Friday, July 31, 2015

MDG: Missing targets

In his keynote speech at the Jaipur Literary Festival held in January, Professor Amartya Sen highlighted the vast disparities of development in India. Whereas in some States such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala the human development indices are on a par with many European nations, many States have a score below the poorest sub-Saharan countries.
Such skewed development across the country marks India’s efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals of 2015. According to “Millennium Development Goals: India Country Report 2014”, brought out by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, India’s achievement in respect of the MDGs is a mixed bag. It says India is on track to attaining the targets of universal primary education and developing a global partnership for development. However, the results are either mixed or poor in terms of achieving other MDGs.
A mixed bag
The report says India is progressing towards halving, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of population below the national poverty line. But this claim is disputed by critics who say much of the decline that is shown is a statistical mirage produced by tampering with the definition of poverty and the way poverty is measured.
In a new research report, the McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that 680 million Indians, or 56 per cent of the population, lack the means to meet their essential needs. This works out to nearly 1.5 times the government’s official poverty figures. From all indications it is clear that the country will fail to reach the target of poverty alleviation.
The country, says the government report, is on track to ensuring that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete primary education. Critics have, however, questioned the quality of education that is on offer. The various Annual Status of Education Reports (ASERs) of Pratham and a recent UNESCO study indicate that India is a poor performer in imparting quality education to children.
Gender and health
On reaching parity in youth literacy by 2015, the government says it is on target. However, gender parity in higher education is yet to be achieved and the progress is really slow. The overall atmosphere of insecurity among women in the country indicates that gender parity in many walks of life is still far off.
On meeting the targets for under-five mortality rate, infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, the country sees sharp swings across States. India also has the largest number of first-day deaths in the world.

The report says the country is on track to attaining the target to halt and begin to reverse by 2015 the spread of HIV/AIDS. But the targets cannot be met in the case of malaria and tuberculosis.
Environment and living
It says India has performed well in achieving the target of integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reversing the loss of environmental resources. However, the ground reality makes this claim laughable.
Given the fact that the government itself has acknowledged that its recent survey has grossly underestimated the number of slums in the country, one should be suspicious of its data on providing access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, etc.
The report says India is steadily moving towards achieving the target of making available the benefits of new technologies, especially in information technology and communications. 

In its obsession to reduce the country’s fiscal deficit at any cost, the government is increasingly cutting down budgetary allocations to health care and poverty alleviation. There is also an eagerness to privatise most of the essential services, which will make the poor even more vulnerable.

( Pulished in frontline in March 2014. )

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