Familiar faultlines

| Updated on June 09, 2021

Progress on sustainable development goals is incremental and uneven

The NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Development Index for 2020-21, both for India and each of the States and UTs, tells a story of inadequate and uneven development: progress on eradication of poverty, hunger, gender parity, quality education, and even innovation and industry, remains underwhelming over the years, while areas such as clean energy and sustainable urbanisation have seen considerable progress. India’s score as a whole — an average score for 17 SDGs which include inequality, climate management, ‘responsible production and consumption’ and ‘life below water’ — stands at 66, against 60 in 2019-20; it was 57 when the first such report was brought out in December 2018. What these scores indicate is that in relation to the UN targets set for a number of indicators, to be achieved by 2030, India has achieved 66 per cent of the targets so far, against 60 per cent in 2019-20. The achievement of States in terms of meeting SDG goals reveals few surprises: apart from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the southern and western States are in the top 10, with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the top four and Karnataka in sixth place. The socio-economic gap between the northern and eastern States and peninsular India has widened with the emergence of the south as an engine of growth in the post-reform years. The southern States have achieved growth on a foundation of competent healthcare and education systems, besides registering an improvement in gender indices as well. It is this intertwining of growth and welfare that has worked well for China, Japan and East Asia, besides Sri Lanka and now Bangladesh.

The pandemic has underscored the superiority of SDGs over sheer economic growth as a measure of well-being; in the absence of effective healthcare, economic growth too grinds to a halt. However, it is ironic that the healthcare score should reflect a big leap (from 61 in 2019-20 to 74 in 2020-21) in a year of the pandemic. What’s more intriguing are the scores and ranking of States in this respect. While Gujarat has a score of 86 (which means it has achieved 86 per cent of its 2030 SDG goals) and is the top ranking State in terms of health services, Kerala stands at 14th, below Jharkhand and at the same level as Haryana. This is despite the fact, as depicted by the report itself, that Kerala’s maternal mortality and under-five mortality are the lowest and the ratio of medical personnel to the population the highest among States.

Economic indicators such as industry, working conditions, innovation and growth have taken a hit in 2020-21 over the preceding year, no doubt because of the pandemic’s impact. India may take rather long to get closer to 100 in the event of the disruption and its impact on per capita incomes. But for all the issues around patchy data, this index pithily encapsulates overall progress across States and over time.

Published on June 09, 2021

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