Measuring human development: We need a more rational and accurate mechanism

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Measuring human development: We need a more rational and accurate mechanism. Pushpa M Bhargava. The Tribune. 4th July 2010.

Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia, where women’s freedom and rights are severely curtailed, is 59 in the Human Development Index (HDI) ratings with a HDI value of 0.843. However, India, where women enjoy equal rights under the Constitution is 134 with a HDI value of 0.612.

The HDI rating ignores Saudi Arabia’s support to religious fundamentalism and terrorism, explicit and implicit. Surely, there are a host of virtually universally accepted values, concepts and rights defined in documents such as the UN Charter of Human Rights. The present measure of HDI which is based only on a few parameters such as education, life expectancy and income, is not only insufficient but misleading. We need a more accurate measure of human development. It must take into account at least the following factors:

The extent of functional democracy in the country’s governance; the extent of de jure commitment to secularism; the extent of de facto commitment to secularism; the extent of separation of religion and affairs of the state; the extent of pluralism in society; de facto commitment to UN Declaration of Human Rights; the level of crime; major/ minor crime based on caste, creed, minority status; the extent of organisation in traffic (a measure of civic sense); right to information; freedom of media; freedom of speech; extent of successful and productive involvement of government in school education; higher education; primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare; Independence and effectiveness of the judiciary; ant sectors of life such as freedom of movement and employment.

Other factors worthy of consideration are: Female education index in comparison to male education index; maternal and child health (in comparison to best in the world); percentage of undernourished or malnourished children below 18 years women; percentage of children below 18 years engaged in earning a livelihood for themselves or their family; percentage of population with 12 and 10 years of school education; percentage of population that can read a newspaper, write a letter or do simple sums; the extent of commercialisation of school and higher education and health services; general awareness; opportunities for sports, creative endeavour and education; leisure-time activities; total readership of Indian language newspapers as percentage of total population.

Some other factors which could also be considered are the average life expectancy; the level of cleanliness in villages, towns and top 10 cities (population-wise); health and nutrition; incidence of diseases like malaria, TB, leprosy; access to health care; income distribution (as percentage of the total GOP); employment; housing; the extent of conservation of water; access to potable water, electricity, cooking fuel; firewood in rural areas; environmental concerns; prevention of waste; extent of pollution; awareness of need for positive action in response to the problem of climate change; sanitation; telephone; television; radio; travel; transport; and scientific temper.

The list is by no means exhaustive; it is only indicative. It should be made reasonably exhaustive (with provision for periodical revision) through public debate. Criteria (as objective as possible) of ‘measurement’ against each item would need to be worked out.

Differential weightage would need to be given to various items, depending on their value relative to others. We can, perhaps, allot the highest marks – say 1,000 – for the first item (the extent of democracy in governance). (Other items that would qualify to be allotted the same marks will, no doubt, include equally of sexes.) Under this head, as an example, we would surely need to consider issues such as:

lIs there a system of election for all those who are involved in governance, of which the right to legislate is an important part?

  • Does the electoral process ensure that those elected represent a majority of the electorate?
  • To what level does decision-making in governance percolate?

In some cases we would need to do research. For example, consider the percentage of adults over 50 with depleted immune response. In the US, according to scientific work published from the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, adults over 50 generally have a depleted immune response which is a measure of the ability to fight disease. Though this writer doesn’t believe hard data exists to support this view, this writer has no doubt this will not be true of India.

This implies that the level of infection by disease-causing agents that an Indian above 50 can deal with, without suffering from the disease, will be much higher than that for an American over 50. This is probably on account of our being exposed to low levels of infection all through our life; these levels don’t cause disease but lead to a robust immunity which the Americans may lack on account of their living in a semi-sterile environment from day 1 – something for which, perhaps, Nature hasn’t designed us.

To confirm this important point, the Indian Council of Medical Research should, perhaps, look at the immune status of our countrymen who are above 50. If the above prediction is verified, India would score much higher than the US on this important point which would be an example of Indians being far more capable of coping with an adverse environment than Americans: surely a significant factor for assessing human development?

On the other hand, if it turns out that women in more than 50 per cent of the households in India spend hours everyday collecting firewood and water for cooking, drinking and washing, our country would score high negative points in relation to, probably, all other countries in the world.

If the above exercise is undertaken both at the national and international level, we can arrive at a rational mechanism for measuring human development index in two years time. Such an exercise will give all countries valuable information about each other and new opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences.

A lot of information required for the items listed above can be collected during national census and other surveys by appropriately augmenting their terms of reference. It should not be difficult to set up a mechanism for updating the data every year.

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