||Human Development Thought: Enhancing Relevance in the Present Era
Dr Rahul Gupta & Dr Nikhil Zaveri
September 01, 2013 | Dr Rahul Gupta & Dr Nikhil Zaveri Web Exclusives
The roots of Human Development thought are found in “Swasti mantra” (a prayer seeking Blessings for all) by Adi Shankaracharya who shows great concern for human well being in the following prayer -
“Om Sarvebhavantusukhinah, Sarvesantuniramaya;
Om Shanti ShantiShanti.”
(Translation :-May every one enjoy happiness and joy, May every one enjoy good health, May everyone see and realize goodness around them, May no one suffer from pain and misery).
As far as 2300 years ago, Chanakya considered the welfare of people essential for good governance and specifically wrote in his world famous treatise, ‘ArthaShastra’:
“The sacred task of a king is to strive for the welfare of his people incessantly. The administration of the kingdom is his religious duty. His greatest gift would be to treat all as equals.” “The happiness of the commoners is the happiness of the king. Their welfare is his welfare. A king should never think of his personal interest or welfare, but should ever try to find his joy in the joy of his subjects.”
Indeed, throughout the history, philosophers and political leaders have been defining what makes for a full life and this included Aristotle’s “Ethics” wherein he tried to identify the conditions needed to achieve eudaimonia, commonly interpreted as the ultimate human good or ‘‘the best life’’ or best translated as human flourishing (Bostock, 2000, p. 15). According to McGillivray and Clarke, “conceptualization of human well-being has evolved over time” and today it has become “multidimensional” in nature.
The concept of well-being has undergone change over time from the Aristotelian idea of well-being to the medieval metric of heavenly rewards and punishments determining our earthly well-being, and finally to the Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s origination of the “capabilities” approach to human well-being based on Rawlsian philosophy (Elizabeth, 2007).
In fact, the shift in the nature of human development is also clearly visible in the approaches applied by the United Nations towards developments during the four decades of 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (declared as “development decades”) which have been changing from absolutely economic to humanistic.
Human Development Thought at the Global level
On 25 September 1961 the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, addressed the UN General Assembly and launched a proposal for a Development Decade to “lessen the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries, to speed up the processes of modernization, and to release the majority of mankind from poverty.” (Jolly, 2004: P. 86)
Following the above declaration, the General Assembly passed Resolution No. 1710 (XVI) and designated the decade of 1960s as the United Nations First Development Decade. During this development decade the thrust was on achieving absolute poverty alleviation. An infusion of wealth and technology was considered the panacea to help the world’s poor. Economic growth i.e. growth in GDP was considered as the most appropriate developmental approach. The concept of development offered in this development decade had nothing to do with the people-oriented development (UNDP Web, 1).
The idea of liberal infusions of capital and technology for ending gross poverty did not work during the First Development Decade and the gap between rich and poor people and between rich and poor nations had increased. Hence, the General Assembly, vide it’s resolution No. 2626 (XXV) proclaimed the United Nations Second Development Decade starting from 1st January 1971 and adopted a strategy whereby all the Governments dedicated themselves anew to the fundamental objectives enshrined in the Charter of the UN to create conditions of stability and well-being and to ensure a minimum standard of living consistent with human dignity through economic and social progress and development. Development analysts suggested that the second Development Decade must include initiatives deliberately targeted to the poor to help them meet their basic needs for food, water, housing, health and education. It was to be known as the ‘basic services’ approach. Gradually social factors got consideration in the development process. The development strategy of this decade thus showed a shift towards people-oriented development (UNDP Web, 2).
In December 1980, the UN General Assembly formally declared the 1980s the “Third Development Decade”. The development objective for this Development Decade was to establish a new international economic order based on justice and equity. The cultural and human dimensions of development got attention and these aspects were incorporated in the developmental theories of this decade. The development strategy of this decade was also in favour of people-oriented development (UNDP Web, 3).
Actually the growing criticism of the leading development approach of the 1980’s (which presumed close link between national economic growth and the expansion of individual human freedoms), to an extent, gave rise to human development. Many, such as Dr Mehbub Ul Haq, the Pakistani economist who played a key role in formulating the “human development paradigm”, came to recognize the need for an alternate development model.
In December 1990 the General Assembly declared the 1990s the Fourth United Nations Development Decade with the major aim of ensuring increased development in the developing countries and strengthened cooperation within the international community and with the hope that during this decade there will be a significant improvement in the human condition and a reduction in the gap between rich and poor countries. The fourth decade of development considered human beings as the ultimate purpose of development (UNDP Web, 4). This decade can be truly called as the human development decade.
The shift from considering human well-being analogous with income and consumption levels to multidimensional concept also seems in harmony with Sen’s (Sen, 1985; Sen, 1987) work on capabilities and functioning and Nussbaum’s (Nussbaum, 2000) work on central human capabilities. Even Nordhaus and Tobin (Nordhaus, 1973, p. 509) showed concern about the limitations of economic growth as a benchmark of wellbeing by referring to Paul Erlich quote, “We must acquire a life style which has as its goal maximum freedom and happiness for the individual, not a maximum Gross National Product.”
Similarly, the makers of Indian Constitution also perceived the human being beyond a meagre physical entity and incorporated Article 21-
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law” - and the Indian judiciary, through humanitarian approach and explanation, made this Article an excellent role model for the entire world. It is difficult to find such an all encompassing integral human approach elsewhere in the world. Explaining the premise that right to life embodies several aspects of life and it includes opportunity, the Supreme Court in “Chameli Singh Vs State of Uttar Pradesh” (AIR 1996 SC 1051) observed: “In any organized society, right to live as a human being is not ensured by meeting only the animal needs of man. It is secured only when he is assured of all facilities to develop himself and is freed from restrictions which inhabit his growth……... ….”
Taking note of various concerns, the UNDP, through its Human Development Reports, have tackled new areas of policy challenges from peoples’ participation (HDR, 1993) to sustainable development (HDR,1994), gender equality (HDR,1995), poverty (HDR,1997), consumption and sustainable development (HDR,1998), human rights (HDR, 2000), democracy (HDR, 2002), Cultural Liberty (HDR, 2004) and climate change (HDR, 2007/8).
Besides, the advocates of sustainable development, who are concerned for the future of our world, have been making a hue and cry for sustainable development and the governments, business and consumers are beginning to join them in acknowledging that the current mode and pace of development cannot be sustained and would, if unchecked, eventually lead to untold ecological disaster. Also, those who consider spirituality as an important aspect of development have increasing concerns about the quality of our inner life and a growing recognition that despite economic progress there are rising deficits in the social and spiritual quality of life. According to them, in many cases, development has been a direct cause of increasing violent crime, broken homes, drug addiction, mental illness, etc. and at the root of this situation they trace the neglect of the spirit in favour of material success. Though the development policies and practices today do not make any reference to spiritual development in sustainable human development, but the positive fruits of human advancement in technology, commerce and culture cannot be sustained for long without spiritual development and this aspect will have to be considered as an important factor of human development in the times to come.
Human Development Measurement
How important is measurement of performance in any area is evident from this old management adage, “You can only manage what you can measure.” Dr. H. James Harrington, past Chairman and past President of the prestigious International Academy for Quality said, “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
As the evolution of human development thought took place over time, the issue of the measurement of development also caught attention of the experts, economists and researchers throughout the evolution period because they realized that the extent of achievement could not be known without there being a proper measurement for it.
Traditionally, wellbeing has been identified with material wellbeing and only economic aspects like gross national product and other purely economic criteria were taken into account to measure it and the primary measure used was the gross domestic product per capita.
However, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which gave a clear and fundamental articulation of the concept of human development in its first Human Development Report brought out in 1990 also presented the Human Development Index (HDI) as a composite measure of human development.
The most common measure of development as well as aggregate human well-being, for long time, has been national income, usually expressed as per capita gross national product (GNP) or per capita gross domestic product (GDP) because development, prior to evolution of the human development paradigm, was being understood only as economic development (Elizabeth, 2007, P.10).
However, GNP or GDP as a measure for social welfare has been criticised for a long time and many scholars and development agencies have attempted to create a broader measure of human well-being by combining indicators that shed light on both means and ends of social progress.
Mahbub Ul Haq’s (Haq, 1999, P. 4) criticism of GNP as a measure of human well-being is obvious when he said that “for the first time, we have begun to acknowledge – still with a curious reluctance – that in many societies GNP can increase while human lives shrivel.”
Based on the special contribution made by Amartya Sen in HDR 1999, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (Fukuda,203, P. 305) narrates that Haq was convinced that a simple combined measure of human development was essential for convincing the public, academics, and policy-makers that they should evaluate development by advances in human well-being and not only by advances in the economy. Although Sen initially opposed this idea, he went on to help Haq develop the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite index of achievements in human development. Sen was concerned by the difficulties of capturing the full complexity of human capabilities in a single index. But he was persuaded by Haq’s insistence that only a single number could shift the attention of policy-makers from material output to human well-being as a real measure of progress.
Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (Fukuda, 2003, P. 303) writes that “with Anand, Sen also played a critical role in developing the measurement tools of human development, starting with the Human Development Index (HDI) and going on to cover issues such as gender equality – the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) were developed in 1995 – and the measurement of poverty in human lives rather than incomes through the Human Poverty Index (HPI), published in the 1997 HDR.”
In the words of Stephen Morse (Morse, P. 282), Kelly (Kelly, 1991), Anand and Sen (Anand and Sen, 1994), Dowrick (Dowrick, 1996), Moldan (Moldan, 1997) and Ogwang, T. (Ogwang, 2000) considered HDI as “an attempt to move the development debate beyond the domain of economic indicators such as gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP) by incorporating elements for education and health.” In 1990, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) transformed the landscape of development theory, measurement, and policy with the publication of its first annual Human Development Report (HDR) and the introduction of the Human Development Index. HDR 1990 presented the concept of “human development” as progress towards greater human well-being, and provided country-level data for a wide range of well-being indicators. (Elizabeth, 2007, P. 3)
“Since human beings are both the means and the end of development, a composite index must capture both these aspects. This Report carries forward the search for a more appropriate index by suggesting an index that captures the three essential components of human life -longevity, knowledge and basic income for a decent living standard. Longevity and knowledge refer to the formation of human capabilities, and income is a proxy measure for the choices people have in putting their capabilities to use.” (UNDP 1990: P. 14)
Various studies have shown the controversies about the use of indicators for measuring Human Development. The criticism about application of such indicators calls for a new approach to HDI. Even UNDP has been changing the framework from time to time. It is needless to say that proper measurement would help evolve strategies in the right direction for Human Development at the global level. Since the development work is mainly taken for enhancing human development in a sustainable manner, we need a measure that can effectively monitor progress toward this objective as well as help to evolve appropriate strategies.
The new measure, therefore, must be such that it is capable of measuring the impact of all (or most of) those determinants of development which are either essential for enlarging people’s choices or the presence and/or excess of which restricts people’s choices.
Expanding Indicators for Measurement
The main three factors – Longevity, Education, and Income are being considered as Indicators for Human Development. But, there are large number of factors and indicators which directly or indirectly affect human development. At the same time, there are factors which, in the present day situation, have bearing on human development but are not considered in the measurement. Therefore following factors are presented which are necessary for enlarging people’s choices or known for their positive or negative impact on human development.
Income growth clearly strikes one as the main contributor to directly increasing the capabilities of individuals and consequently the human development of a nation since it encapsulates the economy’s command over resources (Sen, 2000). GDP is an important instrument for achieving a wide range of capabilities.
The inclusion of economic indicator(s), such as per capita income or GDP of an economy, in composite human development indices is generally explained on the ground that they are indirect but good measures of other valued attainments (NHDR, 2001, P.32).
Instead of restricting our choice to per capita GDP as a sole indicator representing income, economic activity-wise components of GDP should be considered, each as an independent indicator, to measure the extent of impact of each component of GDP on human development. In our opinion, following four income indicators may be considered for measurement in order to reflect the impact of economic progress on human development. We need to consider all the sectors of the economy where data is available for all of them individually. This will give better idea of the impact of economic progress on human development.
Percentage growth in GDP by primary sector
Percentage growth in GDP by Secondary Sector
Percentage growth in GDP by tertiary sector
Per Capita GDP in rupees
The World Declaration on Education for All, approved at a Conference held in Jomtien, Thailand in March 1990, is a milestone in the history of education in the world, especially in regards to meeting the basic learning needs of all individuals. Education affects human development in innumerable ways such as teaching people how to read and write; promoting creativity and innovation; empowering people to advance their interests and protect their rights; creating awareness of being healthy and leading a better quality of life; increasing earning levels and providing better job opportunities. Such a huge impact of education on human development has been rightly recognised by the entire world and this is visible from the fact that “no country has seen declines in literacy or years of schooling since 1970 (HDR, 2010).”
Education being an essential component of overall human development, the following fourteen education indicators may be considered for inclusion.
Net Enrolment Ratio - std I to VII girls
Dropout rate in primary education 1 to 7
Dropout rate in Secondary education general
Dropout rate in Secondary education S C
Dropout rate in Secondary education S T
Dropout rate in higher Secondary education general
Dropout rate in higher Secondary education S C
Dropout rate in higher Secondary education S T
Percentage of schools with building
Percentage of schools with Electricity
Percentage of schools with water facility
SCR of Government Aided Schools
SCR of Private Schools
Health is a direct measure of human well-being. The ‘basic needs approach’ considers health as a basic need along with food, clothing, shelter, and education. Improved health can enhance workers’ productivity by increasing both physical and mental capacities; improve the effective supply of labour by minimizing absenteeism due to ill-health; reduce mortality; increase life expectancy; reduce fertility rates and population growth rates; leads to better attendance in school and can bring several other direct and indirect benefits to the human beings.
In view of the importance of health in human development, the following seven health indicators may be taken into account together.
Infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births)
Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000 live births)
Total Fertility rate
Percentage of villages having government health facilities
Population served per doctor
Beds per 1 Lac Population
Percentage of Institutional Deliveries
Safe water and improved sanitation provides a basic level of human security that, once reached, enables families and individuals to work to increase their standards of living, educate their children and become better stewards of the environment. Sanitation has a strong connection not only with personal hygiene but also with human dignity and well-being, public health, nutrition and even education. Mahatma Gandhi had once said “Sanitation is more important than independence”. His dream was total sanitation for all. Sanitation saves lives and provides privacy and protects everyone in the community. Similarly, electricity consumption per capita does have an impact on human development- higher the consumption, greater the development. Hence following indicators may be considered under Amenities.
Percentage of villages with community managed water distribution system or safe drinking water facility
Percentage of household having toilet
Percentage of villages electrified
Infrastructure facilitates human development at a faster pace. Availability of power and roads are basic requirements for progress. Roads bring along with them many economic activities and attendant services that boost the local economy. As a result, better roads have invariably been linked with higher economic development. (MPHDR, 2007, P.18). If human development can be seen as a fabric woven out of the activities of millions of people, communication represents the essential thread that binds them together. Proper, timely and effective communication can play a decisive role in promoting human development in today’s new climate of social change by stimulating the awareness, participation and capabilities of people. Thus, power, physical connectivity, communication, irrigation may be included as indicators under infrastructure.
Per capita power consumption
Percentage of transmission & distribution losses
b) Physical connectivity
Road length per 100 sq km
Surfaced roads as % of total roads
Tele-density as % of Population
Gross Area Irrigated / Gross Cropped Area
5. Law and Order
Crime is a development issue. Crime drives away investment, both foreign and domestic, and consequently slows growth. Crime damages community spirit and causes depopulation. Since incidences of crime in a region have effects on human welfare, economic growth and social development, crime rate becomes an important indicator. In view of this, the following three indicators may be taken into consideration.
IPC Crime rate per 1 lac population
SLL Crime rate per 1 lac population
Police men per 1 lac population
6. Empowerment of women
Several declarations and platforms for action such as the 1990 World Conference on Education for All, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the 1993 Human Rights Conference, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, and the Regional Preparatory Conferences for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women have recognized that women have pivotal role in the development process and have accordingly emphasized on the necessity of empowerment of women for making faster progress in the area of human development.
Percentage of women employed in public and private sector
Percentage of women who own SMEs.
The natural environment and human development and culture are closely related. The basic physical features of relief, climate, and soil and the biological resources of flora and fauna were important factors that influenced early human evolution, expansion, and development. The Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, and other similar environmental milestone activities and happenings, recognized the need for better and more knowledge and information about environmental conditions, trends, and impacts. The following environmental indicators can be included for measurement.
Proportion of land area covered by forest.
Emission of CO2
Economic losses from unemployment are large, since they relate to all goods and services that could be produced by the unemployed, to income losses for the unemployed household, to consumption and employment losses caused by reduced demand of the latter, to a wide range of social pathologies and health diseases. Unemployment is often an element of a vicious circle with poverty, low education and human capital, health, disease, social and political marginality. Hence following factors becomes important in terms of human development.
Registered Unemployed per 1 lac population
There can be many other factors and indicators which have to be included with the changing time. In the years to come, Internet Bandwidth, other forms of travel and transportation, law suits related to environment, investment in education by private players, and such new indicators can be included as part of measuring human development in the country.
The suitable methodology for incorporating such indicators will make the measurement meaningful and relevant. It is required to develop a measure which takes into consideration factors which positively add to human development, and also the negative factors which restrict the human development. Hence the final measure has the net impact on human development.
This will facilitate the evolution of right approach to human development. Needless to say, the simplicity and transparency in the measurement would attract the attention of policy makers, and the state leaders. Hence, it is necessary to develop a new measure of human development which can reflect the real and sustainable human development, can be used to guide decision-making, policy-formulation and budgetary-allocation for social sector programmes and schemes and can become a powerful instrument for human development.
Dr Nikhil Zaveri is Director & Principal of SEMCOM, a NAAC accredited "A" grade Institution in the area of commerce, Management, Computer Applications and E-Business. He is a Chartered Accountant and Ph.D. He holds more than 25 years of experience in education. He is known for his innovative initiatives in Management Education.
Dr Rahul Gupta is an IAS officer with the Gujarat Govt. Presently, Collector and District Magistrate, at Anand District of Gujarat. He is known for his dynamic initiatives for development. He is a Chartered Accountant and Ph.D.