Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action
Three key dimensions of human development are – education, health, and living conditions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his dream for India while addressing a joint meeting of the US Congress on June 8th 2016, a dream that included empowering every Indian by the seventy-fifth anniversary of India's independence (Year 2022), “through many social and economic transformations”. And this is achievable; but, this is where the right actions will be needed.
India faces serious challenges as well as great opportunities in becoming the vibrant economy, as desired by PM Modi. The biggest challenge is to diffuse access to education, skills, health, sanitation and water supply in a more inclusive manner. On the other hand, India’s vast young population is an asset or opportunity. India has more than half of its population below the age of 25 and more than two-third below the age of 35. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. And such a vast young population can contribute significantly to socio-economic development. Many countries in Asia and Latin America have experienced impressive economic growth over the last three decades, and researchers and economists have attributed these gains in part to demographic changes that have facilitated growth.
This demographic contribution also known as the “demographic dividend” to accelerating economic growth is, however, misunderstood by leaders and policy makers in India who, based on its large youth population, are optimistic about the prospects for such a dividend without structural changes. No doubt India has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth but if the right social and economic policies are developed and investments made. In other words, an investment in human development is needed to foster opportunities for developing a skilled and healthy as well as productive work force.
The human development concept focuses on improving the lives people lead rather than assuming that economic growth will lead, automatically, to greater opportunities for all. Income growth is an important means to development, rather than an end in itself. The United Nations Development Programme (UNPD) defines human development as denoting “both the process of widening people’s choices and the level of their achieved well-being”. It further states: “the primary objectives of human development is to benefit people; and income is not the sum total of human life”. In other words, the human development approach is about expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live. 
The concept has relatively more importance in labour-surplus countries like India. India is endowed with more of labour due to high fertility. The transformation of raw human resource into highly productive human resource with proper inputs is the process of human capital formation.
To attain the Modi’s dream by 2022, it is imperative to focus on human development issues. For this, India needs a comprehensive human development agenda which include ensuring quality education especially school education; enhancing primary and reproductive health looking to the needs of clients; improving living conditions including sanitation; shifting access labour force from agriculture to non-agriculture sectors; and sustaining human capabilities in the context of climate change and environment degradation.
Among these, first three need immediate attention to expedite the process of creating an environment in which people can develop to their full potential lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. It is about expanding people's choices and enhancing capabilities having access to knowledge, health and a decent living environment to participate in the life of their community and decisions affecting their own lives.
These three important inputs of human development, as noted below, will be discussed briefly in the coming posts.
1. Changing the way India learns to unlock human potential
2. Promoting healthy life through: a. Improving general health, b. Reducing the level of malnutrition, c. Minimizing unwanted fertility, and
3. Improving physical living conditions including water and sanitation