The Oslo SDG Initiative facilitates dialogue on the SDGs in India

The Oslo SDG Initiative recently organized several events with Indian partner institutions in New Delhi and Kolkata.

SDG poster JNU

The Oslo SDG Initiative organized a roundtable on the Sustainable Development Goals and Governance in India in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University. Photo: Kaja Elise Gresko/UiO.

Together with our partner, The Centre for Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), we co-hosted a roundtable in New Delhi focused on governance in India and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Norwegian Ambassador to India, Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg, opened the event, highlighting India’s crucial role for success in achieving the SDGs. – Norway’s contribution will be a drop in the ocean, but India’s can be a big wave, he stated, emphasizing the benefits of bilateral cooperation as a means to achieving global impact.

Awareness, policy coherence, funding and monitoring

Norwegian Ambassador to India
Norwegian Ambassador to India, Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg. Photo: Kaja Elise Gresko/UiO

Prof. Dan Banik highlighted 4 challenges for the SDGs in his introductory remarks. Firstly awareness; both with regards to the goals themselves, and the critical aspect of universality. Secondly, he pointed to how policy coherence and institutional set-up is key for implementation, and how strong institutions (a focus of SDG 16) are crucial for addressing policy gaps. Thirdly, the issue of financing the agenda; many countries lack resources to finance sustainable development. The SDGs have, however, brought about something previously unseen – tremendous private sector interest in development. With numerous reports in the Indian press in recent months highlighting the importance of tax collection in funding the agenda, the private sector is poised to be a core contributor. Finally, data and monitoring are highly important to ensuring progress on the SDGs, and Prof. Banik argued that policymakers must be able to access quick data which is reliable and accurate.

A call to action - with challenges

Several of these issues were discussed throughout the day, and Prof. Ritupriya Mehrotra (JNU) focused on government policies that represent more “hype” than actual impact. Examples provided included the recently launched Indian health insurance scheme and the "Clean India" latrine campaign. She called for holistic perspectives in India's sustainable development agenda and for increased grants for research in this respect. Prof. Jaivir Singh (JNU), speaking on consumption vs. production standards in achieving the SDGs, argued that sustainable development requires us to act not as sovereign consumers, but also “citizen consumers”, with rights and responsibilities. Dr. Amithab Behar from Oxfam India pointed out that the interrelated nature of the agenda has not been fully grasped in the country, and had 4 recommendations for improved uptake in India:

  • Increased public awareness and realization of how SDGs resonate with existing schemes and policies in India
  • SDG mapping
  • Developing an accountability framework
  • Developing an action framework

A multi-sectorial agenda

Kolkata panel discussion
Panel discussion co-organized with Presidency University in Kolkata. Photo: Kaja Elise Gresko/UiO

Dr. Pooran Pande, CEO at Dialogue of Civilizations, highlighted the role of the private sector, and the role of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in providing a framework for sustainable business. He claimed that ODA currently only accounts for $145 million globally, standing in stark contrast to the $500-750 billion funding gap just in the Indian context. Dr. Shruti Sharma (UN World Food Programme) further pointed out that in discussions on the key actors relevant for SDG implementation, it is common to highlight the contributions of governments, civil society organisations and businesses. She cautioned that one must not forget the common man as “the cardinal owner” of the agenda.

Critical perspectives on the SDG framework

A few days later in Kolkata, we co-hosted a well-attended panel discussion at Presidency University on the importance of the 2030 Agenda in India, viewed from a regional perspective. Prof. Achin Chakraborty criticized what he perceived to be a top-down agenda driven by the UN. While acknowledging that the goals are normatively good, he discussed how to approach them in an Indian context. – There are different levels of issues, and even if the UN sets higher aims, we still need to work on the ground floor, he stated, pointing to the trade-offs inherent in the inevitable issue of funding. He further highlighted the lack of emphasis on minorities, indigenous people, migrants and other vulnerable groups in the SDGs, and called for social embeddedness and cultural rooting to ensure localization.  

We have a million problems, but we have a billion people who can solve them.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi


Prof. Manabi Majumder from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences emphasized how India should not necessarily only learn from Western countries in promoting development, but also from successful regions within the country. She pointed to Kerala’s relative success vis-à-vis Uttar Pradesh. Further, she recognized the normative strength of the 2030 Agenda, but that democratic space must be secured for critical engagement with the goals. Prof. Banik stated that the most fundamental power of the SDGs is creating awareness on sustainable development and the integration of environment and development. While many issues remain unresolved, the 2030 Agenda (which was formulated based on the largest consultative process the UN has ever undertaken) has undeniably contributed to a shift in conversation in and outside development circles.

By Kaja Elise Gresko
Published Oct. 30, 2018 5:41 PM - Last modified Jan. 31, 2019 4:14 PM