India's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, articulated through Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of an "Aatma Nirbhar Bharat", does not imply a "self-sufficient or isolationist" India and the country remains supportive of the multilateral global economic order, as challenges presented by the pandemic can only be addressed through multilateralism and global solidarity, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said.
India presented its 2nd Voluntary National Review (VNR) on Sustainable Development Goals at a virtual session of the High-Level Political Forum here on Monday.
Presenting India's VNR, Kumar said the Indian government's response to the pandemic has been articulated through Modi's vision of an "Aatma Nirbhar Bharat" or a self-reliant India.
"This is in no sense implying a self-sufficient or an isolationist India. On the other hand, we remain supportive of the multilateral global economic order, whose robust, resilient and rapid response capabilities to major disruptions is established beyond doubt," Kumar said in his address to the High-Level Political Forum.
Kumar was accompanied by Adviser in the NITI Aayog, Sanyukta Samaddar during the VNR presentation. He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up multiple new challenges for countries.
"All member countries are also faced with several pressing challenges, including climate change, the scourge of dehumanising poverty, human trafficking and natural disasters. These can be successfully addressed only and only through multilateralism and global solidarity," he said.
Underscoring that the virus does not recognise any distinctions, Kumar emphasised that "we should all obliterate all divisions and distinctions amongst us, and come together to try and convert the prevailing situation into an opportunity for accelerating our progress towards achieving the SDG targets".
Kumar said that India's responses to COVID-19-induced economic downturn has been operationalised through a stimulus package of USD 276 billion, which is 10 per cent of India's GDP and includes several reform and relief measures across sectors to protect lives and livelihoods.
"No doubt challenges remain. We are committed to addressing them effectively and expeditiously. Our 2nd VNR highlights many of those good practices that have worked in the most challenging regions of our country. These examples can provide a basis for mutual learning amongst countries. The role of international cooperation is more critical than ever before," he said.
Referring to Modi's articulation that "people, planet and profits are interlinked", Kumar said nations have to "earnestly" focus on the triple bottom line of optimising financial, social and ecological returns in whatever they do.
"We have to continuously strive for doing well by doing good. It can be done," he said.
Outlining the significant progress made by India towards the SDGs and Agenda 2030 through various flagship and ambitious programmes and initiatives, Kumar said the country has been able to lift 270 million people from multi-dimensional poverty, the law on the Right to Education promises education for all and the Prime Minister's housing programme promises a roof over every head by 2025 and piped water to every home.
He added that electricity has already reached all of India's villages and 80 million households have access to clean fuel, 110 million toilets have been built, 385 million new bank accounts have been opened and the government launched the world's largest health insurance programme 'Ayushman Bharat' that covers 500 million citizens.
The JAM Trinity (Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) has enabled the government to shift all the beneficiaries in nearly 480 schemes for direct benefit transfers.
"Given our extensive diversity, regional priorities and plurality, we have had to localise the SDGs. One size simply does not fit all the people," Kumar said, adding that the government is actively partnering with state governments and union territories for vertical and horizontal policy coherence for achieving SDG targets.
Kumar told the high-level forum that India's 2nd VNR preparation process has been "truly participatory" and included consultation with businesses, civil society organisations, academia, think tanks, professionals and startups.
"It is indeed a whole of society endeavour," he said.
The NITI Aayog partnered with civil society organisations for a consultative process that saw more than 50 national and sub-national consultations led by civil society organisations from 14 population groups.
Kumar also highlighted India's leadership in the International Solar Alliance and The Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure, UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Further, during the COVID-19 crisis, India has extended humanitarian relief and supplied essential drugs over 80 countries across the world.
"We may be far off from each other physically but we remain connected. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to our plans and timelines. Therefore, we have to double and triple our efforts for achieving the Agenda 2030," he said.