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The HDI Report From Fact Lens


According to the most recent Human Development Index (HDI) reading released by UNDP, India is ranked 132. The article examines the flaws in the HDI number computation methodology and suggests future corrections.


GS Paper 3: Economy: Human Development

Mains Question

Despite consistent high growth, India continues to have the lowest indicators of human development. Investigate the issues that make balanced and inclusive development difficult to achieve. (250 words)

The latest HDI report’s findings (2021)

  • The most recent HDI is included in the Human Development Report 2021-2022.
  • India’s Human Development Index ranking fell from 130 in 2020 to 132 in 2021.
  • India’s ranking has not improved in the last two decades.
  • The country’s latest HDI value (index score) of 0.633 places it in the medium human development category, down from 0.645 in the 2020 report.
    • It is less than the global average of 0.732.
  • The country’s performance has declined from its previous level due to a drop in life expectancy from 69.7 years in 2020 to 67.2 years in 2021.
  • India’s expected schooling years are now 9 years, down from 12.2 years in the 2020 report.
    • The average number of years of schooling has increased to 6.7 years from 6.5 years in the new report.
  • The per capita Gross National Income (GNI) is $6,590.

Global findings

  • Switzerland has topped the index.
  • In 2020 or 2021, 90% of countries saw a decrease in their HDI value.
  • A significant contributor to the HDI’s recent decline is a global decline in life expectancy, which has fallen from 72.8 years in 2019 to 71.4 years in 2021.

Concerning HDI

  • Definition: The HDI is a statistical tool developed by the United Nations Development Programme to assess a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions (UNDP).
    • After national income statistics, it is the second most widely used indicator for measuring economic progress (GDP).
    • HDI has three components, which are as follows:
      • Life expectancy at birth as a measure of health;
      • Education, as measured by a combination of mean and expected years of schooling; and
      • Income as measured by per capita gross national income (at purchasing power parity)
    • Calculation: The final score is calculated as the geometric mean of the three categories listed above.

Calculation error

  • Estimation of life expectancy: Life expectancy at birth refers to the average number of years that a newborn can expect to live.
    • From 2019 to 2021, the estimate for India was reduced by 3. 67 years (70. 9 years to 67. 2 years).
  • Pandemic induced: The UN agency claims that this cut reflects Covid-related mortality, but three serious flaws in their estimate have been discovered:
  • Misconception: It is a conceptual error to reduce life expectancy at birth because, according to overwhelming evidence, the Covid-19 virus only kills adults.
    • In effect, the UN stated that Covid-19 will have the same impact on today’s newborns in 20 years as it did in 2020-21. However, without any evidence, this is a failed assumption.
  • Gathering WHO data: UNDP has adjusted India’s mortality rates for “excess deaths” estimated by WHO from Covid-19.
    • According to WHO, India had approximately 7 million unreported excess deaths from Covid, accounting for nearly one-third of the global total.
    • The Indian government had previously objected to the WHO estimates, citing flaws in their methodology such as the use of media reports and the use of parameters such as test positivity rate, which varied greatly across the country.
    • Despite this, UNDP continued to use WHO excess death figures in their HDI calculation.
  • “Excess deaths” are defined as the difference between the total number of deaths and the number of deaths that would have been expected if the pandemic had not occurred, i.e. a no-COVID-19 scenario.
  • Incorrect picture: Even after accounting for WHO’s flawed data, the UNDP’s reduction of 3.67 years in India’s life expectancy is not justified.
  • Excess deaths of 4. 7 million were added to the registered numbers, resulting in 375 deaths per lakh population in India.
    • This is still lower than in the United States (589), the United Kingdom (505), Italy (570), Brazil (640), and other countries.
    • Despite this, life expectancy in the United States is 1.94 years, in the United Kingdom it is 0.98 years, in Italy it is 0.70 years, and in Brazil it is 2.77 years, all of which are significantly lower than in India.
  • As a result, a series of “adjustments” skewed the Indian data in the HDI index.

The burden of proof

  • It should be acknowledged that external agencies are not always to blame.
  • Inadequate updating: Government departments frequently fail to update numbers in time for international surveys.
    • In the case of HDI, the data for expected school years were not published until after the deadline. As a result, UNDP relied on data from the previous year.
  • Anti-India bias: However, the poor quality of Indian data is no excuse for these findings, as similar gaps were discovered in data for most of the countries ranked higher than India, where similar adjustments are not made.

The way forward

  • Timely disclosure: As a first step, Indian government departments must publish data for important indices on time.
    • While India’s fiscal year is three months behind the calendar year, an advance estimate can be published and revised later (same as for GDP).
  • Appropriate framework: Second, Indian agencies should go above and beyond simply providing raw data to external agencies by calculating the relevant indicator. This is not difficult because there are standard methodologies available.
    • For example, every year, the Registrar General of India should publish an official estimate of life expectancy.
    • This reduces the scope for external agency manipulation and shifts the burden of proof to them.
  • Ongoing engagements: Because UNDP frequently uses official estimates for most countries, including developing countries, Indian government departments must engage with international indices and surveys proactively, both to provide timely data and to challenge inaccurate estimates where appropriate.

July 2024