Last week, the Social Progress Index 2017 for the States of India was released by Social Progress Imperative and Institute of Competitiveness that will “mirror the track record of individual states on various counts which is likely to emerge as a tool for accountability in governance and politics” and is “a holistic and robust measurement framework for national, social & environmental performance that can be used by leaders in government, business and civil society at the country level as a tool to benchmark success, improve policy, and catalyse action.”
In the introductory essay by Bibek Debroy, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council – Prime Minister & Member, NITI Aayog, elucidates on the unenviable task of quantifying regional performance. “If one draws a distinction between product markets and factor markets, most reforms in factor markets, now contemplated (land, labour, natural resources) and debated, are in the State domain. However, while sources of growth and development will continue to be explored, it is also important to measure State performance. What is it that one is trying to improve? How will that be measured? That requires data and quantification”, says Debroy. He also adds, “In many respects, the present Social Progress Index (SPI) is different. It is much more comprehensive than most inter-State studies. It links progress to the SDGs (sustainable development goals). Conceptually, it has the important distinction of dividing the variables into three heads of basic human needs, foundations of well-being and opportunity. No study can ever be completely shorn of subjectivity. However, SPI has evolved after a considerable amount of debate and discussion.”
“The Social Progress Index supplements measures of economic success by directly measuring social and environmental outcomes. The Index is a tool that provides actionable data about the strength and weaknesses of each community, improving the capacity of governments and businesses to respond to people’s needs and ensure economic growth is accompanied by societal improvement”, says Scott Stern, MIT and NBER Advisory Board Member, Social Progress Imperative. Stern also adds, “The Social Progress Index also provides disparate stakeholders with a common language to share their perspectives and expertise. By bringing together a variety of perspectives around a holistic assessment of societal performance, it moves the conversation beyond traditional metrics and towards a comprehensive portrait of development. While there is indeed a strong positive relationship between the level of economic development and the realized level of social progress, an economically successful society is not necessarily one that provides for its people’s basic needs and gives them the foundation or opportunities to flourish and prosper.” “The Social Progress Index can provide insight into the relationship between economic performance and social progress, and help diagnosis whether economic dynamism is also helping to address social challenges, or whether such progress may mask more troubling element of social performance. This Index is enabling a constructive social progress agenda that moves beyond a single agency, a single level of government, or a single entity and allows different stakeholders to coordinate and prioritize their activities in order to create real change around the issues that are most vital and most important for the country”, he says.
The report states, “Overall, India scores 54.90 on the Social Progress Index. Breaking down this average across dimensions and components of social progress, there is wide variation in state performances.” It also adds, “India’s states’ scores range from 68 to 44. The results show that while there are considerable differences between states, there are no significant over- or underperforming outliers and that given the range of scores, there is immense scope for improvement for even the best performing states.” The report also adds, “The results show that only one state, Kerala outperforms its economic peers – its social progress scores are higher than expected. The model of Kerala is always exemplified as evidence that investing more in social infrastructure can boost the productivity of people and thereby growth. On the other hand, fifteen states, a mix of all income groups, underperform relative to their peers”. The report finds that the social progress on the country level is improving as “in 2016, the social progress scores are 57.03, registering an increase of approximately 8 points since 2005. Average performance is better on components of Basic Human Needs and worse on components of Opportunity reflecting that creating a society with equal opportunity for all still remains an elusive goal for most of the states. All states have improved since 2005, which is encouraging. The group of states that have registered the highest improvement are the states which were in the Very Low Social Progress tier in 2005 (Tripura, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Bihar).”
As per the index, Kerala tops the SPI, with a score of 68.09, followed by Himachal Pradesh (65.39), Tamil Nadu (65.34), Uttarakhand (64.23), Goa (63.39), Mizoram (62.89), Sikkim (62.72) and Punjab (62.18). Bihar is at the bottom of the list with a score of 44.89, followed by Jharkhand (47.80), Assam (48.53), Uttar Pradesh (50.96), Odisha (51.64), Rajasthan (52.31) and Tripura (53.22).
On Tamil Nadu, the report states, “Tamil Nadu has one of the most balanced development models in the country. The state has not only shown advancements in economic growth over the years but the social indicators have also improved. The policies in the state have focused on almost all the areas ranging from healthcare, education, economy. These correct policy choices clubbed with successful implementation have led to these results. Tamil Nadu’s outstanding performance can be attributed to the public services that are provided by the state. The universal nature of the public systems helps in better social outcomes than most of other regions. The appropriate policies focusing with the right amount of expenditure in priority areas along with strong implementation of the schemes has led Tamil Nadu on this path of inclusive development”, while about Kerala, the report states, “The model of Kerala has always been held up as evidence that investing more in social infrastructure can boost the productivity of people and thereby growth, which shows up in the results as well. “
Regarding Uttar Pradesh, the report states, “The most striking results are those of Uttar Pradesh, whose scores vary from 93 to 25 at the component level. The performance of the state on Water and Sanitation is commendable, which is largely due to the fact that it has a sufficient drinking water facility, has high rates of fully covered rural habitations, and low prevalence of typhoid and diarrhoea. Nevertheless, some sanitation issues need to be addressed as the state registers rural sanitation coverage of just 41%. It set up a Water and Sanitation Support Organisation in 2010 to ensure that this basic need is met. It performs fairly well on Health & Wellness and Environmental Quality, but Nutrition & Basic Medical Care is one area that the government of Uttar Pradesh needs to focus on.”
In conclusion, the report states, “In general terms, the Index reveals that high-income states tend to achieve higher social progress than low-income states. Yet this relationship is neither simple nor linear. States at all levels of development can use this data to assess their performance and set priorities for improvement. Most states will be able to identify areas of relative strength, which represent social progress foundations upon which they can build. However, every state exhibits areas for improvement and the Social Progress Index allows a strategic approach to social development that identifies areas for prioritization and investment”. However, it also adds, “While the index provides invaluable new insights into the performance of India’s society, intrinsically, it cannot be considered the be-all end-all. The Index should be approached as a discussion starter, one that is essential to address India’s most pressing challenges, one that is not perfect, and will benefit from constructive feedback from scholars and policymakers alike.”