Fastest-growing economy lags most in S Asia

The world’s fastest-growing economy, on course to become the world’s third largest by 2030 with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $7.3 trillion, India continues to trail smaller South Asian neighbours - in some instances, Pakistan and Bangladesh - on several social indicators.

India’s per capita GDP of $5,238 in 2013 was 65 percent lower than Iran, 54 percent lower than Maldives ($11,283), 44 percent lower than Sri Lanka ($9,426) and 27 percent lower than Bhutan ($7,167), according to the Human Development Report 2015.

India was ranked 130 of 188 countries worldwide on the Human Development Index 2015 -below Iran (69), Sri Lanka (73) and the Maldives (104) in South Asia. Similarly, on the Human Capital Index 2016, which measures national learning and employment outcomes, India ranked 105 out of 130 countries, below Sri Lanka (50), Bhutan (91) and Bangladesh (104).

The HDI ranking focuses on indicators that “lead to a long and healthy life, the ability to acquire knowledge, and the ability to achieve a decent standard of living”. The data for the HDI report 2015 has been collected from various international agencies and ranges between 2005 and 2014.

India’s maternal mortality lags Iran, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan
India’s maternal mortality ratio of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013 was high compared to 23 in Iran, 29 in Sri Lanka, 31 in Maldives, 120 in Bhutan and 170 in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in 2013 for India was 41.4, lagging Sri Lanka (8.2), Maldives (8.4), Iran (14.4), Bhutan (29.7), Nepal (32.2) and Bangladesh (33.2). Only Pakistan and Afghanistan did worse, a similar situation as the under-five mortality rate (per 1,000 live births), which, for, 2013 was the lowest in Sri Lanka (9.6), followed by Maldives (9.9). India reported 52.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Universal healthcare is a much-debated issue, with some arguing that India cannot afford it. Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen presented a counter argument: “The fact is that at a basic level, healthcare is a very labour-intensive activity. In a poor country, wages are low. A poor country may have less money to spend on healthcare but it also needs to spend less to provide the same labour-intensive services (far less than what a richer - and higher-wage - economy would have to pay).”

Countries as diverse as Thailand and Rawanda have implemented universal healthcare programmes, cut mortality rates and boosted life expectancy, Sen argued in a January 2015 Guardian column, pointing how some Indian states, such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh were moving towards universal healthcare.

Sen attributes the success of effective implementation to “firm political commitment to the provision of universal healthcare, running workable elementary health care and preventive services covering maximum possible population, paying serious attention to good administration in healthcare and ancillary public services, effective school education for all and involving women in the delivery of health and education in a much larger way than is usual in the developing world”.

Involving women in the workforce is a particular Indian failing. While Pakistan is improving at a faster rate.

India’s female labour force participation rate - the proportion of women in the workforce - was 27 percent against the global average of 50 percent in 2013, the third lowest among South Asian countries, above only Afghanistan (15.8 percent) and Pakistan (24.6 percent), where women are joining the workforce at a faster rate than India.

Agriculture accounts for more than 60 percent of female employment in South Asia, according to the Human Development Report. India’s female employment in agriculture stood at 47.2 percent of all employment; better than Bhutan (62.2 percent) and Bangladesh (47.2 percent).

No more than 2.4 percent of Bhutan’s population lives below the poverty line - counted here as purchasing power parity of $1.25 per day between 2002 and 2012 - followed by the Maldives 6.3 percent, Pakistan 12.7 percent, India 23.6 percent and Nepal 23.7 percent.

Bangladesh was ranked at the bottom with 43.3 percent of its population living below the poverty line. India’s poverty rate declined to 12.4 percent from the 2011-12 estimate of 21 percent, according to World Bank data, IndiaSpend reported in October 2015. Enrolments in primary schools in India is third best in South Asia. India’s gross primary enrolment ratio in 2014 was 113 percent, third best after Iran (119 percent), Bangladesh (114 percent), and Pakistan (114 percent).

With 62.8 percent of its population aged 15 years and above literate, India lags the Maldives (98.4 percent) and Sri Lanka (91.2 percent) and Iran (84.3 percent). Note: The Human Development Report includes Iran in South Asia.     

(In arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Chaitanya Mallapur is an analyst. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.)

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