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SDGs: India's challenges & the unattended indications

Niti Aayog has recently (3rd June) released its compilation namely “SDG India: Index and Dashboard 2020-21

Niti Aayog

Sentinel Digital Desk

Udayan Hazarika

(The writer can be reached at

Niti Aayog has recently (3rd June) released its compilation namely "SDG India: Index and Dashboard 2020-21: Partnership in the Decade of Action" indicating the actions of the States, their performances in respect of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) covering 70 targets (out of the total 169 targets), and 115 indicators. The meritorious States got commendation according to the ranks they achieved. Markings against each indicator are assigned as per performance within zero to 100. The more marks that one gets, the more one gets closure to the ultimate target (100). Assam's poor performance has been condemned by various circles and so also Bihar's which is at the bottom of the list. But Nitish has a good thing to say that his performance is directly related to the Government of India's refusal to confer his State the special category status. People of Assam are bothered -- but neither the Government nor the Chief Secretary of the State are. Of all the North Eastern States, the score of Assam is the lowest – 57 with Meghalaya getting 60, Nagaland getting 61 Manipur 64, Mizoram 68 and Sikkim 71.

There is scope to say that the score of Assam was not that bad as it is 57- meaning that it has crossed its halfway marks and the target is not too far away. Niti Ayog has devised the weighting methodology in collaboration with the MOSPI. There are many objections against the methodology – e.g. i) the data used were not up to date, ii) assessment was made based on data having reference to 2019 and in some cases 2018 and even to 2015 etc. The information as to how and what weightage was given for old data or whether any adjustment factor was used to weigh the old data against the new data is not readily available. Moreover, nobody knows whether the data was given on a uniform scale by all the States or not. We will make a brief performance analysis of the States after we discuss India's performance in the world context. Interestingly, while delivering the speech on this SDG report, Niti categorically mentioned India's recent performance. It had said that India's performance has improved from the score of 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2020-21 due to its countrywide good performance in clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy etc. Niti has not mentioned whether these additional 6 point marks offered to India by Niti or the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) team who prepared and published the Sustainable Development Report 2020 almost a year back containing SDG Index and Dashboards for all UN member states.

Before going into the detailed discussions about the States' performance which have already been examined and analysed extensively in media and on various platforms, we will have a brief roundup about the position of India concerning SDG in the world context. The Sustainable Development Report 2020 has indicated India's position at 117 with a score of 61.9. The report has also marked some indicators as "major challenges remain" based on the performance where India needs to be more attentive. These indicators are highlighted below and for better understanding, the case of a similar Asian country namely China has been referred. China has occupied 48th rank with an index score of 73.9.

India scored poorly in the no poverty index (Goal-1) where it has declared that the existence of 22.6 per cent population earning a daily income as low as $3.2 per day (2020) or Rs 220-250/ day. In case of the Goal-2, zero hunger, India has no current data available in respect of three important indicators for which the data about the year 2015 have been used. India has about 38.4 per cent stunting in children less than 5 years of age as against China's 8.1 per cent. On the other hand, India has, 21 per cent wasting in children less than 5 years of age while in the case of Chine it was only 1.9 per cent. Moreover, in the case of the sustainable Nitrogen Management Index (best 0–1.41 worst), India is marginally nearer to the worst scale with a score of 0.9 while Chain has performed slightly better with a score of 0.7.

In the Goal of Good health and well being, India's maternal mortality rate of 145(2017) per one lakh live births is exceptionally high compared to China's only 29. Sweden, which topped the list, has a rate as low as 4. Similarly, India's Neonatal mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) is 22.7 (2018) as against China's 4. In respect of incidence of tuberculosis India's rate is 199 per one lakh population while it is 61 in the case of China. Some other areas where India needs further attention is traffic deaths (22 per one lakh population, 18 in case of China) life expectancy at birth which is 68.8 years in case of India, 76.4 in case of China and 82.4 in case of Sweden (No-1). In the case of Universal health coverage (UHC) index of service coverage (worst 0–100 best), India's coverage is 55 per cent as against China's 79.0 per cent.

India has done fairly well in the case of quality education. But again in the case of gender equality (Goal-5), India failed to perform well.

India's Ratio of female-to-male mean years of education received is 57.3 per cent while it is 90 per cent in the case of China. Similarly ratio of female to male labour force participation rate is 29.8 per cent in the case of India but China's rate is far better at 80.4 per cent. On the other hand, seats held by women in the national Parliament are 14.4 in the case of India while it is 24.9 in the case of China.

Despite the digital India campaign and huge funding in it, India fared poorly in the digital side of the goal-9 i.e. industry, innovation and infrastructure. In India, only 34.5 per cent of its total population are using the internet while in the case of China it is 54.3 which is also not a very good performance compared to Sweden which is 92 per cent. In the case of a mobile broadband subscription, India scores 37.5 per cent, China well ahead with 93.5 per cent and Sweden 127 per cent. Another indicator namely scientific and technical journal article per 1,000 population is only 0.1 while it is 0.4 for China which is also a poor score while it is 2.0 in the case of Sweden. India spends only 0.6 per cent of GDP on research and development; in China, it is 2.1 per cent which is good and Sweden spends 3.3 per cent.

Now coming back to the national report of Niti, we can see that none of the States has scored the perfect 100 points. Niti has categorized the States based on the index scores. Those who score from 0- 49 are categorized as aspirants. As no States have scored marks within this limit, there is no "Aspirant" State in India. The minimum index score recorded is 52 which is in respect of Bihar. The States which scored between 50 and 64 have been categorized as "performer" and those who received a score between 65 and 99 are categorized as "achievers". The highest score recorded among all States and UTs is 79 which is in favour of Chandigarh. All central and south Indian States have done well in the SDG front except that of Madhya Pradesh. Major North Indian States like UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand could not do well – they fall in the performer category. Four of the Northeastern States namely Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam failed to make it to the achiever category. The Eastern States namely West Bengal (62) and Odisha (61) remained at the performing Stage.

One notable point worth mentioning here is that most of the Indian States still think that sustainable development goals are to be achieved separately outside the normal development plan. As a result, they still have to link up their budget schemes to the SDG indicators. Many schemes that have been implemented on regular basis were not taken into consideration as these were not separately taken up under SDG. As such, the sooner we link up the full budget schemes to SDG the better it is. The States should also set up an effective Dashboard with the help of UNDP or any other experienced institution.

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