Meghalaya needs a participatory approach

Dismal scorecard on sustainable development goals

By Glenn C. Kharkongor

In the 2020-21 statewise report from NITI Aayog on India’s progress on the Sustainability Development Goals, Meghalaya ranks in the bottom bracket of all states and union territories, along with Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal, Assam, Jharkhand and Bihar. Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka continue to be the top performing states in the index which was launched for the first time in 2018. The report tracks annual target-based data for 16 of the SDGs.
The national press has credited the high performing states and pointed out the worst performers. For some reason the Meghalaya press has soft-pedalled the SDG report and even the more recent Ministry of Education school rankings. One newspaper headlined Bihar as the worst performer in a bland report that merely cited Meghalaya’s score, missing the fact that in some indices Meghalaya is as bad or worse than Bihar. Such coverage lets the government off the hook.

Global and nationalefforts
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which are an urgent call for action by all countries in a global partnership. The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
In India the national effort is strategized and coordinated by NITI Aayog. Like many countries India has developed a National Indicator framework (NIF) for SDG monitoring, with about 300 indicators. Several initiatives have been formulated and consultations held with the states and union territories with emphasis on the underdeveloped areas of the northeast, hilly Himalayan states and islands.

Northeast India
In February 2020 a consultation on “Partnerships, Cooperation, and Development of North Eastern States” with the SDG development framework at the core, was held with all eight states of the North Eastern Region in close collaboration with Ministry for DONER, NEC, Tata Trusts, and UNDP. From this meeting the Indicator Framework for SDGs was to be developed for all the eight states.
The ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ Program’ of NITI Aayog aims to expeditiously improve the socio-economic status of 117 districts in 28 states. The three core principles of the program are -Convergence of central and state schemes, Collaboration among citizens and functionaries of governments, and Competition among districts. The program focuses on 5 main themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure. Of these districts, only one, Ri Bhoi, is in Meghalaya.

Poverty index
Of the 16 SDGs, priority is focused on three areas: health, education and poverty/hunger. These have been clustered together to yield the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). In health the two indices selected are Nutrition + Child Mortality, in education Years of Study + School Attendance, and the poverty (Standard of Living) has 6 indicators. The MPI will likely replace the Human Development Index as a standard for achievement for countries. India’s ranking in the MPI has been 53rd out of 105 countries in 2018, 53rd out of 101 countries in 2019, and 62nd out of 107 countries in 2020.
India is way behind, even compared to many developing countries in progress to the SDGs. Several of the north Indian heartland states and some of the northeast states are bringing up the rear, far behind the south Indian states and a few others across the country. As much of the data for the 2020-21 report was compiled from pre-pandemic surveys, it has not had much of an effect on the indicators.

Education standards are at the bottom

Meghalaya’s composite score for SDG4 Quality Education is 48 (red category, below 50 out of 100). While the enrollment in class 1-8 is 97%, only 42% reach class 11. This precipitous dropout rate is exceeded only by Bihar, Assam and Tripura. The quality of the learning is also in the lowest range, only 64% of class 8 students reach national minimum proficiency levels (Bihar 78%). Only 44% of teachers are trained (Bihar 78%). Only Assam and Nagaland have a lower percentage of trained teachers. The most depressing statistic of all is that only 28% of schools in Meghalaya (Bihar 60%) have adequate infrastructure, water and toilets. This is by far the lowest in the country, 30/37 states and UTs are higher than 80% for this index.
The shocking standards of Meghalaya’s school system is corroborated by the recently released state rankings by the Ministry of Education. This is based on the Performance Grading Index (PGI), a tool to provide insights on the status of school education in States and UTs including key levers that drive their performance and critical areas for improvement. Meghalaya is the lone occupant of Level VIII, the only state with a poorer score is Ladakh. Even Bihar is two levels higher than Meghalaya.

Maybe health has improved?
For SDG3 Good Health and Well-being, Meghalaya has a decent composite score of 70. Immunization of children has reached 99% and there are low incidences of suicides, traffic accidents, and HIV. The composite score has been helped by the fact the maternal mortality rate and under-fives mortality rate are not factored in. Though we know these are high in Meghalaya, exact calculations are difficult in smaller populations. There may be flaws in the selected indices. Strangely, child malnutrition and anemia in women are not counted, even though we will see later in this article that they are part of the SDG2 Zero Hunger index. A glaring deficiency is the low numbers of health workers, only 25 doctors, nurses and midwives per ten thousand population.

Widespread hunger affects health
Meghalaya scores only 37 (red range) in SDG2 Zero Hunger, just above Jharkhand and Bihar. The high numbers of underweight and stunted children, anemic adolescents and women and the low consumption of cereals, have perennially dragged down Meghalaya’s ranking. One has only to drive through our villages to see from the roadside the scores of children who are evidently malnourished and vitamin deficient, what more in the remote villages.
The data on health is drawn from the National Family Health Survey 4 (2015-16). In the preamble to the SDG report NITI Aayog anticipates that the NFHS 5(2019-2020) data will improve future SDG scores. However, the NFHS 5 (2019-20) report for Meghalaya has already been released. Sadly, malnutrition has not improved and the infant mortality has in fact worsened. This calls into question the authenticity of the SDG health score for Meghalaya, and predicts an unhealthy future for our children.

So where are we?
As many as 21 States/UTs have developed and operationalized State Indicator Frameworks, an important first step. Twelve states have even developed District Indicator Frameworks. This has not yet been done in Meghalaya. At least it has not been uploaded by the Planning Department, which is the nodal SDG cell for the state, according to the Meghalaya state portal.
The chief minister on Aug 20, 2020, put this on his Facebook page, “Launched the SDG #Meghalaya Application today. This app will help us align our development priorities with Sustainable Development Goals for the State and will enable us to collect data right from the village and grassroot level.”
Apart from such bland announcements and routine exercises, the push to reaching the SDG targets is a non-starter. Already at the bottom of the heap in almost all social indicators, this desultory attitude portends tragedy for the people of Meghalaya.
A key strategy of the SDG approach is partnerships, emphasised most strongly by NITI Aayog. The government is not expected to do everything on its own. There are specific recommendations for collaboration with the private sector and community organizations. This convergence could be a winning formula for the SDGs in Meghalaya.
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