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Sustainable Development Goals

Published: 16th Oct, 2018

United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa said India’s success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can change the face of the world.



  • United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa said India’s success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can change the face of the world.
  • If India succeeds in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda —about 1.3 billion people will be benefitting directly.
  • Espinosa, Ecuador’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, was in June elected president of the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly. She became only the fourth female president of the organisation in its 73-year history.
  • Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, veteran Indian diplomat and sister of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru,was the first woman to be elected president of the General Assembly in as early as 1953.


  • Successor of Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), SDGs is an intergovernmental agreement.
  • It is a non-binding document, formed as an outcome of Rio+20 conference – “Future We Want.”
  • There are 17 goals with 169 targets and 304 indicators, as proposed by the United Nation General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.
  • They are to be achieved by 2030.
  • The responsibility for overseeing SDG implementation has been assigned to the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), which is the premier policy think tank of the Government and is chaired by the Prime Minister of India.


India has played an important role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, it is no surprise that the country’s national development goals are mirrored in the SDGs. As such, India has been effectively committed to achieving the SDGs even before they were fully crystallized.

The main messages from India’s Voluntary National Review of SDG implementation in 2017 encapsulate the progress made with respect to Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17.

Goal-wise analysis with respect to India: Status, Challenges and major Government schemes to achieve the goal

Goal 1: No poverty

  • Status:Global reduction in extreme poverty was driven mainly by Asia – notably China and India.Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the incidence of multidimensional poverty in India was almost halved, climbing down to 27.5 percent from 54.7 percent as per the 2018 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index report.
  • Challenges:In 2015, 736 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day. The latest World Bank projections show that if we continue down the business-as-usual path, the world will not be able to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
  • Schemes:The Government of India has many progressive schemes, including the world’s largest employment guarantee schemes, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and the National Social Assistance Programme.

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

  • Challenges:South Asia still faces one of the greatest hunger burdens, with over 15% of the population considered to be undernourished.The agricultural, forestry, and fishing sector together constitutes 26.5% of total employment in the world, but 42.7% in India.However, these sectors contribute only 15.5% to GDP value added.
  • Schemes:The Government of India has prioritised strengthening agriculture through measures in irrigation, crop insurance (PradhanMantriFasalBimaYojana), and improved varieties.The government has also taken critical steps to enhance food security, including through a nation-wide targeted public distribution system, National Nutrition Mission and the National Food Security Act. The RashtriyaKrishiVikasYojana, the National Mission on Sustainable Agricultureand many national schemes on horticulture, agricultural technology and livestock are leading the way in improving India’s agriculture.

Goal 3: Good health & Well-being

  • Status:India has made some progress in reducing its under-five mortality rate, which declined from 125 per 1,000 live births in 1990-91 to 50 per 1,000 live births in 2015-16, and its maternal mortality rate, which declined from 437 per 100,000 live births in 1990-91 to 167 in 2013.India has also made significant strides in reducing the prevalence of HIV and AIDS across different types of high-risk categories, with adult prevalence reducing from 0.45% in 2002 to 0.27% in 2011.
  • Challenge:However, a quarter of global TB cases occur in India where nearly 2.1 million people live with the disease, and an estimated 423,000 die annually as a result.
  • Schemes:The Indian government’s National Health Missionand AyushmanBharat,are prioritizing national wellbeing and is leading change in this area.

Goal 4: Quality Education

  • Status: The net enrolment ratio in primary education for boys and girls was at 100%, while at the national level, the youth literacy rate was 94% for males and 92% for females.
  • Schemes:The new National Education Policy and Sustainable Development Goal 4 share the goals of universal quality education and lifelong learning.The flagship government scheme, SarvaShikshaAbhiyan, is aimed at achieving universal quality education for all Indians, and is complemented in this effort by targeted schemes on nutritional support, higher education, and teacher training, Mid-Day Meal scheme

Goal 5: Gender Equality

  • Challenges: As of January 2018, the proportion of seats held by women in the LokSabha is only 5.1% and that in RajyaSabha is 9.8%. This is even after India achieving gender parity at the primary education level and being on track to achieve parity at all education levels.
  • Further, India is confronting the challenge of violence against women. A baseline study has revealed that in New Delhi, 92% of women have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces during their lifetime.In 2016, close to a third of total crimes reported against women in India was cruelty or physical violence by her husband or his relative.
  • Schemes:BetiBachaoBetiPadhao initiative aims at equal opportunity and education for girls in India. In addition, specific interventions on female employment, programmes on the empowerment of adolescent girls, the SukanyaSamridhiYojanaon girl child prosperity and the JananiSurakshaYojana for mothers advance India’s commitment to gender equality, and the targets of Goal 4.

Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation

  • Status:The overall proportion of Indian households with access to improved water sources increased from 68% in 1992-93 to 89.9% in 2015-16.
  • Challenge:However, in 2015-16, 63.3% of rural households and 19.7% of urban households were not using improved sanitation facilities.According to the World Bank, more than 520 million in India were defecating in the open – the highest number in the world.
  • Scheme:The government has introduced several flagship programmes including the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to clean India, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, and NamamiGange, which aims at the conservation of the River Ganga.

Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy

  • Status:India is projected to be a significant contributor to the rise in global energy demand, around one-quarter of the total.
  • Challenge:However, as of 2016, more than 205 million people in India do not have access to electricity.
  • Schemes:The government’s National Solar Mission is playing an important role in the work towards renewable energy, and interventions in rural electrification and new ultra-mega power projects are moving India towards achieving universal energy access.

Goal 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth

  • Status:India can forge its own growth path, which can rely on both manufacturing and services as a growth escalator and employment generator.
  • Challenge:The challenge will be to create well-paying and productive jobs in non-farm sectors that can absorb more unskilled workers, including women and those in rural areas. Almost half the labour force in India still works in the agricultural sector.
  • As reported by the McKinsey Global Institute (2015), if India increases its female labour force participation rate by 10 percentage points by 2025, its GDP could rise by as much as 16 percent as compared to the business-as-usual scenario.Additionally, the fourth industrial revolution is both an opportunity and a challenge for India.
  • Scheme:The government’s National Skill Development Mission, DeendayalUpadhyayaAntodayaYojana, Atal Innovation Mission, as well as the National Service Scheme and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme are some flagship programmes aimed at bringing decent work to all.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure

  • Scheme:The government’s flagship interventions like Make in India and Start Up India as well as PanditDeendayalUpadhyayShramevJayateKaryakram are fuelling innovation and sustainable industrial and economic development.

Goal 10:Reduced Inequality

  • Status:The Gini coefficient of income inequality for India fell from 36.8% in 2010 to 33.6% in 2015.However, still 90% of total wealth is in the hand of top 10% or less people.
  • Schemes:The Government of India’s emphasis on the three pronged Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile programmesis aimed at a comprehensive strategy of inclusion, financial empowerment and social security. These priorities are in line with the Sustainable Development targets aimed at achieving greater equality and promoting the social, economic, and political inclusion of all by 2030.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities

  • Status:India is urbanising rapidly.By 2030, India is expected to be home to six mega-cities with populations above 10 million.68% of the country’s total population lives in rural areas, while 17% of the country’s urban population lives in slums.
  • Schemes:The Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation(AMRUT) are working to address the challenge of improving urban spaces. The prime minister’s PradhanMantriAwasYojana aims to achieve housing for all by 2022.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production

  • Status:India is the third highest emitter of carbon-dioxide and is responsible for 6.9% of global emissions.
  • Challenge:The issue of resource use is vital for the country.While the country is home to 18% of the world’s population, it has only 4% of global water resources.The generation of waste and pollutants also poses a challenge.Only 15% of India’s urban waste is processed.However, in October 2015, India made a commitment to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20-25% from its 2005 levels by 2020 and by 33-35% by 2030.
  • Schemes: The National Policy on Biofuels and the National Clean Energy Fundare some of the government’s flagship schemes aimed at achieving sustainable consumption and production, and managing the efficient use of natural resources.

Goal 13: Climate Action

  • Challenge:At present, the world is 1.2°C warmer compared to pre-industrial levels. As a result of which, decline in crop yields, unprecedented climate extremes and increased susceptibility could push poverty by several million by 2050.
  • Scheme:India has taken several positive actions, including its major emphasis on renewable power through its 100 GW solar mission and its total 175 GW renewables mission. Last year, for the first time ever, new installations of power using solar cells exceeded all other types of power.  It is also committed to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20 to 25% by 2020. India could well be one of few countries that achieve its (self-declared) climate action targets under the Paris Agreement by 2030. 


Goal 14: Life Below Water

  • Status:India has a long coastline of about 7,517 km in length which sustains and provides a source of livelihood to over 250 million people.India is the second largest producer of fish in the world.
  • Schemes:The Indian government’s Sagarmala Project, is working to improve the state of India’s ports and coastlines. To conserve marine ecosystems, the government has undertaken a National Plan for the Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems. Coastal and marine biodiversity protection is a key area of focus for India.

Goal 15: Life on Land

  • Status:In India, forest cover is now 21% and protected areas cover around 5% of the country’s total land area.India is one of 17 mega-biodiverse countries in the world.With only 2.4% of the earth’s land area, it accounts for 7-8% of the world’s recorded species. Further, 176.4 million people were living on degrading agricultural land in 2010 – an increase of 10% in a decade, bringing the share of rural residents who inhabit degraded agricultural land up to 21% of the total rural population.During the same time-period (2000-10), the amount of people living in remote and degrading agricultural areas with limited market access increased by 11%, reaching 16.7 million people which is 2% of India’s rural population.
  • Challenges:The intensification and expansion of land degradation will harshly affect agricultural productivity, which will jeopardise agricultural livelihoods in the country.The annual cost of land degradation in India is estimated at US$ 15.9 billion which is around 1.3% of the country’s GDP.
  • Schemes: India is committed to achieving the Aichi targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and is also an active participant in the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. India’s National Afforestation Programme and a national programme on the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats are core projects aimed at the conservation of land ecosystems. Further, two specific schemes – Project Tiger and Project Elephant – are being undertaken to conserve two of the country’s most majestic species of animals.

Goal 16: Peace & Justice Strong Institutions

  • Challenge:In India, the judiciary is overburdened due to the large number of pending cases, with the backlog touching 33 million in 2018 – 28.4 million cases pending in subordinate courts, 4.3 million in High Courts and 57,987 cases in the Supreme Court.
  • Scheme:India has prioritised the strengthening of justice through government initiatives including Pragati Platform, a public grievance redressal system, and the Development of Infrastructure Facilities for the Judiciary including Gram Nyayalays for villages.

Goal 17: Partnership to achieve the Goal

  • Status:The Government of India is an important part of this new global partnership, and it has been strengthened by the country’s efforts to build networks within the region and with the world.
  • South-South co-operation has been a crucial part of this, as is India’s membership and leadership in institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and its New Development Bank, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, as well as with UN agencies and programmes around the world.

Major broad challenges apart from those mentioned above are:

  • Defining Indicators: Past record indicates that we have not been very successful in setting up relevant indicators to measure outcomes as seen in the case of MDGs.
  • Financing SDGs: A new study estimates that implementing SDGs in India by 2030 will cost around $14.4 billion but India has only 5% of the required funding to implement SDGs. Further, given the recent cut in social sector schemes by the Union government, unless states devote a significant portion of their resources on the social sector, there is likely to be a significant funding gap. High growth and redistribution itself are also not enough. According to the United Nations MDG 2014 report, despite high economic growth, in 2010, one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor lived in India alone. Given these constraints, it is likely that domestic revenues aside, private finance could be a crucial source for financing the SDGs.
  • Monitoring and Ownership:There is a significant challenge with respect to ownership. NITI Aayog will play a significant role in tracking progress. However, members at the Aayog have expressed reservations on being able to take on this mammoth task time and again. Moreover, if states are expected to play a pivotal role (giving the devolution post 14th Finance Commission) it will require ownership not just nationally but also at the state and local level.
  • Measuring Progress: By the government’s own admission, non-availability of data (particularly in respect to sub-national levels), periodicity issues and incomplete coverage of administrative data, made accurate measuring progress of even MDGs virtually impossible.
  • Obstacle in policymaking: India lacks credible data in the relevant fields. This could be a major obstacle in policymaking.
  • Cultural barriers: Practices such as a preference for male child, gender equality in education, open defecation are deep-rooted in the society and have cultural implications.
  • Limited Government Spending: India spends less than 1.5% on health and around 4% on education. This is far below the required levels.
  • Limited source of funding: There has been rising trends of nationalism and protectionism across the world. Hence, channeling of funds from developed countries to developing countries could be an issue.

Way Forward:

SDGs provide broad goals and targets, it will be up to the national, and state governments to identify priorities, decide appropriate locally relevant policies, harness innovation and ensure that an implementation and monitoring plan is in place. It is also the responsibility of people, society, NGOs, media to help the government in achieving these only and contributing towards them.

  • NGOs, CSOs can be a powerful tool in highlighting the plight of the vulnerable at the local as well as international level e.g. CRIES, Doctors without borders etc.
  • Philanthropists, big corporate to leverage their CSR on socio-economic needs of the society for their inclusive and sustainable development e.g. Bill and Milanda Gates Foundation, WIPRO 3 donations, cess, bringing more people under the bit of income tax and such revenue to be diverted to the fulfillment of SDGs.
  • Experts in various fields’ e.g. medical, engineering, economy, law, finances etc. Need to collaborate for the formulation of policies, framework, and regulations etc. In a cost-effective manner.
  • Efforts to give effect to international treaties such as GCF, Paris Agreement, Doha round of WTO etc.
  • Increasing budgetary allocation for policies, plans aimed at achieving quality education, health, gender equality etc.

Learning Aid

A summary of overall status and key steps :

Practice Question

  1. What do you understand by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? How far do you think will India be able to achieve the targets by 2030?

  2. UN General Assembly president has said India’s success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can change the face of the world. How far has India reached in achieving the SDGs so far? What else is required to achieve the goals completely in desired time frame?

  3. What is the importance of SDG? Elaborate on the role of various stakeholders, i.e., Government, civil societies, bureaucracy and citizens in achieving these targets.


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