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Multiple Dimensions of Human Development and Interpretations of Change: A Response

 Multiple Dimensions of Human Development and Interpretations of Change: A Response Santosh Mehrotra, Ankita Gandhi In

DISCUSSION

Multiple Dimensions of Human Development and Interpretations of Change: A Response

Santosh Mehrotra, Ankita Gandhi

I
n “Human Development: How Not to Interpret Change” (EPW, 17 December 2011), Achin Chakraborty has questioned the analysis of the India Human Development Report (IHDR) 2011 – Towards Social Inclusion, arguing that there are “a number of mistakes”. He has concluded that the commentary goes “astray” because of its reliance on percentage changes for interpreting improvement. This is a response to each of his contentions or rather misinterpretations of analysis in only the first chapter of the report.

The IHDR 2011, prepared by the Institute of Applied Manpower Research is the only second human development report for the country. The main thrust of this report is to assess whether or not the historically excluded sections of society have started to share the benefits of the development process. The report analyses multiple dimensions of development – employment, poverty, nutrition, health, education, availability of infrastructure, including the usual practice of calculating the Human Development Index (HDI) and its component indices. Achin Chakraborty seems to have decided to question the estimates and interpretation of HDI in one of the eight chapters that examine these multiple dimensions of human development in India.

The HDI is a composite index of an arithmetic mean of indices of health, education and income that carry equal weight. Observing the improvements in the past decade, we find that the rate of improvement in the HDI has largely been guided by achievements in the education sector. This is illustrated quantitatively by looking at the growth rates in the respective indices, and qualitatively and in detail in the respective chapters dealing with education and health. While the education index increased by 28% over 1999-2000 and 2007-08, pulling HDI up, the health index pulled it down by 13%. However, it needs to be qualified here that the percentage change in each index has been calculated after normalising it to one, so as to remove any bias because of the indicators used. That is, the percentage change is not calculated by absolute levels of life expectancy in years, but after normalising the index with the observed goalposts (also capturing the improvements across the states).

It is true that life expectancy which is used to construct the health index improves slowly. But it is also true that in the education index, comprising literacy and mean years of schooling adjusted for dropout rates, the latter are also changing slowly. Moreover, when analysed in greater detail across the chapters, it is seen that despite improvements in various health outcomes, the present pattern and pace would make it difficult for India to achieve its health Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets by 2015. On the other hand, achievements in education (not overlooking the existing challenges of quality) will enable the achievement of education MDG targets before time.

The HDI over the period of analysis (1999-2000 and 2007-08) has risen from

0.387 in 1999-2000 to 0.467 in 2007-08. The top five ranks in both years go to the states of Kerala, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Punjab. At the other end of the spectrum are mostly the northern and eastern states – Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Assam1 – that have an HDI below the national average. The HDI across states ranges from 0.79 in Kerala to 0.36 in Chhattisgarh, i e, a gap of 0.43 points in 2007-08. The range in 1999-2000 was from 0.78 in Delhi to 0.27 in Jharkhand, i e, a different 0.51 points. Over time, the relatively backward states have been catching up with the national average in terms of development outcomes. This is consistent with the falling coefficient of variation and gini coefficient of HDI across states from 1999-2000 to 2007-08.

While still struggling with low absolute levels of HDI and component indices, these very states, namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Assam and Jharkhand, have shown improvements in HDI and other indices at a rate better than the national average. The growth rate of improvement indicates convergence for these states in terms of human development outcomes.

Achin Chakraborty’s suggestion that we could have used the Sen Index so that the achievements of the states with higher per capita income are better recognised for what they are, (the principle of “increasing marginal difficulty”), is well taken. However, if he had read the entire IHDR 2011 carefully, he would have found that the success stories of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in terms of a functional public health and education systems have been widely discussed across the report for other states to emulate. It is on account of a strong state commitment that the improvements in human development outcomes in these

EPW Index An author-title index for EPW has been prepared for the years from 1968 to 2010. The PDFs of the Index have been uploaded, year-wise, on the EPW web site. Visitors can download the Index for all the years from the site. (The Index for a few years is yet to be prepared and will be uploaded when ready.) EPW would like to acknowledge the help of the staff of the library of the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai, in preparing the index under a project supported by the RD Tata Trust.

Economic & Political Weekly

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January 28, 2012 vol xlvii no 4

DISCUSSION

states are reaped across the board by all social and religious groups. For instance, scheduled castes (SCs) in Kerala have higher literacy rates than upper castes in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. SCs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Tamil Nadu perform better in most health indicators than upper castes in Uttar Pradesh.

The analysis of IHDR 2011 is based on a conceptual framework around a feedback

A Rejoinder

Achin Chakraborty

loop model which states that certain human development outcomes feedback as inputs into the development process – a model that operates both at the micro (individual) and macro (societal) levels. In this context, the performance of Kerala is worth mentioning (as has also been discussed in its State Profile in the Report). With improvements in education and health, it has experienced high rates of economic growth over these years, which can be explained through the feedback loop model.

Santosh Mehrotra (santosh.mehrotra@nic.in) and Ankita Gandhi (ankita.gandhi@nic.in) are with the Institute of Applied Manpower Research, Planning Commission.

Note

1 Chakraborty wrongly interprets, our use of the word “poorer” states for these states, as states with low HDI. In standard economics parlance, “poorer” refers to low in per capita income, not low HDI.

chapters. Yes, it is a bit unfair on my part, although I stated clearly why I was doing that. I questioned two substantive conclusions of the report, which, in my analysis, were eminently questionable. The importance of the conclusions, in the views of the authors, was apparent in the fact that they are the two main “findings” highlighted in the Foreword.

The report indeed has done a commendable job in compiling a variety of indicators of human development for different social groups. The descriptive presentations in other chapters are undoubtedly useful. However, making substantive statements based on changes in a composite index is a rather tricky business, and one has to exercise caution in doing that. Conversations of this kind, I am sure the authors will agree, enrich our understanding of specific quantitative aspects of change.

Achin Chakraborty (achinchak@rediffmail.com) is at the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata.

I
thank Santosh Mehrotra and Ankita Gandhi for their thoughtful response to my commentary published earlier. I am glad that they have accepted my suggestion that an improvement index of the Sen-type should have been a better way to reckoning with change. However, I am afraid that they seem to have not fully appreciated the pitfalls of comparing percentage changes. The authors have reiterated and tried to justify yet again that “[o]ver time, the relatively backward states have been catching up with the national average in terms of development outcomes”. They write:

While still struggling with low absolute levels of HDI and component indices, these very states, namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Assam and Jharkhand have shown improvements in HDI and other indices at a rate better than the national average.

I may be forgiven if the following sounds repetitive. The change in HDI value for Bihar has been 0.075 (from 0.292 to 0.367) and that for all-India has been 0.08 (from

0.387 to 0.467). I still fail to understand how Bihar can be included in the set of states that have shown improvements better than the national average. The distance between Bihar’s HDI and the national average has in fact increased from 0.095 to 0.1!

The authors seem to be unhappy about my exclusive focus on only one of the chapters of the report and questioning the interpretations therein, and ignoring the rest of the report that contains eight

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January 28, 2012 vol xlvii no 4

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