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THE CONTEXT: On the 22nd of December 2018NITI Aayog has published the SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018, which tracks the progress of all the Indian States and Union Territories (UTs) towards meeting the SDGs. This landmark report merits close analysis since it is the Indian government’s first major step towards translating its principled commitment to the SDGs into actionable policy.

The report has many positive things, these are:

  • The report assigns responsibility for achieving the goals to specific ministries and departments. For example, the responsible parties for realising the health goalSDG-3, include Health and Family Welfare, AYUSH, and even Home Affairs (for achieving the target on prevention and treatment of substance abuse).
  • Naming specific ministries and departments is an important step towards improving accountability.
  • The Index also provides a useful comparative account of how well different States and UTs have done so far in meeting the development objectives identified in the SDGs. For example regarding eliminating hunger, we learn that Manipur and Kerala are doing much better than Gujarat and Jharkhand, further regarding reducing gender inequalityKerala and Sikkim are well ahead of Manipur and Bihar. Such cross-state comparisons, which have caught the media’s interest, should also be of interest to academics and policymakers, pushing them to ask what top performers such as Kerala are doing right, and what States that are lagging behind are doing wrong.

Despite the above strengths this report also have many weaknesses like, freedom and democracy which have tremendous instrumental significance does not include in the development goals.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?                                            

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious declaration of global aspirations, ranging from eliminating poverty, hunger, and violence against women to providing legal identity and equal access to justice to every person in the world.

Adopted unanimously by the 193 UN Member States in 25th September 2015, the SDGs are meant to guide global development efforts for 15 years, from 2015 to 2030.

In January 1, 2016, the UN set out 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets before 193 countries as an agenda for the next 15 years.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced its predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which targeted developing countries alone.

Difference between MDGs and SDGs

The main difference between the SDGs and MDGs are following:




Hunger and Poverty

The SDGs are designed to finish the job – to get to a statistical “zero” on hunger, poverty, preventable child deaths and other targets.

The MDG targets for 2015 were set to get us “half way” to the goal of ending hunger and poverty.

Universal Goals

The SDGs goals will be applicable for every country.

The MDGs only targeted developing countries.

More Comprehensive Goals

The SDGs include 17 goals, 169 targets and 304 indicators.

The MDGs were focused only 8 goals, 21 targets and 63 indicators.

Human Rights and Equity

The pillars of human development, human rights and equity are deeply rooted in SDGs. Several targets refer to people with disabilities, people in vulnerable situations and non-discrimination are included in SDGs.

These were not mentioned in the MDGs.

Inclusive Goal Setting

The SDGs are being created in one of the most inclusive participatory processes the world has ever seen – with face-to-face consultations in more than 100 countries and millions of citizen inputs.

The MDGs were created through a top-down process.

Distinguishing Hunger and Poverty

The SDGs treat the issue of poverty separately from Hunger (Food and Nutrition Security).

In the MDGs, Hunger and Poverty were lumped together in MDG1

Quality Education

The SDGs represent the first attempt by the world community to focus on the quality of education – of learning – and the role of education in achieving a more humane world.

The MDGs focused on quantity (eg, high enrollment rates) only as a result of this the quality of education decline in many societies.


The SDGs put sustainable, inclusive economic development at the core of the strategy and address the ability of countries to address social challenges largely through improving their own revenue generating capabilities.

The MDGs were largely envisioned to be funded by aid flows – which did not materialize.




The 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards report presents a revised and updated assessment of countries’ distance to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It includes detailed SDG Dashboards to help identify implementation priorities for the SDGs. The report also provides a ranking of countries by the aggregate SDG Index of overall performance.

According to the report three Nordic countries, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, top the global SDG Index ranking, yet all three still face major challenges in achieving the SDGs.

For the first time, report show that no country is on track to achieve all the goals by 2030. For example, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland top the 2018 SDG Index, but they need to significantly accelerate progress towards achieving some goals, including Goal 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production) and Goal 13 (Climate Action).

South Asia faces persistent challenges related to SDGs 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 14 (Life below Water) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). There are important challenges also related to income inequalities (SDG 10) and other forms of inequalities.

India, which is the largest and most diversified economy in the region, performs very poorly even in relation to other South Asian countries like, Bhutan and Nepal. Except, Pakistan all South Asian countries are above the India.

India's performance:




SDG1 – End Poverty

  • Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90/day (% population): 5.2
  • Projected poverty headcount ratio at $1.90/day in 2030 (% population): 0.1
  • Moderate, on track.
  • Score: 96.3

SDG2 – Zero Hunger

  • Prevalence of undernourishment (% population): 14.5
  • Poor, improving.
  • Score: 39.6

SDG3 – Good Health and Well-Being

  • Healthy Life Expectancy at birth (years): 68.3
  • Universal Health Coverage Tracer Index (0-100): 50.7
  • Subjective Wellbeing (average ladder score, 0-10): 4.0
  • Poor, improving.
  • Score: 58.9

SDG4 – Quality Education

  • Literacy rate of 15-24 year olds, both sexes (%): 86.1
  • Insufficient data
  • Score: 64.4

SDG5 – Gender Equality

  • Female to male labour force participation rate (%): 34.5
  • Seats held by women in national parliaments (%): 11.8
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 36.4

SDG6 – Clean Water and Sanitation

  • Population using at least basic drinking water services (%): 87.6
  • Population using at least basic sanitation services (%): 44.2
  • Poor, improving
  • Score: 70.2

SDG7 – Affordable and Clean Energy

  • Access to clean fuels & technology for cooking (% population): 34.2
  • Poor, improving
  • Score: 54.0

SDG8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth

  • Unemployment rate (% total labour force): 3.5
  • Moderate, on track
  • Score: 61.1

SDG9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

  • Proportion of the population using the internet (%): 29.5
  • Research and development expenditure (% GDP): 0.6
  • Poor, improving
  • Score: 33.1

SDG10 – Reduced Inequalities

  • Gini Coefficient adjusted for top income (1-100): 45.6
  • Insufficient data
  • Score: 49.1
  • The Gini coefficient is a statistical measure used as a gauge of economic inequality.

SDG11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Improved water source, piped (% urban population with access): 68.7
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 56.1

SDG12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

  • Municipal Solid Waste (kg/day/capita): 0.3
  • E-waste generated (kg/capita): 1.3
  • Insufficient data
  • Score: 81.6

SDG13 – Climate Action

  • Energy-related CO2 emissions per capita (tCO2/capita): 1.7
  • Climate Change Vulnerability Index: 0.3
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 80.6

SDG14 – Life Below Water

  • Mean area that is protected in marine sites important to biodiversity (%): 31.0
  • Ocean Health Index-Biodiversity (0-100): 91.3
  • Ocean Health Index-Clean Waters (0-100): 29.3
  • Poor, improving
  • Score: 53.0

SDG15 – Life on Land

  • Red List Index of species survival (0-1): 0.7
  • Annual change in forest area (%): 3.5
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 46.1

SDG16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

  • Population who feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live (%): 73.0
  • Government Efficiency (1-7): 4.4
  • Corruption Perception Index (0-100): 40.0
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 71.9

SDG17 – Partnerships for the Goals

  • Government Health and Education spending (% GDP): 8.4
  • Poor, stagnating
  • Score: 51.3


The SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018, released to the public in December 2018 by NITI Aayog, is a useful comparative account of how well different States and Union Territories have performed so far in their efforts to achieve these goals.

On the whole, 62 indicators representing 14 goals have been identified based on their measurability across States over time.

Main features of the Index

  • The report tracks the progress of all the Indian States and Union Territories (UTs) towards meeting the SDGs.
  • One of key strength of the Index is that it is transparent and accessible to the non-specialist.
  • The Index also provides a useful comparative account of how well different States and UTs have done so far in meeting the development objectives identified in the SDGs.

Four categories

Based on a scale of 0 to 100, the States are categorized into four groups:

  • Achievers (100) - Achievers are those States which have already accomplished the set target.
  • Front runners (65-99) - Front runners are those States that are very close to realizing the set target.
  • Performers (50-64) - Performers are those States that crossed the halfway of the set target.
  • Aspirants (0-49) - Aspirants are those States that behind the halfway of the set target.
  • A few States are designated as front runners. The three front runner States — Kerala (69), Himachal Pradesh (69) and Tamil Nadu (66).

Weaknesses of the report

  • The Index contains a number of large gaps. Four key goals, including the one on combating climate change and its impacts (SDG-13) are not covered by the Index.
  • Almost every goal that is covered in the index is not associated with their many targets.
  • For example, the Index covers only two of the seven targets of the urban goal, SDG-11, on building inclusive, safe, and sustainable cities. This is cause for concern in a country that is rapidly urbanising, and where the urban population is expected to grow to 814 million by 2050.
  • major shortcoming of the report is that it does not sufficiently reflect the SDGs’ emphasis on eliminating disparities and empowering the poorest. It was widely endorsed in the global consultations leading up to the post-2015 agenda, the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ is a distinctive feature of the SDGs.
  • Another problem is that the Index provides little information on how specific goals are to be achieved. For example, the report lists about a dozen central government schemes that are supposedly “aligned with the targets outlined under the zero hunger goal." However, nothing is said about how exactly each of these schemes will contribute towards the meeting of selected targets.
  • This is an important question in a country where costly duplication among government schemes is a serious concern.
  • The omission of four goals (1. Sustainable consumption and production; 2. Climate action; 3. Life below water; 4. Partnerships for the goals for strengthening the means of implementation) and numerous targets is a major concern of this report. The report makes it crystal clear that there is an urgent need for investment in the production of reliable, timely, consistent and, most crucially, comparable development data.
  • How the goals will ultimately be financed, is not clear in this report, especially at the state-level.
  • This is a grave concern because estimates suggest that India faces a financial shortfall of approximately INR 533 lakh crores, or USD 8.5 trillion, over the mandated 15 years for achieving the SDGs.


Conclusion: The SDG India Index produced by the NITI Aayog is a good start towards meeting India's obligation to fulfill the SDGs. But the future developments will need to be watched with a critical eye. The government has promised, in subsequent reports, to refine indicators, improve data collection and reporting processes, and explore the potential for disaggregating data.



Mains Questions:

  1. What are sustainable development goals (SDGs)? Discuss in the light of current NITI Aayog's 'SDG India Index 2018'.
  2. What are the difference between MDGs and SDGs?
  3. India needs to work toward more reliable and comprehensive development data. Do you agree with this statement?

---- Prepared by S. M. Zaki Ahmad-----