TERI SAS: A Call for India to Actively Implement SDGs for Generating Sustainable Livelihood

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New Delhi, April 2019: Echoing the national concern to enhance livelihood security and sustainability by scaling up institutional mechanisms that reduce the vulnerability of communities and confirm Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Department of Policy Studies, TERI School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS) concluded a high-level conference titled “SDGs and Sustainable Livelihood: Opportunities and Challenges in India”. Keynote speakers and panellists at the Conference highlighted that despite having an edge in the competitive global market, India was still lagging in generating sustainable livelihood and the new upcoming government needs to prioritise and ensure successful implementation of sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will eventually lead to secure sustainable livelihood for the citizens. The Conference and deliberations will act as a prelude for policymakers, especially since a new government will be formed soon, giving a vision to raise the scale of employability, and to look at innovative policies that can support livelihood projects specifically aimed at sustainable development in urban and rural India.

The idea of sustainable livelihood was conceptualised in the late 1990s by DFID UK, and the concept was largely derived from the participatory approaches. Since then, the concept has become extremely popular among researchers, policymakers and development practitioners. It says that a livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base.

In his keynote address, Prof. Abhijit Sen, Former Member, Planning Commission, expressed his concern on the lack of understanding in operational mechanism for interlinking SDG to the global and Indian context. He stated, “There is an urgent need to have an integrated policy to meet SDGs since these Goals have an overlap with each other covering a broad range of interconnected issues from economic growth to social issues. Integrating them carefully with national programmes will have direct implications in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ongoing issue of unemployment rate has been the highest since 1970’s. There needs to be an increased focus on developing labour-intensive sector or creating sectors which demand labour or experts such as healthcare and environmental management issues. Also, there should be emphasis on building energy-efficient housing and commercial infrastructure which will employ large population.”

In her address, Dr. Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, TERI School of Advanced Studies, highlighted the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and environmental degradation, and its long-term impact on sustainable livelihood. Similarly, she asserted the inter-linkages between various SDG goals and the need for a holistic approach in implementing SDGs. Dr. Leena suggested that the new government should recognise the complex nature of vulnerability, and the challenges associated with access to both capital assets and entitlements provided by the State and others.

Presenting their views while addressing various cross-cutting issues related to the opportunities and challenges of sustainable livelihood in India, James Mathew (Deputy Director General, Ministry of Environment and Forests & Climate Change), Ranjana Kumari (Director, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi), and Meena Vaidyanathan (CEO, Nitii Consultant) highlighted that India needs to specifically emphasise the goals like Goal-1 (End Poverty), Goal-4 (Quality Education), Goal-5 (Gender Equality), Goal-8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), Goal-10 (Reduced Inequality) and Goal-15 (Life and Land) in order to achieve sustainable livelihood. In one hand, around 80 percent of young people in India were participating in the informal economy. While self-employment and participating in the parallel economy provide an income, this vulnerable employment can leave young workers in unsafe conditions, without basic rights, and lacking the benefits that jobs within the formal economy can offer. On the other hand, there is widespread disparity in employment based on gender resulting from inequality in opportunities and socio-economic and cultural expectations, which directly threatened the livelihood security. The panellists also highlighted that for inclusive economic growth, one must have access to training and education that will prepare them for today’s jobs, ensuring that inequality not only does not continue to widen, but shrinks.

Key takeaways from the Conference that would work as guiding policy thoughts were:

  • Government needs to indigenise all the SDGs at the national and State level.For instance, few very important goals like SDG-12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG-13 (Climate Action), SDG-14 (Life Below Water), SDG-17 (Partnership) have not been defined at the national level so far. The upcoming government should prioritise and define all the SDGs and its related indicators at the national or at the regional level.
  • Measurement of poverty has a direct link with livelihood. The Government needs to avoid universal, reductionist and standardised views while defining and measuring poverty at the national level. The Government could devise indigenous methods and techniques for measuring poverty both at the national and state level,and for this, they could take the reference of the methodology developed by the World Bank, which is very consistent.
  • As per the recent estimation by ILO 2016-17 report, around 81 percent of all employed person in India are in the informal sectors as compared to 6.5 percent in formal sectors. Hence, there is a huge demand of labour across all the sectors, and the Government needs to understand the demands of labour force in both formal and informal sectors. For this, the Government should focus more on labour-intensive sectors for creating jobs. Moreover, the Government needs to create a demand of labour in new sectors like healthcare, waste management, environment management, energy-efficient housing and commercial infrastructure etc.
  • For generating sustainable livelihood, the Government needs to work on a more gender-neutral wage payment system especially in the informal economy. As per the ILO Report 2017, majority of the women workforce in India are in the informal sectors and they are concentrated more in unwarranted jobs and lower-earning forms of works as compared to men. Hence, the current government needs to focus more on equality as far wage payment of men and women is concerned.

The event brought together renowned academicians, bureaucrats, development organisations, faculty and students to deliberate, reflect, understand and discuss the possibilities for sustained action towards cross-cutting issue related to sustainable livelihood.

On the sidelines of the Conference, with an emphasis to engage youth, a poster competition was held for undergraduate, post graduate and doctoral students, on the topic titled – Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Livelihood. The competition was an opportunity for young and budding scientists and researchers to share their innovative ideas, thoughts, and/or any successful models for generating sustainable livelihood.

TERI School of Advanced Studies is committed to build the capacity of youth to address the national, sub-national and global sustainability challenges. This was evident through presentations by the young alumni of the Masters programme in Sustainable Development Practice, who are making a dent on both policy and action areas.