“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
~ Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate and former president of South Africa.
Poverty in simple terms is construed to be a lack of income and means that prevent livelihoods on a sustainable basis. However, the scope of poverty encompasses hunger and malnutrition, lack of access to education, social discrimination, exclusion from basic services, and more. Poverty eradication requires an effort from governments to foster a change on an ethical, political, societal, education, and economic basis.
Poverty eradication should empower people through an inclusive approach in political, economic, and social life. Formulation of policies and their implementation should be targeted at the poor and vulnerable sections of society. The effort should be to create an equitable distribution of wealth and income in the long run. Adequate and distributed employment opportunities are a major hindrance in this effort. Poverty eradication is far easier said than done. A major transition in thinking and implementation at the macro and micro level is difficult to achieve. Vested interests are in force that dilute the narrative.
Transition from MDGs to SDGs
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was a global initiative taken up in 2000 with the main objectives being eradication of poverty, hunger, and disease, and promoting primary education, among others. Leaders of prominent countries and members of United Nations discussed and resolved a goal-based roadmap to tackle eight specific aspects of poverty.
A notable effort, the MDGs set the ball rolling and drove progress in key areas. Signatories to the MDGs managed to draw frameworks in their respective countries. A global movement was witnessed, and substantial progress was achieved in the areas of access to water and sanitation, reduction in child mortality, improved maternal health, creating a framework for free primary education, and further strides in tackling diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Key MDG achievements
- Over 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty (since 1990)
- Child mortality reduced by more than half (since 1990)
- The number of school dropouts has dropped by more than half (since 1990)
- HIV/AIDS infections reduced by almost 40 percent (since 2000)
The concept of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted in 2012 with the objective of fast tracking the achievements of the MDGs and putting up a framework for a set of universal goals to tackle environmental and economic challenges facing the world. While the MDGs achieved measurable success in its key objectives, the need was felt to build on its achievements and broaden the scope to include more-pressing challenges facing the world, notably climate change and its overall effects on MDGs.
The underlying commitment of the SDGs also looks to create a global commitment to permanently end poverty, with progress that is sustainable and safe.
Poverty In India
- The proportion of employed population below Rs.150 purchasing power parity a day in 2019 is 7.7%.
- The unemployment rate in 2020 is 7.1%.
- For every 1,000 babies born in India in 2019, thirty-four die before attaining five years of age.
The data points mentioned above present a picture that is not rosy. However, if observed closely, it tells us that, in recent years, India has achieved the highest rate of poverty reduction. The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index in the 2019 report showed that 271 million citizens were lifted out of poverty from 2006 to 2016. Hence, the intent and purpose of the policymakers achieved substantial gains in poverty eradication.
However, the pandemic changed the situation drastically. Unemployment inched up, consumption expenditure decreased, and the private sector grappled with lockdowns and reduced demand. Government spending stagnated due to a lower tax offtake.
As soon as the economy bounces back from the clutches of the COVID-19 pandemic, some challenges that require immediate attention are:
1) Lack of access to education
2) Lack of infrastructure
3) Hunger and malnutrition
5) Inadequate healthcare
6) Social exclusion
7) High unemployment/underemployment
8) Poor sanitation
All these issues have a bearing on the Sustainable Development Goal of Poverty Eradication directly or indirectly.
Given the constraints, the Indian government has been making notable efforts to reach out to the vulnerable sections of society and the poor. Several programs target sustainable rural development in India and poverty alleviation. Some are:
- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Guarantees minimum days of work for rural labor.
- Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana. A housing scheme for the rural citizens.
- Public Distribution System. Distribution of subsidized/ free food and nonfood items to India’s poor.
- National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS). Financial compensation provided to kin in case of the natural death of a below poverty line primary breadwinner.
- Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY). Ensuring financial inclusion and access to affordable financial services for the poor.
- Direct Benefit Transfer. Plugs leakages in transfer of subsidies/welfare schemes for the poor.
However, the percolation of these schemes to the ground level is stymied due to structural issues that beset the country. A diverse landscape and India’s large population is difficult to reach, and herein lies the proactive role of the government, private sector, and social sector. Some path-breaking work is being done in this regard by selfless agencies to bring the marginalized populations out of the quagmire of poverty.
S M Sehgal Foundation: Making An Impact
Founded by crop scientist, entrepreneur, and Indian American philanthropist, Suri Sehgal, S M Sehgal Foundation is present in over 1,200 Indian villages, impacting more than three million people in ten states. S M Sehgal Foundation works with the belief that a prudent intervention mix covering the most pressing needs is necessary for inclusive growth, one that can provide opportunities to enable people to participate in a sustainable growth process. In order to achieve this, investing in social capital furthers sustainable social development.
The rural development of S M Sehgal Foundation demonstrates that an effective amalgam of empowered citizenry and accountable institutions of governance can lead to inclusive spaces for equitable development.
Water conservation and management, food security, and community participation and sustainability in rural development in India have led to the adoption of several development practices making social impact. The foundation technologies and models, such as the biosand filters, high-pressure recharge wells, and salt-resilient crop varieties, have been adopted by the communities. The innovation of creating freshwater pockets in saline aquifers has been recognized by the United Nations as an adaptable and scalable solution. Community participation and engagement of S M Sehgal Foundation forms the basis of every innovation or intervention.
The best rural development NGO in India, S M Sehgal Foundation, through its local teams and effective citizen participants, helps to bridge the massive gap between promises of law and their grassroots reality. The foundation works tirelessly, nationally and internationally, to make the law and policies more people-centric because all the formulations, implementations, and corrections should be considerate of the masses. Through this initiative, communities work to secure sustainable development as they participate to strengthen democracy and rule of law.
When the citizens of the country work toward moving up the ladder of prosperity, goals are automatically achieved.