that elimination of poverty should be addressed as a basic entitlement of human right, and definitely not as an act of charity. The value of HDI), its relevance and importance is well recognized. Consequently, the human poverty index (HPI) emerges as a powerful instrument for conceptual understanding and sustainable development. Recognizing the poverty of choices and opportunities implies that poverty must be addressed in all its dimensions, not income alone, despite the fact that a lot can be achieved in human development by utilizing income.

It is absolutely essential that income should not dictate the value of the HDI by any means whatsoever. The HDI has been criticized on a number of grounds. For example, it has failed to include any ecological considerations including environment, exclusively pinpointing on national performance and ranking and not paying cognizance to development from a global perspective. The imperfections of HDI and its shortcomings like other composite indices evoke many pertinent questions including its transformation and evolution as well as its distillation and refinement. Advocating equal rights for women and children has been and will continue to be an important factor underlying this evolution.

The assessment of perceived satisfaction and dissatisfaction proved to be useful. Administrative records do not always give correct results. On the contrary, statistics supplied by nodal agencies are most likely to be inaccurate. For example, in education, one of the most commonly used indicators derived from administrative statistics, namely school enrolment, doesn’t mention dropouts. The claim of 100 per cent literacy in some districts of West Bengal, echoed by the leaders of the CPI-M, during their 34- year dispensation is not only inaccurate but ludicrous. It is unfortunate that this important indicator of development is inflated purposely so that figures give wrong ideas.

Another indicator is the proportion of households with at least one member who is literate. Most developed countries which have had compulsory education do not necessarily measure literacy. Similarly few hospital beds or limited availability of health care centres for every 10,000 people indicates lack of minimum infrastructure, because of geographical maldistribution of health care centres that are inaccessible to the lower income group. However, it is absolutely imperative to give cognizance to the essential needs of human beings such as harmony and happiness while considering the human development index. Expansion of health, education and income, will enable human beings to be more developed. Surely income and health may be regarded as a powerful instrument of development.

Good incomes can combat inequality of opportunities in many respects. Generation of income is perhaps a driving force to improve the quality of life to a certain extent. At the same time, effective and meaningful use of income seems to more important, particularly in the field of education which would ultimately bring about social harmony and happiness. The classical idea of development as perceived by Aristotle, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill is significant even today including Amartya Sen’s concept and Abhijit Banerjee’s poverty alleviation by randomized control trial ideology. The terms ~ development and freedom ~ are common. However, careful consideration would reveal the intricacy of the two words.

Development for whom? What is freedom? There certainly exist various types of freedom, like freedom of speech, freedom to write and express views and ideas, freedom of thought. Political and civil freedom is part of human freedom. But there appears to be lack of freedom, affecting millions in our country. Labour bondage is an example. Development should be viewed as a journey to achieve freedom. It is a process of generation and realization of new opportunities. Sustained development, however, is a continuous process. Imparting proper education is a deliberate, spontaneous, process. It enlarges abilities.

Social goals and social content of education appear to be equally important. Freedom of education can ultimately bring human freedom and its total development. It is a glorious journey from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from ignorance to consciousness. Freedom through education is necessary in a country with 424 million illiterates. Around 35 million children, aged between six and 10, do not even attend school, and about 40 per cent drop out before reaching class five. In tertiary education, the enrolment is only six per cent. If advancement of human freedom is our main objective and means for total development, it is imperative that we should reexamine our education policy, particularly for rural and backward sections.

It is absolutely imperative to initiate qualitative improvement programmes in the field of education, right from the primary to higher education immediately, if we perceive the real nation building development is our aim. Appeasing the rural electorate during presentation of the annual populist budget has been ineffective in terms of bringing about development in true sense of the term. At the same time elimination to the practices corruption would appears to be a prudent step in marching ahead for the development of a nation. Distribution of resources to the unprivileged, sagacious consideration of economic growth, measures for creating job opportunities are equally important.

(The writer, former Reader in Chemistry, Presidency College, Kolkata, was associated with the UGC and UNICEF)