India?s dismal record on many fronts

Friday, December 14, 2007

By Rasheeda Bhagat

Even as we get ready to cheer the 20-K mark the BSE Sensex might once again breach sometime soon, and do a lot of back-slapping on how India continues to remain an investment destination of choice, details in the 2007 Human Development Report released on November 27, highlighting some stark realities, should sober us up.

On the Human Development Index (measured on achievements in terms of life expectancy, education and income), we rank a poor 128th, qualifying for the tag of ?medium human development?. As expected, China is ahead of us, at 81st rank, Iran at 94 and Sri Lanka at 99. What should be no consolation at all is that we are barely 8 ranks above Pakistan, which has been on a long slide for many years now.

Below African nations

The fine-print has more bad news. On the ?human poverty? rank devised for 108 developing countries, India ranks 62nd; even Kenya is better than us, at 60th place! This data is for 2004. In the category ?children underweight for age 0-5?, our rank is 132nd, and India?s adult illiteracy rate is put at 39 per cent. Compare this with the adult illiteracy rate in Rwanda (35.1 per cent) and Malawi (35.9 per cent).

On the gender front, too, where we get such a high rating about such super-achievers as Pepsi?s Indra Nooyi or HSBC?s Naina Lal Kidwai in the ?power? list of Fortune?s top CEOs, India has a dismal record. The adult literacy rate of women (over 15 years), compared to men, is only 65.2 per cent and the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio is 87.7 per cent.

It is not only the annual HDI data that shows us a different face of India than the one we see in corporate boardrooms or on Dalal Street. A joint report prepared by the CII and the World Economic Forum for the recent meet held in Delhi identifies the risks that could derail the Indian growth story.

One of them pertains to the “demographic dividend” that we talk about smugly so often. It says: “India?s population is a paradox: while India enjoys one of the largest and most balanced demographics in terms of age (54 per cent of the population is below 25 years of age), it is one of the most persistently imbalanced in terms of income inequality and gender (e.g. male/female birth ratio of 1.12). This could lead to far-reaching imbalances in society.”

Another challenge that India faces, says this report, pertains to the short-term task of “feeding, educating, training and employing its youthful population. The pace of upward mobility, urbanisation and industrialisation poses significant adjustment costs and risks to policy-makers.”

Lack of social security

In the long term, of course, we have the challenge of managing an ageing population with our woefully inadequate network of social security.

Our totally inadequate health network to manage this burgeoning population, warns the study, is a “potential social and public health time-bomb if effective policy action is not taken.”

Income disparities, a fast rising population – we are expected to become the world?s most populous country by 2040 – urban-rural divide and gender imbalance, thanks to the sharp decline in the female-male ratio (927 women to 1,000 men in the 2001 Census, against a world average of 1,045 women to 1,000 men), are other grave issues facing India.

Challenges of a young India

To those who love to talk about a “young India” against an “ageing China” and boast of how over 50 per cent of our population is below 25 years, the data from the CII/WEF study are thought-provoking.

Key statistics

Regular employment represents only 15 per cent of total employment.

Employment in firms with more than 10 employees – only 4 per cent of total employment.

Working age population is likely to be 800 million by 2016, an enormous challenges to the education and employment sectors.

We need to create employment for 71 million additional persons in the next five years.

With 60 per cent of population dependent on agriculture, these workers need to be equipped with new skills to find gainful employment in the changing economy.

Rapid urbanisation can lead to mega-slums and pose challenges to quality of life and social harmony, as well as the environment,

The study stresses the need for “democratising education opportunities” and improving the bottom of the pyramid – the primary and secondary school by improving teachers? salaries and employing better quality teachers.

While the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan has made universal the right to education for every Indian child, and schemes such as the free noon-meal programme are an incentive for parents to send their children to school, the problem comes at the secondary (Std 9 and 10, covering the 14-16 age group) and higher secondary (Std 11 and 12, for 16-18 age group) stages, with the problem getting more acute at the University level. According to a Government of India report, in 2001 we had 8.55 crore children in the age group 14-18, which would have gone up to an estimated 9.29 crore by March 2007, and is likely to go up to 9.7 crore by 2011.

?They never reach varsity?

But the main problem, as young Indians move up the education chain, is that large numbers never make it to the university level. The Gross Enrolment Ratio for classes 9-12 in 2004-05 was 39.91 per cent; note the drop in the ration from 51.65 per cent for classes 9 and 10 to only 27.82 per cent for Classes 11 and 12.

At the time of Independence there were only 20 universities and 500 colleges. The annual report (2006-07) of the Minister of Education put the number of Universities at present at 369, including 222 State Universities, 20 Central Universities, 109 Deemed Universities, five institutions established under States legislations and 13 institutes of national importance established by Central Legislation.

In addition, there are 18,064 colleges including around 1,902 women?s colleges. At the beginning of the academic year 2006-07, the total number of students enrolled in the universities and colleges was around 1 crore; 4.27 lakh (or 12.94 per cent) in University Departments and 96.01 lakh (87.06 per cent) in affiliated colleges. But the number of children in the 14 to 18 age group is estimated at 9.29 crore by March 2007. While only 27 per cent of our children make it to higher secondary education (Classes 11 and 12), those reaching colleges and universities constitute a smaller percentage.

Also, the gender imbalance continues; in 2006-07, 44.66 lakh women enrolled in colleges, constituting 40.4 per cent of total enrolment; 12.35 of these got into professional courses. Expectedly, the highest percentage of women enrolled is in Kerala at 66 per cent and the lowest is in Bihar at 24.52 per cent.

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Source: Sify (link opens in a new window)