India falling two ranks in UNDP’s Human Development Report 2020 should act as a wake up call

In several areas that are key factors for calculating the index, India performed worse than its own earlier performance

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social media)
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Gyan Pathak

The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2020 has revealed that in place of human development, India has registered a human decline, going two ranks below, from 129th to 131st among 189 countries in the world in 2019. Per capita income fell, health deteriorated, education greatly impacted. Children and women suffered more than men. All these were happening and then came the dark year 2020. Hidden in the dark shadow of the pandemic are the numerous untold miseries we are trying to unearth.

What is ‘the next frontier’ then that became the title of the report of this year with a subtitle ‘Human development and the Anthropocene’? We have evolved the Human Development Index (HDI) and have been using the same for years which gave us a picture of development, though a little hazy. We have had development but not without heavy destruction of the nature and environment since mid-20th century that we proposed to call the Anthropocene Epoch.

The report estimated the pressure of the environment in large scale for the first time and prepared planetary pressures adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI), that gave a little clearer picture of human development. India’s performance in this regard is a little better but we are still miles to go before we achieve environmentally sustainable development goal, though we have fulfilled some commitment and obligations made under the Paris Agreement five years ago.

The fall in India’s overall ranking in HDI is a proof that other countries did better than ours in comparison to India. In absolute value, India’s HDI in 2019 was 0.645 only a little better than 0.645 in 2018. However, looking inside the composite data may dishearten sensitive minds who really care for peoples’ well being. In several areas that are key factors for calculating the index, India performed worse than its own earlier performance.

Livelihood, heath, and education are three key factors. Wellbeing of the people is largely dependent on household incomes, but India’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita fell from $6829 in 2018 to $6681 in 2019 on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis, a measurement of prices in different countries that uses the prices of specific goods to compare the absolute purchasing power of the countries’ currencies. For common people to understand the severity, the fall was over 11,000 rupees per annum per person. To understand it even better, we can even consider the rising inequality in incomes of the rich and the poor. It is now known that the policies adopted favoured the rich making them richer while the poor became poorer. It exposes the government claim of rising income.


This situation increased the level of hunger and malnutrition. The UNDP report is the second after the National Family Health Survey – 5 phase 1 results that showed increase in hunger and malnutrition among Indian women and children is general and indigenous people in particular. Among the 189 countries surveyed, it pains to read India’s name among three specifically mentioned countries – the two others being Cambodia and Thailand – for which records showed more malnutrition related issues such as stunting and wasting especially in indigenous children. It exposes the government claim of protecting the health of common people.

The third major factor in calculating HDI is education. “In India different responses in parent behaviour, as well as disinvestment in girl’s health and education, have led to higher malnutrition among girls than among boys as a consequence of shocks linked to climate change,” the report says. Where were then gender equality and the progress in education? It also reveals that India needs much more to do to readjust itself to absorb the shocks from climate change by reprogramming its plans for environmentally sustainable progress.

India has been categorized in medium human development countries and ranking 131. Eleven countries are above India in this category while 119 are high development and very high human development countries. The scores of Economic Sustainability and Social Sustainability of the country were also not encouraging. Overall loss in the HDI value due to inequality during 2010-2019, Gender Inequality Index during 2005-2019, and Income share of the poorest 40 per cent during 2005-2018 were in negative at -1.3, -1.7, and -0.4 respectively. Environmental threats continue. In the Red List Index, India scored 0.676. The carbon dioxide emission index score of 0.972 and material footprint index score of 0.970 need improvement.

All these have impacted Indians adversely. Health expectancy has been lost by 14.5 per cent in 2019. Inequality in life expectancy was at 19.7, while the gender inequality index was 0.488. Life expectancy at birth has improved only a little from previous 69.4 years to 69.7 years, while the expected years of schooling and mean year of schooling did not improve, which remained the same as the previous year’s at 12.2 and 6.5 respectively. Many countries fared better in this regard including some of our neighbours.

Impact of climate change on life has specifically been mentioned in the report along with rising temperature, loss of hundreds of lives, and acute water shortages and floods, needing urgent attention of the our planners and the government. Education for sustainable development has been criticized for lack of evolution of its effectiveness. The report specifically mentions India along with Mexico where teaching was observed to often be rather disciplinary and textbook based, which has led to a neglect of a more systemic approach to study causes and solutions.

What do we need to do? The report finds out that poverty, environmental justice and governance are often missing in our approaches, indirectly suggesting their removal from our planning to reduce the planetary pressure that is making imbalances at unsustainable degree. Cases in India and Nepal are specifically mentioned that show that environmental decision-making can be democratized when control over the means of production is transferred to local communities, which can lead to more sustainable outcomes. Moreover, participation is key for strengthening transparency and accountability.

(IPA Service)

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