By Hita M. Agarwal, WBNUJS, Kolkata.

The millennium year, 2000, or Y2K, as it has come to be known in popular culture – marked an occasion of renewal of hope and aspirations. A new date, meant to many, a chance to shed the burden of the past and aspire for a better future. How then, could an organisation as multifaceted, conscientious and accelerative as the United Nations miss on this singular opportunity and positive atmosphere to further the cause of the unvoiced?

Through the United Nations Millennium Declaration at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, the international community embraced eight objectives for furtherance of development, called The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). All 189 member states (now, 193) and over twenty international organisations dedicated themselves to working towards the achievement of these goals by the year 2015.

The Millennium Development Goals, as enlisted on, are:

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

Each goal has specific targets, and a timeline for completion. Organisations such as the G8, have aided this process by providing funds to pay the debt owed by members of the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC). Thematically, they may be viewed as concerning health and sanitation, social upliftment, and the environment. While these goals are not legally binding on any country, they do exert significant pressure from the international community. They serve as a reminder of the idea that material growth and interests alone should not influence policy decisions, and that the true test of a country’s ‘developed’ status arises from the quality of life it offers its citizens. Special emphasis is laid on the needs of under – represented sections of the society, such as women and children.

Perhaps the biggest advantage and drawback of these goals lies in the non – prescription of the mechanism to fulfill them. On one hand, it gives countries the discretion to choose a path to achievement that is most suitable to their political, social and economic condition; on the other hand, it leaves the heavy burden of designing a policy, coming up with requisite infrastructure and fulfilling these objectives in a manner that they become ingrained in the country’s system on their shoulders – all in a short span of fifteen years.

It has been agreed upon, almost unanimously, that India has made progress in all areas, a recent detailed summary of which may be found in the ‘Millennium Development Goals – India Country Report 2015’, released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. For the purpose of analysis, it is best to analyse progress goal – wise.

In a summary titled ‘India and the MDGs: Towards a Sustainable Future for All’ released by UN India, it is mentioned that India has already achieved the target for reducing poverty by half (Goal 1) by official estimates – and is close to doing so by international estimates. However, with regards to halving the proportion of hungry people, India falls short of the target by about 6%, when measured in metrics of underweight children below the age of 3. Nonetheless, India is on the right track for combating the problem of hunger.

On the question of achieving universal primary education, a large number of children are still out of school and fail to complete primary education; with a low quality of education as revealed by preliminary testing. The main reason behind this trend is underutilization of public resources and inadequacy of funds. Moreover, India must also deal with the added problem of specifically excluded groups, such as Scheduled Castes and Tribes, who must face more hindrances than others in their quest for education. These problems require administrative and societal change.

Although India has achieved gender parity at the primary level, and is well on its way to attaining it at other levels as well, women literacy rates are still lower. Indian women only constitute 33% of the labour force compared to the global average of 50%.

Only 10% rural women have any ownership entitlements over agricultural land. This comes in light of the fact that 83% of them are dependent on agriculture. Gender in India is also a complex phenomenon due to the prevalent patriarchal society. With the appalling high rate of commission of crimes against women, forced gender – based abortions and the glaring question mark on their safety, India will have to strive to achieve gender equality in not statistics alone.

The trend with regard to child mortality is encouraging. India was supposed to reduce the under-five Mortality Rate by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015. Between 1990 and 2013, there was a 60% decline at an increasing rate in the recent years, and at that pace, the target is highly achievable by 2015.

The National Rural Health Mission, kick started in 2005 (now expanded country-wide across rural and urban areas through the National Health Mission) has speeded up progress in maternal health. The maternal mortality target is also likely to be achieved. Maternal health, however, continues to be plagued by problems of staff vacancies and gaps in availability of health personnel, governance issues and inadequate monitoring of programmes.

The national estimate for percentage of population aged 15-24 years with comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS in 2006 was 32.9% according to Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BSS), reporting betterment from 2001 (22.2%). The prevalence of HIV among pregnant women aged 15-24 years also shows a declining trend from 0.89 % in 2005 to 0.32% in 2012-13. Campaigns such as Pulse Polio have been immensely successful and instrumental in reducing prevalence of widespread diseases.

India has made huge strides in the area of environmental sustainability. Despite increased area under forest cover and biodiversity protection, India is turning into one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Perhaps, India will benefit from better utilization of techniques such as Joint Forest Management, making public – Government initiatives more widespread.

With the rise of the South – Asian subcontinent, and India’s catalysing role in organisations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), India has become a big player in international policies affecting the region. Extending the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad train corridor to Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka can further strengthen the roots of regional trade, transport connectivity and trade facilitation. India is also making efforts in unprecedented areas, such as food security, as is evident from the Bali 2013 session. India has also extended its hand to unique organisations such as BRICS, and by extension, institutions such as the National Development Bank (NDB).

With the MDG’s set to expire at the end of this year, the United Nations has framed seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to orient and shape policies for the next fifteen years. They were formulated by the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) and the Secretary General’s Synthesis Report was accepted by the General Assembly in December 2014. The Intergovernmental Negotiations on the post – 2015 Development Agenda have carried on for the first half of 2015, to crystallize ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Global Action’ – which is the final document the UN Summit will be adopting.

The SDGs are noteworthy because unlike the MDGs, which were formulated only by policy – makers, the SDGs were framed after the largest consultation programme in UN history to gauge people’s needs. It was also acknowledged at the Rio De Janeiro Summit, 2012, that the MDGs failed failed to consider the root causes of poverty, or gender inequality, or the holistic nature of development – and it is these that the SDGs seek to address. If passed in the New York Summit to be held in September 2015, the SDGs will come into force in January 2016.

Currently, the responsibility of navigating Indian development lies with the newly instated Government, which has made its mandate for change abundantly clear. If one is to analyze its policy actions since assuming office, the Government is calling for improved sanitation, health, education, security and dignity of all, and especially women; thereby giving Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas true form. With the UN General Assembly all set to adopt Sustainable Development Goals in less than two months, the Government of India is displaying significant junction of vision with the UN. However, the true litmus test of their efficacy lies in how strongly rooted their manifestation is in the lives of the Indian populace…