Human Development Index:

India’s Poor Showing


India’s high growth rates have been a matter of boastful self-congratulatory publicity for the Indian Government, with the recent recession being projected as a temporary setback, soon to be overcome. The latest Human Development Report released by the UNDP in India recently serves to confront and challenge the tall claims with the rude realities of India’s sorry human development performance in the very midst of its much-touted economic success story.
The Human Development Index ranking, based on 2007 data, finds India at a shocking 134th place out of 182 countries. India’s ranking in a statistical update based on 2006 data, released by the UNDP last year was 132; the 2007-2008 HDR based on 2005 data ranked India at 128, while in the preceding year India was at 126. Undeniably, in the very phase when the Manmohan Singh Government was boasting of high growth rates, India’s performance in terms of providing the basics required for a life of dignity continued to slide steeply. If this is true of the high-growth period, the fate of human development indicators in India in times of recession can only be imagined.      
The Human Poverty Index (HPI) places India at 88th among 135 countries (a steep decline from 62nd place among 155 countries in the last HDR). In key indicators used to calculate the human poverty index, India registers declining performance. Confirming the findings of the NCEUS report headed by Arjun Sengupta, the HDR 2009 tells us that 41.6% of India’s population earns below $ 1.25 a day, and 75.6% earns below $ 2 a day – a very different picture of poverty than that painted by the official estimate of 28.6% below the National Poverty Line. In the gender development index (GDI), India ranks 114 out of 155 countries. Most shameful is the data on underweight children: a staggering 46% of the country’s children under 5 years of age are underweight. On this count, the “mighty” India (alongside Yemen and Timor Leste) ranks second only to Bangladesh at 48% - behind even the countries like Afghanistan (39%) and Niger (44%) which are otherwise at the bottom of the HDI ladder. 
The HDR this year highlights the issue of migration, stressing that the freedom to migrate with dignity and better opportunity is an important indicator of human development, and the right to decide where to live is an important element of human freedom. Here, too, the Indian Government’s policies and priorities make absolute mockery of this concern.
The report reveals that for India, remittances by migrants are 1.5 times greater than foreign direct investment (FDI). Yet, Indians migrating for work to other countries remain extremely vulnerable to exploitation and ill-use, while the Government turns a blind eye, its gaze fixed on the goal of wooing and appeasing FDI.  
Regarding internal migration, the HDR stresses the need to institute guarantees for the protection and access to all rights (public services, education health, social welfare schemes etc) of migrants within a country. In India, 42 million people are internal migrants, but most of them are denied recognition, and forced to forego most of their access to food rations and other social welfare measures. The Report notes that rural–urban migrants in India are predominantly employed in industries such as construction, brick kilns, textiles and mining, which entail hard physical labour and harsh working and living environments. To this, we can add what the Report does not mention – the fact that internal migrants in India are increasingly vulnerable to assaults by regional chauvinistic outfits of the Shiv Sena-MNS variety, and governments have done precious little to protect them.
Recognising the phenomenon of forced displacement due to ‘development’, the Report notes that there are about 21 million development-induced displaced persons in India, many of whom belong to scheduled castes and tribal groups. In this context, the Report reiterates the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which stipulate that authorities must explore all viable options to avoid displacement, and where unavoidable, decisions about displacement must be taken with the “support and participation of all stakeholders;” and with care to guarantee not just compensation but “long-term provisions for adequate shelter, safety, nutrition and health” for those displaced, and with special care to protect “indigenous peoples, minorities, smallholders” etc. The blood and brutality of Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar, Dadri and countless others are tragic testimony to the total travesty of these principles in case after case of state-corporate land grab in India.

The continuously declining performance in human development indicators should serve as a call for an immediate course corrective on part of the Indian Government – halting the drive to pursue ‘development’ as defined in terms of reckless appeasement of Indian and foreign corporates at terrible cost to the people; and instituting urgent and comprehensive measures to make universal access to food, jobs, health, and education a top priority.