What the NFHS data reveals about inequality in India

News: The release of the NFHS data and the NITI Aayog’s study on developing a multidimensional index of poverty (MPI) has led to a considerable amount of discussion.

In recent articles, experts have pointed out the existence of regional inequality in development, using many statistics in support of their argument.

However, a detailed examination (by the authors), of the summary statistics reported in the NFHS data (large and small states of India for the two years 2015-16 and 2019-21) reveals the opposite.

What are the key changes revealed?

There has been a remarkable convergence in living standards, in the space of just five years (2016-2021).

There has been a large 31% increase in the aggregate level of development, and a very large decline of 41%, in inequality of development.

Less developed states (BIMARU) have shown higher improvement, which is an evidence in support of catch-up growth. States such as UP, Bihar and Jharkhand are fast approaching similar standards for select indicators as some of the “developed” states.

This further suggests that regional imbalances are reducing, and in some indicators, rapidly. For instance, Female empowerment has improved more than 50%.

What is the reason for such a remarkable convergence in living standards in a span of 5 years?

It is an outcome of an approach that involves targeted interventions to improve developmental outcome. Such targeted intervention measures include:

One, the issue of challenges associated with lack of access to modern sanitation, as directly addressed by the construction of 110 million toilets.

Two, the problem of asthma due to indoor air pollution generated by incomplete combustion of wood used for cooking was addressed by the PM Ujjwala Yojana which provided 86 million LPG connections.

Three, holistic development of an entire region by identifying the most backward districts of the country.

Source: This post is based on the article “What the NFHS data reveals about inequality in India” published in India Express on 4th Dec 2021.

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