(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 13, 2011
India Human Development Report 2011
A Flawed Analysis
The India Human Development Report, 2011 (IHDR)was released on October 21, 2011 on the eve of the meeting of the National Development Council. This report, a joint effort of the Planning Commission and the Institute of Manpower Research, is widely interpreted in the media as a positive one with few worrying factors. One of the main arguments lauding the report is that the degree of social inclusiveness of development policies has increased in the post reforms era. Reports claim that the trends in the human development index (HDI) elaborated upon in the HDR showed that vulnerable social groups especially the scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and Muslims are "catching up" with the rest of the people as far as social indicators like health, education and income levels are concerned. However this interpretation of the IHDR is based on a selective reading and ignores the contradictory evidence presented in the report. Further, such an interpretation is also laced with a pre-neoliberal reforms ideology as it attempts to show that economic reforms lead to more socially inclusive development. Hence it is necessary to understand the nature of the evidence presented in the IHDR.
HDI & ITS
The HDI methodology was developed by the UNDP from the 1990s onwards. Its main aim was to develop a criterea by which the overall development of nations and the well being of their people could be measured. The variables used to measure the HDI are access to basic amenities and income level; access to education and knowledge and access to health. Assessment of overall development is based on the measurement of indicators and their compilation into broad aggregate indexs in order to provide a comprehensive assessment. While such indices have been seen as a significant advance over "the growth is equal to development" model; several concerns have also been expressed vis-a-vis this method. Amongst other shortcomings, one of the main concerns emphasised that such an index does not throw enough light on the social and economic inequities and their impact on access to social and economic infrastructure. Hence the comparison between different social groups is not always valid as subjective factors impacting on social and economic status were disregarded in such an index. Hence issues of quality, language, infrastructure, distance and pedagogy having a major impact on educational status are largely disregarded. Similarly in the health sector emerging issues of availability of doctors, medicines, distance, location and other cultural barriers are ignored. This has led to an inappropriate comparison between social groups. Another major issue raised with regard to the HDI methodology is that it did not look at access to socio-economic infrastructure as a question of rights. Therefore it has depoliticised the question of access and presented it in a manner that has ignored the causal factors that should be structured into any social comparison. The current IHDR has attempted to address some of these issues by refining its methodology and taking into account the index of income inequality that has been calculated by using the 2007-08 NSSO data. It also attempts to pose questions in a socially sensitive manner by asking whether different social groups like the SCs, STs and Muslims are excluded from the developmental process; whether India is experiencing inclusive growth in the true sense and whether the flagship programmes of government were addressing issues of social inclusion.
While answering these questions the general and the oft quoted hypothesis reached by the report is that the development of socially vulnerable groups is fast converging with the development of the rest of the society, thus leading to more inclusive growth. However the evidence presented in the report does not provide a basis for this sweeping conclusion as is evident from the analysis made from the very beginning. In its preface, the report states that: "poorer states namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal account for 56 per cent of the SC and 55 per cent of the ST population of the entire country. Further, 58 per cent of the Muslim population is concentrated in these states. There is a two way relationship here; poorer states are so because there is a large proportion of excluded social groups (who are generally poorer) living there; conversely in the poorer states different developmental programmes do not reach the targeted populations..". The rest of the report describes how some of these states are performing vis-a-vis different variables and assumes that rise in the index of poorer states will result in a positive development for "socially excluded people".
The first section deals with asset employment, asset ownership and poverty. Based on NSS figures the IHDR states that rural and urban poverty has declined significantly between 2004-2005. Rural poverty declined from 28.3 per cent to 14.9 per cent, urban poverty has declined from 25.7 to 14.5 per cent. It is well known that these figures are suspect and poverty estimation has been much debated, the IHDR itself acknowledges that the number of poor people does not seem to have declined. Further it admits that if the methodology of the Tendulkar Committee is used then the percentage of poor people in the country remains at 32 per cent, a figure considered quite conservative by most critics of poverty estimates. It further acknowledges that the rate of decline of poverty amongst the SC, ST and Muslims is much slower than all India rate of decline of poverty thereby negating the main argument about declining inequities. As far as employment is concerned the IHDR argues for a declining rate of unemployment amongst all social groups. The rise in employment has taken place largely in the non-agricultural sector, but these figures do not tell the whole story. The rise in employment amongst the SC and ST is discussed only in terms of current daily status and does not reflect the subsidiary and casual nature of the labour that these social groups are performing. Recent studies show that SC and ST people are largely turning to migrant casual labour and the women labourers are increasing in the workforce. This also reflects the severe displacement and agrarian distress that has impacted on the life of these social groups. Hence the analysis of the IHDR is misleading in this respect and does not reflect the declining work status of the SC and ST people.
In its analysis of nutrition and right to food, the IHDR is quick to point out that trends in malnutrition are worrisome and that the situation does not seem to have drastically improved since the last HDR in 2001. The food intake in rural India is far less that 2400 kcal per day and in urban India it is less than the required intake of 2100 kcal per day. Nearly half of India's children are malnutritioned and the level of malnutrition is severe in 12 of the 17 states covered by the IHDR. Even states like Gujarat with "high growth rates" have high rates of malnutrition and aenemia in women. The report also points out that "socially marginalised groups (SC and ST) living in rural areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh have child malnutrition rates which are well above the national average of 46 per cent. The female malnutrition rate is also much higher than the national average. This conclusion once again points to divergence rather than converging trends between socially vulnerable groups and the rest of the population. Further it is surprising that the state of nutrition in the country has not been linked to the failure of the targeted public distribution system, even as in other areas such as education and basic amenities the improvements are attributed to flagship programmes that as the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana, or Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
One of the areas that the IHDR acknowledges as a sector where much has been acheived is education. It claims that poorer states have done especially well as far as this sector is concerned and enrollment rates have gone up even amongst the SC, ST and Muslims, even though the gender gap remains alarming. It attributes this acheivement to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Right to Education Act. However the limitations of the implementation of this Act and the SSA are well known and the increase in numbers does not necessarily reflect the inequities that exist in the quality of education amongst different social groups and regions. Several studies have shown that even though enrollment numbers may have increased, the quality of education in tribal areas leaves much to be desired. Further social discrimination between dalit and other students; and between rich and poor students is rampant in schools showing how the social divide has crystallised rather than eroded under the current development paradigm. Thus even while the IHDR makes mention of the question of quality education, it does not state what bearing this factor may have on the nature of inequities in the educational system.
In the above context, it is only correct to state that the overall conclusion and interpretation of the IHDR is not supported by the limited evidence presented in the report. A more detailed look at the report suggests that inequities in every sector may be growing rather than decreasing as suggested by many media reports. Thus any talk of convergence in developmental trends of SC, ST, Muslims and the rest of the population shows that human development is illussionary even in states with high economic growth. Hence any talk of declining inequalities on the basis of the interpretation of the IHDR is motivated to justify the flawed neo-liberal socio-economic policies of the present government and make a case for more exploitative economic reforms.