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Nutrition, Sanitation Still Major Concerns

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Infrastructure growth has supported the human development, but, nutrition and sanitation remain major concerns, according to the India Human Development Report 2011.

Housing, electricity and telephony access across the country have improved, during 2002-2009, says the report released on Friday by Deputy Chairman Planning commission Montek Singh Ahuluwalia. The report was prepared by Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR), in association with the Planning Commission. According to the report, the Human Development Index (HDI) between 1999 and 2008 increased 21 per cent from 0,387 to 0.467.

Ahuluwalia said the report was technically not a government report. The interstate disparities in education, health, nutrition levels and sanitation, especially in the context of scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minorities threw up interesting facts.  For example, scheduled castes (SC) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are better off even than the upper castes in Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh in terms of various health outcome indicators.

Similarly SCs in Delhi and Kerala have higher literacy rates than the upper castes in Bihar and Rajasthan.  Kerala retains its leadership position in HDI, followed by Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Punjab.

Ahuluwalia said the findings of the report are important, since it comes a day before the full National Development Council meeting, headed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that is scheduled to be held on Saturday.

Gaps Narrowing Across States

Also, inter-state inequalities seemed to be significantly narrowing with six of the low Human Development Index (HDI) states — Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Assam -- showing an improvement in HDI considerably above the national average. The report states that despite low absolute levels of HDI in these states, it is converging across states. Ahluwalia said: "The 11th Plan aimed at inclusive growth," clarifying that the 11 Plan began from 2007, while the report covered the aspects since 2002 till 2010.

According to the report, not only HDI, but also its component indices have shown convergence across states. The poorer states with high concentration of various marginalized groups are catching up with the national average. This, the report states, "suggests strongly that these groups are starting to share the benefits of the process of human development — that is, the past decade has seen us move towards social inclusion."

Child Malnutrition A Major Concern
However, Dr Santosh Mehrotra, Director-General, IAMR, said, despite this positive development, one of the major concerns that emerged from the report is  high rates of child malnutrition. He said, "Gujarat's figures (69.7 per cent children up to age 5 anaemic and 44.6 per cent malnutrition) show that economic growth is no guarantee for reducing malnutrition."

While Ahuluwalia felt that the example of Kerala, where development indices were good as compared to its economic growth shows that, "Inclusiveness cannot be measured by one index, as it is a multi-dimensional concept."  Jairam Ramesh Union Minister for Rural Development said that, "Nutrition is a big puzzle. Why is the rate of malnutrition high in pockets of growth like Gujarat and Karnataka?" 

Ramesh called for greater Central role in the areas of nutrition and sanitation in the 12th Plan. He said despite private participation in the sector issues related to resolving sanitation—has been a complete disaster.