India’s economy is in the top 10 in terms of its growth potential, but when it comes to the quality of life, especially in health and education, we rank 119 among 169 nations, according to the latest Human Development Index (HDI) released by the UN Development Programme.
Shameful as this is, it should hardly be cause for surprise. While we are steadily increasing our investments in health and education, we have been let down at the most basic level: female mortality rates.
Our maternal mortality figures are 450 deaths per 100,000, which is the worst in south Asia. Our adolescent fertility rates also let us down, as do figures for female education.
Yet, a quick stroll through the HDI figures does show some improvement across sectors in most parts of the country. The stumbling blocks are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, parts of West Bengal and even Maharashtra. Quite obviously, in our race to get ahead, we have forgotten the basics.
It has taken us over 60 years since the Constitution was adopted to pass the Right to Education Act for free and compulsory secondary education to all, even though it has long been a part of our Directive Principles. Our dropout rate is high and the girl child is the first to lose the race to school.
More painful is the rich-poor divide. Our cities may be full of state-of-the-art hospitals, ready to cater to medical tourists, but village after village in India does not even have access to primary health care. We supply doctors all over the world but are unable to service our own needy.
It is almost as if we have got so used to being a poor country that we hardly notice it any more. But as the Sensex and the economy show, India is no longer an ultra-poor country in the aggregate. But we still have a shockingly large proportion of poor people who are
being deprived of just about everything.
This HDI report is just one more reminder of how far we have to go. It tells us where our priorities should be.