Two sets of numbers on development metrics bust the claims of the India growth story

21 September 2022
School children queue for food served as part of the Mid Day Meal scheme at a government primary school in Hyderabad in 2010. Modern biological sciences provide ample evidence that the foundations of lifelong health are built early. If children are to languish under lack of food and nutrition, implications for the years ahead are clear.
NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images
School children queue for food served as part of the Mid Day Meal scheme at a government primary school in Hyderabad in 2010. Modern biological sciences provide ample evidence that the foundations of lifelong health are built early. If children are to languish under lack of food and nutrition, implications for the years ahead are clear.
NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images


Two important sets of numbers and rankings have emerged recently that India needs to analyse more carefully. Rankings matter greatly to the ruling government of India. Not necessarily because they reflect important and appalling facts about a worsening situation on the ground, but conversely because of the opportunity they present for chest-thumping. Any rankings, even if specious, if seen to flatter the current government, are put out with a drumroll. Exhibit A would be the prime minister recently talking up the Global Innovations Index, created by INSEAD, a business school, and World Business, a British magazine, where India climbed 35 notches from 81 in 2015 to 46 in 2021.

However, there are other key numbers that bust this narrative. We learnt this month that India’s rankings in the United Nations Human Development Index continue to fall. After the dip recorded in 2020, India has fallen further to 132 of 191 countries. The global scenario is replete with conversations about inequality, stress and misery being on the rise. Among India’s neighbours, Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh and Bhutan are ranked above India. Only three countries, Pakistan, Nepal, and Myanmar are worse off. Most countries registered a decline in their HDI value in 2020 or in 2021. But India, apart from its own HDI value declining, also fell relative to other countries.

The HDI value is defined by the World Health Organisation as a summary composite measure of a country's average achievements in health, knowledge and standard of living. The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called ‘goalposts’ and then plots where each country stands in relation to these goalposts. The value is between 0 and 1. The higher a country's human development, the higher its HDI value. India’s 2021 HDI value of 0.633 puts it in the medium human development category, lower than its value of 0.645 in the 2020 report.

Secondly, last month the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies assessed the performance of India’s states and districts on the POSHAN Abhiyan, a programme launched in March 2018 with a stated aim to achieve improvement in the nutritional status of pregnant women, adolescent girls, lactating mothers, and children under six. The study was conducted by Geographic Insights, a research lab based at the center. India’s NITI Aayog is listed as one of the collaborators of Geographic Insights.

Harvard’s ranking of states and districts yielded some stunning results. Gujarat has the lowest rank at 28 and a key performance indicator score of 0.176 compared to the top three states: Manipur at 0.919, Mizoram at 0.837 and Kerala at 0.766. Nine out of the ten districts at the bottom, with the ranks 695 to 704, are tribal districts. Six of these are in Gujarat.

Seema Chishti is a writer and journalist based in Delhi. She has worked in print, radio and television, in English and in Hindi, since 1990. She was the Delhi editor for BBC India and a deputy editor at the Indian Express. She is the co-author of Note by Note: The India Story (1947-2017), a history of independent India told alongside the sound of Hindi film music for each of the years. Her endeavour remains to tease out, untie and then help interpret the many strands of change in a large and diverse country.

Keywords: Caravan Columns growth inequality malnutrition GDP inclusive growth development
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