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Evaluating India's well-being

April 14, 2016 13:22 IST



The past decade has seen significant improvements in India’s health indicators, but it still lags other Asian countries, notes Shankar Acharya

When it comes to economic news, the newspapers (especially the pink ones) are full of reports and opinion pieces on growth, inflation, markets, companies, industry, agriculture, foreign trade, capital flows, Budget deficits, banking, interest rate policy and so forth.

There is little on trends in health of the country’s population, even though that is vital not only for citizens’ basic welfare but also for the physical and mental capacities of the populace and labour force, which are fundamental determinants of the country’s long-term growth potential, as well as employment and livelihoods.

It is, therefore, unfortunate, though not surprising, that little has been written on the data emerging from the fourth round of the decadal National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) for 2015-16 conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, on behalf of the Government of India.

Thus far, fact sheets have been uploaded on the official website for 16 states, including seven of the 10 most populous.

Each state-wise fact sheet provides fascinating data for 114 “Key Indicators”.

Information for the remaining states and the Union of India will no doubt emerge in the coming weeks and months.

But there is a lot to chew on already.

And, slightly modifying the old dictum to say, “A table is worth a thousand words”, I have included data on a dozen key indicators, comparing NFHS-4 with NFHS-3, for seven states (including six of the largest) in Table 1*.

The states chosen include two poor (Bihar and Madhya Pradesh), two middle income (West Bengal and Karnataka) and three rich (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Haryana).

Per capita net state domestic product ranges from Rs 36,143 in Bihar (in 2014-15) to Rs 13,3427 in Haryana.

Table What does the table tell us about trends in the past decade? First some good news:

TableNot everything is hunky dory. Thus:

In short, although the past decade has seen significant improvements in India’s indicators of health and well-being, the nation still lags behind other comparator Asian countries (except Pakistan) by substantial margins.

The challenge ahead for central and state governments remains enormous.

Shankar Acharya is honorary professor at ICRIER and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. Views are personal.

Shankar Acharya
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