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The 'Corruption' of the Human Development Index

When student enrolment fi gures are infl ated so that private "grantable" schools can receive larger fi nancial allocations from the government, will that not infl ate India's Human Development Index? An examination of surveys in Maharashtra.

COMMENTARY

out that the state government had earlier

The ‘Corruption’ of the Human announced that it would convert around 4,000 non-grantable schools into granta-

Development Index ble schools. This, according to the Sakal report, would have led to an additional Rs 120 crore burden in 2012 and a Rs 600

Dhanmanjiri Sathe crore burden in the next five years. The re-

When student enrolment figures are inflated so that private “grantable” schools can receive larger fi nancial allocations from the government, will that not infl ate India’s Human Development Index? An examination of surveys in Maharashtra.

Dhanmanjiri Sathe (dhan.sathe@gmail.com) teaches at the department of economics, University of Pune, Pune.

C
orruption as a phenomenon is important in itself, but it also has some “unintended consequences”, one of which we examine in this note. It is well known that in Maharashtra local politicians have been starting schools in their respective areas. The avowed obje ctive is, of course, to bring education to their area and possibly it was genuinely so at some stage. However, over the years there seem to be some other incentives for establishing these schools. It can be noticed that the per student financial allocations by the central and state governments to government and grantable schools under various schemes have increased. There is therefore a huge amount of fi nancial resources that is involved.

The grantable and government schools have a vested interest in showing high enrolment figures as then the governmental allocations made for mid-day meals, uniforms, and books, which are based on these figures, are also high. The difference between the numbers on the muster and the genuine students is the number of “bogus” students. The allocations made for such bogus students are pocketed by the school managements including the teachers, the politicians, bureaucrats, etc. According to Shridhar Loni, a senior journalist with the Maharashtra Times, it is an “open secret” that enrolment figures on the muster are higher than the real fi gures.

In August 2011, the department of education, Government of Maharashtra had conducted a survey of the enrolment rates for Standards 1 to 12, which seemed to be a routine one. But at the governmental level too there was an acceptance and discomfort with respect to the rising number of bogus students. This growing number got converted into more divisions in each class and more government and grantable schools – all of which put a larger financial burden on the government. A Sakal report on 16 October 2011 pointed

april 28, 2012

port added that the government then developed cold feet and got into a mode of finding schools that have an annual loss of students more than 15%. This is because if the attrition rate is that high, then the government can deny grantable status to such schools. Thus Ratnakar Gaikwad, chief secretary, Government of Maharashtra initiated a pilot survey in Nanded district during 7-10 September 2011. This survey was conducted by the revenue department and was done under the aegis of Shrikar Pardesi, collector, Nanded district. Pardesi had already made a mark in unearthing the “copy scandal” in the same district and his commitment to good education is well known. This survey was conducted in a more or less foolproof manner, wherein the students were marked by election ink Section 144 of Indian Penal Code was imposed so that no movement of students from one place to another could be done – either from within or outside the district, etc.

This survey showed that around 20% of the students on the rolls did not exist. It also found that these missing students were fewer in government schools than in grantable schools (the schools typically started by local politicians). These results were discussed in a state cabinet meeting held on 14 September 2011.

State Survey

The cabinet announced a statewide survey which was conducted during 2-5 October 2011 by the revenue department. The government had advertised this survey very well. It was made fairly foolproof by going and checking the next day for those students who had been “absent” on the day of the survey, but we cannot say whether it was as well done as the Nanded survey. However, it has been reported that children were brought from other places to sit in the classes, the same names of children were found in the muster for different classes, many “students” looked quite old, etc.

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Generally speaking, the school managements used various tricks to show high enrolment figures and hide the number of bogus students. Then after the survey was announced, the schools themselves were supposed to have lowered the number of students in the muster itself, so that the bogus student rate declined. There are still bogus students on the rolls, but given the fear of being detected the schools reduced the extent of inflation in student enrolment. The results of this survey are being analysed by the state government and the citizens are waiting for some action to be taken.

But some idea about the magnitude of the problem has been reported by the newspapers. Sakal in its various reports in October 2011 put the estimates of bogus students between 6% and 12%; Maharashtra Times (10 October 2011) put it slightly less than 6% and Lok Satta (28 February 2012) put it at 10%. Bureaucrats in informal discussions have put the figure at 10%. The annual magnitude of corruption is estimated to be around Rs 3,000 crore which is close to the yearly budget of Pune Municipal Corporation!

It is worth noting that in the backward districts the percentage of bogus students is higher than in the more advanced districts. It could be because the location of corruption in the advanced districts has shifted to higher education (e g, engineering, pharmacy, dental colle ges, etc). In any case, if the enrolment rates are erroneous in Maharashtra, there is all the more reason to believe that similar things are happening in other states. Presumably, in generally less-corrupt states like Kerala, the percentage of bogus students may be less and higher, say, in Uttar Pradesh. Thus it implies that the enrolment rates that we have for India are an overestimate. By how much, we cannot say as of now. Looking at the high weightage of populous and corrupt states, the overall figure for bogus students for all India could be higher than the 10% of Maharashtra. But this corruption has “unintended consequences” for estimates of India’s Human Development Index (HDI).

In November 2011, the United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) 2011 ranked India’s HDI at 134 among 187 countries. The HDR assesses the long-term progress in health, education and income indicators for various countries. The methodology for arriving at the HDI has been changed in 2011 and so this result is not comparable to the 2010 HDI rank for India, which was 119th out of 169 countries. However, the components – i e, health, education and income – have remained the same. More specifi cally, for capturing “education” both the methodologies make use of the enrolment ratios. For the 2011 HDI, the age-specifi c enrolment ratios for primary, secondary and post-secondary education are used. Hence, needless to say, enrol ment ratios play a crucial role in arriving at the HDI and overstated enrolment ratios would naturally infl ate the HDI.

If we were to have “genuine” enrolment rates, then India’s HDI and its ranking would be even lower than what it is now. Hence, this issue needs to be probed further. The focus of the news coverage was on corruption due to

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bogus students, but the extent of bogus students also tells us about the error in enrolment rates and hence the error in the HDI for India! Further, as pro rata governmental allocations go on rising in the future as they are expected to, the temptation to show more bogus students would also grow across the board in the states in India. For example, largely due to the stable number of school students, the Government of Kerala has been able to make allocations for computers in government and grantable schools. In a corrupt state, this kind of a scheme may lead to increased enrolment rates as that much more money is utilised. So before we pat our backs because India’s enrolment rates have increased, we need to remember that we are using “corrupted” data and our HDI may also be “corrupt”.
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