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SDGs will remain a mirage due to rampant corruption, lack of accountability and political interference: Lalit Shastri

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Bhopal: “Modern World history or the fifty year period since the decade of the 70s of the last century, is marked by the fine tuning of the collective focus of all the nations first on development and then on sustainable development.”

This was underscored by senior journalist and eminent environmentalist Lalit Shastri on Saturday, 21 September 2019. He was delivering the keynote address at a seminar on “Sustainable Development Goals and Good Governance” organised by the MP-Chattisgarh chapter of Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) at the Academy of Administration in the State capital.

Tracing the genesis of the evolution of the concept of sustainable development, as it is understood today, Shastri outlined a brief history of the role playd by United Nations and how in 1983, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development, which defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Earlier in 1972, governments met in Stockholm for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, to consider the rights of the family to a healthy and productive environment.

In 1992, the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, where the first agenda for Environment and Development, also known as Agenda 21, was developed and adopted.

Closer home, Shastri pointed out that the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 were also enacted around this period to protect the forests, flora and fuana and biodiversity in India

In January 2013, the 30-member UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals was established to fix the goals for the SDGs.

On 19 July 2014, the OWG proposal for the SDGs was forwarded to the General Assembly. On 5 December 2014, the UN General Assembly accepted the Secretary General’s Synthesis Report, which stated that the agenda for the post-2015 SDG process would be based on the OWG proposals.

In this backdrop, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly for the year 2030, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals are:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reducing Inequality
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life On Land
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals, 2015-2030, have replaced or expanded the gamut of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were supposed to have been met by 2015.

MDGs were eight international development goals for the year 2015 that had been established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

The MDGs by 2015 were:

Millennium Development Goals by 2015:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empower women
  4. To reduce child mortality
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability, and
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

After highlighting these points Shastri told the gathering that it is being projected that the MDGs were meant more for bridging the gaps in under-developed and developed countries, whereas now there is a global thrust. The SDGs are all encompassing and a step forward gaining from the experience, achievements and progress with regard to the MDGs.

In this context, Shastri said that India remained far behind when it came to meeting the MDGs by 2015 due to lack of accountability, corruption, political interferance and utter mismanagement and gross irregularities on the part of successive governments both at the Government of India level and the State levels. It’s a bleak commentary when it came to effectively involving the NGOs and stakeholders in this task. He especially drew attention to the problem of poverty, hunger and joblessness as he went on to underscore the huge gaps in the school education sector, poverty alleviation and welfare programmes, forest management, and reckless exploitation of natural resources. The collapse of the steel frame of bureacracy is largely responsible for the state of affairs, he said adding it is important to help cultivate and build a value system among those who are part of the administrative machinery. Unless, we do not check the downward slide, it will not be possible to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, he pointed out.

To drive home his point, Shastri read out an excerpt from an article by distinguished scientist Tapan Misra. The quote: “Culture and ethics are integral part of any successful organisation or institution. These two attributes, carried forward from one generation to another, are beautifully defined by the Sanskrit word “Sanskar”, roughly meaning value system. It is your “sanskar” that prevents you from doing wrong things, prevents you from betraying your mother land, helps you exhibit the rare spine to tell your boss what is right, what is wrong. Highest reliability and success of space technology is enhanced by practising the right kind of “sanskar”. When you start compromising with “sanskar”, downhill slide of the institution begins. Initially it may be imperceptible, encouraging you to compromise further on this priceless asset. But with time, the slide picks up momentum, reaching a point of no return.”

Answering a pointed query, Shastri said that presently steps are being taken to weed out the corrupt and the wayward officers by the Central Government. While this is an encouraging development and needs to be appreciated, we should not forget that ours is a federal system and the States will also have to act in the same direction.

Chairman of the MP-Chhattisgarh Chapter of IIPA, K K Sethi, IAS (Retired) chaired the seminar. Among the audience were many former bureaucats, professionals and experts. Joining the discussion, many of them shared the view that things are moving on a downward slide at a great pace. Under the prevailing circumstances, when there is extreme political interference and curruption at all levels, the SDGs-2030 are going to remain a mirage. It was suggested that there should be electoral reforms on priority. The need for making the police, law enforcement and investigating agencies free from all kinds of political pressure and restructuring the bureacracy to make it accountable and result oriented was emphasised.

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