Shift focus on inequities


By Dr S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

Life goes on as usual, and it has to – pandemic or lockdown – and NITI Ayoghasreleasedits 2020 SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Index.The country’s over-all scorehas improved from 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2020. Kerala canboast of rankingfirst consistently and Bihar maylament over its steady backwardness. Inter-State disparities continueand are notupset by the impact of Covid-19.
SDGs area collection of 17 global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”.These were conceived post-MDG (2015) by consensus among renowned experts from the UN, NGOs, and private sectors, with a team of economists to prepare research papers to arrive at most effective targets for post-2015 development agenda within certain core issues like food security,gender equality, health, infectious diseases, nutrition, population and demography, air pollution, governance and institutions, poverty, water and sanitation,etc., totaling 22. Setting targets and goals and making declarations have been a strategy of the United Nations and its agencies to go forward and makeprogress though targeted approach isnotalways successful.
NITIAayog launched this index in 2018to monitor the country’s progress towards the goals set in 2015 for 2030 on data-based assessment. It isintended to take stock of the situation and progress and also to stimulate healthy competition between States and UTs in the race to reach the Goals. It ranksStates and UTs by compiling a complex index on SDGs.Ranking of States on performance inthesocial sector including health and education initiated by the NITIAayog can promote healthy competition. The Centre, as the national head, does not link financing and performance as States face different kinds of problemsdue to a variety of reasons affecting performance.
In competitive federalism in India, policy-making is not a one-way route. A system of Centre-State participation in policy formulation has been evolved consistent with the constitutional scheme of distribution of powers between the Union and States. The shareof fiscal resources for the States is transferred to respective States and governments have autonomy to fix their priorities.States neednot look to the Centre for policy guidance as a routine.However,States have to adhere to national objectives. The arrangementfacilitates both autonomy and equality.
Kerala’s score on SDG Index 2020 has improved from 70 in 2019 to 75 in 2020. Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are close followers with a score of 74. At the bottom are Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam scoring 52, 56, and 57 respectively. The over-allindex score is given on the basis of total performanceand States are classified in four groups — aspirant 0-49; performer 50-64; front-runner 65-99; and achiever 100.All Stateshave shown improvement compared to previous year.Haryana and Mizoram show the biggest gain.No Stateremains merely as aspirant, nor anyone has become anachiever.
An assessment by the UN in March of the impact ofCovid-19 on the SDGs found that rising inequality due to pandemic will be a common feature in the region. However,theIndex shows no alarming growth in gaps between performers.This year’sindexgives greater weight to social inequality instead of economic assessedin the two previous years.
Covid-19negativity, it is notedin studies, affected several goals of SDG like removal of poverty (Goal 1), eradication of hunger (Goal2), good health and well-being (Goal 3), decent economic growth (Goal 8), and reduced inequality (Goal 8).Under the combined impact of Covid-19 and theinescapable lockdown in various degrees, economic and social living are under tremendous pressure pulling the nation away from SDG Goals. Still, our performanceisfairly good.
The path for SDGs was laid by Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 2000-2015. The focus then was on over-all progress ignoring inequities within countries. It is considered necessary now to disaggregate data and results by States and by significant categories like gender, economic status, geographic area, etc., so as to understand the true status of progress and identify areas requiring special attention.
Inequality in various forms is recognised as aprincipal issue that is undermining over-all development in ourtime.Reducing inequalities has become a big challengein global policy-making. There is consensus in theory that all should enjoy equal access to equal opportunity. The Report on UN2030 and Beyond says that, “Leave no one behind” serves as the theme of 2030 agenda for sustainable development. But, application ofthe concept inpractice is a challenge in many countries,including India. Sectoral, gender, economic and other disparities intervene and work in both ways to aggravate or lessen the inequalities.
NITI Aayog’s 2020 Index has changed the indicators for assessing inequality omitting economic indicators like rate of household expenditure and adding instead social indicators like SC, ST and women representation in elected legislatures and panchayatsand crimes against SC and ST.
Economic inequality indicated by industry andinfrastructure development suffered heavily decliningby 10 points. Decent work lost 3 points. Covid-19 andlockdown have made a big dent in individual and national economy. The poorer sections suffer more. However,poverty and removal of hunger saw significantimprovement.
The goal of Health and Well-being is bound to move further away since healthcare is very expensive and beyond affordability of most people in India. While MDG had three health goals, SDG set one only to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all in all ages” and to tackle the epidemic of non-communicable diseases, substance abuse, and ill-effects of environmentalhazards.It hasbeen assumed that health involves a broad range of social determinants covered by other SDGs in13targets.
Health service concentrating on fighting Covid-19, other programmes are bound to suffer. Healthis related to other goals like poverty eradication, gender equality, education, food security, water and sanitation, etc.Health is actually brought at the centre of thedevelopment agenda longbefore coronavirus struck the world. The pandemic has shown us that sustainability is something that shouldbe taken more seriously by governments. Universal health coverage is a targetin the Health Goal.
Public health cannot be maintained without removing inequitiesin other spheres. Epidemic and pandemiccontrol,unlike non-communicable diseases, is impossible without reaching health services to everybody. Unequal services and unequal utilisation ofservices (by ignorance, intent, design, or sabotage) will undermine efforts at fighting the pandemic. No one should be left behind.
Will the country succeed in shifting focus to inequities, vulnerabilities, and rivalries besides wants and shortages so as to provide healthcare, and minimum amenities to all? Will India handle problems like migrantlabour from rural areas, and unorganised workforce in urban areas, who need and deserve support to get over inequalities? Will the government crush anti-national forces that undermine efforts at fighting the pandemic by false propagandaand black-marketing in health goods and aggravating social differences? At the base of all ills is rampant inequalities of various kinds. — INFA