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SDG Goal 1 On Poverty: Challenges For India

Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were announced in 2015 at the UN summit. They indicate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda

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Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets were announced in 2015 at the UN summit. They indicate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. These goals pursue to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and complete what these did not achieve. All the 17 goals are inter related but we concentrate here on goal 1 on poverty.

There are 5 targets under the SDG goal on poverty as given below.

1.1. By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

1.2. By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

1.3. Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable

1.4. By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

1.5. By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters" (UN)

Apart from these five, two sub-targets refer to resources, cooperation and policies.

Regarding India's poverty, there are two conclusions on trends in poverty in pre and post-reform period. First one is that that poverty declined by 1.36 per cent points per annum in post-1991 reform period as compared to that of 0.44 per cent points per annum in pre-reform period. Second conclusion is that within post-reform period, poverty declined faster in 2000s than in 1990s. The official estimates based on Tendulkar poverty lines show that poverty declined only 0.74 percentage points per annum during 1993-94 to 2004-05. But, poverty declined by 2.2 percentage points per annum during 2004-05 to 2011-12.

As a result, under MDGs, India is an early achiever in reducing income poverty and achieving the goal. India can achieve SDG targets provided appropriate policies are undertaken. Although World Bank estimates show that India has 12 per cent poverty ratio, the estimates based on national poverty lines are much higher. The country still has nearly 300 million people below poverty line. Moreover poverty is concentrated in few states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. It is also concentrated in a few social groups such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. SDG approach in India should be not only to reduce the goal on national poverty but lessen poverty in some of the poorer states and SCs and STs and provide equality of opportunity.

The Government of India has conducted Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011. SECC used multi-deprivation criterion for identifying the poor. According to SECC data out of 17.97 crore rural households after accounting for automatic exclusion and automatic inclusion, 8.72 crores households had at least one deprivation. In other words, 48.53 per cent were estimated as poor in rural areas if we consider SECC 2011 data. Thus, SECC data shows much higher poverty ratios than those of Tendulkar and Rangarajan Committees. State level rural poverty estimates based on SECC data for the households with at least one deprivation out of the seven deprivations show that poverty was the highest for Chhattisgarh (70.0 per cent), followed by Odisha (66.0 per cent), West Bengal (63.8 per cent), Bihar (60.1 per cent), M.P. (59.8 per cent), Jharkhand (53.4 per cent). Thus, India has lot of challenges if we consider SECC data.

What are the policy challenges for reduction in poverty? Policy makers must continue to follow the two-fold strategy of achieving high economic growth and direct attack through social protection programmes. Focus should also be given to increase in urban growth and incomes as urban poverty will rise with urbanization. Some of the determinants of poverty reduction are agriculture and wages, productive and quality employment, low food prices, social protection and reduction in inequality.

One of the targets under SDG goal on poverty indicates that countries should have social protection programmes. India has many programmes like MGNREGA, public distribution system, mid-day meals for school children, integrated child development services (ICDS), old age pensions etc. These are important to take care of risks of the poor. There will be also risks due to climate change. One needs to have programmes, which can provide resilience to climate change and natural disasters.

The Economic Survey 2016-17 discusses about Universal Basic Income (UBI). The idea is to give everyone a basic amount to spend and let them do what they will with it. However, we have to see whether India can afford to spend 4 to 5 per cent of GDP on UBI.

There can be several solutions, but let's focus here on the two important measures: creating productive employment and providing quality education for reduction in poverty. There is a feeling that we should have some flagship programmes like MGNREGA to reduce poverty. No doubt these programmes are important for protecting the poor. But productive inclusion in terms of generating quality employment should be the focus of any poverty reduction approach. Studies have shown that agricultural growth leads to reduction in poverty twice as that of non-agriculture. We need more diversified agriculture for raising the income of farmers. However, future employment has to be created in manufacturing and services. In this context, the Make in India initiative, focus on start-ups, Mudra, financial inclusion, etc., are steps in the right direction. Equally, service sector employment has to be promoted. Over time, the share of the organized sector has to be raised while simultaneously improving productivity in the unorganized sector. We have been witnessing agitations for reservations by Marathas in Maharashtra, Patedars in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. Youth unemployment is high. This is one reason for unrest and social tensions. The need for skill development and productive jobs to reap the demographic dividend is obvious.

The importance of education is well known. Equality of opportunity is important for reducing poverty and many other forms of inequalities. Access to quality education is an important indicator of equality of opportunity. Recently, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore cautioned about school education in India. He says "schools are the biggest crisis in India today and have been for a long time. Schools are the biggest gap between India and East Asia. And it is a crisis that cannot be justified". Equity in quality education is the key for raising human development and reduction in inequalities in labour market and reduction in poverty. Gender equality in all its forms is equally important to reduce poverty

The new generation wants equality of opportunity rather than redistributive measures. Everyone irrespective of caste, class and gender should have equal opportunities in education, health, employment and entrepreneurship. Economic and employment opportunities improve with education and skills.

To conclude, India has challenges of significant regional and social disparities in poverty and in achieving improvement in quality of employment and education particularly for the poor and, efficient social protection programmes along with gender empowerment. All targets of SDG goal on poverty can be achieved if India can work towards fulfilling these challenges. The roles of both central and state governments are important in achieving these objectives.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


S. Mahendra Dev

The author is Director and Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development and Research (IGIDR), Mumbai

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