Human Development Indicators

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HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS In a broad sense, human development is about freedom. In Amartya Sen's influential work, Development as Freedom (1999), five instrumental freedoms are mentioned: economic facilities, political freedoms, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. In the subsequent and related rights-based literature, the point is made that development is not only about improvements in outcomes, it is also about processes. However, most standard measures of human development concern economic indicators, sometimes spilling over into socio cum political ones.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted as targets to be attained by developing countries by 2015, are an example. There are eight such goals:

  1. eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. achieve universal primary education;
  3. promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. reduce child mortality;
  5. improve maternal health;
  6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. ensure environmental sustainability;
  8. develop a global partnership for development.

Stated thus, these goals are vague; however, targets under these goals make them operationally meaningful and enable one to quantify and measure progress toward the MDGs. There are 18 such targets; this analysis will ignore the 7 targets under Goal 8 (developing a global partnership for development). The targets for the other

Goal 1 Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of
  people whose income is less than $1 a day
  Target 2: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of
  people who suffer from hunger
Goal 2 Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys
  and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of
  primary schooling
Goal 3 Target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary
  education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education
  no later than 2015
Goal 4 Target 5: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the
  under-five mortality rate
Goal 5 Target 6: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015,
  the maternal mortality ratio
Goal 6 Target 7: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the
  spread of HIV/AIDS
  Target 8: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the
  incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Goal 7 Target 9: Integrate the principles of sustainable development
  into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of
  environmental resources
  Target 10: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without
  sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic
  Target 11: Have achieved by 2020 a significant improvement
  in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
SOURCE: Courtesy of author.

goals are shown in Table 1. One does notice that targets are a bit more precise up to Goal 5.

UNDP and Human Development Reports (HDRs)

The standard source for making cross-country comparisons about human development is the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report (HDR), which has been used since 1990. These reports predate the acceptance of MDGs as goals or targets in 2000, although subsequent HDRs always have a discussion of MDGs. Each HDR has a theme, and data on human development and deprivation are provided. For example, the theme of HDR 2003 was MDGs, and that of HDR 2004 was cultural liberty. The argument for publishing the HDR is obvious. Conventionally, economists have measured development through indicators like per capita income or the percentage of the population below a designated poverty line. But the percentage of the population below a poverty line, known as the poverty ratio or head count ratio, is also based on income or expenditure; and income ought to be an input into the human development process. Instead, development can be more reliably measured by tangible improvements in indicators like health or education attainments.

Having accepted that argument, problems arise. Data must be available, and if cross-country comparisons are to be made, the cross-country data collection must be comparable. That is difficult, even for something as simple as income. Every country has reasonably satisfactory collection systems for aggregate national income, through national income statistics. That can be converted into per capita income by dividing by population. However, that figure will be in national currencies. To use it for cross-country comparisons, there must be conversion into a common currency, such as the U.S. dollar. Should one use official exchange rates for this conversion? That will be misleading, because goods, and certainly services, are often cheaper in developing countries. Therefore, one uses PPP (purchasing power parity) exchange rates. However, to obtain figures on poverty ratios, one needs data on personal income or expenditure distributions, which are not available through national account statistics, but only through surveys. To complicate matters further, some countries have surveys of income, others of expenditure. Nor are surveys held every year. For example, India has reliable large-sample surveys on consumption expenditure, conducted through the National Sample Survey (NSS), once every five years. The last such surveys were held in 1993–1994 and 1999–2000. What does one do for data in the intervening periods? Also, income data through surveys and income data through national accounts never match, and this problem exists for all countries. Such survey-related data problems also crop up for health and education indicators.

Once one has decided on variables and obtained data on the variables, there is the question of constructing an index. This process involves weighting the variables before aggregating them, and subjectivity is involved in almost any selection of weights. It would have been better to leave data on the variables as they are, but the use of indexes is widespread. The HDR has five such indexes: HDI (human development index), HPI-1 (human poverty index for developing countries), HPI-2 (human poverty index for selected Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries), GDI (gender-related development index), and GEM (gender empowerment measure). Of these, HPI-2 is not relevant for India.

HDI is the most commonly cited index. It is based on three variables: a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy at birth); knowledge (measured by adult literacy rate and gross enrollment ratio); and a decent standard of living (measured by per capita gross domestic product in PPP U.S. dollars). The aggregation process is such that the maximum value of HDI is 1 and the minimum value is 0. The higher the HDI value, the better. Depending on the HDI value, countries are divided into three categories: high human development for countries that have an HDI more than 0.800; medium human development for countries that have an HDI between 0.500 and 0.800; and low human development for countries that have an HDI less than 0.500. With an HDI value of 0.595 (in 2002), India now belongs to the medium human development category, wedged between Namibia and Botswana. In 1975 India's HDI value was 0.411, and it inched up gradually, with India moving to the medium human development category in the 1990s.

Although the latest HDR is for 2004, there is a time lag in obtaining data; the data are mostly for 2002. In the three components of HDI, India's life expectancy at birth in 2002 was 63.7 years. The adult literacy rate was 61.3 percent. Censuses are held at ten-year intervals, and the last census was in 2001. The Indian census-based literacy rate is 65.38 percent. The difference between the two figures requires explanation: the 65.38 percent figure is for populations aged seven and above, while the 61.3 percent is for populations aged fifteen and above. India's track record on literacy improved sharply in the 1990s, but there is a serious adult illiteracy problem, which largely explains the difference. India's gross enrollment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary schools in 2002 was 55 percent. Finally, India's per capita PPP gross domestic product (GDP) was U.S.$2,670, compared to the official exchange rate per capita income figure of around $500. The improvement in the 1990s occurred largely because of growth and increases in per capita income. The gross enrollment ratio in primary and secondary schools has also improved. For classes (standards) I through VIII (ages 6–14), the gross enrollment ratio is 82.35 percent. What pulls the Indian HDI down is enrollment in tertiary schools (colleges and universities).

Countries are ranked worldwide based on HDI values; as of 2004, India had a rank of 127 out of 177 countries. Attention invariably focuses on ranks, but one must be careful, because the number of countries included in rankings varies from year to year. It is far better to focus on HDI values. There is a correlation between per capita income and HDI values. Given India's per capita income, India's HDI rank should have been ten places higher. Notwithstanding the improvement in the 1990s, India should have done better on human development.

The next index in the HDR is HPI-1, based on a long and healthy life (measured by probability at birth of not surviving to age 40), knowledge (measured by the adult illiteracy rate), and a decent standard of living (measured by percentage of population without sustainable access to an improved water source and percentage of children underweight for age). India was ranked 48th out of 94 developing countries in 2004. Of India's children, 15.3 percent will not survive to the age of forty. The adult illiteracy rate (61.3%) has already been mentioned. Sixteen percent of the population does not have sustainable access to an improved water source, and 47 percent of children (under 5) are underweight for their age. The percentage of the population below the poverty line is not used in estimating HPI-1. Internationally, a poverty line of one U.S. dollar per day (sometimes U.S. $2 per day) is used, at PPP and at 1985 prices. At current prices, this is equivalent to around $1.70 a day. The HDR tells us that 34.7 percent of India's population is below this poverty line. However, India also has its own national poverty line, corresponding roughly to one U.S. dollar per day. In 1999–2000, 26.1 percent of India's population was below the national poverty line. There is thus some discrepancy between national data and HDR data.

The GDI attempts to capture gender disparities. It follows the same methodology as HDI, but factors in male-female differences. India's GDI value in 2004 was 0.572, wedged between Namibia and Botswana and ranked 127th out of 144 countries. There are fewer countries, because gender-disaggregated data are sometimes not available. The GDI rank is more or less the same as the HDI rank (among 144 countries), suggesting that gender discrimination in India is not overwhelmingly more than what the level of human development would suggest. Looking at the individual components of GDI, there are gender-based deprivations in education (literacy and enrollment). And in PPP U.S. dollars, the average male income is $3,820, while the average female income is $1,442. GEM is an indicator of female empowerment, with variables that capture political participation and decision making, economic participation and decision making, and power over economic resources. Requisite data are not available for an Indian GEM or GEM rank to be constructed; 9.3 percent of seats in Parliament are held by women.

National Human Development Report (NHDR)

There is a Human Development in South Asia document, published annually by the Islamabad-based Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre. It will not be discussed in detail here, because its human development indicators are primarily drawn from HDR.

To state the obvious, India is a large and heterogeneous country, and there are significant regional variations. A National Human Development Report (NHDR) was published in 2002, providing a wealth of data on human development and deprivation across states and union territories (UTs). Some of this data is reproduced in Table 2. There is more data, especially in terms of rural-urban differences, that is unavailable. The NHDR was published when most of the results of the 2001 census were not yet available. Hence, some data are dated, and the developments of the 1990s will not be fully incorporated until the next NHDR is published. That also explains why the HDI figure is available only for larger states. In addition, three states—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh—have been bifurcated, leading to the creation of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, and Chhattisgarh, respectively. Data are not always available for these three new states separately. Data for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh are thus for the states before their division. Neither can the HDI and GDI reported in this table be directly compared with the HDI or GDI reported in HDR. Although the objective is similar, the methodology is different, so no direct comparisons are possible.

What does this table tell us about human development across India's states and territories? Conventionally, India's "backward" states have been referred to as BIMARU states (BIMARU is an acronym for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, and there is a pun on the word bimar, which means "ill" or "sick" in most Indian languages). Indeed, if we look at the HDI values for 1991 and have a cutoff of 0.350, we find that the states that are below this threshold are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. With the exception of Arunachal Pradesh, the GDI values do not dispute this trend. There is significant deprivation in Assam and Arunachal. However, figures for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are no longer as low as those for Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Having said that, in addition to the North-East region, the most deprived states clearly are Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa. Such identification is also mirrored in the poverty ratio, literacy, and infant mortality figures. A recent report by the World Bank on India's progress regarding the MDGs also focuses on these differences between the states. In general, India seems to be on track for the income poverty and hunger goals, at least on a nationwide basis. India also seems to be on track for the educational goals, except for the elimination of gender disparity. However, India is falling behind on the goals for health.

The "Backward" Districts

Variations exist not only between states, but also within them. State boundaries are administrative ones, and development and deprivation do not necessarily follow such administrative criteria. There has therefore been an attempt to also focus on backward districts, as opposed to backward states alone. In collaboration with UNDP, several states have begun to publish State Human Development Reports (SHDRs). These are "official" SHDRs, as opposed to "unofficial" ones published for some states like Rajasthan and West Bengal. There is also another "unofficial" HDR, published regionally (North, South, West, and East) by the National Council of Applied Economic

        Percent below Literacy mortality rate
State/Union       poverty line (in percent) (per thousand)
Territories HDI (1991) HDI (2001) GDI (1991)   (1999–2000) 2001 1991
Andhra Pradesh 0.377 0.416 0.801 15.77 61.11 55
Arunachal Pradesh 0.328 0.776 33.47 54.74 91
Assam 0.348 0.386 0.575 36.09 64.28 92
Bihar 0.308 0.367 0.469 42.60 47.53 75
Goa 0.575 0.775 4.40 82.32 51
Gujarat 0.431 0.479 0.714 14.07 66.43 78
Haryana 0.443 0.509 0.714 8.74 68.59 52
Himachal Pradesh 0.469 0.858 7.63 75.91 82
Jammu and Kashmir 0.402 0.740 3.48 54.46
Karnataka 0.412 0.478 0.753 20.04 67.04 74
Kerala 0.591 0.638 0.825 12.72 90.92 42
Madhya Pradesh 0.328 0.394 0.662 37.43 64.08 133
Maharashtra 0.452 0.523 0.793 25.02 77.27 74
Manipur 0.536 0.815 28.54 68.87 28
Meghalaya 0.365 0.807 33.87 63.31 80
Mizoram 0.548 0.770 19.47 88.49 53
Nagaland 0.486 0.729 32.67 67.11 51
Orissa 0.345 0.404 0.639 47.15 63.61 125
Punjab 0.475 0.537 0.710 6.16 69.95 74
Rajasthan 0.347 0.424 0.692 15.28 61.03 87
Sikkim 0.425 0.647 36.55 69.68 60
Tamil Nadu 0.466 0.531 0.813 21.12 73.47 54
Tripura 0.389 0.531 34.44 73.66 82
Uttar Pradesh 0.314 0.388 0.520 31.15 57.36 99
West Bengal 0.404 0.472 0.631 27.02 69.22 62
Andaman and Nicobar Islands 0.574 0.857 20.99 81.18 69
Chandigarh 0.674 0.764 5.75 81.76 48
Dadra and Nagar Haveli 0.361 0.832 17.14 60.03 81
Daman and Diu 0.544 0.714 4.44 81.09 56
Delhi 0.624 0.690 8.23 81.82 54
Lakshadweep 0.532 0.680 15.60 87.52 91
Pondicherry 0.571 0.783 21.67 81.59 34
Uttaranchal 72.28
Jharkhand 54.13
Chhattisgarh 65.12
Notes: HDI=Human Development Index; GDI=Gender-related Development Index.          
SOURCE: Courtesy of author.            

Research. Of the "official" reports, ten states have so far published SHDRs: Madhya Pradesh (1995, 1998, and 2002); Karnataka (1999, second HDR under preparation); Sikkim (2001); Rajasthan (2002); Maharashtra (2002); Himachal Pradesh (2002); Tamil Nadu (2003); Assam (2003); West Bengal (2004); and Nagaland (2004). Eight SHDRs are being finalized: Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. Nine additional SHDRs are under preparation: Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka (second HDR), Kerala, Mizoram, Tripura, and Uttaranchal. Once all these SHDRs are available, one will have a better sense of variations within states.

For instance, the World Bank report identifies eighteen regions, corresponding to the regions used by the NSS, where human development is low: Central Bihar, Vindhya in Madhya Pradesh, Malwa in Madhya Pradesh, southern Madhya Pradesh, northern Madhya Pradesh, southeastern Rajasthan, Tripura, western Uttar Pradesh, eastern Uttar Pradesh, southern Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, northern Bihar, central Madhya Pradesh, southern Orissa, central Uttar Pradesh, southern Uttar Pradesh, southwestern Madhya Pradesh, and southern Rajasthan. District-level data are more difficult to acquire than state-level data. Using district-level data linked to the MDGs, a study by Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari (2003) identified 69 districts (out of a total of 593 districts) that are the most deprived: 26 in Bihar, 13 in Uttar Pradesh, 10 in Jharkhand, 10 in Orissa, 6 in Madhya Pradesh, 3 in Arunachal, and 1 in Karnataka. Geographically, these are contiguous to another 70-odd districts that are also fairly backward. This list is more or less identical to a list of 170 districts that the government has identified as backward and on which it wishes to focus. There is a listing (schedule) of backward tribes, known as scheduled tribes, and another such schedule of backward castes, known as scheduled castes. "Backwardness" is identified on the basis of agricultural wage rates, agricultural productivity, and share of scheduled tribe and scheduled caste populations. Together, scheduled tribes and scheduled castes account for around 25 percent of the population. Scheduled tribes tend to be concentrated in select geographical areas, while scheduled castes are more evenly spread out.

Government focus means increasing the share of educational expenditure to 6 percent of GDP and that on health to 2 or 3 percent of GDP. The present figures are 3.74 percent for education and 1 percent for health. Simultaneously, through decentralization, accountability, transparency, public/private partnerships, and Right to Information Acts, the efficiency of public expenditure will be improved.

Bibek Debroy

See alsoDevelopment Politics ; Economic Development, Importance of Institutions in and Social Aspects of ; Gender and Human Rights ; Scheduled Tribes


Debroy, Bibek, and Laveesh Bhandari. District-Level Deprivation in the New Millennium. Delhi: Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies and Konark Publishers, 2003.

Government of India. Planning Commission. National Human Development Report 2001. Delhi: GOI, March 2002.

Sen, Amartya K. Development as Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 2004: Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World. New York: UNDP, 2004.

——. Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. UN Millennium Project, directed by Jeffrey D. Sachs. New York: UNDP, 2005.

World Bank. Attaining the Millennium Development Goals in India: Role of Public Policy and Service Delivery. Delhi: Oxford University Press and World Bank, June 2004.

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Human Development Indicators

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Human Development Indicators