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India must emulate China in quality of life: Amartya Sen

Jan 08, 2013

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen said that both China and Bangladesh are doing better in all aspects of human development than India and the nation cannot justify its growth rate with poor focus on education, health and productivity of human beings.

Amartya Sen

Speaking at the launch of the newly-established International Centre for Human Development (ICHD) in New Delhi, Sen expressed his concern for the plight of Dalit women in India. He said that there has been no organisation to raise a voice for them. “Dalit women have undergone real violence for very long time,” he said.

Drawing a comparison with China, Sen said India must emulate China in the quality of life. “India should (strive to) catch up with China not just in economic growth rate but also in the quality of life. With almost half of its children (43.5 per cent) being reported undernourished, the country cannot justify its growth. India needs to focus on education, healthcare and expand the productivity of human beings,” Sen explained.

Substantiating his comparison on the human indicators, Sen said that not only is China growing faster than India in GDP terms but its social indicators too are better than the latter. “While India spends 1.2 per cent of the GDP on public healthcare, China spends 2.7 per cent. China’s life expectancy stands at 73 years, while India’s is at 65. Child undernourishment in India is at 43.5 per cent of our children and of China at 4.5 per cent. Infant mortality in case of India is 63 per 1,000 children, it is 18 in China,” Sen said.

Explaining how the general economic growth of a country might not necessarily translate into better human development indicators, Sen said Bangladesh is doing better in all aspects of human development than India.

Giving an example of India and Bangladesh, Sen said that during the course of last twenty years, India has grown fifty per cent richer than Bangladesh with twice per capita income (than before).  “But, in the same period Bangladesh which had a lower life expectancy than India, now has a higher expectancy. India’s life expectancy is 65 while that of Bangladesh is 69. Infant mortality which was higher in Bangladesh than India is now lower. While the infant mortality rate in Bangladesh is 38, it is 48 in the subcontinent,” Sen said.

Similarly, he said that the under-five mortality rate which was higher in Bangladesh than India twenty years ago is now lower. “The under-five mortality rate is 63 in India while it is 48 in Bangladesh.  Total fertility rate which was much higher in Bangladesh in India is now lower in the former and has almost closed to replacement. Infant immunisation is 72 per cent in India while it is 95 per cent in Bangladesh,” he said.

When asked by OneWorld South Asia, as to how does looking at various development issues through a prism of existing societal divisions like the Dalits, women, rural or urban, help the cause of overall human development in a country, the Nobel Laureate said that since the overall is made up of all these components or sections, therefore it cannot be said that what applies to overall does not apply to these groups. “The idea of justice for a group of people of the humanity at large has to be integrally connected with what is happening to the large groups of people making up of the population, and I also argue, why it cannot be just (limited to the) national boundaries. It has be global reception,” he said.

Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister for Rural Development, said that India must take the lead in achieving the sustainable development goals. “High economic growth does not necessarily translate into superior human development outcomes, which may in fact be demonstrated at lower rates of growth. There is no escaping that given the enormity of India’s development challenges, high economic growth is imperative,” Ramesh said.

Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Assistant Administrator, said, “We can think of no better place than India to establish the ICHD as India embodies the DNA of the human development concept which has been developed by India’s greatest economist professor Amartya Sen.”

The ICHD has been set up by India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in collaboration with UNDP to assist national governments in the Global South towards mainstreaming human development in planning processes and policy making. The ICHD will help build mechanisms for greater South-South co-operation by identifying best practices available and facilitating their successful adaptation.

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