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The Governance Of Sustainable Development Goals In India

That India is taking its commitment seriously is visible in the fact that Niti Aayog – the National Institution for Transforming India – Chaired by the Prime Minister has been assigned the role to ‘coordinate’ the achievement of India’s sustainable development goals both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Sustainable development is a phrase that is of existential importance and yet needs an agreed definition in each context so as to be understood, and responded to, properly.

Following the much-maligned Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were imposed on developing countries, the United Nations did an incredible job in arriving at a global consensus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of 17 universally applicable, indivisible goals with a 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

India too ratified these goals in 2016 and thus has, today, about 13 years to achieve these tremendously ambitious goals.

Sustainable development in India’s context poses some unparalleled challenges – with 18 percent of the world’s population and a mere 4 percent of global natural resources; with nearly 30 percent of its over 1.2 billion population living in extreme poverty; with more than 50 percent of the population not having access to modern cooking energy and defecating in the open; a very poor performance on mitigating malnutrition, and so on – ranking it a lowly 110 on the sustainable development index despite impressive economic growth rates over the last decade and a half.

That India is taking its commitment seriously is visible in the fact that Niti Aayog – the National Institution for Transforming India – Chaired by the Prime Minister has been assigned the role to ‘coordinate’ the achievement of India’s sustainable development goals both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

However, as widely recognised globally the greatest challenge to meeting the SDGs are the issues of policy coherence and integration across targets and goals. Mapping SDGs on to ‘nodal’ Ministries may be an administratively easy mechanism for assigning responsibilities but lacks imagination on how to effectively, and in an accelerated manner, deliver necessary outcomes.

To simply illustrate the challenge of a divided approach from a real discussion that took place within a state government – The energy department was given a very stiff renewable energy target for achieving which several exciting new initiatives were put in place.

Naturally, the department was focussed on its deliverables and had scant regard for the small scale, low capacity demands being placed on it by the health department over several months/years to set up decentralised renewable energy based systems on its primary health centres. At the same time it is beyond the mandate of the health department to directly address its energy needs itself.

But, as WHO has recognised too, “Energy access is a critical enabler of access to medical technologies, and thus an important determinant of the effective delivery of essential health services. Without energy, many life-saving interventions simply cannot be undertaken.”

By not addressing ourselves squarely to challenges of integration, we will not be able to address ourselves most effectively to meeting SDGs in their totality.

Closely related to this example, is the challenge of policy coherence across the various Ministries and levels of government that we have in India – an extremely complex and challenging task.

Niti Aayog as a coordinating mechanism has not been empowered to demand policy coherence to the level that would ensure the greater good. If necessary, the Niti Aayog should be given a clear mandate to certify all programme expenditures for their sustainability impact.

Niti Aayog’s task would also be facilitated if the performance appraisal and recognition systems of responsible functionaries were to be modified to encourage a systemic approach to achieving SDGs.

Even within its current mandate, Niti Aayog needs to move quickly beyond measurements and indicators to the concrete quantitative assessment of the inter-linkages, life cycle economic analyses of integrated, systemic interventions and the design of alternative governance mechanisms for optimised impacts

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.




Dr Leena Srivastava

Dr Leena Srivastava is the Vice Chancellor of the TERI University– a graduate institution engaged in teaching and research on sustainability issues with nearly 700 students – since January 2012. She has over 30 years of research experience on energy and climate change policies and economics at national and international levels.

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