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The scale of progress, so far ( .hindu)

Is the process of a voluntary national review of Agenda 2030 helpful?

Agenda 2030, a comprehensive development agenda, was adopted in the United Nations General Assembly by member states on September 25, 2015. It is ambitious enough to address several socioeconomic concerns and make the development process inclusive. However, since it’s not binding on member nations, there is apprehension that it may end up becoming another of the Millennium Development Goals, which were only partially achieved. The High-level Political Forum comprising the political representatives (heads of states or ministers) of the members meets every July at the UN in New York to review progress on Agenda 2030. The Voluntary National Reviews (VNR), which are voluntary and country driven, form the basis of this review.

The UN website says: “The voluntary national reviews aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.” In 2016, 22 presented their performance review on sustainable development goals (SDGs). This year, 44 nations including India have volunteered. The themes of review this year are: ending extreme poverty, ending hunger, ensuring healthy lives, gender equality, inclusive sustainable industrialisation, sustainable oceans and means of implementation (Goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14 and 17 of Agenda 2030, respectively).

The process in India

In India, the process is led by NITI Aayog, Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a think tank attached to Ministry of External Affairs, and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Civil society is anxious as it wonders whether it will have a say in the official VNR report. Consultations on the larger agenda of SDGs and on particular themes such as gender are being held by inviting civil society, private groups and other stakeholders at the national and State levels. The outcome will be fed to the process of making the VNR. It is understood that the government will highlight its key achievements such as Swachh Bharat, financial inclusion, etc. The government has already identified existing programmes and policies which are linked to different goals under SDGs.

Sources suggest that the government has also sought inputs from civil society, especially to the VNR process. It’s not clear whether the inputs of civil society organisations (CSO) will be part of the government report or will form an annexure. However, Indian civil society led by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) — an umbrella CSOs’ platform — has geared up for a shadow report on SDGs. It will make an independent assessment of the implementation of the 2030 agenda from civil society’s point of view.

Is the VNR process an effective mechanism to review SDGs? Ingo Ritz, director of GCAP, a global campaign on poverty and inequality, says: “In the HLPF 2016, the governments tried to show that they already do very well. There was no reflection about problems, challenges or what policies should be changed to achieve the SDGs.” A closer look at last year’s VNR by nations gives a clear impression that they presented only a rosy picture of their performance.

Amitabh Behar of WNTA says: “We should have a process similar to universal periodic review, which entails substantive participation of civil society against tokenism and ensures accountability of the member-states.”

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