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State of the states: NITI report shows who’s rising, who’s lagging and the gap in between

It’s been five years since the SDG targets were set. But a closer look reveals India is still far away from meeting goals like zero hunger & gender equality by 2030.

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New Delhi: India is struggling to meet the goals of zero hunger and gender equality while making rapid strides in ensuring use of clean energy, revealed the sustainable development goals (SDG) index released by Niti Aayog earlier this week.

The index also revealed wide regional disparity between states with Hindi states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand and the eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh struggling to meet the goals set under the SDG.

Here’s a closer look at what the SDG data tells us.

Also read: India managed Covid second wave ‘very well’, need to prepare for third, says Niti Aayog member

What does the SDG India index 3.0 show?

Sustainable development goals, set by the United Nations, address key aspects of universal well-being across different socio-economic indicators. These goals were adopted by 193 countries in 2015.

The implementation of the goals began on 1 January 2016 with the aim of achieving all the goals by 2030. India developed its own sustainable goals index to track the progress of India and the states and union territories across various indicators.

The country has made a marginal improvement in its target of achieving the goals. Its overall score has improved from 66 in the current index as against 60 in the previous index.

Prepared by Niti Aayog, the index was first launched in December 2018 and has subsequently seen two further releases for the years 2019-20 and 2020-21. With each index, an attempt has been made to increase the coverage and map out more targets and indicators. The latest index (3.0) covers 17 SDGs and 169 targets.

These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequality.

India is close to achieving its target of affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, and sustainable cities and communities. The maximum score on the index can be 100.

However, despite schemes like the National Food Security Act, India languishes in achieving the target of ‘zero hunger’ where it has the lowest score among all indicators.

Gender equality is another parameter where despite making progress, India has a long way to go.

Worryingly, on parameters like quality education, decent work and economic growth, clean water and sanitation, industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action, India has lost the gains that it had registered in the previous index.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Avani Kapur, director of accountability initiative at the Centre for Policy Research said India’s SDG score has improved by 6 percentage points driven by improvements in clean water and sanitation and affordable clean energy due to the Swachh Bharat Scheme and the cooking gas scheme.

“But I would hesitate from being too happy. First, there are changes in indicators used and some economic indicators have been removed. Second, its important to remember that most of these indicators don’t take into account the short, medium and long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said, pointing out that some of the indicators are dated.

“Due to Covid, we know that unemployment is high, real income has declined, gender equality is worse. All of these are going to significantly impact the state rankings and of course our ability to achieve the SDGs,” she added.

Also read: NITI Aayog’s SDG Index exposes the hollowness of development promises in Hindi heartland states

Regional disparities

The regional disparities come to the fore in the index. Most of the southern states and two hill states are in the top seven.

Kerala has topped the index for the third time in a row, followed by Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

States of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka and Uttarakhand are all tied at the same score. Telangana, which was in the top five in the last index, has fallen off and is now only among the top 10 states in the current index.

Assam joins Bihar, UP in the bottom seven states

The Hindi-speaking heartland states and a few north-eastern states are at the bottom of the index with a lot of catching up to do. Bihar is the worst performer when it comes to meeting SDGs followed by Jharkhand and Assam.

Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are all tied at the same score at the bottom of the table.

The eastern states lag behind in goals like poverty, zero hunger and gender equality, Kapur said, highlighting that a lot of this is historical and social as well.

“There are significant differences in per capita incomes which then affect both poverty and hunger. There are also differences in consumption baskets between the regions. Another big contributor is the status of women. Malnutrition is a big contributor to poverty and hunger and we know it’s determinants include women empowerment, literacy etc as well all of which are better in the southern states,” she said.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Also read: Gender gap in vaccine worse than India’s sex ratio: Only 867 women got Covid shot per 1,000 men

Performance across some crucial parameters

Zero hunger: Economically well-performing Maharashtra & Gujarat also struggling

The performance of achieving this goal is measured by the number of people covered under the National Food Security Act, the number of kids under five years of age who are underweight or stunted and anaemic pregnant women.

A closer look at the data reveals that Jharkhand fares the worst when it comes to meeting the target of zero hunger followed by Bihar, Meghalaya, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Assam.

But what is surprising is even the more economically developed states like Maharashtra and Gujarat are struggling to meet this parameter with a score of less than 50. They are joined by West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh at the bottom of the table on this parameter.

Kerala, Goa, Mizoram and Punjab are among the better performers.

Kapur pointed out that there are still huge gaps in the implementation of NFSA.

“We still don’t have a demand based or universal PDS system — even during the pandemic. Even maternity benefits haven’t reached everyone and we don’t even have systems to know who is excluded,” she said.

Covid is going to make things much worse with inequalities rising significantly and several households becoming even more vulnerable due to lack of food and employment, she added.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Gender equality: Assam worst performer

The goal of gender equality measured by indicators like crime against women, wages paid to women and their labour force participation rate is another indicator where India falls well short of the targets.

Assam is the worst performer followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Rajasthan. The best performing states were Chhattisgarh and Kerala.

Quality education: Bihar along with Northeast lags the rest of India

Bihar is the worst performer in the goal of quality education, measured by indicators like net enrollment ratio, dropout rates, basic educational infrastructure and literacy levels followed by Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam lagging behind in this category.

Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are the states that top this parameter.

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

Decent work and economic growth: Manipur and Odisha lag

Manipur and Odisha are the worst performers and Himachal Pradesh and Goa the best performers in the goal of providing decent work and economic growth.

This goal is measured by indicators like state GDP, unemployment rate, wages and labour force participation rate.

Good health and well-being: Assam, UP and Chhattisgarh the worst performers

Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are the worst performers in meeting this goal while Gujarat and Maharashtra were the best performers. The indicators used to measure performance of this goal include maternal mortality rate, immunisation, under-five years mortality rate, heath spends and the number of healthcare workers as a percentage of the population.

Shortcomings of the index

Many of the data sources used come with a lag as the data is not collected frequently. For instance, some of the data used is as outdated as 2011-12.

Economic indicators for measuring inequality like household expenditure per capita among the bottom 40 per cent of the population in rural and urban India and Gini coefficient of household expenditure — a key measure of economic inequality — in rural and urban areas has been dropped. These were part of last year’s index but have not been used to measure inequality this year.

Similarly, the progress made by states using some of their own social security schemes may not have been captured by the data. This includes progress made by states on parameters like poverty reduction, medical insurance and housing. This is something that even the states have flagged to the Niti Aayog.

Many indicators have also not been considered as part of the index given the paucity of data.

Kapur pointed out that the methodology itself notes that data sourced for 31 indicators belongs to 2019-20 and 34 indicators use data from 2018-19.

She added that the index is only as good as its data.

“For example, the sanitation indicators are driven by some output indicators like toilet construction. Several surveys, however, have shown that there are gaps on the ground between construction and usage. For some goals we don’t even have adequate data — as recognised by the index too,” she said.

Also read: India’s goal of 2.16 billion vaccine doses between August and December seems highly ambitious


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