Vindicating the UPA government’s stand on pulling people out of poverty, India’s Voluntary National Review Report on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals to the United Nations has said that sustained growth of 8.3 per cent from 2004-05 to 2011-12, and 6.2 per cent during 1993-94 to 2003-04 “created gainful employment and helped raise wages thereby directly empowering the poor”. The Niti Aayog led the preparation of the report, as part of its role to co-ordinate for the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The review report was submitted to the UN last week, and will be discussed at a meeting of multilateral agency’s High Level Political Forum in July.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has called on different countries to begin efforts to achieve the 17 defined goals over the next 15-year period. “It has also brought the government an increased volume of revenues enabling it to sustain a high level of social spending and, thus, doubling the direct effect of growth on poverty,” the report said, adding that implementation of several large-scale anti-poverty programmes such as the MGNREGA has helped the weaker sections of the society. “The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), for instance, has generated over 2 billion person-days of employment during 2016-17 alone, largely for the disadvantaged sections of society,” the report added, highlighting that women and disadvantaged groups have been the largest beneficiaries of the rural job guarantee scheme, accounting for 56 per cent and 39 per cent of person-days of work generated during the last year, respectively.
Data released in 2013 by the erstwhile Planning Commission, which was replaced by the Niti Aayog, had shown that from 2004-05 onwards, almost 2 crore people were pulled out of poverty every year from 2004-05 onwards, resulting in a decline in number of people below the Tendulkar poverty line to 270 million in 2011-12 from 407 million in 2004-05. “There is compelling evidence that the rapid growth India has achieved following the economic reforms initiated in 1991 has led to significant reduction in poverty. Poverty has fallen across all economic, social and religious groups nationally and in all states in the post-reform era,” the Niti Aayog noted in the report. It has highlighted these points in its first Sustainable Development Goal to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”.
Furthermore, the voluntary review report also highlights the importance of food security in dealing with the ill-effects of poverty. “A direct consequence of poverty is food insecurity. To address this problem, the National Food Security Act provides a basic quantity of food grains to nearly 75 per cent of the population in rural areas and 50 per cent of the population in urban areas at affordable prices under the Targeted Public Distribution System,” it said. The PDS programme provides 5 kg wheat or rice per person per month at subsidised rates.
Going forward, the report has said that efforts are required to make access to basic services universal, with drinking water and sanitation being priority areas apart from programmes that are already underway including housing for all, increasing access to education, health and nutritional security, with a special focus on “vulnerable groups such as women and children”.
In the opening statement of the report, Niti Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya has noted that while India remains committed to protecting the environment, the success of the Paris Agreement required other signatories to “make good on their commitment as well”. “These … include the provision of financial resources to the tune of $100 billion per year for the developing countries,” he wrote. Recently, the US pulled out of the Paris accord, which aims at reducing global carbon emissions.
“Even as it combats poverty, India remains committed to protecting the environment. Under its Nationally Determined Contributions, India has ambitiously committed to reducing the emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 33-35 per cent by 2030 relative to its 2005 levels. Furthermore, it plans to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes through additional tree cover,” Panagariya noted.
Additionally, the review report elaborated on how expansion of transportation forms such as waterways, rural road connectivity, would result in reduction of logistics-related costs and have a positive environmental impact. “A total length of 8,000 km of pavements and cycle tracks will also be laid in 106 cities over the course of the next five years to promote non-motorised transport and reduce the carbon footprint,” it said.
It said that the Centre has set an investment target of Rs 25 lakh crore, or $390 billion, for infrastructure development over a period of three years 2016-2019. The government is also making efforts to mobilise additional resources, it pointed out. “For instance, the monetisation of 75 publicly funded highway projects of value Rs 356 billion ($5.6 billion) via the toll-operate-transfer mode will finance the construction of 2,700 km of roads. Moreover, the Indian Railways is setting up a Rs 350 billion ($ 5.5 billion) Railways of India Development Fund to serve as an institutional mechanism for raising funds from the market,” the report noted.
Furthermore, the review report said that there was scope for boosting domestic resources by expanding the tax base and strengthening the tax administration system, considering that the tax to GDP ratio in India was significantly lower than the average for BRICS countries. “The Indian government has committed to the implementation of an ambitious tax reform agenda, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as well as direct tax reforms to increase domestic resource mobilisation, while committing to keeping public debt at sustainable levels in the medium term,” it said.