18 Jun 2021 21:24 IST

The elusive goal of development

NITI Aayog’s recent report is another reminder of our country’s uneven development path

The Centre’s top think tank, the NITI Aayog, came out with the important Sustainable Development Goal Index for 2020-21 last week. This is a study which maps 14 of the 30 sustainable development goals (SDGs) as mandated by the UN. The Aayog has been coming out with this report since 2018.

It ranks all Indian States and Union Territories in the progress they have made in achieving these SDGs. The overall score for the country stands at 66, which means that in terms of UN targets that are meant to achieved by 2030, India so far has achieved 66 per cent of them. This index has steadily increased from 57 in 2018 and 60 last year, which indicates overall progress.

The SDGs include ‘zero 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’, ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’, ‘Responsible consumption and production’, ‘Climate action’, Life below water’, ‘Life on land’ and ‘Peace, justice and strong institutions.’ In the overall score the top five States are — Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Goa. It is revealing that three out of the top five States are from the south.

In Goal 1 ‘Zero poverty’, Tamil Nadu and Delhi are at the top. In Goal 2 ‘Zero Hunger’, Kerala and Chandigarh are at the top. In Goal 5 ‘Gender equality’, Chhattisgarh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands take top spots. In Goal 8, ‘Decent work and economic growth’, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are the high achievers and in Goal 9, ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’, not surprisingly Gujarat and Delhi are at the top of the heap given their strong industrial base and entrepreneurial culture especially in Gujarat.

Out of sync

Curiously, in Goal 3, ‘Good Health and Well Being’, Gujarat and Delhi score high. This ranking is in stark contrast to how these two States struggled in the second wave of the deadly Covid pandemic. Both States were overwhelmed by case loads, hospital admissions, and severe lack of oxygen, not to mention the overworked crematoriums. The gaping holes in their health infrastructure were severely exposed.

The report has thrown several other surprising and interesting findings. On Goal 7, ‘Affordable and clean energy’, 15 States and five Union Territories have achieved the top score of 100. The States include all the five from the south, and Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa from the West. This is hardly surprising given the strong electricity infrastructure in these States and the push they have made towards renewable energy especially wind and solar. Punjab’s inclusion, given its strong industrial and agriculture base, is hardly cause for surprise. But the surprising entrants in this list are Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Sikkim.

Goal 6, ‘Clean water and sanitation’, reveals a similar pattern with Goa being the sole State to achieve a 100 score. The other 14 States have scores in the eighties and nineties. It is Goals 13, 5 and 9, — ‘ Peace, justice and strong institutions’, ‘Gender equality’, and Industry, innovation and infrastructure’ — that most States and UTs score poorly. An incredible 15 States score below 50 in Goal 5 ‘Gender equality’, which include the entire swathes of Northern, Central, Eastern States (with Madhya Pradesh being the sole exception). Telangana is the sole southern State in this list.

Fourteen States rank below 50 (some of them rank in the 30s) for Goal 9, ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’. Again most States here belong to the Northern, Central Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the country with West Bengal being the only exception.

Now these rankings are not the ‘Gold standard’ of development status as they do have data and methodological issues. After all the World Bank’s much sought after ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking too ran into controversy recently. But despite the problems, these rankings do give us an indication of which way the country is heading and more importantly which States are lagging behind.

South, West ahead

That this report too shows that the Southern and Western States consistently out-perform other parts of the country (with exception of Himachal Pradesh is human development) is hardly a surprise. The Southern and Western States have been pulling away right from the time the 1991 reforms were initiated. If anything this report is a further affirmation of how uneven growth and development is in this country.

The Covid pandemic has brought out the importance of human development especially that of health and well-being and the vital role of health infrastructure. The pandemic has also revealed, in rather stark terms, that there can be no trade-off between economic growth and social/human development. The report apart from containing a wealth of data is also a useful reminder of how far we have to travel as a nation to achieve our development goals.