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Editorial of the Day: Tracking SDG Progress the Bhopal Way (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing Bhopal becoming the first city in the country to join the global movement on the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It highlights the SDGs that were adopted by 193 member-states of the United Nations in 2015 as a comprehensive plan of action for sustainable development consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets to address various social, economic, and environmental challenges. As part of the SDGs framework, member-states are required to monitor, review, and report their progress towards achieving these goals. It talks about the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted by the member nations to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) to demonstrate their accountability. It also mentions the growing trend of Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) that focus on driving and reporting local implementation of the SDGs at sub-national and city levels that of which has been released by Bhopal.

Sustainable Development Goals Background

What are Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

  • SDGs are a set of 17 global goals established by the United Nations in 2015 as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The SDGs aim to address the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges and provide a framework for sustainable development efforts globally.
  • They call for action from governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals to work together to achieve a more sustainable and equitable future for all.
Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable Development Goals

India’s SDG Progress

  • Recently, the Lancet journal published a report titled “Progress on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators in 707 districts of India: A quantitative mid-line assessment using the National Family Health Surveys, 2016 and 2021″.
  • The report has highlighted India’s SDGs performance is not up to the mark and mentioned that India may not be able to achieve at least 19 of the SDGs by 2030.
  • The status of India’s SDG performance according to the Lancet study:
    • India is not on-target for 19 of the 33 SDGs indicators (Sustainable Development Goals) of the United Nations, which is more than 50% of the indicators.
    • Among the 19 off-target indicators, the situation has worsened for three of the off-target goals including those relating to anaemia among women, pregnant and non-pregnant women, between 2016 and 2021.
    • The critical off-target indicators include access to basic services, wasting and overweight children, anaemia, child marriage, partner violence, tobacco use, and modern contraceptives.
    • Off-target districts are concentrated in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Odisha,
    • The performance of aspirational districts is also not satisfactory.
    • Many districts will never meet the targets on the SDGs even after 2030 due to a worsening trend observed between 2016 and 2021.

Decoding the Editorial

The article is discussing about the Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) that have been released by Bhopal which signifies its commitment to localizing and implementing the SDGs within the city. It highlights that by doing so, Bhopal aims to contribute to the overall achievement of the SDGs and address the specific challenges and opportunities within its local context. It also discusses,

India’s Progress to achieve SDGs:

  • Localizing India’s SDGs:
    • India has made significant efforts in adopting, localizing, and working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
    • The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), a policy think tank of the Indian government, presented India’s second Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in 2020.
      • The VNR provides an overview of India’s progress and initiatives in implementing the SDGs.
    • India’s Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI) has developed a National Indicator Framework (NIF) that contextualises the global indicator framework of the SDGs to align with India’s specific development journey.
      • This framework serves as a tool for reviewing and monitoring the SDGs’ progress in India.
    • 23 Indian states and union territories have prepared vision documents based on the SDGs, indicating their commitment to localizing and implementing the goals at a regional level.
      • These states have taken steps to align their policies, programs, and initiatives with the SDGs.
  • Cities as key stakeholders:
    • Cities play a critical role as key stakeholders in achieving the goals outlined in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
    • It is important to understand that a significant portion of the 169 targets set within the SDGs cannot be accomplished without the active engagement and participation of local urban stakeholders.
    • Therefore, to showcase the efforts and progress made at the local level, a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) is a tool used to demonstrate how actions taken by cities are leading the way in promoting equitable and sustainable transformations for the benefit of their residents.
    • The VLR serves as a means to showcase the local initiatives, policies, and projects that contribute to the achievement of the SDGs within the specific urban context.
    • It is important to build a coalition of partners, which includes governments, organisations, communities, and individuals, to collectively work towards the goals outlined in the Agenda 2030.
    • By engaging various stakeholders and fostering collaboration, cities can drive positive change and work towards creating sustainable and inclusive urban environments.
  • Significance of VLR:
    • The process of creating a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) provides cities with flexibility in how they present their progress and efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
    • While it is desirable for cities to align their VLR with the action plans at the state and national levels, cities have the freedom to choose their own framework and priorities for their VLR.
    • Cities can choose to focus on specific aspects of the SDGs that are relevant and important to them.
    • They have the option to either use quantitative assessments by utilising city-level indicators related to the SDG targets or provide a narrative that describes their efforts and vision.
      • This flexibility allows cities, especially non-metropolitan urban local bodies in India with limited capacity, resources, and disaggregated data, to approach the VLR process in a way that suits their specific circumstances.
    • Given the comprehensive nature of the SDGs and the large number of indicators associated with them (286 indicators in India’s National Indicator Framework), cities are not expected to cover every indicator in their VLR. Instead, they can choose specific SDGs for a detailed review based on their priorities and logistical feasibility.
    • Cities can also adapt and customise the national indicators under the relevant SDGs to better reflect the local realities and context of the city.
  • Bhopal’s Plan:
    • Bhopal’s plan, as outlined in its Voluntary Local Review (VLR), is the result of collaboration between the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, UN-Habitat, and a collective of over 23 local stakeholders.
    • The plan maps 56 developmental projects to the SDGs across the three pillars of ‘people’, ‘planet’, and ‘prosperity’.
    • The VLR identifies that building basic infrastructure and resilience are key priorities for the city based on the number of projects aligned with the SDGs.
    • It focuses on goals such as poverty eradication (SDG 1), good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), climate action (SDG 13), life on land (SDG 15), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), and sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11).
    • The VLR provides an in-depth quantitative assessment of city-level indicators under SDG 11, specifically related to sustainable cities and communities.
    • It highlights Bhopal’s notable performance in areas such as solid waste management practices, public transportation, and open spaces per capita.
    • However, the analysis also identifies areas that require further attention and effort in order to achieve the SDG targets.
      • These areas include ensuring adequate shelter provision, addressing high levels of air pollution, enhancing city planning capacity, and improving the distribution and accessibility of open spaces.
  • Other Examples:
    • Voluntary Local Review (VLR) does not necessarily have to be carried out solely by local governments.
    • While local governments often play a significant role in initiating and coordinating the VLR process, it is fundamentally a representation of the people’s process.
    • Any stakeholder at the city level can take the initiative to conduct a VLR as long as it is done within the framework of Agenda 2030, which encompasses the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
    • Example: In Canterbury in the United Kingdom, the residents and local groups formed a spontaneous coalition to undertake the VLR. In this case, the coalition proactively petitioned the local government to collaborate with city-level groups in advancing the SDGs, while the local government served as an intermediary in the VLR process.
    • Similarly, examples from the global South, such as Dhulikhel in Nepal, Singra in Bangladesh, and Amman in Jordan, demonstrate that local governments in these regions, facing similar challenges as Indian cities, have published their VLRs.
    • These examples indicate that the VLR process is open to various stakeholders and can be adapted to different contexts.

Thus, there is a remarkable opportunity for Indian cities to share their stories using their own vocabulary and framework, effectively showcasing their urban innovations and collaborations on a global platform.

Beyond the Editorial

Initiatives taken by India to achieve SDG Targets

  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) is being used to give unskilled workers jobs and raise their standard of living.
  • The National Food Security Act is being used to make sure that food grains are subsidised.
  • Healthcare sector initiatives which are helpful in achieving sustainable development goals are – The Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram, Ayushman Bharat, National digital health mission (NDHM), etc.
  • The government of India has taken several steps to mitigate the effects of climate change, like – National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), The Net Zero Commitment.
  • The government also supports the 10-Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production. For that the Ministry has published a draft notification of regulation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Waste Tyre for receiving comments from the public and ‘Guidelines on the EPR for Plastic Packaging’ under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 has been notified.
  • Apart from the above-mentioned initiative, other initiatives include the Swachh Bharat mission, Beti Bacho Beti Padhao, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Smart Cities, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, among others.
  • JAM trinity: Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile proved to be helpful in forming the Digital Public Goods (DPGs) and Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) which would be helpful in driving financial inclusion and helping improve benefits targeting which have been crucial to India’s progress on SDG 1, namely No Poverty.
  • NITI Aayog “SDG India Index”: It is the world’s first government-led sub-national measure of SDG development. It was launched in 2018 and has been developed to capture the progress of all states and union territories (UTs) in their journey towards achieving the SDGs. This index is based on the idea of cooperative and competitive federalism, which says that action needs to be taken at all levels. The index shows how the Global Goals of the 2030 Agenda cover a wide range of issues while also taking into account national priorities.

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