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India: a development report card

By Riaz Hassan and Ishraq Ahmed - posted Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Spectacular economic growth over the past two decades has made India a global economic power-house. Between 1990 and 2011, India’s economy grew at a compound rate of around 7 per cent per year in current dollars and per capita income (in current dollars) increased from $860 to $3620. The Indian economy is currently the third largest in the world by purchasing power parity (PPP), after the United States and China.

What are the developmental consequences of this surging economic growth for India’s 1.2 billion people? Has economic growth benefited living conditions of its citizens? We answer these questions by applying the most recent data pertaining to the indicators used by Dreze and Sen 2011 (Putting Growth in its Place).

The indicators are: Gross National Income per capita, life expectancy at birth, Infant mortality rate, Children underweight, Maternal mortality, Improved sanitation, Immunization of children 12-23 months, Mean years of schooling and Female (age 15-24) literacy rates.


Improved Living Conditions: The data from The World Bank’sWorld Development Indicators database show that between 1990 and 2011 health and education indicators all displayed significant improvements, with maternal mortality, infant mortality and youth female literacy showing the fastest improvements.

Maternal deaths from births fell three times while the infant mortality rate declined from 81 to 47. Youth female literacy rate increased from 49 to 74 percent. Average life expectancy, the percentage of the population with access to sanitation facilities, immunization rates and average years of schooling all increased over the last twenty years, but not as rapidly as India’s per capita income. 

These trends indicate that economic growth between 1990 and 2011 has significantly enhanced the health and well being of the wider Indian society. 

Distributional Effects: While economic growth is absolutely crucial in raising the living standards of the population, but distributional effects of economic growth as measured by income distribution plays a significant role in determining thedevelopment trends and how much welfare citizens enjoy.

In terms of income distribution India is the second most unequal country in South Asia. In 2010 the Gini coefficient for India, which measures income distribution, was 33.9 indicating that a large fraction of national income is concentrated among the few and income distribution is heavily skewed towards the rich. Sri Lanka with Gini coefficient of 36.4 was the most unequal South Asian country and Pakistan the most equal with a Gini index of 30.0.  Bangladesh and Nepal’s Gini coefficients were 32.1 and 32.8 respectively.

Indiaand its Neighbours: South Asiais one of the poorer regions of the world. Is the lower rate of economic growth among India’s neighbours creating different development trajectories in South Asia?


One would expect that compared with India the lower rates of economic growth and income inequalities in the neighbouring South Asian countries would adversely affect their developmental trajectories. But that was not the case.

Despite India’s rapid economic growth between 1990 and 2011 itdid not fare as well its neighbours. Nepal and Bangladesh have overtaken India in various basic social indicators. In 1990 the average life expectancy in India was comparable to Bangladesh and higher than Nepal’s. In 2011 life expectancy in India became lower than that in Nepal and Bangladesh.

A similar pattern holds for infant mortality. In 1990 India’s infant mortality rate was about 20 percent lower than that of Bangladesh’s, Nepal’s and Pakistan’s. By 2011, India’s infant mortality rate was higher than both Nepal’s and Bangladesh’s, but lower than Pakistan’s. India also fared poorly in providing sanitation facilities and increasing its immunization rates.

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About the Authors

Riaz Hassan is Australian Professorial Fellow and Emeritus Professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia and Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies of National University of Singapore. His most recent books are: Islam and Society: Sociological Explorations (Melbourne University Press 2013) and, Life as a Weapon: The Global Rise of Suicide Bombings, (Routledge January 2014).

Ishraq Ahmad is a former Research Associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Riaz Hassan
All articles by Ishraq Ahmed

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