That India was ranked 135 out of 187 countries on UNDP’s human development index is perhaps the greatest concern for a nation with global ambition.
In order to sustain our growth momentum and translate the gains of growth into wellbeing at a faster pace, India needs to rejig its strategy for accelerated human development. The performance in education and health in recent years has been better than in the past, but there is still a long way to go.
First, India needs to tackle undernutrition in zero- to three-year-old children more effectively. This alone can improve learning outcomes and reduce child and maternal mortality rates. Unfortunately, this age group is not getting the attention it deserves. Children between four and six years of age are best linked to schools with a nursery and preparatory class. It is time to take a hard look at the integrated child development services (ICDS). There is a case for daycare centres for six- to 36-month-old children to ensure age-appropriate complementary feeding, growth monitoring, care and early stimulation, and to inculcate cleanliness and ensure adequate quality food intake. The Jan Swasthya Sahyog experiment in Ganiyari, Bilaspur, shows the gains that are possible. Improvement in nutrition will automatically reduce child and maternal mortality significantly, besides ensuring improved participation and learning in schools.
Second, public health and hygiene needs to be prioritised. Lack of sanitation and clean water are the reasons why improvement in nutrition and health indicators is unsatisfactory. A concerted campaign to end open defecation, innovative systems of solid- and liquid-waste management, and segregation of waste and recycling require new technology, innovation and community action. India’s economic revival and improvement in wellbeing cannot happen without a significant improvement in sanitation. Urban and rural local bodies have to be re-energised as mere high-cost infrastructure does not translate into cleaner cities and villages. There is a need for a community-led public health movement.
Third, financing of critical sectors like education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation has to follow a long-term plan and must not be ad hoc. There must be well worked out outcomes and time frames for human development indicators, with appropriate backing of financial resources. India can do without a regime of subsidies, tax holidays and other concessions. But it cannot do without satisfactory levels of public spending on human development.
Fourth, human development outcomes are interrelated and dependent on factors outside a given department’s purview. Only a wider platform can actually facilitate the achievement of outcomes. As a nation, we should select 15 to 20 key indicators in education, health, nutrition, water, sanitation, women’s empowerment, social inclusion, livelihood, food security and housing, and monitor them from the habitation to the national level.
Fifth, gender/ social equality and improved human development indicators go together. We cannot afford hierarchies of access to continued…