Institute Lecture Series: Human Development- Concept and Reporting

A guest lecture was held on 21st February, 2014 to sensitize students on the concept and reporting of human development as part of the Managing Social Projects (MSP) course. The lecture was delivered by Dr K Seetha Prabhu. Dr Prabhu is the Tata Chair Professor – School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and was formerly associated with the United Nations Development Programme as Senior Advisor. Managing Social Projects (MSP) is a compulsory 1.5 credit course in the first year of MBA (Full-Time) program, which seeks to sensitize the student towards social concerns and the nature of efforts to implement changes. The course has evolved as part of the larger responsibility of the institute towards the society at large.

According to Dr Prabhu, in India, the focus for the past two decades has been on growth. From a poor country, we have become a middle-income country. From third world conditions, we have improved enough to be counted in the middle human development category. Yet, it is not enough. A lot of attention has to be paid to human development as an approach towards developing our country.

Dr Prabhu brought out various facts in her presentation to support her case. As of 2012, 270 million people in our country are poor which is equal to the population of Brazil and US put together. So far, our policy has given marginal attention to poverty by way of special schemes and packages. But, as facts bear out, clearly, the approach has not worked. Marginal efforts to chip away at a gigantic problem will never work. The need of the hour is to consider poverty as “the” major problem and attack it frontally. Hence, we need to realise that poverty is the core issue in the economy. If the poor in our country were a country by itself, it would have gathered the attention of the world. But, it does not, in the context of India, because these statistics are apparently hidden. We are looking at a situation where there is massive hunger and malnutrition co-existing with large buffer stocks of grains and pulses. We have unable to solve these because our priorities during design of programs are different. As an example, the social sector comes last in the Economic Survey and enjoys step-motherly treatment in allocation of funds.

Dr. Prabhu added that the process of development in many cases cannot be purely economic. There has to be a human angle to it. Human development as a concept was first proposed by Mahbub ul Haq in 1990. Human Development is simply the process of enlarging human choices. To document these choices and to provoke debates among the nations, the UN comes out with a Human Development Report every year. The themes are different each year and focus on new angles to the concept of development. These reports also rank countries on the basis of their “human development” through HDI – Human Development Indices. The HDI measures achievements of countries in longevity (through life expectancy), education (through years of schooling) and standard of living (through GNI per capita). These reports are also prepared at the national, state and district level.

Dr Prabhu informed the students about the Human Development Reports being made by several states in India. She also advised students to read them to get acquainted with rural India. However, it is challenging to prepare such reports because of the fear of adverse public opinion, the adverse nature of dialogue between NGOs and the government, the change in political regimes from time to time, strong opinions of diverse groups and defensive government departments. But, this is not to belittle the exercise of preparing such reports. Some states have shown remarkable progress in their development due to these reports. State HDRs have led to increased allocation for social sectors, holistic planning and their monitoring, setting up of separate departments to look into HD issues. Maharashtra went so far as to have a Human Development mission specifically targeted at districts with low HDI index.

Dr Prabhu praised the efforts made by the students in the MSP course. Answering a question, she advised students to check their progress by showing it to the people at the village level and improving further by taking their suggestions. Overall, the session was very informative and enlightened the students on various aspects of the concept of Human Development. Dr Prabhu hoped that the lecture would be a catalyst in the students’ efforts to make a difference to the society.

(Content Courtesy: Jijo George Joseph)

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