Achieving MDGs in India

Sep 8, 2010

Elimination of inequalities and harnessing new opportunities for implementation of policies and programmes


New Delhi - Two-thirds of the way to the 2015 finishing line for achieving the eight globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), India is at a crucial turning point with a few successes and some failures. Persistent inequalities, ineffective delivery of public services, weak accountability systems and gaps in the implementation of pro-poor policies are the major bottlenecks to progress said experts meeting in Delhi to suggest solutions to accelerate progress on the MDGs. Greater devolution of power to local governments in rural areas, streamlining of funds flow, and use of information technology to reach the unreached and stop leakages were among the key recommendations.
India has been successful in getting children into primary school, in providing access to water and in conserving environmental resources. It is possible that poverty will be halved by 2015 but by no means certain. Major states in India’s heartland like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, also the most populous states, are unlikely to achieve this target if it remains business as usual. The proportion of poor in these states is currently at 64 percent of the country’s poor and this is likely to increase to 71 percent by 2015. The number of poor in 2015 is likely to be 279 million at all-India level.

On hunger there are disappointing failures. India accounts for 50 percent of the world’s hungry. Over 46 percent of Indian children are undernourished. Health too is a major challenge -- the very survival of India’s women and children is threatened. In 2006, on average 254 women died giving birth to a child for every 100,000 live births down from 327 in 1990. The states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal had the highest numbers ranging from 480 to 312. Kerala at 95, Tamil Nadu at 111 and West Bengal at 141 have the best figures.

According to the 2010 global MDG report “giving birth is especially risky in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without skilled care”.  For India the percentage of deliveries with skilled care went up from 33 percent in 1990 to 52 percent by 2007-08 still short of the developing world average of 63 percent.

Over 1.5 million children continue to die every year before their first birthday.  Across India 74 children died before they reached the age of five for every 1,000 live births in 2005-06 as compared to 125 in 1990. At this rate India is likely to miss the target of reducing these figures to 42 for 1,000 live births by 2015. On this indicator, Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the laggards while Goa, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu are on the fast track and likely to be early achievers.

With just five years to the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs the country as a whole will not be on track for a majority of the targets related to poverty, hunger, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability unless concerted national efforts are made by government and all sections of civil-society working in tandem.

These are some of the findings of the third Millennium Development Goals -- India Country Report 2009 that were presented to experts participating in two-day roundtable on Achieving the MDGs by 2015: Policy Action for Human Freedoms. For the first time state specific data in the MDG report pinpoints regions that are the laggards and those that are on the fast track. This provides important insights for policy planners to target their interventions.

Prof. T.C.A. Anant, Secretary, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, reiterating the government’s commitment to accelerating progress on the MDGs said, “The stakes are high. With five years to the 2015 deadline we have a narrow window of opportunity to generate renewed momentum. For us programme implementation is the major challenge – and to make every tier of the administration accountable to the people. The 2009 India Country MDG Report offers a unique insight into which states have the greatest challenges and our deliberations over the past two days have brought to the fore the importance of integration of MDGs in all levels of planning, policy formulation and implementation of programmes with participation of citizens including the poorest and the marginalized as important stakeholders, through political representation and local governance institutions.”

Speaking at the opening session Patrice Coeur-Bizot, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, said: “For those living in poverty, the MDGs have never been abstract or aspirational targets. They offer a pathway to a better life. Evidence from 50 countries studied in a recent UNDP report -- What can we do to achieve the MDG -- shows that it is possible to achieve these goals as successes in even the poorest countries have demonstrated.”

 India’s rights-based laws and flagship development programmes are significant steps in improving the lives of millions -- a life with access to adequate food and income; to basic education and health services; to clean water and sanitation; and to empowerment for women. India’s march towards the MDGs is however, hampered by persistent inequalities, particularly gender inequality. This has resulted in inadequate access to basic services for the vulnerable groups such as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities, and particularly the women among these groups.

In this context Mr. Coeur-Bizot added, “The government recognizes these challenges. Its commitment is evident from the various rights-based laws in place -- to guarantee work, through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the right to information, the right to education and the right to food that is currently on the anvil. For instance India’s Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme is cited in the UNDP report as an example of a robust social protection and employment programme that has benefitted 46 million households.”

At the roundtable ineffective delivery of public services, weak accountability systems and ineffective implementation of pro-poor policies were identified by experts as bottlenecks to achieving the MDGs. Ineffective delivery was hampered by complex procedures, poor utilization of central funds by states, low social sector allocations, ineffective systems for monitoring, personnel and capacity challenges, rigid administrative structures and slow progress on decentralization.

Participants at the MDG meeting identified solutions to fast track progress in sectors that India is lagging. Recommendations included: streamlining the flow of funds, improving the quality of data in monitoring reports of government programmes and using information technology to improve access and to stop leakages. For effective implementation programme design also needs to be creative and innovative to reach the poorest and most marginalized sections as the “one size fits all” approach does not work. To improve the implementation of social sector programmes the recommendation of the mid-tern review of the 11th Plan for “…greater devolution of power to PRIs (local governments in rural areas) and ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) together with effective participation by local communities to achieve better oversight and accountability…” found resonance among the participants.

For further information please contact:

S.Chakrabarti, Deputy Director General,
Ministry of Statistics and
Programme Implementation, or
Ritu Mathur at or
Priyanka Khanna at

Note to editors:

UNDP’s Assessment Report -- What will it take to achieve the MDGs -- 

India MDG Report 2009

Fast facts from India’s 2009 MDG Report :

• The absolute number of poor in the country has declined from about 320 million (36 percent of total population) in 1993-94 to about 301 million (27.6 percent of total population) in 2004-05. With this rate of decline, the country is expected to have a burden of about 279 million of people (22.1 percent) living below the poverty line in the year 2015.

• All-India trend of the proportion of underweight (severe and moderate) children below three years of age shows India is going slow in eliminating the effect of malnourishment. The estimate of the proportion has declined only marginally during 1998-99 to 2005-06, from about 47 to about 46 percent and at this rate of decline is expected to come down to about 40 percent only by 2015.

• With 1.9 million tuberculosis cases estimated in 2008 India has one fifth of the world’s total. Globally India also made the most notable progress in providing treatment across the country’s entire population – in 2008 over 1.5 million patients were enrolled for treatment.

• During the past decade India’s forest cover has increased by 728 sq. km, access to improved water sources is up from 68.2 percent in 1992-93 to 84.4% in 2007-08 – in urban areas it has gone up to 95%. According to India’s MDG Report “India, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, has the lowest sanitation coverage”. Sanitation remains a major challenge and half the population does not have access to toilets – in rural areas this is as high as 66%.

• Going at the rate by which youth literacy increased between 1991 and 2001- from 61.9 to 76.4 percent, India is expected to have youth literacy of 82.1 by 2007 and 100 percent by the end of 2012.

• Gender parity in primary and secondary education is likely to be achieved though not in tertiary education.  However, share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector can at best be expected to reach a level of about 24 percent by 2015, far short of a parity situation.

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