Distinguished Panel to start the proceedings for the SDG Seminar,(from left – Dr. Balu, Ma. Dattatreya Hosabale ji, Shri Shyam Parande)

 “Ours can be the first generation to end poverty – and the last generation to address climate change before it is too late.”

The above quote by Ban-Ki Moon, Former UN Secretary-General, aptly summarised in a line the extent of crisis that we face as a civilization and interestingly how well connected these problems are. The acceptance of this fact is the first step towards formulating an action plan to combat the dire situation we are in. And it doesn’t even have a name for it. You may disguise it as mere climate change, global warming, poverty, unemployment, migration, population explosion, but aren’t all these a part of some sort of holocaust, some sort of destruction that the mankind has called upon itself. In its ruthless ways of consumption and lust for more, it has bled the mother earth, of its resources, exploited them in the name of development and now we stand at the cusp of this destruction and the problem is, we don’t have a Plan B. We can’t have a Plan B because we don’t have a Planet B!!

The United Nations in 2015 came together and in January 2016 gave the Sustainable Development Goals to the world to follow. Uptil now 193 countries have signed the SDGs, passed by the UN General Assembly.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The SDGs, build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, cover social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment, and social justice, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace, and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.

Ma. Dattatreya ji overseeing the developments of the Seminar and guiding us with his invaluable insights

Sewa International at its 3 days long International Sewa Baithak starting from 6th December to 8th December 2018, dedicated the first day (6th Dec 2018) towards a Seminar on Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean for India and the social sector at large. In doing so, it was our aim to give a clear direction towards these goals to our future endeavors and projects. The event was graced by many dignitaries and delegates from over 13 countries. The event was chaired by Ma Dattatreya Hosabale Ji (Sah-Sarakaryavaah (Joint General Secretary) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS)). He began the session with the insight that one cannot ignore or deny the wisdom of the local communities in a region, communities who have been living in tandem with nature for centuries. Instead of just focussing on evolving new technologies to reverse the ill effects of exploitation of resources we might want to take a step back and consider an overhaul in our attitude that makes us compulsive consumers even at the peril of the resources of the planet.

Some of the prominent speakers included Dr. Ramaswami Balasubramaniam (development scholar, author,public policy advocate, leadership trainer and activist), Dr. Yogesh Gokhale (fellow at TERI India), Dr. Gajanan Dange (the former head of KVK, Nandurbar, Maharashtra),Shri Kapil Sahasrabuddhe (Vice President at YOJAK Center for Research and Strategic Planning for Sustainable Development), Dr. P.K Anand (Retd IAS),  Atul Kaushik (Ex Additional Secretary in charge of the Speaker’s Research Initiative (SRI)), Dr. Nagesh Kumar (Chief Economist of the Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)), Dr. Sunita Pandey (Professor of Agronomy, Dept of Plant Pathology, GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar Dist Udham Singh Nagar) and Prof Kaushal Kumar (Prof at JNU) .

Dr. Balu presenting his views while delivering the Keynote Address on SDGs

After the inaugural address, Dr. Balasubramaniam, popularly known as Dr Balu, began the Keynote Address, by elaborating on the idea of development and how SDGs are relevant to India. He emphasized the fact that development is not just about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but also about other indices like HDI( Human Development Index) and GNHI (Gross National Happiness Index). Given the fact that the last 100 years have seen enormous changes, it is important to ask the question, whether SDGs are enough to combat or possibly reverse the damage done. Also, who defines development and in what measures. Development has created a crisis that is turning its head against us. This culture of consumerism has led us to an ecological and societal crisis, emanating from a crisis of the self. Dr. Balu emphasized on the point that as Indians our growth story has been incidental as our focus has always been on investing in human capital, in the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development of man. The Indian way of life preached contentment which is the way to sustainability.

Dr. Yogesh Gokhale continued further on the same lines by quoting examples from our ancient culture where conservation and contentment formed an essential aspect of the Indian way of life. Traditions like sthala vriksha, tree worship, the presence of species of cultural importance to people eg Tulsi, ecosystem-based conservation practices like machiyal (sacred pools in streams), have served as last resort homes of many species of plants.  He brought attention to the fact that community contribution to sustainable development has not yet been quantified by state and non-state agencies, and more should be done to recognize the efforts at grassroots and also to serve as examples that can be replicated throughout the country. In a scathing opposition to the way the western population lives and contributes tremendously in increasing the carbon footprint at the global level, Dr. Gokhale lauded the fact that the lifestyle of our local communities is their biggest contribution to climate action and conservation. Despite their limited capacity and no legal recognition, the communities pan India have been able to preserve about 200,000 natural sites owing to our robust traditions.

Moving onto the policy formulation at national and local levels towards the SDGs, Shri Atul Kaushik, spoke about the very important concept of involving perceptivity of local governments, representatives and parliamentarians in working towards SDGs. Parliamentarians are important links between government policies and the voice of the people.  A top-down approach towards any policy often leads to a sort of cascading effect at the grassroots, but when the initiative comes from within the people and their representatives, it puts the impetus on the executive and the government to align their development policies accordingly in that direction. The same approach towards SDGs should come from sensitizing the local representatives and also making space for the sustainable practices that our ancestors have been practicing for centuries.

Dr. Nagesh Kumar described at length, from an economic and development standpoint, how the SDGs are interrelated and can be confined to 7 key areas. Agriculture, Industry and Services are three spokes of the economic cycle. While India was chiefly an agrarian economy in the past, it made a direct leap to the services sector, which no doubt escalated our GDP numbers but failed to generate large-scale employment which can only come through manufacturing sector; at the same time making us self-dependent in terms of production of essential goods. The dependence on imports puts a country’s sovereignty at risk if our export competitiveness is not equally strong. An important facet of industrial growth and overall development is to close gaps in infrastructure, harnessing the demographic dividend through universal access to education and health. An ardent need to invest in schools, hospitals, toilets and other infrastructure of public utility would ensure that we develop human capital which in turn can make sustainable development goals a reality. Social protection and financial inclusion for reducing inequalities poverty and other forms of deprivation are some other measures that the government is focussing on to create a sustainable human capital.

The national policies in alignment with the global SDGs have been taking active steps towards implementing a universal social pension, addressing food security issues and working towards sustainable agriculture, promoting gender equality and women empowerment through entrepreneurship, enhancing environmental sustainability through low carbon climate resilient pathways to development.

Dr. Sunita Pandey apprising about the link between Sustainable Agri-practices and SDGs

In a specific angle towards linking SDGs to Agriculture, Dr Sunita Pandey’s insights regarding the topic proved to be an eye-opener for all, when she mentioned the global crisis of food security and how the traditionally revered relationship we had with land impacted our mindsets in a way that led us to live sustainably and consume as per our needs. With massive and large-scale commercialization of agriculture, it has become yet another industry where each year the quality of the soil is deteriorated by mindless use of pesticides and fertilizers which now have entered our food chain as well. We consume poison on our plates and if this fact does not stir our conscience then what else will. Tracing the history of agriculture since Indus valley civilization, Dr. Pandey enlightened everyone on the traditional agricultural practices, that helped maintain a healthy soil and gave time for it to replenish and nurture itself back. Novel methods of water conservation and irrigation like rainwater harvesting, have been used in our country since time immemorial. Our blind aping of the west has resulted in dwindling of all such traditions like Shri Palekar’s Zero Farming, Jaivik Kheti of Tara Chand Belji of MP. The need of the hour is to have a key policy shift in not just the agricultural research and education but also in the mindsets of all stakeholders, most importantly farmers.  

Prof Kaushal Kumar pertinently questioned the viability of the green revolution and how far had it actually succeeded in bringing about development. It was mostly the big farmers who benefitted from it while the nothing changed for the small and marginal farmers. He emphasized the need to learn to manage resources so that the ecological sustainability of villages and communities is maintained and that in turn can stop mass migration and urbanisation. A holistic approach towards development would mean investing in education, school infrastructure, agriculture and allied activities like horticulture, livestock, fisheries, pickle and juice making. The village economy needs to be strengthened by equipping the local entrepreneurs with modern methods of marketing and technology. He elaborated upon various Government schemes and policies that are working in the direction of SHGs. Schemes like Unnat Bharat have been doing great work in adopting villages and and transforming the economic status of farmers.

Sh Kapil Sahasrabuddhe and Dr Gajanan Dange, talked about the efforts and role of voluntary and community organizations in implementing Sustainable Development Goals at the grassroots level. Following nature’s season cycle, observing the rainfall patterns, need assessment before planning development works, linking faith to resources and instigating reverence for nature are some of the things that the social sector organizations can do to make way for the fulfillment of SDGs at the local level.  Speaking of YOJAK, Shri Kapil spoke about their working with local organizations especially in tribal areas and linking them with partners at various levels for natural resource-based livelihood and biodiversity conservation. The organization has been currently working on institutional development for capacity enhancement of grassroots level organizations and individuals, especially in rural and tribal areas.

Sh Devi Prasad
Shri Devi Prasad moderating the whole Seminar and presenting his views based on his experience working at the Rural Development Ministry

The event was moderated by Shri Devi Prasad (Retd IES), who very efficiently held the gathering together while allowing a free flow of ideas and questions from the audience as well. He apprised all with his valuable insights gathered from life-long stint in different govt debts at various levels.

The event was concluded by an open-ended question-answer session where the speakers responded to various queries and questions from the audience.

We were delighted by the active participation from the audience and the enthusiasm of the key speakers who answered each query aptly. Sewa intends to carry forward insights emerging out of the discussion to lay a strong foundation for our future projects and endeavors in various parts of the country.

Sewa International encourages and calls upon all the citizens and the members of the civil society, particularly youth to join us in this journey.In the words of the United Nations, “at its essence, sustainability means ensuring prosperity and environmental protection without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable world is one where people can escape poverty and enjoy decent work without harming the earth’s essential ecosystems and resources; where people can stay healthy and get the food and water they need; where everyone can access clean energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change; where women and girls are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”

Let’s be a global citizen today . Act with passion and compassion. Help us make this world safer and more sustainable today and for the generations that will follow us. That is our moral responsibility.

 Glimpses of event