In July this year, the Indian Government presented a Voluntary National Review (VNR) before a High Level Forum held at New York. This forum came together to assess the progress of internationally committed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which India is a signatory. The VNR led by the Niti Aayog discusses India’s efforts to reach seven of the seventeen SDGs adopted worldwide in 2015.

These progress indicators touch upon several of the flagship programs of the Bharatiya Janata Party government indicating efforts that are being made to achieve globally committed targets by the year 2030. The acknowledgement of efforts to end poverty since 1991, create employment through rural employment guarantee schemes are all upheld as commitment to the SDG cause.

A diagram listing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pic: Wikipedia

Quite interestingly the popular allegations that for 70 years no previous government did anything for the country finds no bearing in this document atleast. On the contrary the document acknowledges “sustained growth since 1993 has led to gainful employment”

The chosen seven

Here is a quick snapshot of which are the chosen goals that the VNR report has chosen to reflect on. It instills inquiry and raises several questions on the claims being made.

What is the ecological and livelihood footprint of the houses constructed under the housing for all scheme? What comprehensive plan for doubling farmer’s income is being spoken about when all one has heard for the last few years is news of deep farming crisis and acute distress? Has the expansion of roads, railways and other transportation been inclusive as claimed in the overarching goal? The list can run long.


The progress report

GOAL 1: End Poverty in all Forms Everywhere

- MNREGA has generated 2 million person days of employment in 2016-17.

- Nearly 3.2 million households constructed under Housing For all scheme. - 22 million families provided LPG connections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

GOAL 2: End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture

- Mid-Day-Meal Programme providing nutritious cooked meals to 100 million children.

- 62 million Soil Health Cards to farmers for organic farming and a comprehensive plan implemented for doubling farmers’ income by 2022.

GOAL 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Wellbeing for All at All Ages

- National Health Policy, 2017 with specified targets for universalising primary health care, reductions in infant and under-5 mortality.  

- Aim to immunize all children against vaccine preventable diseases by 2020.

- A health insurance cover of INR 100,000 (USD 1,563) is being extended to all poor families.

GOAL 5: Ensure Gender Equality

- Beti Bachao Beti Padao (Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child) initiative undertaken

- The Maternity Benefit Programme protects women from wage loss during the first six months after childbirth.

- Several programmes are being implemented for enabling greater participation of women in the work force

GOAL 9: Build Resilient Infrastructure, Promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization and Foster Innovation

- Rapid expansion of all forms of transportation - roads, railways, civil aviation and waterways.  

- Consistent growth in installed electricity generation capacity; especially in non-fossil-fuel and renewable energy sector

GOAL 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use The Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources

- An Integrated National Fisheries Action Plan, 2016 to promote fishing livelihoods and ecological integrity of the marine environment

- New impetus to port-led development, the Sagarmala on the other

GOAL 17: Revitalize the Global Partnership For Sustainable Development

- Acknowledgment that despite significant efforts including GST and Swachh Bharat Cess, India is unlikely to gather sufficient domestic revenues. Therefore a need to contributions by developed countries.


The VNR also says that a high-level committee headed by the Chief Statistician of India has been set to oversee the monitoring framework for SDGs. It is unlikely that this process will revisit the assumptions being made while linking existing and future schemes to the desired goals.  In Goal 14 for instance, there is a parallel process to promote fishing livelihoods and protect marine environment while opening up large coastal stretches for dredging for ports and constructing waterways for shipping. How has the government looking to reconcile this, is not explained.

The state efforts

The VRN also discloses state level initiatives for ten states; each highlighting a different version of the progress made in achieving these goals. The reporting has gives an insight to how these states are approaching the idea of SDGs.

Kerala, the review states has “set up elaborate indicators and standards for achieving the SDG 3 on health.” They also have sector specific plans including that of  “ensuring environmental and social sustainability.” Bihar on the other hand is candid on the disclosure that they are still in the “process of finalizing the SDG roadmap” and that the government is already focusing on a number of SDG areas that including road connectivity, toilets, clean drinking water, electricity, higher education, skill development and gender equality.

There are few states that have set up full-fledged centres or implementing and monitoring SDGs. There will be a need to follow the activities at close proximity to understand what is actually being done but we do have Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab as states that have carved out dedicated government departments.

The funding pitch

One of the most elaborate sections of the VRN is around Goal 17: Revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. The focus of the Niti Aayog here is mostly around resource mobilization. After reaffirming that SDGs will have to be achieved through the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”, the government reaches out to countries for financial assistance.” This call is immediately followed by what seems like a call for investment. Proactive policy reforms, says the VNR, have already boosted the FDI flows in the country. The effort is to reach out the global investor community to ‘Make in India’.

Sometime sooner than later it will be opportune to have an open debate on whether the initiatives being propped up as allies to achieving SDGs are indeed towards reducing poverty, increasing social justice or addressing environmental harm. We’re already trying to justify most existing schemes as being sustainable without a public assessment on compatibility; especially if they can actualise the ambitious targets.