New U.N. Development Goals Will Drive Nations 'Nuts', Says NITI Ayog's Bibek Debroy

08/07/2015 10:00 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Prof. Bibek Debroy at Ahmedabad Management Association

NEW DELHI — An Indian economist and member of a key government panel which formulates policy on social issues slammed the United Nations' new development goals on Tuesday, saying that having so many goals and targets would drive governments "nuts".

World leaders are due to adopt a set of new development objectives in September, to replace eight expiring U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These will include objectives like ending poverty, reducing child mortality and tackling climate change.

Although the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be finalised only in September, U.N. officials say member states have identified 17 goals and 169 targets.

Bibek Debroy, member of the NITI Ayog - a panel appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act as a think-tank and advise on development priorities - said the SDGs were overly ambitious.

"I am going to provoke my hosts, but I am greatly disturbed by what is happening on the SDGs. Eight goals, 21 targets, I can understand. But 17 goals, 169 targets? We'll go nuts. Imagine the plight of the countries which will now have to collect data for these, if collecting that data at all is possible," he said.

Debroy, who was speaking at a news conference organised by the United Nations to launch a report on the Asia-Pacific region's progress on the MDGs, said he thought the SDGs would not have the "virtue" that the MDGs had.

"I look at some of those proposed goals and I don't understand what they mean. It's as if you are looking for a unified field theory and are trying to solve every problem under the sun."

United Nations officials said they agreed that there were many SDGs, but said the number of goals and targets was decided by all 193 member states.

"I agree with his (Debroy's) analysis and his concern that the goals and indicators are too many to be implementable and to be measured and monitored. This is a very serious concern," Rebecca Tavares, U.N. representative for India, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The good news is that the SDG process was a broad-based consultative process that member states themselves managed. The member states took control over the process and consulted all groups over many years. There were so many proposals and it was difficult to hone to down to a manageable number."

Like most countries, India has achieved some goals, but failed on others, the U.N. report said.

India has achieved 12 of the 21 targets.

These include halving the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, ensuring universal primary schooling, achieving gender parity in primary schools, halving the number of people without access to clean drinking water and increasing forest cover, the report said.

The country has, however, been slow to reduce the number of underweight children, and to curb the number of women dying in childbirth and the number of infants dying, it added.

Debroy, a free-market ideologue, said people had to be careful when focusing on goals and should not make "value judgments" on people's lifestyle.

"For example, should people have piped drinking water? Everyone will say yes. But in India in 2001, 45,000 villages had populations less than 100, some of those villages are in hilly areas where they get perfectly clean drinking water from streams," he said.

"So what is the objective? Is it to get drinking water from taps or just to get clean drinking water?"

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