An important report by government think-tank NITI Aayog, lost in the din of a high-decibel and bitter election campaigning, did not quite get the media attention it deserved. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index: Baseline Report 2018 ranked all the States according to their performance vis-à-vis 13 of the 17 sustainable development goals. The goals range from ‘no poverty’, ‘zero hunger’ and ‘climate change’ to ‘peace, justice and strong institutions’.
The 270-page report offers a wealth of insights and data which will surely be invaluable for policy formulation and further research. It has a detailed note on the history of SDGs and how they evolved from the UN’s millennium development goals, the methodology used for computing SDG index scores, and the data used. The report highlights the progress made by States and Union Territories, presenting a comprehensive picture across economic, social and environmental dimensions. It classifies the States under four categories — achiever, frontrunner, performer and aspirant.
In the overall composite SDG score, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu figured in the top three slots in the frontrunner category. Twenty-three States, including vast parts of western, central and eastern India, fall under the performer category. And three States — Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — make up the aspirant category. Among the seven Union Territories, Chandigarh and Puducherry occupy the top two slots in the frontrunner category and the rest fallunder the performer category.
In the composite index, it is no surprise that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam occupy the bottom-most positions, as that broadly conforms to their rank in other social indices, measured in terms of child mortality and primary education. It also conforms to these States’ earlier ‘BIMARU’ status, a term coined by eminent demographer Ashish Bose in the 1980s, which includes Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Though this may be a rather simplistic analysis, the reality being more complex and variegated, it still shows that they have not managed to shake off that BIMARU tag. This is despite Bihar’s robust economic growth in the last decade, where the State’s growth rates were higher than the national average, though one has to consider the ‘low base’ effect as well. The results clearly show that UP and Bihar have some serious catching up to do.
Under the ‘no poverty’ goal, seven States are classified as frontrunners, led by Tamil Nadu and followed by Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Uttarakhand. That four out of the seven States are from the north-east region is heartening as the region was long perceived as neglected by the heartland. Uttarakhand’s inclusion in the list is remarkable and it is worth studying whether the State’s move to lay out the red carpet for private investments ever since its inception in 2000 has played a part in reducing poverty now.
In the ‘zero hunger’ developmental goal, Goa tops the list, followed by Manipur and Kerala. Of the seven States that feature in the top performers’ category, four are in the north-east. Tamil Nadu falls just outside the frontrunners category. Interestingly, in the aspiring category, there are ten States, including the highly-industrialised Gujarat and Maharashtra. Again, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are at the bottom of the heap, along with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The top positions in the ‘good health and well-being’ SDG are, not surprisingly, taken by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Telangana, Punjab, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, West Bengal and Goa form the nine States in the frontrunners category. Disturbingly, there are ten States in the aspiring category, comprising Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.
As for SDG 4 — quality education — 13 States feature as frontrunners, led by Kerala and Himachal Pradesh. The others are Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Manipur. The laggards are largely in the eastern and north-Eastern parts of the country.
Tamil Nadu, which appeared prominently at the top in the other SDGs, performs poorly in ‘gender equality’, being ranked somewhere in the middle, with the top two ranks taken by Kerala and Sikkim.
Gujarat tops the list in ‘clean water and sanitation’ followed by Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. Kerala, surprisingly, figures only in the performers category here.
Tamil Nadu ranks on the top as a frontrunner in the ‘affordable and clean energy’ SDG, followed by Gujarat and Bihar. Gujarat’s presence is to be expected, given its good record in power generation and electrification, but Bihar’s record is commendable.
Gujarat and Maharsahtra figure in the frontrunners’ list in ‘decent work and economic growth’ goal, which is topped by Goa. All the southern States, with the exception of Kerala, find a place in the top category.
A mixed bag
Though this is not an exhaustive analysis of all the States’ performance in SDGs, there is a pattern that emerges, even from a cursory look at the report.
The southern States, led by Kerala and Tamil Nadu, seem to consistently outperform in areas such as poverty and hunger eradication, public health, and education. But the picture is more diverse when we move to the other SDGs such as clean energy, sanitation, growth, industry and innovation.
Though the report does not go into the reasons why some States perform better than others on the SDGs, it does highlight the government’s policy initiatives. This insightful report should spur further study and research.