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India has dropped a place in the 2020 edition of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI). It is not that conditions in India have deteriorated but that it has not improved while other countries have progressed. The Human Development Report (HDR) 2020’s focus on human influences on the planet, making for the Anthropocene Age, provides a clue as to why India’s human development is stagnant.
HDR 2020 brings together an understanding that progress that comes at the cost of the well-being of the planet is unsustainable and undermines human existence. It takes into account the need to quantify and understand the impact that human action has on the planet; choices that endanger sustained human life on Earth as we know it. It is a call to embark on a path that expands human freedoms while easing planetary pressures. The HDI comprises three key baskets of data reflecting information on health through metrics such as life expectancy, capacity measured by years of schooling, and standard of living or Gross National Income per capita. What it measures is health, cognitive capacity and productivity. All three are heavily impacted by environmental factors. Air pollution is a major problem in India; it affects human health by increased incidence of pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, it adversely affects life expectancy. It also impacts cognitive abilities and this is reflected in metrics relating to school attendance and performance. Health and education have a direct bearing on productivity, in turn, affecting national income.
India’s quest to improve its human development index will require mainstreaming environmental and climate concerns in its economic and development policies.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.