India’s place has remained unchanged in the latest UNDP rankings for Human Development Index (HDI), the most widely accepted measure of living standards and human welfare. It comes in at a lowly 135th among 185 countries, worse off than besieged Palestine that is currently under bombardment. What is worse is that between 2008 and 2013 — years of high welfare spending — India’s ranking improved by a single place while Rwanda jumped up 17 places.
Clearly, high welfare spending has not been efficacious in significantly improving human welfare in India. By way of contrast, Nepal was able to rapidly move up the ranks despite being landlocked, mountainous and politically unstable. A clue to why India does so badly is how closely its HDI ranking tracks the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings — we come in 134th among 189 nations according to the latest tables. And of the top 10 nations on both lists five — Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore and US — are common to both, suggesting that the two may have more to do with each other than is fashionable to suppose.
This is corroborated by Nepal’s rankings as well. Coming in at 105th on ease of doing business, and therefore scoring better than India (despite the influence of Nepal’s Maoists), it is also rapidly closing the gap with India on HDI. Finance minister Arun Jaitley broke the mould when he said that it was possible to be pro-business and pro-poor as well. There is no necessary inconsistency between them as is often assumed in India. In fact, it’s growth-oriented policies that can deliver enough resources for education, health, sanitation and potable water.
But it’s also necessary to spend those resources wisely instead of frittering them away. To move up HDI rankings India needs to reinvent its mai-baap sarkar which patronises rather than provides real opportunity for the poor. One of the best ideas in this regard is to move from multifarious and wasteful government programmes — where bureaucrats and other intermediaries hold the upper hand — to direct benefits transfer enabled by Aadhaar. UPA had this idea but waffled about it while BJP, then in opposition, added to the confusion. Given campaign promises made by PM Modi, it’s now up to him and the NDA government to chart a strategy that will rapidly improve human welfare in India.
The story is derived from a syndicated feed and Team TOV has not made any amendments to it.