India’s SDG Pledge Goal & the strategy to apply


    In Context

    • The Prime Minister recently addressed the first meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors under India’s G20 Presidency.
      • He expressed concern that “progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) seems to be slowing down”. 

    What is sustainable development?

    • The United Nations defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. 
    • It includes “harmonising” three elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

    Sustainable Development Goals

    • The United Nations Document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
      • This agenda contains 17 goals and 169 targets. 
    • The agenda is built on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted in 2000 and were to be achieved by 2015.
    • SDGs provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.  
    • They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

    India’s current SDG progress card

    • About:
      • A recent study assesses India’s progress on 33 welfare indicators, covering nine SDGs and providing a mixed picture of positive and concerning trends.
    • Improvements:
      • India is ‘On-Target’ to meeting 14 of the 33 SDGs, including indicators for 
        • Neonatal and under-five mortality, 
        • Full vaccination, improved sanitation, and 
        • Electricity access, 
        • All of which have substantially improved in the last five years. 
      • Skewed nature:
        • Unfortunately, the national ‘On-Target’ designation does not apply equally across all districts. 
        • While neonatal and under-five mortality are currently both ‘On-Target’ for the country, 286 and 208 districts (out of 707 districts), respectively, are not. 
        • Similarly, significant progress on access to improved sanitation excludes 129 districts that are not on course to meet this SDG indicator.
      • Following Indicators have improved across a vast majority of the districts between the years 2016 and 2021. They are: 
        • Eliminating adolescent pregnancy, 
        • Reducing multidimensional poverty, and 
        • Women having bank accounts.
    • Concerns:
      • Of concern, for 19 of the 33 SDG indicators, the current pace of improvement is not enough to meet SDG targets. 
      • Despite a national policy push for clean fuel for cooking, more than two-thirds (479) of districts remain ‘Off-Target’
      • Similarly, some 415 and 278 districts are ‘Off-Target’ for improved water and handwashing facilities, respectively.
    • Heightened concern:
      • Of heightened concern are: 
        • SDG indicators for women’s well-being and 
        • Gender inequality. 
      • Girl child marriage:
        • No district in India has yet succeeded in eliminating the practice of girl child marriage before the legal age of 18 years. 
          • At the current pace, more than three-fourths (539) of districts will not be able to reduce the prevalence of girl child marriage to the SDG target of 0.5% by 2030. 
      • Teenage pregnancy:
        • Unsurprisingly, other critical and related indicators such as teenage pregnancy (15-19 years) and partner violence (physical and sexual) that may be tracked back to child marriage are issues that India needs to escalate as priorities. 
      • Mobile phone access for women:
        • Despite the overall expansion of mobile phone access in India (93% of households), only 56% women report owning a mobile phone, with 567 districts remaining ‘Off-Target’.

    Strategy to apply

    • Need of policy response:
      • Designing and implementing a policy response to a pressing issue is best viewed as an “optimisation problem” relying on political will, responsive administration, adequate resources, and sound data. 
    • Mission oriented outlook:
      • Strong and sustained political leadership supported by a responsive administrative structure at all levels, from national to the district level, is critical for the success. 
      • Creating a mission-oriented ethos that is assessment-oriented and which provides adequate support for accomplishing India’s district-level SDGs is now urgently needed.
    • Learning from COVID strategy:
      • India’s lessons from ‘dealing with COVID’ strategy that can inform and optimise India’s approach to its SDG targets.
      • Integrated digital platform:
        • India’s success with COVID-19 was largely possible both because of the existing digital infrastructure, as well as new, indigenous initiatives such as the Co-WIN data platform, and the Aarogya Setu application. 
        • Following these examples, India must put in place a coordinated, public data platform for population health management, by consolidating its many siloed platforms into an integrated digital resource for district administrators, as well as State and national policy makers.
      • Relief packages:
        • A targeted SDG strategy delivered at scale must be executed with the same timeliness of India’s COVID-19 relief package.

    Way ahead

    • India needs to innovate a new policy path in order to meet the aspirations of its people in the decade ahead — there is no historical precedent for a democratic and economically open nation on how to deliver development to a billion-plus people in a manner that is healthy and sustainable. 
    • In successfully delivering a real-time response to the COVID-19 pandemic, India has proved that it is possible to deliver at scale in such an ambitious and comprehensive manner. 
    • To succeed in meeting its SDG targets, especially those related to population health and well-being, basic quality infrastructure, and gender equality, a similar concerted, pioneering, nation-wide effort would be the need of the hour.


    Daily Mains Question


    [Q] India’s lessons from ‘COVID strategy’ can inform and optimise India’s approach to its SDG targets. Analyze.