General Studies Paper 2

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”.

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.
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