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Time To Rethink The Application Of Global Standards To Measure India’s Success?

Swarajya Staff

Feb 12, 2023, 02:55 PM | Updated 02:55 PM IST

World Health Organisation. (Representative image).
World Health Organisation. (Representative image).

For a while now, experts, across industries and sectors in India, have been debating the authenticity of global standards and benchmarks when it comes to evaluating the socio-economic progress in India.

Beyond the indexes that are guided by political ideological biases, there are several standards whose application is good as obsolete.

In a recent commentary for the Economic Times, Sanjeev Sanyal, principal economic advisor to the government of India, along with Srishti Chauhan, highlight this point. 

They explore the issue by citing the estimation of child malnutrition by using stunting as a measure. Associated with chronic undernourishment, stunting is defined as ‘low height for the age’.

While stunting in the age group of 0-5 years is down to 35-odd per cent in 2019-20 from 48-odd per cent in 2005-06, the authors argue that it does not present the complete reality of the situation on ground. The global benchmark used for estimating stunted growth was derived by the World Health Organisation via samples drawn across six countries. 

The samples were drawn from India, Oman, Ghana, Brazil, Norway, and the United States. Further, the data drawn from around 8,000-odd samples from these six countries were then used as a global benchmark to measure stunted growth in children.

However, this is where the problem lies. The samples taken from one of the affluent neighbourhoods of New Delhi also reflected stunted growth, even though the children from that region had no problems of nourishment or lack of food. 

The authors argue that the conclusions drawn from the study of six countries cannot be applied globally for one simple reason; that is conventionally, populations in East and Southeast Asia are of a shorter height, and therefore, it cannot be necessarily attributed to stunted growth.

Already, several nations are either working to develop their benchmarks or have one in place. In India, when the universities applied their devised benchmark, the stunting percentage came down to 27-odd per cent. 

Bottomline, however, is that while malnutrition remains a serious problem across states, the WHO benchmarks do not offer an accurate assessment of the percentage on the ground.

If the indigenous benchmark is compared to the WHO one, some states have a difference of 10 percentage points, further rendering the deployment of global standards futile.

Finally, stunted growth overestimation also indicates how India’s development and its evaluation cannot be left to global standards. India’s socioeconomic progress, in the last seven decades, can’t be left to obsolete standards of the west. 

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