Summary: Over the past two decades, India has made remarkable strides in multidimensional poverty reduction. This comprehensive measure, which considers factors like education and infrastructure alongside income, paints a more accurate picture of poverty. Additionally, India has achieved significant progress in areas such as child mortality, sanitation, access to clean water, and electricity, signaling a positive trajectory for improved living standards and environmental outcomes in the country.

Just two decades ago, life in India looked bleak. Between 2005 and 2006, 55.1 percent of the Indian population—the equivalent of 645 million people—suffered from multidimensional poverty, and in 2004, 39.9 percent of Indians lived in extreme poverty.

Multidimensional poverty measures the percentage of households in a country deprived along three factors: monetary poverty, access to education, and basic infrastructure services. That captures a more thorough picture of poverty.

Multidimensional poverty dropped from over half of the population to 27.7 percent (370 million people) in 2014. In 2019–21, the proportion of people suffering from multidimensional poverty declined further to only 16.4 percent of the total population, or 230 million people. Although the pandemic slowed some aspects of poverty alleviation, the percentage of people in multidimensional poverty has continued to drop significantly year on year in India.

It’s also worth considering extreme poverty, which is defined as living below the international poverty line of $2.15 per day. Using this measure, the number of people living in extreme poverty in India declined from more than half of the population (63.1 percent) in 1977 to only 10 percent in 2019.

Moreover, child mortality declined from 43.4 percent in 1918 to only 3.1 percent in 2021. The number of people without adequate sanitation has dropped from 50.4 percent to 11.3 percent, and the proportion of people without adequate drinking water has fallen from 16.4 percent to just 2.7 percent. As well, more people in the country have access to clean cooking fuels than ever before, from 22.3 percent of people in 2000 to 67.9 percent in 2020.

India has also been tackling environmental concerns. The population of the greater one-horned rhino, which has a “vulnerable” conservation status, has increased from 40 in 1966 to over 4,000 in 2021. Air pollution is one of the world’s largest health and environmental problems, and in low-income countries, it is often the leading risk factor for death. Although there is still work to do, the death rate in India from air pollution decreased from 1990 to 2019 by 42 percent, from 280.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 164.1 deaths per 100,000.

In 2017, Indian Prime Minister Modi launched a plan to electrify more households, targeting over 40 million families in rural and urban India, or roughly a quarter of the population. The plan was called “Saubhagya”—literally, “good fortune” or “auspiciousness.” Although the country did not meet its target as quickly as planned, access to electricity in India has been increasing.

The term “access to electricity” does not have a universally accepted definition, but general usage takes into account the availability of electricity, safe cooking facilities, and a minimum level of consumption. According to the International Energy Agency, “access to electricity” involves more than just connecting a household to the grid; it also requires households to consume a certain minimum amount of electricity, which varies based on whether it is a rural or urban household.

According to the UNDP report, 97.9 percent of Indians had access to electricity between 2019 and 2021. Only 50.9 percent of Indians had access to electricity in 1993. The country has achieved immense progress. In 2018, Prime Minister Modi stated that every village in India had access to electricity.

Climate change is likely to be costly to the Indian subcontinent. Heatwaves have already led to an increase in deaths in India, particularly since a large share of the population is employed in outdoor labor like farming and construction.

India aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 and for 50 percent of the power-generation capacity to come from clean energy sources by 2030. The energy transition for India will take time, and the country will need fossil fuels to meet its energy needs for many years yet, but the future is looking promising.

Last year, for example, India brought an indigenous reactor design online at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project Unit 4. India has 22 working nuclear reactors, which produce about 3 percent of the country’s electricity. India has ambitious plans to build more reactors—aiming to commission a new reactor every year.

The fact that a large country can more than halve multidimensional poverty in only 15 years is a cause for celebration, but India’s foresight of meeting future increasing energy needs is also something to be applauded. Energy poverty will soon be a thing of the past for India. Increased electricity will lead to further poverty alleviation, economic growth, and improved living standards, which in turn will lead to better air quality and environmental outcomes. These are good fortunes that we can all celebrate.