Gurinder Kaur

According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Report released on 5 June 2021, India slipped down by two ranks to 117 from 2020’s 115th rank in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The 193 countries of the United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The United Nations ranks Sustainable Development out of 100 points in the Social Development Goals (SDGs).

India scored 61.9 out of 100 points while its seven neighbors-China (73.9), Bhutan (69.3), Maldives (67.6), Sri Lanka (66.9), Nepal (65.9), Myanmar (64.6), and Bangladesh (63.5) got more points than India. Sweden has the highest score of 84.7 in Sustainable Development. The report attributes India’s decline in Sustainable Development to the challenges of eradicating hunger and hindering food security goals. In addition, gender equality, building resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialization, and the absence of innovation are some of the reasons why India’s ranking has slipped.

According to the report, India also ranks very low in terms of Environment Performance Index(EPI), ranking at 168 out of 180 countries.  According to the Yale University’s EPI  report, India is 21 ranks behind Pakistan in terms of biodiversity and habitat. Environmental Health Indicator is another criterion that shows the ability of any country to deal with the health problems of its people due to environmental health risks.

Out of 180 countries, India ranks 172nd in environmental health.  In the case of Environmental Health, Pakistan is ranked 127th while India is 148th.  The rankings are based on indicators such as climate, air and water pollution, sanitation, drinking water supply, ecosystem services, biodiversity, etc.

The first goal of Sustainable Development is to eradicate hunger in all countries of the world. Four indicators are used to understand the state of hunger. The first indicator is the share of population that is undernourished(whose caloric intake is insufficient), the second  child wasting (the share of children under five who have low weight for their height) and third child stunting (the share of children under five who have low height for their age) and the fourth is the mortality rate of children below five years.

In the first round of the 5th National Family Health Survey (2019-20) of 22 States and Union Territories it was clear that the rate of malnutrition among children in India is higher than the National Family 4th Health Survey conducted in 2015-2016.

Data collected before the Corona pandemic shows that the number of people in India who do not get enough to eat is constantly increasing. The rising rate of child malnutrition is also pointing to a bleak future for the country. Another reason for the decline in Sustainable Development is the lack of food security. According to the August 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, food insecurity in India has increased by 3.8 per cent between 2014 and 2019.

According to the report, during the period 2014-2016, 27.8 per cent of India’s population suffered from moderate to severe food insecurity, but during 2017-19, the population increased to 31.6 per cent. The number of food insecure people increased to 48.96 crore in 2017-2019 from 42.65 crore in 2014-16. According to the above report, India accounts for 22 per cent of the world’s food insecurity.

The issue of gender inequality in India is neither new nor surprising. In our country discrimination against girls starts even before they are born and it stays with them till their death. The birth of girls is still not celebrated at home, as evidenced by the declining number of girls compared to boys in every population survey census from 1991.

In addition, there are increasing incidents of violence against women on a daily basis, ranging from domestic violence to gang rape. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 released by the World Economic Forum, India is down 28 ranks from 2020 in terms of gender inequality. India is ranked 140th out of 156 countries. Out of the South Asian countries, only two countries, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, lag behind India in this regard.

The report identifies four indicators for measuring women’s inequality: women’s economic participation and opportunities in economic activity; education, health and survival; political empowerment; and the pace of development of reducing gender inequality. On an average women’s income is one-fifth that of men, which is due to rising unemployment among women due to declining employment opportunities.

At the same time, there is wage discrimination against women. Although there is a lot of talk  about the political empowerment of women in our country, the 33 per cent reservation bill for women in  the Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies, which has been pending for almost three decades, has yet to be passed.

The number of women in the cabinet was 23.1 per cent in 2019, which has come down to 9.1 per cent in 2021. The literacy rate of women is also lower than that of men. Inequality of women is an important indicator of Sustainable Development which our country is not paying attention to.

Day by Day India is lagging behind in terms of sustainable infrastructure. Institutions related to government education and health services in rural and urban areas have declined significantly in recent decades. Vacancies of teachers in government educational institutions (schools, colleges, and universities) are not being filled and the percentage of grants to these institutions has been gradually reduced.

The poor condition of government hospitals has been exposed in the first and second wave of the Corona pandemic. Thus, the decline of public institutions is a clear indication of the government’s irresponsible attitude towards Sustainable Development.

Sustainable industrialization, another goal of Sustainable Development, means that industrialization which will increase the growth rate as well as provide employment to the people of the area and raise their standard of living and the industries will meet the environmental norms so that they can absorb the environmental elements (air, water and soil) and do not harm the health of the people. India, in the race for economic growth, entangled in the web of corporations, is flouting environmental norms, giving numerous relaxations to industrial enterprises, leading to a steady increase in air and water pollution in the country’s cities.

According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, India’s capital Delhi has been the most polluted capital in the world for the third year in a row and 22 of the 30 most polluted cities are in India while China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have only two cities each. Every year millions of people die in our country due to air pollution. Indian government continues to plan to increase the number of industrial enterprises and benefit the corporate world instead of Sustainable Development.

The Central Government has made a number of changes to the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment and released a draft of Environmental Impact Assessment in 2020, according to which existing good or bad, illegal occupants or on their own land, whether operating  without obeying, environmental protection regulations, provision was made to regularize all the projects with deficiencies from their date of establishment by taking some fine.

Making such changes in the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment would also allow projects like LG Polymer in Visakhapatnam to continue with payment of fines even if it has a detrimental effect on the health of the people in the area or the environment there. Toxic gas leaked from the project killed scores of people in May 2020 and affected thousands more.

According to the UN report on Sustainable Development, India also has a very low environmental rank. Natural disasters have also hit India hard due to rising temperatures. According to the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Report, in the period 2000-2019, India was hit by 321 natural disasters in which 80,000 people died and 100 million people were affected. The year 2020 has been the 8th warmest year on record so far and last year five terrible cyclonic storms also took a heavy toll on the country. Highly populated and economically backward states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh have been hit hardest by natural disasters due to climate change.

About 70 per cent of the country’s water resources are polluted. According to a report by the NITI Aayog , by 2030, 40 per cent of the country’s population will suffer from shortage of drinking water. According to a report by the Global Water Quality Index, India ranks 120th out of 122 countries in terms of water purity. According to a 2018 report by the NITI Aayog, more than 60 per cent of the country’s sewage and industrial effluents are discharged into rivers and streams without treatment. Diseases caused by drinking contaminated water kill 1.5 million children every year.

Our government claims to have met the Sustainable Development Goals, but makes little effort to reach them. India ranks 172nd in environmental health. Environmental health status is an indication of how well a country is protecting its population from disasters caused by environmental degradation. The Corona pandemic was a catastrophe that led governments around the world to provide unemployment benefits to the unemployed during the lockdown, as well as to make the vaccine available to their own people on a priority basis.

In our country, there was no concrete plan to deal with the Corona pandemic in the early days without a lockdown. Lack of basic health services, medicines, and oxygen in the country has killed millions of people in the second wave of Corona and continues to do so. The bodies of some people have been found floating in the river Ganga even after their death.

For Sustainable Development, the present generation should use natural resources in such a way that the needs of future generations can be easily met. The government of our country needs to strengthen the infrastructure for the Sustainable Development of the country. The planning in the country should be such that education and health services are available to every citizen.

The government should ensure education and employment for girls and women to reduce gender inequality in society. Environmental regulations for the protection of the environment should not be relaxed but should be enforced strictly and seriously so that the health of the people as well as the health of the earth and the environment is maintained.

About the Author:

GurinderKaur

Dr. Gurinder Kaur is Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala

Picture courtesy : leverageedu.com