- An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to examine India’s preparedness for implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has found several gaps that could hold back India from achieving the goals by the 2030 target.
- A proper roadmap with defined milestones aligned with SDG targets for 2020, 2025 and 2030 is yet to be prepared as well as a vision document and state policy documents are also pending as per the report.
- The audit report also expressed concern at the lack of proper mobilisation of financial resources and recommended that the NITI Aayog must make an assessment of the requirement and availability of funding for implementing SDGs.
The world has about a decade to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for 2030. While India has expressed its commitment to the goals on several forums and has taken the initial steps towards meeting SDG targets, there are significant gaps that could make India fall behind if not remedied, observes the latest audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
While speaking at the G20 meeting in 2015, the year that the SDGs were adopted by countries, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had emphasised that India’s development goals are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and G20 must align itself with the SDGs as well.
The latest report has found that a “roadmap with defined milestones aligned with United Nations SDG targets for 2020, 2025, 2030 was yet to be prepared.”
The CAG’s audit report on “Preparedness for implementation of SDGs” was tabled in Parliament on July 8, 2019. For the report, CAG audited preparedness activities of 17 ministries of the central government including the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW), NITI Aayog (central government’s think tank) as well as seven states – Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The CAG explained that the audit aimed at gauging the government’s preparedness for SDGs implementation and measured the extent to which the 2030 agenda has been adapted in the national context, identification, and mobilisation of resources and capacities, and creation of a mechanism for monitoring and reporting progress.
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution ´Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ which comprised 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets. Also known as global goals, the SDGs set out targets for ending poverty and hunger, ensuring good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, climate action and peace and prosperity for all.
The CAG report observed that the “vision document is still under preparation” and the states too “are yet to prepare policy documents”. “Mapping of goals/targets undertaken by NITI Aayog and selected states (for the CAG report) is still ongoing,” the report said.
According to NITI Aayog (May 2019), the vision document will be finalised by March 2020.
In terms of an institutional mechanism, India has the NITI Aayog, the central government’s think tank set up in 2015, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of SDGs, periodic reviews and monitoring the preparedness of states, union territories and central ministries in achieving the SDG targets.
NITI Aayog involved the states and union territories for the formulation of SDG-related vision and strategy documents, advising them to undertake the mapping of goals and targets with various departments, while building their institutional capacities for implementing, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs.
The CAG report noted that while initiatives on stakeholder consultations and capacity building of officials were undertaken, the efforts specifically towards public awareness about SDGs in the selected states were not “comprehensive, focused or sustained. The report expressed concern that “no centralised public awareness campaign (was) envisaged” and noted that an “absence of dedicated awareness measures for the general public may dilute the objective of making the 2030 Agenda inclusive and participatory.”
The CAG report also revealed that not all states/ministries were equal on the level of preparedness of the SDGs. For instance, in December 2017, the NITI Aayog advised central ministries and state governments to initiate capacity building measures and five of the 15 ministries, where CAG report reviewed this aspect, were yet to initiate/report any capacity building exercise.
“It is evident that while some initiatives involving stakeholders and capacity building of officials at the Centre and states have been taken for raising awareness, these were not comprehensive, focused and sustained. As such, the task of engendering inclusiveness and participatory decision making in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda could face constraints,” the report said.
“States may need to strengthen institutional arrangements by identifying support departments and defining roles and responsibilities,” it suggested. It revealed that among the seven selected states for the report, aside from Assam, the other six states have neither the strategy document nor the action agenda ready for SDGs.
According to experts, it is important to align India’s development with sustainability since it makes economic sense and will save assets from being left stranded.
“If one looks at SDGs from India’s development plans what is being said is that over the next 10-12 years we would be sustaining the growth rate of seven percent plus – that growth rate is not possible if it is not done in a sustainable manner. Therefore abiding with the SDGs is not just an international obligation but it is our biggest need,” Aarti Khosla, who is the director of Climate Trends, told Mongabay-India.
“Today we are left with stranded assets in the coal sector only, but if we don’t incorporate the SDGs into our planning then 10 years down the line we would also be left with similar situation in cement and steel sectors as well,” Khosla explained.
Poorly developed indicators hamper effective alignment of goals
The mobilisation of financial resources ensures effective implementation of the SDGs is an important task. However, the projection for expenditures on this front are poorly defined and remain unclear, while at the state level, the financial resources are yet to be identified.
“While it is recognised that projecting financial resources for achieving the Targets by 2030 is a challenging task, the finance ministry and state governments are yet to integrate the SDG related financial resources in national budgeting for implementing the SDGs,” the report said.
In terms of monitoring and measuring progress, while a set of indicators for tracking India’s progress towards the SDGs was developed, as per the CAG report, there was “no proposal to identify milestones for the national indicators” and out of the 306 identified indicators data for 137 indicators were not yet available. Indicators are important for adaptating the global goals in the national context and provide the structure for aligning India’s national agenda with the SDGs.
A holistic approach to achieve the goal of health missing
In its audit, the CAG report specifically examined India’s preparedness of SDG 3 (of the 17 SDGS) for “good health and well-being.”
It found that the states had no institutional setup for action towards SDG 3 and had “delays and absence of a holistic approach” in their efforts towards formulating plans and policies.
The audit also revealed that important agencies associated with the achievement of this goal like the Indian Council of Medical Research and Central Health Education Bureau were not formally associated with the implementation of Goal 3. Three ministries – AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy), tribal affairs and home affairs – also linked with the goal of “good health and well-being” were not associated during the National Consultation on transitioning to SDGs.
India’s National Health Policy advocates for increasing the overall public health expenditure to 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product GDP by 2025 and increasing the increasing on health spending to more than eight percent of State’s Budget by the year 2020.
However, the report held that the central allocation in the latest budget for health for 2019-20 was far short of the target while in the states health spending as a percentage of total States expenditure ranged from 3.29 to 5.32 percent indicating that it needs considerable improvement.
Aarti Khosla emphasised that it is “ok to talk of development but it is important for the government to define what development is.”
“Development should not only be about making roads, it is also about improving the human development index. To that extent, talking about health, is are the first step towards a healthy economy which we have missed,” said Khosla while cautioning that the country needs to look at a holistic sustainable development model otherwise it would be stuck with development which we would have done for the short-term only.
“That will be both economically and socially disastrous which is not what the government is aiming for. Thus it is better not just in terms of sustainability but it also makes far more economic sense … it makes sense to plug in all the loopholes (as pointed put by CAG),” Khosla added.
Banner image: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes action to ensure clean water as well. Photo by McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons.