Contrasts and challenges
India is a country of contrasts and great complexity. The picture is not simply one of rich versus poor.
The enormous challenges for development are the marked disparities among different geographical regions, between social groups, among different income levels and between the sexes.
Even within states there are marked differences. Female literacy rates in Maharashtra, for example, range from 83 per cent in the district of Mumbai to 46 per cent in Nandurbar. Similarly, while the average child sex ratio for Maharashtra is 917 females per 1,000 males, it ranges widely between districts: from 974 in the district of Gadchiroli to 850 in Sangli.
Malnutrition afflicts more than half of all rural children even as problems related to obesity threaten their more affluent peers. While India boasts of state-of-the-art hospitals offering some of the best medical care in the world, there are communities where a health worker has not been seen for years.
The growth of modern infrastructure in cities contrasts with the most basic needs: only two out of every three urban households have water taps and three out of every four have toilets. The Indian Institutes of Technology provide world-class education to thousands, while over 190 million Indian women remain illiterate.
Gender disparity is evident as almost twice as many girls as boys are pulled out of school, or never sent to school.
Birth registration is an area where there are significant differences between states, ranging from only 2 per cent of births being registered in Bihar to 95 per cent in Goa. With such diversity throughout the country, it is important for reliable disaggregated information to be available and used at all levels.
While monitoring progress towards the national targets as outlined in the 10th Five Year Plan is important, data should also be generated and analysed at local levels to ensure that services reach the most disadvantaged.
Through evidence-based programming and targeting, resources can be directed to the most disadvantaged populations, resulting in a narrowing of the disparities.