Govt ‘rejects’ World Bank’s Human Capital Index 2018: Denying problems exist won't make them go away

Instead of acknowledging failings, the government’s response is churlishly defensive.

 |  4-minute read |   15-10-2018
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It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least in certain sections in our country, that all those who criticise the current government are anti-national and should go to Pakistan. But what if the criticism is coming from reputable international bodies, backed by facts and data? And attacks the government for failing in its most basic of duties — ensuring its children have enough to eat, along with access to healthcare and education?

Well, our government so far has shown two responses to this — either the bodies’ calculating methodology is flawed, or they are driven by an “agenda”.

Even without international reports, we know million of children in India are malnourished.  Even without international reports, we know millions of children in India are undernourished. (Photo: Reuters/file)

As recently as last week, the government “rejected” the World Bank’s Human Capital Index Report, which ranks India 115 among 157 countries.

According to the report, children born in India will be only 44% as productive when they grow up as they could have been had they enjoyed complete education and full health.

That’s a serious failing on part of successive Indian governments — our future is being robbed of tremendous human capital, and more importantly, major injustice is being done to our children, who will never reach their full potential because of flaws in the system they are part of.

The report should have triggered an examination of what is wrong in our public health and nutrition apparatus, and attempts to find ways to make them more efficient.

Our government’s response is far simpler — it has, and I quote, “decided to ignore the HCI”.

The reason: “there are major methodological weaknesses, besides substantial data gaps”, in the report, says the government.   

No survey is flawless, and the government might very well have a point when it says the World Bank’s methodology is faulty.

However, the World Bank report is not alone.

Also released last week were the 2018 Global Hunger Index, and the 2018 Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index. On the hunger index, India is at 103 out of 119 countries.  On the inequality index, India stood 147 out of 157 countries.

These surveys are all conducted by different bodies. The World Bank released the HCI, the hunger index was a peer-reviewed publication by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. The Inequality Index was by Oxfam International.

Not all these bodies can be out with an agenda to defame India, or be using uniformly flawed methodologies to arrive at a uniformly “incomplete and pre-determined picture”, as the government has accused the HCI of doing.

The standard of education in government schools While many can't afford private schools, the standard of education in government schools remains poor. (Photo: India Today)

The same government had been quick to hail the World Bank when it said last year that India had moved from 130th to 100th in the ease of doing business rankings.

Ironically, this congratulatory survey is the best buttress to the government’s claim that such surveys can be flawed — the World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, had to resign in January this year after he said that Chile’s rankings in the report may have been “deliberately skewed”.

The government has a similarly complex relationship with The Lancet, which it slammed in 2015 for criticising PM Modi’s healthcare record, and praised to high heavens in 2018 for doing the opposite.

Another international report, also released last week, makes the government look good — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast a healthy growth rate of 7.3 per cent for India in the current year of 2018 and that of 7.4 per cent in 2019.

However, in the light of the three other reports, the picture is rather grim — while the economy is growing, its benefits are not touching the weakest, most disadvantaged, and hence, those most in need.

It is nobody’s case that such surveys are perfect.

Also, while the current government has taken some missteps — denying eggs to children in midday meals, a faulty Aadhar implementation that disrupted the Food Security Act in some areas — no one in their right mind can blame the PM Modi-led government alone for malnutrition, poor public healthcare and education, problems that have plagued India for decades.

But similarly, no one can deny these issues exist.

Children's midday meals have been victims of politics — from removal of eggs to tying them to Aadhaar cards. Children's midday meals have been victims of politics — from removal of eggs to tying them to Aadhaar cards. (Photo: PTI/file)

The government’s unnecessarily acerbic response to the World Bank survey only makes it look churlish and defensive. When a report says that Indian children will only reach 44% of their potential, the point to react on should have been that our kids are going to bed hungry and dying because of inadequate healthcare, not that this report makes the government look bad.

And we do have domestic data that paints a none too rosy picture — according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, “8.4 per cent of India’s children aged less than 5 years are stunted (less height for their age), 21 per cent are wasted (less weight for their height) and 35.7per cent are underweight”.

The last such survey before this was held in 2005-06, and in the period, “the percentage of wasted children went up from 19.8 per cent to 21 per cent and the percentage of severely wasted children went up from 6.4 per cent to 7.5 per cent.”

Instead of acknowledging that problems exist, and pledging to work on alleviating them, the government has chosen to smash the mirror. That’s neither good posturing, nor good governance.

India’s children — starving, stunted, dying for want of medicines — deserve better.    

Also read: Politicians want us to believe stubble burning is behind Delhi's smog. Why it's just not so

Writer

Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

The writer is a journalist.

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