The most important takeaway for India from the recently released United Nations Human Development Report, The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, is the "crucial and compelling evidence" that there is a lack of any significant correlation between economic growth and improvements in health and education.
For a strong economy and better development indicators, the report added, there's a need for political will, courageous leadership and continuing commitment of the international community.
In the last few years, investments — and interest — in India's social sector have improved. Yet, as the report proves, the work is far, far from over: between 2005 and 2010 — also the years of economic growth — India has moved up only one step on the Human Development Index ladder. It's now at 119, out of 169 countries and areas.
This year, being the 20th edition of the HDR, three new indices were introduced to make the process more robust: the inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and the multidimensional poverty index (MPI).
Though India's HDI (0.519) is above the average of 0.516 for countries in South Asia, in GII, it is embarrassingly behind even Bangladesh and Pakistan, ranked at 116 and 112 respectively. The GII reflects women's disadvantages in reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity.
With women at such a low priority level, is it surprising that we languish below on other indicators too? Equally sad is our MPI: 55% Indians suffer from multiple deprivations; the average in South Asia is 54%.
There's no way these findings can be put on the backburner by saying that the data is old. Unlike past reports that presented HDI on a two-year time lag, this year's report presents HDI values and ranks for the current year. It is clear that we need to invest more into pulling people out of the poverty trap, fix our delivery mechanisms and spread the fruits of economic growth.
Elections too prove that increasingly the stress is more and more on development; caste/regional politics will stay but the question of the quality of life of citizens will pop up on the voters' radar with increasing frequency.
Let's not go by the diplomatic and economic adulation that's coming our way. The Gross National Product per capita figures, which Amartya Sen calls' "crude" numbers are important but they cannot be the true indicators of human progress.