India’s growth story has been a curious one. It is widely acknowledged that following the opening up of the economy in 1991, the perception of the country as a laggard which will never be able to catch up with China has changed. Indians travelling abroad have noted how the immigration officials elsewhere no longer regard them as visitors from a poor country. Yet, according to the latest UN Human Development Report, India’s global ranking in 2013 has remained unchanged at 135, reflecting little improvement in the living standard of its people.
The average annual growth in India’s human development index in 2000-13 is lower than what it was in the 1980s though higher than the growth rate in the 1990s. This only goes to show that the decline in Indian poverty because of economic growth has not had a symmetric influence on human development. Evidently, the country’s advancement has followed a lopsided course. It isn’t only that sizable segments of the population still remain below the poverty line — the various percentages that are cited about this group ranges from 29.5 according to the C. Rangarajan committee to 21.9 according to the Suresh Tendulkar formula. What has to be noted is that little progress has been made in health and child care, sanitation, maternity benefits and education.
The uneven nature of the progress is evident from the fact that while the middle classes are reasonably satisfied with these facilities because of its ability to pay for the services, the underprivileged are at the receiving end because of the poor quality of the medical, educational and other facilities that are provided by the government. It is the shortfall in this sector which drags down India’s position in the human development field. The UN report has said that India has to spend 4 per cent of its GDP on the social sector to improve its position. But, expenditure alone will not help. What is required is to plug the leakages.