Holding a mirror to development

Published : Jun 20, 2003 00:00 IST

THE concept of human development is inherent in India's scheme of centralised planning and constitutional philosophy inasmuch as it emphasises the fair and equitable distribution of income and resources. Bringing out Human Development Reports (HDRs) periodically to assess how the districts in a state rank in terms of human development indicators is a volitional exercise by a State government not only to create renewed commitment to the goals of human development, but to identify what remains to be done to register further progress in areas such as literacy, elementary education, gender equality, health and nutrition. Madhya Pradesh (M.P) has been a pioneer among the States in the matter of bringing out HDRs regularly; other States and the Centre have emulated it.

The first HDR of M.P. brought out in 1995, benchmarked the State's status with regard to human development indicators and recorded its failures. The second HDR (1998) was released by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in New Delhi. Sen, along with the late economist Mahbub-ul-Haq, had backed the transnational effort to bring out the HDRs by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and therefore, was eminently qualified to commend the efforts of the State government to realise the goals of human development. The State's third HDR, for 2002 was released on February 7, 2003, in Bhopal by former President K.R. Narayanan. It looks back at the distance covered by the State so far and boasts of significant progress, on the basis of Census 2001 data. Indeed, the release of the HDR was delayed by a year in order to make use of the partly available Census 2001 data, so as to make it more relevant than it would have otherwise been if it was based on the Census 1991 data. Had the third HDR been released within the three-year interval from the publication of the last one, consistent with the earlier precedent, reliance on outdated Census 1991 data would have been inevitable. The HDR includes a table on HDI for M.P. as determined in 2001.

THE HDI is a composite index arrived at after taking into account the levels of human development in terms of education, longevity or health, access to opportunities measured in per capita incomes, the present status of the districts in terms of these parameters related with certain absolute achievement positions, and some desirable achievements positions. This index is a measure of how far a district has travelled from a minimum level of achievement, and of the distance still to travel. Measured on a scale of 0 to 1, the urbanised Indore district ranks first with an HDI of 0.694, while the predominantly rural Jhabua ranks last with an HDI of 0.372. The State has 45 districts.

The HDR includes another table on Gender Related Development Index (GDI) for the State. According to this, Dewas district ranks first with an index of 0.634, while Morena ranks last with 0.436. The GDI uses the same variables as the HDI. The difference is that the GDI adjusts the average achievement of each district in life expectancy, educational attainment and income in accordance with the degree of disparity in achievements between women and men. It is based on the GDI developed by the UNDP, which was used first in the HDR in 1995.

Creating access to elementary education is one of the notable achievements of the State. Responding to the demand for schools, the State government evolved an innovative scheme for universalising access. The Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS), launched in January 1997, helped the State to eliminate a backlog of about 30,000 habitations without access to schools in two years.

With the government guaranteeing a school within 90 days of a request for a school being made by an accessless habitation, now every habitation in the State has a school within a kilometre. Literacy is catching up with the national average. While, the literacy rate of Madhya Pradesh in 1991 (before the new State of Chhattisgarh was hived out of it) was 18 per cent below the national rate, today it stands at 64 per cent, close to the national figure of 65 per cent.

The HDR admits that the delivery of effective public health service is the most daunting task facing the State, which along with Orissa, has the lowest indicators in the country. However, a positive signal that has emerged from Census 2001 is that for the first time, the growth of population has shown a declining trend.

Given the fact that health indicators have not dramatically improved, this decline could be attributed to the outcome of multiple initiatives in the State in the areas of empowerment of women, female literacy, education of girl children and political decentralisation, which brought women into the public space. However, the HDR admits that the State has the lowest per capita expenditure on food amongst all Indian States (page 59). This is primarily a manifestation of widespread poverty and lack of livelihood security, and is arguably the most important factor responsible for determining the poor nutritional status of people in the State, the HDR says.

The combination of a low annual per capita income (Rs.4,166) and low foodgrain consumption is detrimental to the growth of a healthy population. It is unlikely that the basic caloric requirements are met by other, non-foodgrain sources, the HDR says.

ACCORDING to the HDR, the fact that the gap between the leading States and States like Madhya Pradesh is growing should be a matter of concern for national policy makers. "It would not be possible for the country as a whole to realise the high growth rates projected for the Tenth Plan and beyond unless the relatively lower growth rates in major States like M.P. are stepped up", the HDR has pointed out.

The HDR has also warned that the resources allocated to a State like M.P, which formed part of one of the backward regions of the country, cannot be pegged to those of the developed regions. It is here that the Planning Commission has failed poorer States, in not addressing the growing inequality between States; in fact, the outlays for the Tenth Plan in comparison to the Ninth have dropped for the poorer States, and this would in all probability worsen the already widening disparities, the HDR has cautioned.

The HDR deplores the fact that while the State has attempted to put democracy to use, by introducing active institutions of decentralisation in order to improve its human development indicators, the effort has been stymied by the proliferation and domination of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS).

It has alleged that these schemes limit efforts by State governments to empower local bodies and have been working against principles of federalism; that despite a consensus among the Chief Ministers in the National Development Council on the transfer of CSS to States with resources, this has not happened.

The HDR has claimed that the problems, especially those in the human development area, are no longer "Indian" problems but problems of select States. "These, therefore, call for State-specific responses and strategies built on the specificity of State situations. CSS fails the human development agenda by not allowing such differential responses to emerge," the HDR says.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment