In a very special session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted by world leaders including India in a few days from now. They will replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire at the end of the year. While MDGs galvanised unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest by providing for basic necessities like health, education, halving poverty rates and controlling diseases like HIV/AIDS, the Sustainable Development Goals are much more ambitious. The SDGs seek to go beyond just social transformation by including goals on economic development and the environment. The 17 goals and 169 targets are transformative and cover new grounds like environment and economy; however, there are some unaddressed concerns. They focus once again on extreme poverty, but ignore justice, without which there cannot be lasting peace and sustainable development. While they talk about environmental sustainability, they are silent on equitable use of resources by countries. Although the goals are now finalised, going forward we need to focus on accountability and monitoring of the implementation of these goals. When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the UNGA, he should make a solemn pledge to achieve SDGs through a robust accountability and monitoring mechanism. As the leader of the world’s largest democracy, his voice has both power and reach. India’s concerns are after all the concerns of the entire global south.
We also need to address the structural issues in the global financial system, which are hindering developing countries from mobilising resources for their development. These issues pertain to the rules of borrowing money, of managing debt and the lack of policy coherence in the global architecture of trade, finance and technology. In all these issues, there is a divide between the Global North and Global South. So far the approach has been to view foreign aid by rich countries as a key tool for achieving global development. But this model of aid-induced development has largely failed. And there is no new model yet. Lamenting exactly this failure, India’s Minister of State for Finance, Jayant Sinha stated in his speech at the Finance For Development conference in Addis Ababa, “We are deeply disappointed that spirit of multilateralism and universality did not go far enough when it came to global discussions on key issues like taxation. In today’s interconnected world, tax policy is a global public good, having ramifications far beyond national borders.”Tax has never been more under the spotlight as the source of finance for development, but decisions affecting the poorest countries and their ability to recoup money owed to them are still being taken in an elite club of the most powerful nations.
Post-Independence, India lost $462 billion, or about Rs 21 lakh crore, in illicit financial flows, according to Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI).
Post-Independence, India lost a staggering $462 billion, or about Rs 21 lakh crore, in illicit financial flows due to tax evasion, crime and corruption, according to Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The report also found that the faster rates of economic growth since economic reform started in 1991, led to a deterioration of income distribution, which led to more illicit flows from India. It is a no-brainer that had this money been invested in creating a more just and equal polity, India would not be known as the country with the most number of malnourished children, or with the most number of poor in the planet. To put it simply, we wouldn’t have been rated 137 on the Human Development Index. Africa is another example of how illicit flows affect development: studies show that Africa loses nearly $50 billion a year in illicit money flows and tax evasion. The irony is that this is more than the total development aid received by it.
SDGS: OUR BEST BET
World leaders may not agree on everything immediately, as the nature of global negotiations is one incremental step at a time, but that should not deter us, especially here in India, from putting our social, economic and political might behind the implementation of sustainable development goals and their vision of a more equal, just and sustainable planet. We have lessons to learn from the MDGs as well. The government needs to more than simply adopt the goals on paper. India needs to develop its own list of indicators for these 17 goals and build an accountability and monitoring mechanism for the SDGs. But the first step ought to be to popularise these goals among the public at different levels of governance — from Central ministries down to the village panchayat. Without bringing these goals and their vision out of the ivory towers of the Ministry of External Affairs and some big funding agencies, we won’t be able to achieve SDGs. With the MDGs barring a few states, the progress on most goals was tardy owing to the lack of a popularisation, and lack of a robust accountability and monitoring mechanism.
As a concerned citizen of India and as a member of Parliament’s Standing Committee on External Affairs, I propose a few suggestions: the government should commit to review annually its performance on SDGs, and present a report card to Parliament, the state governments can also present their reports cards in the Legislative Assemblies. Data is the key to effective service delivery and therefore the government must commit to frequent socio-economic and health surveys to steer policy and budget allocation for development programmes. The Indian government must approach the SDGs in mission mode, like the campaign to eradicate polio.
SDGs are the world’s goals and every country has the duty to towards its citizens to put honest efforts in achieving them. In India, it is more imperative than ever before to bridge the gap between the deprived and the rich, and improve access to resources, healthcare, education and livelihoods. For this we need economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable. We need to protect and conserve our natural resources from blind exploitation, a country of more than a billion people needs inclusive and environment-sensitive development more than ever. We must remember that sustainable development is not possible without sustainable existence.
D.P. Tripathi is a member of the Rajya Sabha.