India's Human Development Index (HDI) showed an impressive gain of 21% between 1999-2000 and 2007-08 with the Muslims and the backwards catching up with others on socio-economic indicators even though the gap was still very big.
A Planning Commission report released a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is meeting of chief ministers to decide on plan approach for next five years (12th plan) says the Muslims and Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) were converging on health and education outcomes at a faster rate with the national average, especially during last six years.
The report also said that Gujarat, described as epitome for development by BJP, had highest incidence of malnutrition among Muslim, SC and ST women and was ranked 13 out of 17 states on hunger index, below much poorer Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam.
"Inspite of high economic growth Gujarat fares the worst in terms of overall hunger index among high per capita income states," said Santosh Mehrotra, Director-General of the plan panel's Institute of Applied Manpower Research.
The report findings had panel's deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia beaming who said it presents a "nice picture" and said inclusiveness was multi-dimensional and the report clearly shows how "growth has helped to reduce poverty".
Mehrotra agreed but his alarm was that the number of poor has come down by just 19 million since 1973-74 --- when poverty was measured for the first time in India --- to be around 302 million in 2004-05.
The report said poverty among SC and ST remain much higher than the national average, an area of concern for policy makers. On the brighter note, the report said these backward sections, considered lowest on ten socio-economic indicators such as monthly spending, infant and maternal mortality rate and fertility rate, were converging with the national average on six of these indicators.
"Fertility rate among Muslim women had witnessed maximum dip among different social groups and higher share of Muslim infants compared to national average lived beyond their first birth day," the report having special focus on Muslims among different religious groups said.
Over 55 % of Muslims, SC and STs live in poorest HDI score states --- Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal --- who have gained the most from "social inclusion through economic growth".
"The average growth of most of these states has been above the national GDP growth rate suggesting convergence over time in terms of economic growth," the report said. Maximum progress these states have made is enrollment of children in schools and increase in per capita income.
Child malnutrition, termed as a "puzzle" by Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh, was an exception to this social inclusion phenomenon with children in 17 of 35 Indian states having higher malnourishment rate than in Sub-Saharan Africa.