Aarti Dhar

A LARGE proportion - 26 per cent or about 260 million (193 million in rural areas and 67 million in urban areas) - of Indians are still below the poverty line, according to India's first Social Development Report released in New Delhi on Friday.

The spatial map and social base of poverty have significantly changed over time and poverty is increasingly concentrated in a few geographical locations and among specific social groups. Among the States, Punjab has the lowest incidence of poverty (6.16 per cent as per 1999-2000 figures), followed by Haryana with 8.74 per cent, and Kerala with 12.72 per cent. Orissa has the highest number of people living below the poverty line (47.15 per cent), followed by Bihar (42.60 per cent), and Assam (36.09 per cent). While poverty levels have shown a decline, there is huge disparity among the social classes with the percentage of the poor among the Scheduled Tribes being 43.8 per cent, Scheduled Castes 36.2 per cent, and Other Backward Classes 21 per cent.

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, which account for 45 per cent of the country's population, also account for two-thirds of the infant mortality rate in the country (26 per cent in Uttar Pradesh alone), and two-thirds of the maternal mortality rate. Less than 25 per cent of the children in these States are immunised.

Rural Kerala tops the States in social indicators followed by Himachal Pradesh. Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and Haryana figure among the best-performing States while Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa are at the bottom. The 21 indicators taken into account while grading the States included demography, health care, education, unemployment, poverty and social deprivation.

In the urban scenario, Kerala has been pushed to the third rank. Himachal Pradesh tops the list followed by Punjab, Karnataka, and Assam. At the bottom are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa.

The report, brought out by the Council for Social Development and Oxford, says Kerala has the lowest infant mortality rate of 11 deaths per 1,000 births, followed by Mizoram and Goa at 16. Orissa has the highest IMR of 83 deaths per 1,000 births, Madhya Pradesh has 82, and Uttar Pradesh 76.

Among the disadvantaged classes, the IMR is higher among Scheduled Castes (83). It is 85.2 among the Scheduled Tribes, and 76 among the other disadvantaged classes compared to the rate of 61.8 among the rest of the population. A similar trend is witnessed with regard to the mortality rate of children under five, underweight children, children and women with anaemia.

The report brings out the need to harness the nation's social energy to ensure a fair and equitable process of development, identifies key concerns, and proposes possible intervention measures.

Kerala has the highest literacy rate of 90.92 per cent, followed by Mizoram at 88.49 per cent, and Goa at 82.32 per cent. Bihar has the lowest literacy rate of 47.53 per cent, Jharkhand 54.13 per cent, and Jammu and Kashmir 54.46. However, Mizoram tops the States with the lowest gender gap in literacy with a difference of only 4.56 percentage points.

In Meghalaya it is 5.73 percentage points and 6.34 percentage points in Kerala. Rajasthan has shown a large gap in gender literacy of 32.12 percentage points, Jharkhand 28.56 percentage points, and U.P. 27.25 percentage points.

Ironic as it may sound, Punjab ranks high in the urban social indicators but has the lowest child sex ratio of 798 girls to 1,000 boys. Haryana is slightly better at 819 and Gujarat is at 883. The traditional societies, including tribal communities, have an impressive sex ratio of 975 girls to 1,000 boys (Chhattisgarh), 973 (Meghalaya), and 966 in Tripura - much higher than the national figure of 906.