Assam was the first state in India to launch a vision document for 2030 around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). K.V. Eapen, Additional Chief Secretary, Planning and Development Department, Government of Assam discusses how the SDGs can be weaved into state governance.
Why is it important for states to own the SDGs and feed into the national agenda?
In a country as diverse as India, the SDGs provide a policy framework within which bottom-up action from state governments can feed into the national agenda. For instance, when we have a national-level outcome figure, it masks the differences across states. Especially for a diverse state like Assam, which is quite ethnically diverse, the issues outlined in the SDGs vary from community to community. In such cases, state-level indicators need to be broken down into block-level indicators.
What is the role of national bodies?
The idea is not to start from scratch by redesigning state/national agendas, but to simply look at the existing agenda alongside the SDGs to identify areas of clear alignment. While some of the indicators can be kept at a national level, many of the social indicators need to be broken down to the state level. It is important for Niti Aayog to work closely with states to develop localised indicators. It can then act as a guiding force to ensure state governments continue to prioritise the SDGs by integrating them into their development plans.
How does Assam plan to keep up the momentum around ‘Vision Assam 2030’?
“People, Partnerships, Projects” is the overarching approach for implementation of the vision document. The close interconnections between the different goals and targets require sustained inter-departmental coordination, making it imperative that the SDGs are implemented in a synergised manner. For example, pilot projects are being launched in select villages in Assam for synergised implementation and achievement of the vision. These villages are our testing laboratories, and the lessons learned will be used to modify and scale up our approach across the state.
We also visualise a pivotal role for the UN agencies in India as a primary channel for transferring knowledge and best practices residing globally within the UN systems and networks.
How is the state allocating its resources to support ‘Vision Assam 2030’?
Looking at resources from a purely monetary angle hides other strengths, generally untapped, in each society. Resources include people and their skills, traditional institutions, and civil society. We believe many of the SDGs can be achieved by reorienting the focus towards these areas. For instance, the autonomous councils that are covering the tribal pockets of Assam have probably never considered where exactly the problems in health or education lie and have spread their monetary resources thin. If they focused their investment on connectivity and sanitation, perhaps it would improve the overall situation.
Further, tools that can help us better understand the problem through data are very important; monetary resources cannot be considered just in isolation. The use of technology such as satellite remote sensing and GIS applications to manage floods in Assam requires funds. For example, if floods and erosions are a consistent setback in Assam, and the data to support their accurate mapping is absent, technology becomes a key tool. This is where monetary resources come in — otherwise we are striking out blind.
What do you see as the challenges faced by Assam in building institutional mechanisms to support the principles of the SDGs?
Working with various sub-state level governance institutions and leading them towards the vision will be the two overarching challenges. Looking ahead, we will reach out to the departments, districts, autonomous councils and other levels of government to prepare individual strategy papers and actions plans, suitably aligning/modifying existing schemes and programmes for this purpose.
In terms of targets, we recognise that in the first couple of years, we need to focus on governance reform and sensitising the system towards the implementation of the goals. It is our role to ensure that the SDGs and the people, especially women and children, play an active role in accountability processes. This is clearly envisioned in the document and is aligned with one of the longstanding goals of the government.
For instance, the chief minister’s recently launched Atal Amrit Abhiyan health insurance scheme will provide access to quality treatment, aligned with the inclusive approach in the SDGs, by putting the last person first.