Inequality, socio-economic exclusion and poverty are global challenges to sustainable development. In 2011, close to 30% of all people living in extreme poverty were in India. As of 2010, India accounted for the lowest proportion of public expenditure on social protection among the BRICS nations, at 2.5% of GDP. In 1990, India’s Gini coefficient was about 0.45, increasing to 0.51 by 2013. This rise appeared to have been driven by the inequality within urban areas, as well as by the increasing urban-rural gap.
The Government of India has introduced several policies and programmes to tackle inequality, exclusion and poverty eradication. Between 2008 and 2011, India was the biggest global contributor to poverty reduction, with around 140 million people lifted out of absolute poverty. One of the largest public works programmes in the world in terms of coverage, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), plays an important role in reducing short-term poverty and ensuring sustained employment and incomes through the year for rural labourers.
Recent reforms initiated by the prime minister have helped increase foreign investment, contributing to a stimulating environment for business; India’s ranking in the Global Competitiveness Report improved from 71 in 2014 to 55 in 2015. Policies for financial and digital inclusion of people living in rural areas have also shown an equalising effect. The government’s initiative to link bank accounts, mobile numbers and national identification numbers (JAM or the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity) has contributed to substantial advances in financial inclusion. An initiative for universal banking coverage has also been launched to ensure that every Indian has a bank account, enabling the government to transfer subsidies and other benefits directly to the target beneficiaries and plug leakages in its welfare programmes.
Working in collaboration with the government, the United Nations has adopted an action plan towards the Sustainable Development Goals on eradicating extreme poverty (SDG-1), reducing inequalities (SDG-10) and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG-16).
UNDP convenes the priority area group on inequality, exclusion and poverty eradication, which works with the government on the following priority areas:
- Work is underway with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and NITI Aayog to produce the first national Tribal Human Development Report highlighting the socio-economic challenges hindering the development of tribal groups in the country.
- Technical support to Odisha has been provided for a state-level mapping study on social protection. The group continues to support and disseminate evidence-based knowledge products to influence policy and programme decisions in relation to poor and socially excluded groups.
 International Labour Organization
 Measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income distribution of a nation’s residents
 The World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report for 2014-15 on the Millennium Development Goals
 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report