Progress of the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’ in India: a little to cheer, more to ponder

The world has just five more years to achieve the ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’. To accelerate progress of this unique United Nation’s initiative the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010. Under this back-drop let us deliberate on the progress made by India on this global project.

The ‘Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)’:

These are eight time-bound comprehensive developmental goals, both global and country-specific, adopted by the world leaders in the year 2000, with clearly defined benchmarks and targets to achieve by the year 2015, encompassing even the healthcare space. The key purpose of the MDGs is to address multi-dimensional issues and manifestations of extreme poverty prevailing in the world. The eight MDGs, which have been clearly divided into 18 quantifiable targets and evaluated by 48 indicators, are as follows.

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2: Achieve universal primary education
3: Promote gender equality and empower women
4: Reduce child mortality
5: Improve maternal health
6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7: Ensure environmental sustainability
8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

What happens, if these goals are achieved?

MDGs provide a unique platform to the civil society across the nations to work in unison with common objectives to ensure equitable distribution of the outcome of human development in all countries of the world. If the MDGs are achieved by all the nations, it is believed, ‘world poverty will be cut by half, tens of millions of lives will be saved, and billions more people will have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy’.

UNDP score card and forecast:

The first India country-report on the MDGs for the year 2005 was released by the Government of India on February 13, 2006 in Delhi. Now with just five more years to go, let me take you through the following broad and major findings from an assessment report prepared by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2009 on the same:

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger:

Set objective: India must reduce the number of people below the poverty line from around 37,5% in 1990 to around 18.75% in 2015.


• Absolute number of poor has declined from 320 million (36% of population) in 1993-94 to 301 million (27.6% of total population) in 2004-05. At this rate, the country will still have 279 million people (22.1%) living below the poverty line in 2015.

• India is slow in eliminating the effects of malnutrition, going by the proportion of underweight children below three years of age. This proportion has declined only marginally from about 47 in 1998-99 to about 46 percent in 2005-06. At this rate, 40% of children will still remain underweight by 2015.

2: Achieve universal primary education:

Set objective: India should increase the primary school enrolment rate to 100% and wipe out the drop-outs by 2015 against 41.96% in 1991-92.

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

3: Promote gender equality and empower women:

Set objective: India will promote female participation at all levels to reach a female: male proportion of equal levels by 2015.

Progress: Gender parity in primary and secondary education is likely to be achieved, though not in tertiary education. But the share of women in wage employment in the non-farm sector can at best be expected to reach a level of about 24% by 2015, far short of parity.

4: Reduce child mortality:

Set objective: India will reduce under- five mortality rate (U5MR) from 125 deaths per thousand live births in 1988-92 to 42 in 2015.

Progress: Prevalence of child mortality is down from 125 per thousand live births in 1990 to 74.6 per thousand live births in 2005-06. At this rate, the level is expected to reach 70 per thousand by 2015, short of the target of 42 per thousand live births by 2015.

5: Improve maternal health:

Set objective: India should reduce maternal mortality rate (MMR) from 437 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 109 by 2015.

Progress: The national MMR level has come down from 398 per 100,000 live births in 1997‐98 to 254 per 100,000 live births in 2004‐06, a 36% decline over a span of seven years as compared to a 25% decline in the preceding eight years from 1990‐1997. Given to achieve an MMR of 109 per 100,000 live births by 2015, India tends to fall short by about 26 points as it tends to reach MMR of about 135 per 100,000 live births in 2015.

6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases:

Set objective: India has a low prevalence of HIV among pregnant women as compared to other developing countries, yet the prevalence rate has increased from 0.74 per thousand pregnant women in 2002 to 0.86 in 2003. The increasing trend needs to be reversed by 2015.


• Spread of HIV/AIDS in the country shows a downward trend: from 2.73 million (0.45%) people living with HIV/AIDS in 2002, the number has declined to 2.31 million (0.34%) by 2007.

• With 1.9 million tuberculosis cases estimated in 2008, India has a fifth of the world’s total. But India made the most notable progress in providing treatment across the country. In 2008, over 1.5 million patients were enrolled for treatment.

7: Ensure environmental sustainability:

Set objectives:

• Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources.

• Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation


• During the past decade, India’s forest cover has increased by 728 sq. km, access to water is up from 68.2% in 1992-93 to 84.4% in 2007-08 and in urban areas it is 95%.

• 2015 Target (83%) for proportion of households without access to safe drinking water sources has already been attained by 2007‐08 (84%).

• At the current rate of decline, India is likely to have the proportion of households without any sanitation reduced to about 46% by 2015 against the target of 38%.

8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development:

Set objective: Co-operation with the private sector and making available the benefits of new technologies.

Progress: Overall tele-density has remarkably increased from 0.67 per 100 population in 1991 to 36.98 per 100 population in March 2009.


Though in some areas of MDGs like, achieving universal primary education, combating HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development, India has something to cheer about. However, in other areas the progress made by the country, as on date, is far from satisfactory, as there are more key issues to ponder. The main reasons of inadequacy in these areas being low public spend of around 1.1% of GDP on health and 4.1% on education.

Moreover, the awareness, contribution and involvement of other stakeholders like Corporates, NGOs and the Civil Society at large in most of the states of India, if not all, in this commendable global initiative is dismal, to say the least.

If India wants to come out with flying colors by end 2015 in its efforts to effectively address multi-dimensional issues and manifestations of extreme poverty and hunger prevailing in the country, the Country assessment report prepared by the UNDP in 2009 on MDGs, should be taken as the ‘wake-up’ call to make good the lost time– as the saying goes ‘better late than never’.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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