“The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere” (UN, 2015). Achieving the targets of SDGs is crucial for a developing country like India to improve in the areas such as health, education, and gender equality. It requires a multi-pronged strategy and convergent set of interventions at different levels of government on a sustained basis. Given the importance accorded by the Government of India to achieve the SDGs, NITI Aayog decided to estimate the progress through a single measurable index, which is the SDG India Index.

SDG India Index and its significance

NITI Aayog launched SDG India Index in 2018, which spanned 13 out of 17 SDGs and was computed with 62 indicators at that point. By 2020-21, it covered all 17 goals, 70 targets, and 115 indicators. The index traces the progress on the outcomes based on the socio-economic-environmental status of the country and of States and Union Territories in their attempt towards achieving the SDGs. It also fosters the competition between the States and Union Territories in achieving them. The SDG India Index scores range between 0 to 100. The higher the score is, the greater the distance to targets of SDGs achieved. Based on these scores, the states and Union Territories are classified into four categories- Aspirant (0-49), Performer (50-64), Front-Runner (65-99), and Achiever (100).

 The index is a policy tool to formulate, adopt and implement new development actions in line with the global SDG framework. The index can help to identify and fill the gaps related to the tracking of SDGs. It has been successful as a tool of advocacy to generate sustainability, partnership, and resilience. 

India and Sustainable Development Goals

India has played a vital role in moulding the Sustainable Development Goals. According to Voluntary National Review (2020), “India has made a paradigm shift to a “whole-of-society” approach with the Government of India engaging sub-national and local governments, civil society organizations, local communities, people in vulnerable situations and the private sector.” Based on the SDG India Index by NITI Aayog, the country has developed the SDG localization model revolving around the adoption, implementation, and monitoring at the state level. 


The Sustainable Development Report 2020 states that India’s rank dropped by two places from 115 to 117 compared to last year. It is identified that there are several challenges in the country, particularly in gender equality, hunger and food security, innovations, and sustainable industrialization. The SDG score of India is 61.9 out of 100 globally. On perceiving the scores, India ranks below other South Asian countries – Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. 

In the SDG India Index 2021, the country’s score had increased to 66 from 60 in 2019. This was primarily due to the progress on Clean Water and Sanitation and Affordable and Clean Energy. The performance of India in the areas of attaining zero hunger and achieving gender equality is not satisfactory. India has to be more active with its programs towards the targeted population to better score globally and achieve the SDGs by 2030.

SDG India Index 2020-21: Which states are doing better?

The SDG India Index 2020-21, the third edition, is more robust than the previous editions on more comprehensive coverage of targets and indicators. This edition gave preference to the social equality indicators such as the percentage of women and SC/ST representation in the State legislatures and Panchayati Raj institutions. Kerala scored 75 points and retained the top position. The other top States in the ranking are Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Maharashtra. The worst performing states are Bihar (52), Jharkhand (56), and Assam (57). Twelve states found themselves in the Front-runner category (65-99). 

Why Kerala is at the top?

The SDG India Index score of Kerala is 75, while the country score is 66. Kerala has made a considerable jump in SDG 7- Affordable and Clean Energy within one year. It had achieved 100 percent from 70 in 2019. Kerala performs well in other goals: Poverty, Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action. It has adopted inclusive policies and programmes such as a unified registry scheme for children (9 months -18 years), special anganwadis for disabled children, policies promoting gender equality and women empowerment, and community study centres for e-learning of tribal children.

Institutions such as the Kerala Institute of Administration (KILA) have been responsible for promoting the SDGs in the local development planning through the capacity building of stakeholders of local governments followed by the elected representatives, officials, and citizens in the regional planning. It has set up a specialized centre- Centre for SDGs and Local Governments, containing professionals responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring the capacity building programmes and disseminating SDGs. KILA developed DashBoard for setting targets and monitoring SDGs that enable the functionaries at Sub-national, district, sub-district. Local Governments in Kerala prepare local development plans and budgets that cover most of the thematic areas of SDGs. Also, introducing SDGs in these local plans makes their initiative transformative at the local level and integrates SDGs with Missions/Flagship programmes of higher tiers of governments.

Status of Northern states in the index and how could they move up

When compared to the southern states, the northern states are not performing well in achieving SDGs. The northern states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand, have improved their scores from last year, but their performance is not satisfactory. States like Punjab and Haryana are doing well compared to other northern states. Moreover, Haryana is one of the top gainers in the index 2020-21, with an increase of 10 points. Haryana and Punjab, who were in the categories of ‘performer’ states, are promoted to the ‘front-runners’ in the latest index. Chandigarh remained at the top among the UTs. The worst Performer, Bihar, has improved its score from 50 to 52 in one year. The changes in the scores reveal that the states are moving in the right direction in achieving their targets of SDGs. 

The Southern states are performing better in the index. Many factors are contributing to their top position. The area of the state can be an essential factor as it promotes better governance and penetration of schemes and policies towards its people. The states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the larger states regarding their size, proved that there are other factors rather than the size. The political scenario or the political culture of the southern states are playing a crucial role in their policies and programmes formulated for the targeted population.

The northern states are being continuously criticized for the influence of the rich in politics, which pulls the government away from developing better policies for its people. The southern states are doing good in terms of social spending by differentiating their priorities in various sectors such as education, health, water, and sanitation. The state governments are allocating a significant amount in achieving gender equality, mainly through education for women, absent in the northern states. 

To attain SDGs, the states have to identify their weak points to determine the areas they need to improve. These areas include promoting gender equality in education and workspaces, encouraging inclusive schemes and policies, ensuring water and sanitation for all, and so on. The states shall focus on various sectors simultaneously for constant change rather than addressing one goal after another. The northern states can study southern states’ welfare programmes and policies and formulate their policies based on their population and criteria. They can also have better institutional frameworks by forming institutions such as the Centre for SDGs for conducting constant assessments and monitoring their progress for a better implementation. 

Can India achieve the SDGs by 2030?

Based on the Voluntary National Review Report 2020, India must increase its spending by an additional 6.2 percent of GDP to achieve the SDGs by 2030. India has launched several flagship programmes to address poverty, health, gender equality, and education. These programmes include mid-day meal schemes, free LPG connections, rural employment guarantee programmes, among others. India is seen as the most rapidly developing country in its improvement in various goals such as ending hunger and ensuring better health and infrastructure. In the SDG Index, India had increased its score to 66, which denotes that India is running fast, even when the socio-economy was hardly hit by covid-19 last year, which is appreciable. 

The goals such as clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, industry, innovation and infrastructure, life on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions are already steering towards the targets of 2030. According to the SDG Index Report 2020-21, India has positive trends in all the SDGs. Some of the qualitative improvements made by India include : (i) over ten crore toilets have been built since 2014, and over 5.9 lakh villages have declared open defecation free (ii) The National Action Plan on Climate Change has reduced the emission of greenhouse gases per year. On perceiving the policies of India till now, the country has focussed more on the elimination of poverty through various programmes.

The continuous efforts of the country in all the goals are improving year after year. There is a significant gap in the required data to effectively assess specific policies and projects’ effectiveness. Rapid attempts and their implementation are necessary in the case of India. The partnership and coordination between the centre and state can help the country attain a better and quicker global standard. The timely implementation and monitoring, primarily through SDG localization, can help India pull off the SDG targets in 2030. 

Way forward

It is a considerable hurdle for India to recognize the SDGs that need more attention and improve them to compete with other countries to achieve the targets by 2030. The areas such as healthcare and health insurance, opportunities for micro-enterprises, housing have improved on a large scale but far from the targets. Immediate and intensive care is required to address these areas, and formulation of better programmes and their implementation is necessary. SDG localization shall be ensured in the cities and villages, rather than concentrating it at the state level. There is a need for cooperation between the states, and each state has to be supported based on their rooms of improvement.

The states have to make sure that they are collecting the data in a certain period to analyze the progress of the programmes implemented at a micro-level. The target population of the SDGs has to be recognized. Formulating the policies for the targeted population in every region can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the policies. Accurate and up-to-date data is required for further action. If the data is accurate and the target population is highly recognized, the programmes aimed at them can steer the goal scores, and India can achieve the SDG targets by 2030.