The 2022 UN report on SDGs focuses again on the progress and challenges for achieving inclusive growth and development, again. Seventeen SDGs, adopted in 2015, marked a paradigm shift in the development agenda.
India has whole-heartedly accepted, engaged and progressed with the idea of SDG implementation at the policy level. This is evident by the timely submission of Voluntary National Reviews of 2017 and 2020 and adoption of SDG Index.
With the 2030 deadline approaching, there has been a global shift towards the ‘localisation’ of SDGs. Localisation process not only recognises the sub-national contexts of setting of goals to determining the means of implementation but also offers customised solutions. Thus, two questions arise.
First, can and should the SDG agenda percolate down to the local level, thereby making planning/ policy formulation, a ‘bottom-up’ process? If yes, then what are the potential challenges at the institutional, technology and implementation level?
India has already initiated the ‘localisation’ process with the implementation of TADP (Transformation of an Aspirational District Programme) in 2018. SDG localisation takes it from district to the Gram Panchayat (GP) level. The preparation for a Local Indicator Framework (LIF) at GP level is already in process where nine themes have been designed subsuming 17 SDG, Kerala being a front-runner.
Despite the LIF being in place, much remains to be desired as was evident from our field visits to two Village Panchayats (VPs) in the aspirational district of Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu. The challenges range from lack of awareness and coordination to lack of use of technology and a streamlined institutional framework. One heartening observation is that the desired foundational framework already exists and a mission-mode intervention led by a ‘Whole of Government’ approach is required.
For localisation at the village level, handholding from the district is a must. One, there is a need to spread awareness among the masses and sensitise the elected representatives (ERs) at the village and district level, for which the local culture’s soft power must be harnessed.
There is also a need to conduct awareness sessions on how VPs can generate their own resources. For instance, fallow lands may be converted into parking lots, community halls, nurseries for plan saplings.
Further, workshops with multilateral development institutions like UNDP, block and district level administration, SHGs will prove benficial. For training ERs, standardised institutional module training finalised at the State level, may be provided through dedicated training institutes like KILA in Kerala. Finally private sector also must be roped in — SBI’s village adoption and macro-based Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana can be a template.
Our field visits revealed there is need to streamline the institutional framework. Inspite of an existing institutional skeleton, as set up under Mission Antyodaya, much remains to be desired. The Village Panchayat Development Plans (VPDPs), which are to be concretised under by a “facilitator” as per Mission Antyodaya, are made using a ‘ticking the box’ approach due to lack of agency to them. The contextualisation of planning to local needs is missing because of the tied nature of funds.
We recommend a four-tiered institutional structure to engage all key stakeholders. At the village level, an SDG Cell consisting of political and permanent executive, line departments, and leaders with mass reach, can ensure coordination, need assessment and theme selection, and awareness generation, thereby ensuring integration of SDGs with VPDPs.
The coordination among these members may be ensured by the ‘facilitator’. These Cells may be brought together by a block-level nodal officer. A District Cell and Project Director of Institution Formation and Capacity Building can be set up to coordinate the efforts at village and block level ensuring vertical integration in planning. Finally, a State Level Steering Committee headed by Chief Secretary with officials from Planning Departments, Capacity Training institutes and other key departments, should be set up.
The final spice in the recipe is to create a dashboard that fetches data from block level data feeding centres on LIFs. This dashboard will be a repository of information and also incentivise VPs to perform through identification of model GPs, review, recognition and documentation of good work.
Jain is Assistant Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare; and Khan is Assistant Director, Ministry of Finance