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Bad governance, the root cause of India''s low HDInews
06 August 2004

Once again India ranks 127th out of 177 countries in the Human Development Report 2004 released by UNDP. Supriya Saxena digs beneath to unearth the root causes for the poor performance

Is India's low human development index (HDI) an alibi for poor economic performance?
Ever since the world was divided into haves and have-nots, the problem of development in the latter countries has perplexed economists. Development literature in the form of plans and welfare pacts has unfortunately given nothing more than hope to these nations. The fact that India is again ranked 127th out of 177 countries in the Human Development Report of 2004 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), leaves one wondering as to why we are still lagging behind as far as growth is concerned.

Previously the approach towards human development was identified by the economic growth only. Per capita income was the sole criterion to measure human development. As a result the countries engaged themselves in increasing their gross national product, based on the per capita income. But over the years it was observed that while countries made economic progress, the living standard of the people remained largely unchanged.

Thus, UNDP pioneered the concept of human development, which according to it is the end whereas social development and economic growth are the means to it. Hence in 1990, the UN produced its first development report based on the human development index, which focuses on three quantifiable areas: being able to live a long and healthy life, being able to afford an education and having a decent standard of living.

Ever since then, the UNDP has been releasing annual human development reports and providing rankings to all its member nations based on this index. The aim of human development in a developing economy is to improve the productive capacity of the people, which in the long run would help in narrowing the gap between rich and poor nations.

But there is a lot to be seen whether social development initiatives are looked at as harbingers of growth or a lack of them is taken as an alibi for the failure of its economic policies. Despite not showing any improvement in the human development indices this year, India has been praised for its initiatives in religious tolerance, legal pluralism and socio-economic policies, including reservation for the minorities.

But India stands accused of having achieved little economic growth, and even less human development, in spite of its claims on human development, since independence. It is disturbing to note that development efforts have failed to lift the vast majority of the population from poverty.

So, is there a fault in the welfare-oriented paradigm of development? Perhaps 'no'! The shortcoming lies in the reckless application of this model. First, the human development approach has not been that holistic. It has hovered around only 'education and health' that have been slipped into the growth plans as mere formalities. Human development in most of the developing countries doesn't talk of empowerment of the citizens and strengthening their capabilities to live a life of contentment. Somehow, the country rankings have gained more importance than the practices that lead to where each country stands globally.

Second, to a large extent the human development approach has failed to integrate economic growth policies. There is a two-way relationship between human development and economic growth. Investments in human development lead to faster growth, and rapid growth leads to higher levels of human development. This fact, earlier overlooked, has gained recognition only recently.

As the tenth five-year plan is underway, the government has fixed a target growth rate of eight per cent. While achieving this target on the economic front appears realistic, India's HDI development is very demoralising. But when economic growth and human development are counterparts then why is India suffering a low HDI?

The answer lies in bad governance. When a government is corrupt and unaccountable to its citizens for the duration between elections and fails to invest adequately in the health and education of its people, economic growth will eventually peter out, as it will create an insufficient number of healthy and skilled workers. Sound governance in terms of economic policies, well functioning institutions, social security and protection of human rights is what India needs today. One-sixth of the world's population with 35 per cent of them under the poverty line and a low literacy rate of 65 per cent deserves nothing better than a rank of 127.

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Bad governance, the root cause of India''s low HDI