NITI Aayog’s 2020-21 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) India Index detailed the implementation of the United Nations’ SDGs in the country, States and Union Territories (UTs). It gave marks, between 0 and 100 points, to each region. In a significant marker of improvement, no State fared in the ‘Aspirant’ category, the lowest in the index. All the States managed to score above 50 points in SDG implementation, with 13 States featuring in the ‘Performer’ category and 15 in the ‘Front Runner’ category (the second-highest position). There was improvement in the overall performance of the country towards SDG implementation. India stepped into the ‘Front Runner’ category with a score of 66 points, though it dropped two ranks in the ordinal scale. However, our neighbouring countries performed better than us. India did well in implementing SDGs 6,7, 11 and 12, which are ‘clean water and sanitation’, ‘affordable and clean energy’, ‘sustainable cities and communities’, and ‘sustainable consumption and production’, respectively, but did not do well in many others.
Odisha’s good show
While the national ranking dropped, Odisha saw a three-point improvement in its overall score and settled at 61 points. It topped in the implementation of two SDGs — 13 and 14, which are ‘climate action’ and ‘life below water’, respectively. In the ‘climate action’ SDG, which aims to integrate climate change and disaster risk measures with sustainable natural resource management into national development strategies, the State scored 70 points. Its disaster preparedness programme has been recognised multiple times by different UN agencies. Odisha managed to save 120.07 tonnes of CO2 per 1,000 population, by using LED bulbs, against India’s 28.04 tonnes. In the ‘life below’ water SDG, which aims to conserve oceans, seas and marine resources by preventing marine pollution and illegal fishing practices, Odisha scored 82. The State showed improved shore water quality and saw a 3.19% increase in the area under mangroves. Odisha’s rankings in these two goals come across as a highlight because, as per the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2021, the Asia-Pacific region showed a decline/regression in its commitment to goals 13 and 14 of the SDGs.
Odisha’s improvement in these two goals and in the overall score can be attributed to several factors. One of the most important is that is has prioritised budgetary allocation towards these sectors. In the FY2021 Budget, the State introduced a Climate Budget, a first-ever feature. While highlighting the impact of climate change on various departments, including forests, fisheries, disaster management and agriculture, the Budget presented a way of tracking public expenditure for a clean climate. Odisha has been working in the area of climate change since 2010, when it put in place the State Action Plan on Climate Change. This was revised for the period of 2018-23 and is under implementation.
In FY2022, the Odisha government submitted a separate SDG Budget, once again a first in India, indicating a significant development in its commitment towards implementing the SDGs. The SDG Budget provides cross-department linkages and shows the State’s commitment towards implementing SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), and SDG 2 (zero hunger). These goals will be provided 16.8%, 15.4%, and 10.2% of the SDG Budget, respectively.
Odisha also scored 83 points on SDG 15, ‘life on land’ (protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems). The increased budgetary allocation towards flood management and irrigation has also led to robust disaster prevention.
Hard work ahead
The NITI Aayog report presents myriad concerns to policymakers. Even with a significant improvement in many goals, India continues to be in the ‘Aspirant’ category for the implementation of ‘gender equality’ and ‘zero hunger’. Many others, such as ‘no poverty’, ‘quality education’, ‘decent work and economic growth’, ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure’, and ‘climate action’, need a lot more work so that the country can be pulled up to the ‘Front Runner’ category from the ‘Performer’ category. Partnership is the key to achieve this. The current level of collaboration with States, UTs, civil society organisations and businesses should be further enhanced by overlooking any differences in political ideologies. There is a need to aggressively implement SDG localisation efforts at the district, panchayat and village levels so that implementation feedback from the field is available, besides enabling true internalisation of the SDGs by the community. Only work at the community level can make SDGs truly achievable and deliverable.
Amar Patnaik is a Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha representing the BJD, and a former CAG bureaucrat. Views are personal