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Eleven steps to excellence

While pointers to measure good governance such as accountability, freedom from corruption, efficiency and transparency are universal, there is a need to develop indicators to rank States in terms of the well-being of their people. Proposing 11 groups of such markers to address the issue, noted agricultural scientist M.S. SWAMINATHAN says that measurement and ranking will have a positive impact on priorities in public policies and investment.

IN 1980, Acharya Vinobha Bhave suggested to Indira Gandhi, who had become Prime Minister again with a large majority for the Congress Party in Parliament, that she should develop Wardha district into a Gandhi Zilla. I chaired a committee to convert this desire of Vinobhaji into reality. The first question to be answered was, "What are the essential criteria that should be fulfilled, if Wardha district is to bear the name of Mahatma Gandhi?" After considerable discussion, we decided that to qualify for being named after Mahatma Gandhi, first, the district should have no one below the poverty line by virtue of having access to sustainable livelihoods (i.e., the ability to earn their daily bread), and second, there should be love of diversity and pluralism in terms of religion, gender, class, caste and political belief. A detailed methodology as well as an action plan were worked out and presented to the Government in 1982. Unfortunately, action is yet to be taken in developing the district into a Gandhi Zilla, based on the Gandhian principles of antyodaya and sarvodaya and social and gender justice and equity.

Thanks to the vision of the late Dr. Mahbub Ul Haq, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been ranking since 1990 countries in human development based on a simple composite index (HDI). The Government of Bhutan has gone a step further and is developing indicators for measuring happiness. The M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the U.N. World Food Programme have recently published a Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India based on 19 indicators which help to measure food availability, access and absorption. A similar exercise is currently under way for urban India.

In 1995, the UNDP introduced methods of calculating a gender-related development index (GDI) and a gender empowerment measure (GEM). In the Human Development Report 1997, a methodology was introduced for calculating a Human Poverty Index (HPI) based on deprivations in basic human needs. The Human Development Report 2001 has introduced indicators for measuring Technology Achievement (TAI). In HDI, GDI, GEM, HPI and TAI, India occupies a deplorably low position, although some marginal improvement has been noted in HDI in recent years. The major contribution of the human development reports is in sensitising nations on the need to accord greater priority to basic needs like nutrition, education, health, sustainable livelihoods and gender and social equity. As a result, political leaders in developing countries are now aspiring to work for a better rank for their countries in HDI. In India, this has resulted in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu developing State level human development reports. To this extent, measurement and ranking are exerting a beneficial impact on priorities in public policies and investment.

When Ms. J. Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the second time, she announced that the goal of the Government would be to make Tamil Nadu the "Best State of India". This is an inspiring and worthwhile concept. However, how can we measure excellence in democratic governance which can result in a State becoming the best in the country? While indicators to measure good governance such as accountability, freedom from corruption, efficiency and transparency are universal, there is need to develop indicators to rank States from worst to best in terms of human well being.

We have well defined indicators to measure success in achieving demographic transition to low birth and death rates. The JRD Tata awards of the Population Foundation of India recognise the best States in population stabilisation based on multiple indicators including female literacy and empowerment. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been ranked as the best States in the area of demographic transition, while Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa classified by Prof. Asish Bose as "Bimaru" States occupy the lowest positions. States can also be ranked in the area of gender equity using sex ratio, female literacy, maternal mortality rate and the incidence of low birth weight children, which is a measure of maternal and foetal under nutrition, as criteria for inter-se comparison. What criteria should we use to rank States from best to worst?

I propose 11 groups of indicators which are worthy of consideration for addressing this issue.

Nutrition security: Physical, economic and social access to balanced diets to every child, woman and man, based on a whole life-cycle approach.

Water security: Safe drinking water and adequate water for agriculture, industry and ecosystem maintenance.

Literacy and techniracy: Total literacy and attention to quality improvement in education, ranging from pre-school to university; special attention to the technological and skill empowerment of illiterate or semi-literate women and men through learning by doing, a process which I termed "techniracy" 30 years ago; abolition of child labour and introduction of "earn while you learn'' schemes so that economically underprivileged youth can go to school, and preventing adolescent girls from becoming school push outs.

Health security: Strengthening primary health care facilities and making them gender sensitive; control of all preventable diseases including leprosy, tuberculosis, preventable blindness and eradication of diseases for which vaccines are available; reduction in birth rates through attention to reproductive health and the provision of user preferred family planning services; increase in average life span; reduction of infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate and incidence of low birth weight children; adoption of a maternal and child care code; fight against HIV/AIDS; special attention to the physically and mentally handicapped and control of diseases associated with different kinds of environmental pollution with particular attention to pollution related respiratory and other diseases affecting unorganised labour.

Shelter: Minimum essential housing as a basic human need; amelioration of sub-human living conditions prevalent in urban slums and other habitations where the deprived and destitutes live; priority to hygiene, sanitation and rain water and solar energy harvesting in the design of all urban and rural housing.

Ecological security: Conservation and enhancement of life support systems like land, water, forests, bio-diversity, the oceans and the atmosphere; efficient harvesting and use of rain water; recycling of solid and liquid wastes and composting of all organic wastes; safe disposal of hospital waste; bio-environmental control of mosquitoes; anticipatory action to mitigate the potential adverse effects of climate change and sea level rise.

Livelihood security: Transition from unskilled to skilled work; integrated attention to rural on-farm and non-farm employment as well as to environmentally and economically sustainable micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit; a new deal to the self-employed through technology, training, techno-infrastructure and producer-oriented domestic and external trade; special attention to unemployed youth.

Energy security: Building sustainable energy systems with concurrent attention to thermal, hydro, nuclear and renewable forms of energy (wind, solar, bio-gas and bio-mass); energy use efficiency and economy in the farm, industrial and domestic sectors.

Gender equity: Engendering all areas of public policy, elimination of adverse sex ratio, and provision of support services to working women, taking into account the multiple burden on a woman's day to day life.

Folk, classical and modern art, culture, music and drama: Generation of awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage and revitalisation of cultural traditions, and dying art and crafts; and respecting diversity and pluralism in human communities as well as animal rights.

Technological leapfrogging and providing the substrate conditions essential for enhanced national and foreign investment: Rapid progress in bio-, information and communication, space, nuclear and renewable energy technologies and launching a movement for including the excluded in technological empowerment by promoting a new social contract between scientists and society; providing equal attention to connectivity and content in efforts to bridge the digital divide; blending traditional wisdom with frontier science and technology in order to develop and disseminate eco-technologies rooted in the principles of ecology, economics, gender and social equity and employment generation; and including access to appropriate technologies in the minimum needs programme.

There are many other indicators which can be added to the above, but food, water, education, shelter, health care and sustainable livelihoods based on opportunities for skilled work constitute the bottom line for ranking States in respect of their commitment to meeting basic human needs and to honouring basic human rights. The groups of indicators listed have a mutually reinforcing effect. For example, bridging the digital divide helps to bridge the gender divide. Bridging the nutritional divide confers multiple benefits including the full expression of the genetic potential for mental development. Transition from job-less to job-led growth facilitates economic access to food, water, shelter and health care. Thus, to qualify for the status, "the best State of India", the first requisite is achieving convergence and synergy among the numerous ongoing programmes in the 11 areas mentioned and placing them under the oversight and management of grass root democratic institutions. This will help to reduce transaction costs and generate the needed synthesis of political, professional and people power, which alone can help us to achieve seemingly impossible tasks, particularly under conditions of severe resource constraints. It would hence be useful to develop a composite index to enable States to set priorities and measure performance in human centred development during the Tenth Plan Period (2002-2008)

The writer is the chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. He has worked for the past 45 years with scientists and policy makers on a wide range of problems in basic and applied plant genetics as well as in agricultural research and development.

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