Residents speaking in a narrow lane between their houses in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

While India is battling an economic slowdown, the latest report by Niti Aayog, a government policy think tank, revealed that the country has also slipped in its fight against poverty.

The SDG Index 2019-20 released by Niti Aayog said in India every fifth person was living below the poverty line and the country was far from achieving its goal of eradicating poverty by 2030.

The index is aimed at measuring performance through the United Nations-mandated 17 sustainable development goals. It developed 62 indicators to measure 13 of these 17 UN goals.

The index factored in the share of the population living below the national poverty line, households with members covered under health schemes, persons provided employment as a percentage of those who demanded employment under the government’s employment scheme, the proportion of the eligible population receiving maternity benefits and rural as well as urban households living in permanent homes.

Having set the baseline index in 2018, the government’s policy think tank measured progress in 2019.

India’s overall score of 50 out of 100 was, in fact, lower than the 54 in the past year and the slide was across all states, except Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim.

The highest fall was in Arunachal Pradesh – 18 points – while Bihar and Odisha slipped by 12 points each. Goa and Jharkhand declined by nine points. Twenty-two states and Union Territories took a hit in 2019 over the 2018 index, indicating that poverty is going up.

However, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim improved their scores by two and one points respectively.

In terms of fighting hunger, Niti Aayog found a sharp fall of 13 points to 35 in 2019 as against 48 in 2018. Twenty-four states saw a decline from last year with Chhattisgarh (minus 19), Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka (minus 17) and Andhra Pradesh (minus 15) being worst performers.

Only four states – Mizoram, Kerala, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh – showed an improvement in tackling hunger.

A United Nations report had stated that India had lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016, recording the fastest reductions in the multidimensional poverty index values during that period. This period largely fell under the tenure of former prime minister Manmohan Singh (2015-14).

The 2019 global Multidimensional Poverty Index from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative stated the population in India living in multidimensional poverty stood at about 640 million people (55.1%) and this reduced to 369 million people (27.9%) living in poverty in 2015-16.

India saw significant reductions in the number of people who were multidimensionally poor and deprived in each of the 10 indicators over this time period.

Multidimensional poverty is defined not simply by income, but by a number of indicators, including poor health, poor quality of work and the threat of violence.

India reduced deprivation in nutrition from 44.3% in 2005-06 to 21.2% in 2015-16, child mortality dropped from 4.5% to 2.2%, people deprived of cooking fuel reduced from 52.9% to 26.2%, deprivation in sanitation from 50.4% to 24.6%, while those deprived of drinking water reduced from 16.6% to 6.2 %.

Faltering GDP growth

India’s gross domestic product growth has been forecast to dip to an 11-year low of 5% in the current fiscal, mainly due to a poor showing by the manufacturing and construction sectors, government data showed.

According to the first advance estimates of the national income released by the National Statistical Office, manufacturing sector output growth will decelerate to 2% in 2019-20, down from 6.9% in the previous financial year. Likewise, construction sector growth is estimated at 3.2% as against 8.7% in 2018-19.

The previous low in economic growth was recorded at 3.1% in 2008-09. The dismal performance for the fiscal was anticipated as GDP growth in the first quarter was 5% and 4.5% in the subsequent three-months period.

The Reserve Bank of India also lowered its forecast for economic growth to 5% while announcing its bi-monthly monetary policy last month. The macro-economic data is important as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would be using it to prepare budget estimates for the next financial year. She is expected to present the budget for 2020-21 in Parliament on February 1.

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