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India’s SDG Pledge and Strategy

Context

  • The Prime Minister expressed concern that “progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) seems to be slowing down” in his remarks at the first gathering of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors under India’s G20 Presidency.
  • Despite the advancements made globally to date, India’s sheer population size means that India’s success is inextricably linked to the achievement of the SDGs globally.India has a lofty goal of overtaking China as the third-largest economy in the world within the next ten years, and it must make sure that this growth leads to advancements in social and human development.

Relevance:

GS Paper-2: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation

Mains Question

How far along is India in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals? Talk about India’s inconsistent performance on SDG indicators and the lessons that could be drawn from its mobilisation for COVID-19 in order to achieve the SDGs. (250 Words)


India’s Mixed Progress 

  • The SDGs framework sets targets for 231 distinct indicators across 17 SDG goals related to economic development, social welfare, and environmental sustainability, to be met by 2030. India has made some progress in this regard.
  • A recent study evaluates India’s development on 33 welfare indicators, covering nine SDGs, and presents a conflicting picture of encouraging and unsettling trends.
  • Positive trends: o The good news is that India is “On-Target” to meet 14 of the 33 SDGs. This includes indicators for neonatal and under-five mortality, complete immunisation, improved sanitation, and electricity access, all of which have seen significant improvements in the last five years.
    • Currently, the country’s neonatal and under-five mortality rates are both “On-Target,” but 286 and 208 districts (out of 707 districts) are not.
  • 129 districts that are not on track to meet this SDG indicator are not included in significant progress on access to improved sanitation.
    • Between 2016 and 2021, the vast majority of districts saw improvements in indicators like ending adolescent pregnancy, lowering multidimensional poverty, and women having bank accounts.
  • Concerning Trends: o Regrettably, not all districts receive equal treatment under the national “On-Target” designation.
    • The current rate of improvement is insufficient to meet SDG targets for 19 out of the 33 SDG indicators.
    • Despite a push by the government for clean cooking fuel, more than two-thirds (479) of districts are still “Off-Target.”
    • Approximately 415 and 278 districts, respectively, are “Off-Target” for improved water and handwashing facilities.
    • Women’s empowerment and gender inequality: In India, no district has yet been able to end the practise of girl-child marriage before the age of 18.
  • More than three-fourths (539) of districts will be unable to reach the SDG target of 0.5% by 2030 if progress continues at the current rate.
  • It should come as no surprise that India needs to give other pressing issues top priority, such as teen pregnancy (15–19 years old) and partner violence (physical and sexual) that can be linked to child marriage.
  • Only 56% of women in India report owning a mobile phone, with 567 districts still being ‘Off-Target’, despite the country’s overall expansion of mobile phone access (93% of households).

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 strategy

  • Optimisation approach: o It is best to view the creation and implementation of a policy response to a pressing issue as a “optimisation problem” that depends on political will, responsive administration, sufficient resources, and reliable data.
    • The COVID-19 pandemic was approached by India using a “optimisation” strategy, and as a result, it received the attention and resources required for success.
    • India’s approach to achieving its SDG targets can be improved and informed by the lessons learned from this strategy.
  • Strong and enduring political leadership: India’s success with COVID-19 was made possible in large part by strong and enduring political leadership, which was backed by a flexible administrative structure at all levels, from the federal to the local.
    • It is now urgently necessary to develop a similar mission-oriented ethos that is assessment-oriented and provides sufficient support for achieving India’s district-level SDGs.
  • Existing digital infrastructure and fresh initiatives: India’s COVID-19 success was also made possible by fresh, homegrown initiatives like the Co-WIN data platform and the Aarogya Setu application, as well as by the country’s existing digital infrastructure.
    • By combining its numerous siloed platforms into an integrated digital resource for district administrators as well as state and national policymakers, India must implement a coordinated, public data platform for population health management.
  • Targeted SDG strategy delivered at scale: o This strategy must be implemented as quickly as India’s COVID-19 relief package.
    • The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, which cost 1.70 lakh crore and was later increased to nearly 6.29 lakh crore, was implemented by the Indian government in March 2020. It included the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which will cost 3.91 lakh crore until December 2022 and will cover 800 million people.
    • A combination of spending to provide direct in-kind and financial support, as well as initiatives aimed at reviving the economy, small businesses, and agriculture, was key to this relief programme.
    • This was crucial in reducing the negative effects of COVID-19, particularly for weaker socioeconomic groups.
    • It also quantifiably illustrated the worth of a proactive, publicly funded initiative with a focus on enhancing people’s wellbeing.

Conclusion

  • There is no historical precedent for a democratic and economically open country on how to deliver development to a billion or more people in a way that is healthy and sustainable, so India needs to innovate a new policy path in order to meet the aspirations of its people in the decade to come. However, by successfully delivering a real-time response to the COVID-19 pandemic, India has demonstrated that it is possible to deliver at scale in such an ambitious and comprehensive manner.
  • A similar concerted, trailblazing, nationwide effort would be necessary in order for the country to meet its SDG targets, especially those that are related to population health and well-being, basic quality infrastructure, and gender equality.

 

March 2024
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