India has said it is committed to accelerating economic growth beyond seven per cent over the next five years while ensuring there is no trade-off between sustainability and development, as top UN officials expressed "awe" over the country's remarkable progress in moving towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
Addressing the High Level Political Forum 2019 special event 'From Commitment to Achievement: India's Experience in Localising the SDGs' at the UN Headquarters, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said India at the moment is at the "cusp of a major transformation" and the government has ensured that inclusion will be a part of it.
"In the next five years, we are now committed to accelerate growth in India beyond the 7 per cent that we have achieved. We know that to meet our young people's aspirations, we have to grow at higher rates, keeping in mind clearly the constraints that we have," Mr Kumar said.
"Then the fruits of this growth will reach to the people that we are supposed to reach, who are looking for better education, better health, better delivery of electricity, renewable power," he said Tuesday.
"Now we are going to try and accelerate our growth in the next two decades" so that India emerges as a country by 2030, which has achieved a large part, if not all, of the SDGs and some before the target date, he said.
He underscored that in the last five years, the Narendra Modi government has "refused to believe that sustainability and development are a trade-off."
Acknowledging that there are still "huge and immense challenges" for the diverse and 1.3 billion strong country, Mr Kumar said the government is taking up any challenge knowing that "this is the hand that has been dealt to us and we have to make sure that we reduce the carbon imprint, improve our water ways and yet have the development of the last decile of the population - summed up in Antyodaya."
Speaking at the event, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner praised India's ambitious initiatives that are playing a critical role in improving the lives of its people and advancing the SDGs.
"I am simply in awe of where India today is setting simply new records in how to translate something that we aspire to achieve in development and in many countries still struggle," he said.
Noting that India is not without its own share of struggles, Mr Steiner said in some key areas of development, it has had "really breakthrough impacts... exceeding anything that any country has ever done before" such as the Aadhaar biometric programme.
He added that a key part of the 'leaving no one behind' narrative of the SDGs is one that can be tested through such a programme.
Mr Steiner added that the Aadhaar programme has delivered so much more than anyone else could have thought possible that "I sometimes still wonder why the world has not sat up and studied this more because it is... transformative in the true sense of the word."
Mr Kumar emphasised that over the last five years, the government has been ensuring that people at the "bottom of the pyramid" get the benefits that are due to them.
"Not just rhetoric and leakages" but the benefits flow to them through the trinity of government initiatives - Jan Dhan bank account, Aadhaar unique identity number and mobile phone. He also highlighted that aiming to ensure financial inclusion, 310 million accounts have been opened in the last five years, 120 million gas stoves provided and a sanitation drive has built millions of toilets across the country.
Mr Steiner stressed that part of the efforts to localise the SDGs in India is the ability to have "boutique solutions" that are "designed with people that we are actually trying to work with at the centre of rather than a statistical average.
"Therein lies one of the success stories of India's remarkable poverty eradication story," he said referring to the 2019 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) from UNDP which said that India lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016.
"Unbeknownst to the world really, India in the years between 2006 and 2016, did something remarkable. It lifted 271 million people out of poverty. That number alone is mind-boggling and it speaks to the success of ...targeted interventions at a level and scale of ambition that is without parallel in any other country in the world," Mr Steiner said, adding that the government's health coverage scheme is also helping people escape from poverty and earn a livelihood.
Resident Coordinator of the UN in India Renata Dessallien said the embrace of the SDGs and Agenda 2030 within the policy framework of the Indian government has been complete.
She asserted that India is an "epicenter" of innovative solutions towards the SDGs, both frugal innovations and the most advanced technological and digital-based solutions.
She said that the country is also the epicenter for achieving the SDGs globally and one can see already that "India is not shying away from that responsibility and is bearing that responsibility with great sense of seriousness and understanding of the implications for the world and achievement of SDGs."