Health, poverty, education and clean energy: Where India stands in meeting SDG 2030 goals

Sustainable Development Goals and Living Implementation. Concept Vector Illustration.
Sustainable Development Goals and Living Implementation. Concept Vector Illustration. (Author via Getty Images)

India has slipped three positions to the 120th spot out of 165 countries in the Sustainable Development 2030 Goals. With an overall SDG score of 60.1, India ranks below the four South Asian countries of Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

A huge reason for this is the COVID-19 pandemic that has reversed gains made in terms of poverty alleviation, hunger reduction and unemployment reduction in many countries, including India. The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia’s GDP will be lower by USD 1.7 trillion - USD 2.5 trillion as a result of the pandemic. Tight restrictions in South Asian countries mean that GDP would be lower by USD 142 billion to USD 218 billion in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

However, the pandemic notwithstanding, India has been working towards meeting the SDG targets. Its SDG score has increased from 66 in 2019 to 60.1 in 2020-21. This is taking into account its better performance in areas such as providing clean water and sanitation, clean energy, among others.

Among the states/ Union Territories Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh have performed well in the metrics. On the other hand, Bihar and Jharkhand have been poor performers.

We take a look at India’s performance across some crucial SDGs:

No poverty: Over the years, India has made great strides towards alleviating poverty. Between 2005 and 2016, India lifted more than 270 million people out of poverty, as per the SDG India Index by NITI Aayog. This is the highest poverty reduction made in the world by any country.

Six states and seven UTs have already achieved the target of reducing poverty to below 10.96 per cent. Tamil Nadu, Goa and Kerala and Delhi were the top performers in the no poverty goal, while Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were the lowest performers. Goa, at 5.09 per cent and Andaman and Nicobar Islands has the lowest poverty rates.

However, the pandemic has reversed much of the gain. Nearly 23 crore Indians were pushed into poverty during the last year. While the urban poverty rate has gone up by nearly 20 percentage points, rural poverty rate has increased by 15 percentage points.

As per a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a total of 7 million jobs were lost between February 2020 and 2021, while households lost an average of 12 per cent income during the pandemic.

To tackle the same, the Government has implemented welfare schemes in the areas of health, housing, drinking water, nutrition, skill development, social protection, etc. Under the MGNREGA, 84.44 per cent of beneficiaries were provided employment in 2019-20.

Indian school children eat their free midday meal at a government school in Haryana
Indian school children eat their free midday meal at a government school in Haryana (greenaperture via Getty Images)

Zero Hunger: Goal 2 of the SDG, which focuses on zero hunger by 2030, is an area where the country has faltered. As per the Global Hunger Index 2020 (GHI), India is ranked 94th out of 107 countries. With a score of 27.2, India is in the serious category, when it comes to hunger.

Though India has seen a significant reduction in the area of child stunting —from 54.2 per cent in 2000 to 34.7 per cent in 2020, these figures are still very high. As per the data, India also has the highest child wasting rate of all countries, at 17.3 per cent. Further, 28.4 per cent of adolescents aged 10-19 and 50 per cent of pregnant women aged 15-49, are anaemic.

As per NITI Aayog, in India 99.51 per cent of beneficiaries were covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013, in 2019-20. Kerala and Chandigarh are the top performers among the states and UTs, respectively in working towards zero hunger, while Jharkhand, Bihar, Meghalaya and Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu among the UTs are the poor performers.

Good health and well-being: Goal 3 looks at promoting healthy lives and well-being across all ages. It addresses issues such as child and maternal health, reproductive health, universal health coverage, communicable and non-communicable diseases, quality and affordable medicines and vaccines, among others.

India’s Maternal mortality rate (per 100,000 live births) is 145 deaths, as of 2017, its Neonatal mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) is 21.7 as of 2019 and the Mortality rate, under-5 (per 1,000 live births) is 34.3 as of 2019. The global target is to bring it down to 25 per 1,000 lives. India spends 13 per cent of monthly per capita household consumption expenditure on health.

The Government has, however, implemented policies and initiatives to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality rates and to provide better health coverage. Ayushman Bharat is a step towards achieving Universal Health Coverage, aiming to publicly fund up to 500 million people. Other initiatives such as Ayushman Bharat Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana have played a role in providing universal health services at affordable prices.

Gujarat and Delhi are among the top-performing states and UTs.

Quality education: Goal 4 focuses on ensuring that all children, irrespective of gender, complete free primary and secondary education by 2030. In India, more than six million boys and girls were out of school, even before the pandemic. This gap has been further widened, with the pandemic. With schools shut and many people rendered unemployed, families have had to take their children out of school. As a result, more than 320 million children have been affected.

Further, with low digital penetration, many children, especially from the rural parts of the county, have lost out on education raising fears of the creation of a ‘lost generation’ of unqualified people.

While the goal is to have 100 per cent enrolment in elementary education (class 1-8), the adjusted net enrolment ratio at that level in India is 87.26 per cent. 26.3 per cent of students aged 18-23 years are enrolled in higher education, while the literacy rate among persons aged 15 and above is 74.6 per cent.

Three states and one UT – Karnataka, Manipur, Tripura and Delhi have achieved 100 per cent elementary level enrolment. Nagaland has the lowest enrolment at 67.38 per cent among the states, while Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have the lowest percentage among the UTs (67.88 per cent).

Hopes are pinned on the National Education Policy (NEP) formulated by the Government, aligned to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The Policy proposes sweeping changes, including dismantling the UGC and AICTE, pitching for a 5+3+3+4 design with five years of foundation (3-8 years), 3 years of preparatory (8-11 years), 3 years of middle stage (8-11 years) and four years of secondary (14-18). This will also bring ECE under the ambit of formal schooling.

Gender equality: The targets set as per Goal 5 (gender equality) of SDG 2030 include ending all forms of discrimination by 2030, eliminating all forms of violence including trafficking and sexual harassment, ensuring full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making, empowering women through enabling technology, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive rights and health, among others.

As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the gender gap in India has widened to 62.5 per cent. This is largely due to inadequate representation in politics, leadership roles and technical roles, poor female to male literacy ratio (70.3 per cent and 84.7 per cent, respectively) and decreased women’s participation in the labour force.

The sex ratio at birth is also low at 899 females to 1000 males. There is widespread neglect of the girl child, who is often also more susceptible to maltreatment. Further, the high under-5 mortality rate for girls can be largely attributed to the differentials in the distribution of food and resources, access to healthcare and malnutrition, in families.

On average, men receive 33 per cent higher wages than women in rural and urban areas. Further, only 8.46 per cent of seats in the state legislative assemblies are held by women.

Clean water and sanitation: SDG 6 aims to provide universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services.

While the country is yet to become completely ODF, India has taken significant strides in reducing open defecation. As per the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey, 2019-2020, 0.8 per cent of the population in rural areas do not have access to toilets and practise open defecation, in 2017-18, the figure was 23 per cent, while in 2018-19, it was 6.8 per cent. Further, there has been an increase in safely managed sanitation services from 47 per cent in 2016 to 54 per cent in 2020.

Currently, around 51 per cent of the population receive safe and adequate drinking water through piped water supply. The Jal Jeevan Mission, launched by the Government of India, aims to provide piped water supply to the entire rural population by 2024. The states of Telangana and Goa have already reached the target.

Wastewater treatment is an area where the country needs more push. Currently, only 88.4 per cent of industries comply with wastewater treatment procedures laid down by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) – the target is for all industries to comply with norms.

A labourer cleans solar panels installed next to a wheat field at Vahelal village, about 40 km from Ahmedabad on February 3, 2021. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP) (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)
A labourer cleans solar panels installed next to a wheat field at Vahelal village, about 40 km from Ahmedabad on February 3, 2021. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY / AFP) (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images) (SAM PANTHAKY via Getty Images)

Affordable and clean energy: A recent ranking by MIT Technology Review Insights, titled The Green Future Index, shows that India is among the 20 countries making progress or commitment towards building a green future.

The country is also working towards ensuring clean cooking fuel coverage. There are 2,824 lakh connections of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and 72 lakh connections of Piped Natural Gas (PNG) in the country, as of July 2020.

India has pledged to generate 40 per cent of power from renewable sources by 2030, with 450 GW of clean energy. The Government has set a target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by the year 2022. The Government has also unveiled an ambitious plan of ensuring 30 per cent of all cars and two-wheelers sold by 2023, are electronic.

Decent work and economic growth: Goal 8 of the SDG aims to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and full and productive employment and decent work for all.

In India, the pandemic-induced lockdowns have severely impacted the economy and rendered millions unemployed. India’s GDP shrank by 7.3 per cent in 2020-21 – the worst performance since independence. The IMF has also lowered the country’s growth projection from 12.5 per cent to 9.5 per cent for fiscal 2021-22.

India’s unemployment rate is slowly returning to its pre-Covid levels – in February 2020, the rate was 7.8 per cent, this has gone down to 6.9 per cent in February 2021. However, with school closures bringing on increased responsibilities to women, the pandemic has threatened the progress the country had made in terms of female participation in the labour force.

Female participation in the labour force was 23.5 per cent in 2019, as per ILO. With the pandemic hitting jobs, this has reduced drastically to 16.1 per cent during July-September 2020 quarter, the lowest among major economies.

Social security is another area where India is lagging behind – 52 per cent of salaried employees in the non-agricultural sectors have no social security cover.

India’s ranking in the World Bank's Doing Business Report of 190 countries has improved from 142nd position in 2014 to the 63rd position in 2020.

The Government has implemented schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) through which 55.3 per cent of women hold accounts, while 99.99 per cent of the population hold accounts under the PMJDY scheme.

Sustainable cities and communities: Goal 11 aims to create cities that are safe, resilient and sustainable. In India, the states of Punjab and the UT of Chandigarh are the top performers.

Ninety-seven per cent of wards in India have 100 per cent door to door waste collection, while 78.03 per cent of wards have 100 per cent source segregation. However, India has the capacity to treat only 39 per cent of the total sewage generated in the country, as of 2018. Also, only 68.1 per cent of the total municipal solid waste generated gets processed.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, 6.2 million individual household toilets have been constructed against a target of 5.9 million toilets.

Life on land: Goal 15 of the SDG aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Loss of biodiversity and deforestation are threatening SDG 15 goals. In the last two decades 2000-2020, the world has lost more than 100 million hectares of forest. In India, the country’s population is projected to cross 1.6 billion by 2050. This will necessitate increased food production, requiring more land to be brought under agriculture.

India is working towards ensuring that 33 per cent of its geographical area is under forest and tree cover. As of now, the total forest cover in the country is around 7.12 lakh sq. km which is 21.67 per cent of the geographic area.

All the SDGs are interconnected - the current pandemic makes it even more imperative that policies are designed to work towards the goals in a holistic manner.