This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Action Hub- India (Delhi). Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Other States Can Learn From The Achievements Of Kerala & Tamil Nadu In SDG Index 

More from Youth Action Hub- India (Delhi)

Author: Anushca Thomas, Research & Content Head

Kerala and Tamil Nadu have performed well in most aspects of SDG goals, but with different models. Can every state emulate this success?

The age-old puzzle of what helped the southernmost states of India attain equitable and sustainable development is a fundamental question that set the direction for this research paper. Added to it, the recent achievements of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the 2020–21 SDG Index gave the research a formal grounding.

The paper seeks to find answers to a fundamental question: How have the state-level policies adopted by Tamil Nadu and Kerala favoured them in attaining commendable positions in the SDG Index? While the research paper analyses the most recent policy decisions that helped these states outperform others, it does not view these policy decisions in isolation.

HiLITE City is the first and largest mixed-use development projects in Calicut. HiLITE City caters HiLITE Business Park (Office & Commercial Spaces for rent), HiLITE Mall and HiLITE Residential projects.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu have seen exponential development. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The paper argues that the social engineering carried out by the respective governments through early investments in the socio-economic development of these states is crucial in assessing their development models.

The paper offers a comparative perspective of the policy decisions that helped Kerala and Tamil Nadu to reach their respective positions and also goes out to point out the inherent flaws that brought about a decline in the performance of certain indices.

Kerala And Tamil Nadu’s Match Towards SDG Goals

India’s southernmost states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have been widely acclaimed for bearing the torchlight in the march towards SDGs. Kerala with an overall score of 75 and Tamil Nadu, with a score of 74, have led the pack from the front while competing between themselves at the same time.

A comparative analysis of the performances of these states will bring into light the policies that helped them accelerate their success rates by winning over existing impediments. There is a lot to imbibe from the experience of these states in delivering the SDG goals equitably and efficiently.

However, a one-size-fits-all adoption of these policies will be counter-productive. Each state should consider the challenges that lay ahead of it and try to frame a set of home-grown policies that can serve its interests better.

The incremental changes that can be observed in the accomplishments of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu are minimal. This is not a reflection of their poor strategising, but these states have to bear the burden of their absolute successes in various fields.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

Last-mile reductions in these indicators require heavy infrastructure and technology, and the incentive to work towards them will come only by comparing these states against developed countries of the world.

Before analysing the policies that aided Kerala and Tamil Nadu in their progress, it is crucial to understand the political and social terrain of these states.

Kerala began investing in social welfare programs right from the 60s and 70s. The cumulative benefits of these investments are being reaped by Kerala currently in terms of high HDI values. On the other hand, the Dravidian movement led socio-economic developments in Tamil Nadu has not reached its true potential due to the populist measures followed at the cost of development.

This paper aims to break down the performance of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in various indices by mapping them onto the policies that assisted them in the journey. By micro analysing the virtuous and vicious cycles that different policies created in these states, one can understand where these states should work differently in order to bring forth sustainable development.

This will set a precedent for other states to examine their development trajectory and, thus, locally adopt these policies in their march towards SDGs as well.

SDG 1: No Poverty

Under the rubric of “No Poverty” (SDG1), Tamil Nadu has taken the lead amongst the Indian states, along with Delhi, with a score of 86. But on closer inspection, one can observe that Kerala, with its score of 83, has shown considerable improvement by gaining 19 points since 2019.

The recipe that both these states prepared in achieving this goal has certain similar ingredients they being the virtuous cycle of participatory planning and decentralised governance. The Self Help Groups established in these states like Mahalir Thittam of Tamil Nadu and Kudumbashree units in Kerala have been serving the states at the grassroot levels.

The Kudumbashree Mission, whereby a women community network is established under the aegis of State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) of the Kerala government, has been a significant player in bringing the poverty rates down. Initiatives like Destitute Free Kerala, Tribal Development, Micro Enterprises, Women Empowerment and Social Development programs have helped in this process.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, the Mahalir Thittam, with a special focus on marginalised groups such as NREGS women workers, urban slum dwellers, helped in extending credit availability to the rural interiors of the state. Unlike SHGs of other states where women from privileged groups had the upper hand in decision making, the democratic and representative model in these states made them more effective.

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

With respect to “Zero Hunger”, Kerala bagged the first position with a score of 80 along with Chandigarh. For a nation with a mere mean of 47 in SDG2 and 94 out of 107 in the Global Hunger Index, Kerala’s position is commendable.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the state from delivering mid-day meals programmes and Anganwadi nutrition kits to its children as it adapted to home delivery. This, along with the centre’s scheme of PMGKY, was a major booster in helping it fight the hunger problems.

Besides this, the vital role played by Janakeeya Bhakshanashalas (free/low-cost food courts) under Kudumbashree units is praiseworthy. Tamil Nadu, which exhibited a rocket rise of 18 points in SDG2, is a perfect example for India’s laggard states. With excellent collaborations with civil societies, Tamil Nadu brought more people under the PDS system through door-to-door delivery of dry rations.

But from the reports of Tamilarasi, a member of SDG Watch-Tamil Nadu, it is evident that certain districts like Salem have left out around 900 gypsy community families without access to ration cards. This needs to change as the major vision of SDGs is to leave no one behind in the development process.

SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being

On “Good Health and Well Being”, Tamil Nadu showed progress in indicators such as maternal mortality rate, institutional deliveries, mental health and out of pocket expenditures. While on the other hand, Kerala slipped down 10 positions from 2019 due to an increase in suicidal rates, ageing demographics, substance abuse and out-of-pocket expenditures.

Yet, comparing both these states on the same yardstick is problematic as Kerala had achieved most of the development in the health sector by the 80s and 90s. Therefore, the room for improvement for the state can now only be achieved through increased investments in terms of infrastructure and technology like developed countries.

The yardstick for measuring the incremental progress of both these states needs to be updated so as to get a reality check of where the so-called developed states stand with respect to the developed parts of the world.

SDG 4: Quality Education

student attending online class
Kerala tried to close the digital gap by democratising access. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At a time when the pandemic created the largest disruptions in online education, Kerala topped “Quality Education” by availing access to education without barriers.

Kerala tried to close the digital gap by democratising access through free distribution of devices to attend classes, forming neighbourhood study-rooms and by introducing the “First Bell” through Victers Channel under the aegis of Kerala Infrastructure and Technology for Education (KITE) and the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT).

It is to be noted that Kerala had the easy choice of tapping into a population that had around 93% TV penetration. One should always remember that Kerala’s economic growth, which is often attributed to remittances, was only possible due to the early reforms made by the state in education.

Tamil Nadu, with an overall score of 69, is still above most of the states in India, majorly attributable to its continued improvements in educational governance and infrastructural facilities. Tamil Nadu also started “veetu-palli” where lessons were aired through Kalvi TV and adult literacy programmes called “Karpom Ezhuthuvom”.

Due to the differences in TV penetration and internet usage, the reception for Kalvi TV has not been as effective as seen in Kerala.

SDG 5: Gender Equality

Although Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been in the top four, both these states have still not entered the Front Runner phase in the Gender Equality Index. Kerala, by opening its first Gender Park in South Asia, has extended its support for the entrepreneurial activities of women and transgenders.

Kerala’s special focus on Kudumbashree Missions, which are women-led SHGs, has helped women to own land, actively participate in the labour force, and have decision making powers in the family.

Alas, it is disheartening to realise that even after six decades of accomplished performance on various human development indicators, Kerala’s Legislative Assembly has never crossed the 10% threshold of women representation.

On comparing the literacy rate for males and females in Tamil Nadu, which stood at 82.04 % and 64.55%, it is obvious that the state policies on education have not been successful. Moreover, a mere increase in enrolment rates of women in education has not translated into closing the gender wage gap in the state.

Despite having dominant women faces in politics, only 5% of Legislative Seats were filled by women. Thus, we can observe that the southern states of India, which are hailed as models for development, have partially ignored the women’s cause in its march towards progress.

SDG 8: Decent Work And Economic Growth

A street scene in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
Tamil Nadu is a highly industrialised state of India. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“Decent Work and Economic Growth” has also come to a standstill in both these states owing to the economic upsetting amidst the pandemic. In the front runners, Tamil Nadu slipped down to 71 from 74, while Kerala showed a one-point improvement by still remaining in the performer phase.

Looking at Kerala’s economic terrain, which is primarily based on the service sector (>60%), one can observe that the state has failed to account for the educated unemployment amongst the youth. The primary sector of the state (farming, fishing, mining) seems weak, and a majority of the secondary sector jobs in which the educated youth of the state find no interest are taken up by migrant workers.

CMIE data shows that Tamil Nadu, a highly industrialised state of India, was hit by the lockdown restrictions. Major job losses happened among the poorer strata with limited educational qualifications. The World Bank assisted the Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation program and MGNREGA helped the micro-enterprises and migrant workers stay afloat all along.

The financial and social benefits accruing from Labour Welfare Boards and Universal PDS has helped the rural population stay afloat during the pandemic. As the crux of the 17 goals lies in sustainable solutions for the future, the role played by both these states in developing SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) is crucial.

What Needs To Improve?


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

Although considerable improvements have been made from yesteryears, Kerala’s performance in these has been below the national mean. Kerala Smart City missions should not be limited to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram alone but must be broader and universal as well.

State initiatives like solar-run airports, green-metros and Bevco recycling of alcohol bottles are indeed praiseworthy. But a growing consumerist lifestyle and extravagant celebrations will not be sustainable in the road ahead.

Although Tamil Nadu’s progress is above the national average, it’s still not satisfactory. TNSUDP, which has been developing systems for flood forecast, sewage and GPS for urban planning, is in the right direction. But TN needs to work on improving infrastructure for treating sewage and processing MSW.

TN’s drop in consumption and production cannot be happily attributed to SDG12 alone but is a reflection of dampened demand in a state with 36.44 lakh commercial consumers and 7.47 lakh industrial consumers due to the pandemic.

Performances of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in other SDGs have been varied as well. This can be attributed to the policies mentioned earlier and the broad effects that they have.

In “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure”, Tamil Nadu can be seen as a front runner among all Indian states while Kerala lags behind. Due to the welfarist policies pursued by Kerala in the 1900s, its population, which is highly educated, demands more white-collar jobs, making industries averse to functioning. This led Kerala to focus more on services and less on industry.

While in Tamil Nadu, supply based incentives along with cheap labour have made it an industrial hub of the country. Thus, different paths chosen by these states have produced varied results in these states, but the ultimate goal points to a case where they build back sustainably in the path they have chosen for themselves.

While emulating their development trajectory, one should not only consider their recent policies as the linchpin for their development but also consider the long-term policies that helped them to lay the foundation strong and stable. Their recent achievements must not be seen in isolation but as a reflection of the early investments in the socio-democratic reforms.

Rather than being smug and satisfied over the attainments so far, these states should be on constant vigil to retain their positions as well as level up their achievements in tune with developed countries of the world.


  1. SDG India Index
  3. Uniqueness of ‘Kudumbashree’ SHG in Kerala
  4. Topping NITI Aayog Health Index may deprive Kerala of incentives (
  5. Kerala Is The Best Performing State For Girls’ Education, Uttar Pradesh Fares The Worst (
  6. Punjab, TN, Kerala perform well in school education (
  7. Kerala’s Mass Movement for Democratising Virtual Learning and Bridging the ‘Digital Divide’ (
  8. Economic review: Women’s participation in economic activities up in Kerala (
  9. Global meet on gender equality gets underway in Kerala (
  10. Rural development and gender equality: A reality check in Tamil Nadu (
  11. Glaring gap: Only 5 per cent of elected representatives are women in Tamil Nadu (
  12. Kerala’s unemployment rate among youth rises to 40.5%: Here’s why (
  13. India: Rebooting Tamil Nadu’s rural economy during COVID-19 (
  14. Third Tamil Nadu Urban Development Project (TNUDP III) (
  15. Covid delivers recipe for responsible consumption (
  16. Tamil Nadu’s power usage drops by 14% (
  17. Tamil Nadu polls: Will populist politics land State’s economy in financial peril? (
  18. Kerala delivers mid-day meals at homes, kids spread coronavirus awareness on streets (
  19. How TN topped ‘no poverty’ SDG goal after a year’s lockdown? (
  20. Kudumbashree’s ‘Agathirahitha Keralam’ to be launched today (
  21. Reducing poverty through ‘Gramakam’ (
You must be to comment.

More from Youth Action Hub- India (Delhi)

Similar Posts


By Mayank Aswal

By Prakash Chand

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below