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NEW DELHI: Deep inequality remains a pressing issue across India, experts said this week, even as the former British colony surged past the UK to become the world’s fifth biggest economy.

India’s gross domestic product leaped past Britain in the final three months of 2021 and extended its lead in the first quarter of this year, according to a report from Bloomberg citing GDP figures from the International Monetary Fund. The size of India’s economy was $854.7 billion as of March this year, compared to the UK’s $816 billion, Bloomberg said.

The South Asian nation is also on track to leap further ahead to become the third largest economy by 2029, the State Bank of India said in a report. India was ranked 11th among the largest economies only a decade ago, while the UK was fifth.

But other economic indicators, such as access to education and medical care, are still far below the standard of a developed economy, experts have said, with inequality a persisting issue throughout India.

“India is a deeply unequal society and becoming the fifth largest economy in the world is not a meaningful measure of public welfare,” Professor Sanjay Srivastva of Delhi-based economic think tank Institute of Economic Growth told Arab News.

“In India, growth in total might have only led to greater inequality.”

Tens of millions were pushed into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, which also saw the Indian economy contracting by 6.6 percent in 2020-2021, about double of that of the global economy. The unemployment rate stood at 8.5 percent in August, according to data from the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.

“What India is celebrating is the fact that Britain was our colonizer and India’s GDP has now exceeded Britain,” human development economist Santosh Kumar Mehrotra of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Arab News.

“Look at the Human Development Index: India is 131 in the world. On per capita income, India’s rank is 128. So I don’t know what is there to be proud of,” Mehrotra added.

Delhi-based economist and author Prof. Arun Kumar warned there may be some inaccuracies in government figures, from which the IMF compiled its data.

“If the government data is incorrect, then the IMF analysis is also going to be incorrect,” Kumar said.

“Surpassing the British economy does not mean that India has become prosperous,” he added.

“Ours may be the fifth largest economy, but you have to question the GDP and the comparison in terms of per capita income, in terms of prosperity between both the countries.”

India’s per capita income, at around $2,300, is also significantly lower compared to that of the UK’s $47,000, according to 2021 data from the World Bank.

India becoming the fifth largest economy is the country’s “first step to achieve more GDP and income,” Prof. N. R. Bhanumurthy of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, an autonomous research institute under India’s Ministry of Finance, told Arab News.

Though the achievement is “a reason to celebrate,” Bhanumurthy said that the GDP is only one economic indicator, adding that there are other aspects of the economy and society that India “needs to really focus on.”

Economist Rajiv Kumar, former vice chairman of state-funded public policy think tank Niti Aayog, also said there is still a long road ahead for India despite the country’s latest achievement.

“There was a time when India’s share in the world’s GDP was more than its share of the population. At the moment, we are 16 percent of the world population and less than 4 percent of the world’s GDP,” he said.

“It’s time to congratulate ourselves,” Kumar said. “But we have a long way to go and we need to continue working harder.”

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