in depth

India and Human Development: Tools for Transformational Change

India has pioneered the practice of preparing independent sub-national Human Development Reports (HDRs) that translate human development approach to practical and actionable strategies in the planning process at the state and district levels. As a result of the efforts of UNDP and the Planning Commission, India has the largest body of work on HDRs with two national, 26 state, and 44 districts including one city HDR. Another 38 district HDRs are being prepared. An important feature of these reports is that they are owned by the governments thereby making the governments responsible to act on the recommendations. The importance of HDR as a tool for planning is highlighted by the fact that the Ministry of Home Affairs has advised all districts to prepare HDRs to be used as District Gazetteers. Further, the 11th Plan mandates preparation of District HDRs for all districts in conjunction which district planning. This work in India has been recognized by UNDP globally as a practice leading to transformational change. HDRs of West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have also won global awards, and are widely recognized for analytical quality and significant local participation in their preparation.


Several evaluations have recognized the importance of the HDRs.

The Governance Outcome Evaluation-5 acknowledges that UNDP brought the human development agenda home, just when the Government of India was beginning to recognize the need to invest strategically in education, health, drinking water and other social sectors in the 1990s. UNDP is also credited with taking human development out of the realm of NGOs and civil society, and straight into the heart of Government. In doing so, it ensured that human development did not remain an abstract concept, understood only in multilateral donor headquarters. UNDP’s human development work has indirectly contributed to safeguarding Indian national/state spending on human development despite recent fiscal austerity crunches. Further, as a result of the focus on human development, the 12th Finance Commission has recommended giving ‘equalizing grants’ of up to 30 percent for health and education to states struggling to improve these areas and to reduce inter-state disparities.

The evaluation study of the HD project noted that ‘Over the ten years of the programme, a strengthening of political commitment towards human development can be seen at the state level as well’. This commitment is reflected in the annual state economic surveys and plans of several states now include separate chapters on human development. Impact of analysis on issues of state finances and human development is also visible in state budgets – Gujarat for example, witnessed a 43 percent increase in 2010-11 budget allocation for social sector spending. In Himachal Pradesh, social sector allocation increased up to 34 percent of total plan allocation after the release of State HDR. In Maharashtra, the first budget of the state government after the release of the HDR 2002 was called “budget for human development” and a Human Development Mission with an annual outlay of 235 crore was established by the Maharashtra government. Studies on state finances and human development have been used by the states for discussions with the 12th Finance Commission, such as Rajasthan.

UNDP also made efforts to mainstream gender into planning through tools such as gender budgeting that has resulted in earmarking budgets for women. For instance, in West Bengal, several departments created gender sensitive budgets and budget heads for schemes related to women and children. In Maharashtra, classification of schemes at state and district level from women and child perspective has been introduced. UNDP has also responded to one of the key challenges to people-responsive planning by strengthening statistical systems for planning. Stronger statistical systems have ensured availability of data on human development at the district level including in states that have weak statistical systems such as Nagaland and new states such as Chhattisgarh.

Going forward and building on this strong foundation, the next phase of UNDP work on human development focuses on supporting state level analysis on persistent inequalities, further strengthening of statistical systems to be used in planning, and capacity development with a range of stakeholders.

Owing to the rich work done by UNDP in this area, efforts are underway to bring together the experience of India on human development with other countries by setting up an International Centre for Human Development that will aim to help move countries from analysis to action, and to make government policies and programmes more responsive to the needs of the persistently excluded.

Deepening partnership on human development

In 2011, UNDP and the Planning Commission announced a new partnership that builds on India’s globally acclaimed work on human development by strengthening analysis on inequalities, enabling availability of better data to monitor progress on human development indicators, and building the capacity of stakeholders to undertake and act on human development analyses. The US$ 5.5 million partnership till 2017 will focus on helping states reach the next level in human development – translating analysis into policy action with a focus on bridging inequalities.