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02 Jan 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On sustainable goals index: A persisting variance

  • The NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goals Index for 2019, released on Monday, does not reveal any surprising information. Even better performing States have not fared well in achieving gender equality.
  • The South’s Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka are joined by Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Goa as the best performers while the northern/north-central and north-eastern States have been laggardly in achieving the U.N.-mandated goals by 2030. 
  • Poor performers such as Uttar Pradesh have shown discernible advances in the indices - measured between 2018-19 - especially in adopting cleaner energy and improving sanitation. 
  • But the regional divide is stark in basic livelihood goals such as “eradication of poverty”, and “good health and well being” or even in measures such as “industry, innovation and infrastructure”. 

  • This points to variances in both State governance and in administrative structures and implementation of welfare policies. 
  • The South, led by Kerala and Tamil Nadu, has done much more in orienting administrative institutions to deliver on basic welfare, leading to actions on health care, education, poverty eradication and hunger, with a governance structure tuned to competitively monitoring actions on these fronts. 
  • The converse is true of northern States - Bihar and Uttar Pradesh - where outcomes have remained relatively poor despite there not being much of a difference in the governance structure. 
  • The obvious answer to the puzzle could be the presence of historical socio-political movements that have resulted in greater circulation of elites in power and which have addressed issues related to welfare more thoroughly in the South - Kerala and T.N in particular. 
  • Yet even these States need to go further in reaching the UN’s SDGs and achieving the living standards of both the first world and other developing nations.

  • The western States, especially Gujarat and Maharashtra, are also better off in economic growth and industry, indicating a diversified economy, higher employment ratios, skilled labour and better entrepreneurial culture. 
  • A major fault-line in India is in achieving gender equality, where barring middling performers such as Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir, the rest of the country falls short. 
  • Low sex ratio (896 females per 1,000 males), poor labour force participation and presence in managerial positions (only 17.5% and 30%, according to the report), high level of informality of labour, a major gender pay gap (females earn 78% of wages earned by males in regular salaried employment). 
  • Also the lack of adequate representation in governance (14.4% in Parliament, but 44.4% in local government) besides high crime rates against women and girls are among the major national level indicators that have contributed to this. 
  • States need to climb a mountain to achieve gender equality, but immediate steps such as enhancing women’s participation in governance through parliamentary reservations would go a long way in addressing several of the issues faced by them.

2) On Centre’s ₹102-lakh-crore plan: Infrastructure push

  • For an economy that is tottering, a big bang announcement from the government can sometimes work to turn around sentiment. The challenge is in making the plan to boost investment in infrastructure work.
  • The unveiling by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday of a mega push to infrastructure investment adding up to ₹102 lakh crore over the next five years belongs in below category.
  • Projects in energy, roads, railways and urban infrastructure under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) have been identified by a task force. About 42% of such identified projects are already under implementation, 19% are under development and 31% are at the conceptual stage. 
  • The NIP task force appears to have gone project-by-project, assessing each for viability and relevance in consultation with the States. Considering that the NIP will be like a window to the future, a constant review becomes paramount if this is not to degenerate into a mere collation and listing of projects. 
  • A periodic review, as promised by the Finance Ministry, is necessary. The government’s push on infrastructure development will not only enable ease of living - such as metro trains in cities and towns. 
  • But also create jobs and increase demand for primary commodities such as cement and steel. From this perspective, this push to invest in infrastructure is welcome.
  • Identifying the projects to be put on the pipeline is the easy part. Implementing and commissioning them will be the more difficult one. There are a few hurdles that the NIP task force needs to watch out for. 

  • First, the financing plan assumes that the Centre and the States will fund 39% each while the private sector will chip in with 22% of the outlay. Going by the present fiscal situation, it will be no small challenge for the Centre to raise ₹39 lakh crore, even if it is over the next five years. 
  • The financial position of States is even more perilous. Second, the ₹22 lakh crore expected from private investment also looks steep considering the lack of appetite for fresh investment by the private sector in the last few years. 
  • In fact, this factor has been a major drag on economic growth. Given the scale of investment, debt will play an important role and it remains to be seen if banks have gotten over their apprehensions on infrastructure financing as a major part of their bad loans originated there. 
  • Finally, cooperation from States becomes very important in implementing infrastructure projects. The experience on this count has not been very happy till now. 
  • While these are genuine obstacles that the task force needs to manage, these should not detract from the need for a concerted effort to invest in infrastructure. The key will be following up and reviewing the pipeline at regular intervals.