In recent years, India's growth has undoubtedly been spectacular. Income growth a year has averaged about five per cent from 1990 through 2012. This has meant the gross national income (GNI) per capita (purchasing power parity, in dollar terms) has more than doubled from $1,229 in 1990.
However, even if one discounts the drop in per capita GNI from $3,468 in 2011 to $3,285 currently, in terms of development, what does the country have to show for more than three decades of economic expansion? Nothing spectacular, actually.
In fact, today, the life expectancy of a newborn in India is lower than that of a child born in war-torn Iraq. Or, take for instance, the fact that the average number of years of education received by a Ghanaian aged at least 25 is more than what a young Indian can expect. (RISE OF THE SOUTH)
For all the celebration over the "rise of the South" - the underlying theme - in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report, 2013, India's performance has remained lacklustre, belying the claims of "inclusive growth" that have dominated the growth rhetoric in recent times.
Of 187 countries, India's Human Development Index (HDI), essentially a composite measure of health, education and income, rank stands at 136, on a par with Africa's Equatorial Guinea and just above Cambodia and Laos in Southeast Asia. Even over a longer period (between 2000 and 2012), it registered average annual HDI growth of 1.50 per cent, lower than Pakistan's (1.74 per cent).
Viewed in the context of the BRICs grouping (Brazil, Russia, India and China), India's standing is much below its peers - China is ranked 101st, Russia 55th and Brazil 85th. In fact, India remains squarely stuck at the bottom end of the second-lowest category in the report -Medium Human Development - even as neighbour Sri Lanka (99) moves a step higher towards becoming a "high human development" nation.
A closer look at India's performance reveals more inadequacies, especially in education. Though the country's life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling and per capita GNI are comparable to peers, India's "expected years of schooling" is significantly below others, including Vietnam, Bhutan and even Swaziland.
"26.6 per cent of adult women have a secondary or higher level of education, compared to 50.4 per cent of their male counterparts (in India)," said an explanatory note. "Female participation in the labour market is 29 per cent, compared with 80.7 per cent for men."
Though the report recognises key initiatives undertaken in India in recent years - particularly reforms in the education system, the direct cash transfer programme, a rise in social sector spending, public-private-partnerships across sectors and growing connectivity -vital concerns remain.
"India has the most projected child deaths over 2010-2015, about 7.9 million, accounting for nearly half the deaths among children under five in Asia," the report said. "China has more people than India, but is projected to have less than a quarter (1.7 million) the number of child deaths over 2010-2015."
India also has to contend with a substantial, uneducated population, possibly partly counteracting the country's feted demographic dividend. "Despite the recent expansion in basic schooling and impressive growth in better educated Indians, the proportion of the adult population with no education will decline only slowly," the report predicted.
"Even under an optimistic fast-track scenario, which assumes education expansion similar to Korea's, India's education distribution in 2050 will still be highly unequal, with a sizeable group of uneducated (mostly elderly) adults."