Development has many aspects. People have different perspectives on development and there are ways by which we can arrive at common indicators for development.

Economic development can be measured and income is the most common method for measuring development. However, the income method, though useful, has several weaknesses. Hence, we need newer ways of looking at development using indicators of quality of life and environmental sustainability.

Some of the concepts of development are :

  • Per Capita Income,
  • Literacy Rate,
  • Infant Mortality Rate,
  • Attendance Ratio,
  • Life Expectancy,
  • Gross Enrollment Ratio,
  • Human Development Index,
  • Purchasing power parity, etc.

The idea of development or progress has always been with us. We have aspirations or desires about what we would like to do and how we would like to live.

Similarly, we have ideas about what a country should be like. What are the essential things that we require? Can life be better for all? How should people live together? Can there be more equality? Development involves thinking about these questions and about the ways in which we can work towards achieving these goals.



Each individual is different and thus each one of them seeks different things.

They seek things that are most important for them, i.e., that which can fulfill their aspirations or desires.

At times, two persons or groups of persons may seek things which are conflicting.

  • A girl expects as much freedom and opportunity as her brother, and that he also shares in the household work. Her brother may not like this.
  • Similarly, to get more electricity, industrialists may want more dams. But this may submerge the land and disrupt the lives of people who are displaced – such as tribal. They might resent this and may prefer small check dams or tanks to irrigate their land.

So, two things are quite clear:

  • one, different persons can have different developmental goals and
  • two, what may be development for one may not be development for the other. It may even be destructive for the other.



What people desire are regular work, better wages, and decent price for their crops or other products that they produce. In other words, they want more income.

People also seek things like equal treatment, freedom, security, and respect of others. They resent discrimination. All these are important goals. In fact, in some cases, these may be more important than more income or more consumption because material goods are not all that you need to live.

Money, or material things that one can buy with it, is one factor on which our life depends. But the quality of our life also depends on non-material things mentioned above. For an example, just think of the role of your friends in your life. You may desire their friendship. Similarly, there are many things that are not easily measured but they mean a lot to our lives. These are often ignored.

However, it will be wrong to conclude that what cannot be measured is not important.

Another example, if you get a job in a far off place, before accepting it you would try to consider many factors, apart from income, such as facilities for your family, working atmosphere, or opportunity to learn. In another case, a job may give you less pay but may offer regular employment that enhances your sense of security. Another job, however, may offer high pay but no job security and also leave no time for your family. This will reduce your sense of security and freedom.

Similarly, for development, people look at a mix of goals.

It is true that if women are engaged in paid work, their dignity in the household and society increases. However, it is also the case that if there is respect for women there would be more sharing of housework and a greater acceptance of women working outside. A safe and secure environment may allow more women to take up a variety of jobs or run a business.

Hence, the developmental goals that people have are not only about better income but also about other important things in life.



As all individuals seek different goals, then their notion of national development is also likely to be different.

It is very important to keep in mind that different persons could have different as well as conflicting notions of a country’s development.

However, can all the ideas be considered equally important? Or, if there are conflicts how does one decide? What would be a fair and just path for all? We also have to think whether there is a better way of doing things. Would the idea benefit a large number of people or only a small group? National development means thinking about these questions.



If development can mean different things, how come some countries are generally called developed and others underdeveloped?

When we compare different things, they could have similarities as well as differences. Which aspects do we use to compare them? The criterion we may use depends on the purpose of comparison.

We use different criterion to choose a sports team, a debate team, a music team or a team to organise a picnic.

Usually we take one or more important characteristics of persons and compare them based on these characteristics. Of course, there can be differences about what are important characteristics that should form the basis of comparison: friendliness and spirit of cooperation, creativity or marks secured?

This is true of development too.

For comparing countries, their income is considered to be one of the most important attributes. Countries with higher income are more developed than others with less income. This is based on the understanding that more income means more of all things that human beings need. Whatever people like, and should have, they will be able to get with greater income. So, greater income itself is considered to be one important goal.

Now, what is the income of a country? Intuitively, the income of the country is the income of all the residents of the country. This gives us the total income of the country. However, for comparison between countries, total income is not such a useful measure. Since, countries have different populations, comparing total income will not tell us what an average person is likely to earn. Are people in one country better off than others in a different country? Hence, we compare the average income which is the total income of the country divided by its total population. The average income is also called per capita incomeWhile ‘averages’ are useful for comparison, they also hide disparities.

In World Development Report 2006, brought out by the World Bank, this criterion is used in classifying countries. Countries with per capita income of Rs 4,53,000 per annum and above in 2004, are called rich countries and those with per capita income of Rs 37,000 or less are called low-income countries. India comes in the category of low-income countries because it’s per capita income in 2004 was just Rs 28,000 per annum. The rich countries, excluding countries of Middle East and certain other small countries, are generally called developed countries.



When we looked at individual aspirations and goals, we found that people not only think of better income but also have goals such as security, respect for others, equal treatment, freedom etc. in mind. Similarly, when we think of a nation or a region, we may, besides average income, think of other equally important attributes.

What could these attributes be?

Infant Mortality Rate (or IMR) indicates the number of children that die before the age of one year as a proportion of 1000 live children born in that particular year.

Literacy Rate measures the proportion of literate population in the 7 and above age group.

Net Attendance Ratio is the total number of children of age group 6-10 attending school as a percentage of total number of children in the same age group.



How is it that the average person in Punjab has more income than the average person in Kerala (figure above) but lags behind in these crucial areas?  The reason is — money in your pocket cannot buy all the goods and services that you may need to live well. So, income by itself is not a completely adequate indicator of material goods and services that citizens are able to use.

For example, normally, your money cannot buy you a pollution-free environment or ensure that you get unadulterated medicines, unless you can afford to shift to a community that already has all these things. Money may also not be able to protect you from infectious diseases, unless the whole of your community takes preventive steps.

Actually for many of the important things in life the best way, also the cheapest way, is to provide these goods and services collectively. Just think – will it be cheaper to have collective security for the whole locality or for each house to have its own security man?

Kerala has a low Infant Mortality Rate because it has adequate provision of basic health and educational facilities. Similarly, in some states, the Public Distribution System (PDS) functions well. If some PDS shop, i.e. ration shop, does not function properly in such places, the people there are able to get the problem rectified. Health and nutritional status of people of such states is certainly likely to be better.


Once it is realised that even though the level of income is important, yet it is an inadequate measure of the level of development, we begin to think of other criterion. There could be a long list of such criterion but then it would not be so useful. What we need is a small number of the most important things. Health and education indicators, such as the ones we used in comparison of Kerala and Punjab, are among them.

Over the past decade or so, health and education indicators have come to be widely used along with income as a measure of development. For instance, Human Development Report published by UNDP compares countries based on the educational levels of the people, their health status and per capita income. It would be interesting to look at certain relevant data regarding India and its neighbours from Human Development Report 2006.



Isn’t it surprising that a small country in our neighbourhood, Sri Lanka, is much ahead of India in every respect and a big country like ours has such a low rank in the world?

Nepal has half the per capita income of India, yet it is not far behind India in life expectancy and literacy levels.

Many improvements have been suggested in calculating HDI and many new components have been added to the Human Development Report but, by pre-fixing Human to Development, it has made it very clear that what is important in development is what is happening to citizens of a country. It is people, their health, their well-being, that is most important.

Do you think there are certain other aspects that should be considered in measuring human development?



Whichever way we define development, suppose for the present that a particular country is quite developed. We would certainly like this level of development to go up further or at least be maintained for future generations. This is obviously desirable. However, since the second half of the twentieth century, a number of scientists have been warning that the present type, and levels, of development are not sustainable.

“We have not inherited the world from our forefathers — we have borrowed it from our children.”

Example 1: Groundwater in India

“Recent evidence suggests that the groundwater is under serious threat of overuse in many parts of the country. About 300 districts have reported a water level decline of over 4 metres during the past 20 years. Nearly one-third of the country is overusing their groundwater reserves. In another 25 years, 60 per cent of the country would be doing the same if the present way of using this resource continues. Groundwater overuse is particularly found in the agriculturally prosperous regions of Punjab and Western U.P., hard rock plateau areas of central and south India, some coastal areas and the rapidly growing urban settlements.”

  • (a) Why ground water is overused?
  • (b) Can there be development without overuse?

Groundwater is an example of renewable resources. These resources are replenished by nature as in the case of crops and plants. However, even these resources may be overused.

If we use more than what is being replenished by rain then we would be overusing this resource.

Non-renewable resources are those which will get exhausted after years of use. We have a fixed stock on earth which cannot be replenished. We do discover new resources that we did not know of earlier. New sources in this way add to the stock. However, over time, even this will get exhausted.

Example 2: Exhaustion of Oil Resources

We have limited crude oil reserves. How many years the stock of crude oil will last if people continue to extract it at the present rate. The reserves would last only 43 years more. This is for the world as a whole. However, different countries face different situations. Countries like India depend on importing oil from abroad because they do not have enough stocks of their own. If prices of oil increase this becomes a burden for everyone. There are countries like USA which have low reserves and hence want to secure oil through military or economic power. The question of sustainability of development raises many fundamentally new issues about the nature and process of development.

  • (a) Is crude oil essential for the development process in a country?
  • (b) India has to import crude oil. What problems can be anticipated for the country looking at the above situation?

Consequences of environmental degradation do not respect national or state boundaries; this issue is no longer region or nation specific. Our future is linked together. Sustainability of development is comparatively a new area of knowledge in which scientists, economists, philosophers and other social scientists are working together. In general, the question of development or progress is perennial. At all times as a member of society and as individuals we need to ask where we want to go, what we wish to become and what our goals are. So the debate on development continues.


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