Those who are part of government have great belief in the ability of governments to accomplish development and even sustainable development.
Those who have been studying development, sustainable development, and complex systems believe otherwise. The World Commission on Environment and Development was one which expressed its concerns, more than 33 years ago, in the ability of governments and other institutions to accomplish sustainable development.
In 2015, the world set itself to accomplish 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Does this address the concerns raised by the Commission? Do the concerns expressed by the Commission remain relevant today?
50 Ministries of the Government of India deal with independent, fragmented and narrow mandates. Each champion their own development agenda.
This agenda drives their mandates, declares their independence from each other, and furthers the fragmentation. The mandates of these ministries are also too narrow as they concern themselves exclusively with budgets, expenditure, schemes and programs that focus on quantities of beneficiaries, production or growth.
Anything that does not fit into the budget, has no expenditure, doesn’t fit into a scheme or is not a part of a program doesn’t fit into government. Anything that fits into a budget, has large expenditure, fits into a government scheme or fits into a government program, no matter what its consequences, is termed as the development agenda.
Government, then, works to create budgets, expenditure, schemes and programs. These define the development agenda of the government of the day.
The budget heads, expenditures number of schemes and number of programs of government grow with every passing year. The governments and their agendas were based on narrow preoccupations and compartmentalized concerns.
The Ministries of the state governments are no different. They mirror the independent, fragmented narrow mandates of the Union Government.
No one, yes, no one is responsible for the integrated whole. No one is responsible for the benefits to the integrated whole. No one is responsible to the sustainability of the integrated whole. No one is responsible for the unintended consequences of their budgets, expenditures, schemes and programs. Cynics say no one is responsible for the intended consequences either.
The development that we experience is, then, a result of this development agenda.
This is precisely what the World Commission on Environment and Development had identified as the institutional gap.
It had recognized that our challenges are both interdependent and integrated, requiring institutions with comprehensive approaches and popular participation. It emphasized that development must ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This, it highlighted, is impossible if the institutions driving the development agenda have independent, fragmented and narrow mandates with closed decision processes.
As long as the ministries of the government are not defragmented to reflect their interdependence, as long as their mandates don’t broaden to recognize the integrated nature of the environment we live in, as long as our decision process excludes those whose lot is altered by the development agenda, our strategies for sustainable development will fail to accomplish sustainable development.
As long as the short-term fragmented decision-making drives us, sustainable development will remain a mirage. Sustainable development is not about the short term. It is the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born now, of the great grandchild of every generation.
How, then, can we design a government and institutions that will succeed in driving sustainable development?
Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Chairperson of the World Commission on Environment and Development, showed us how in the way in which she constituted the Commission.
She put together a team that spanned the globe, and pulled together to formulate an interdisciplinary, integrated approach to global concerns and our common future. She ensured broad participation and a clear majority of members from developing countries, to reflect world realities. She put together people with wide experience, and from all political fields, not only from environment or development and political disciplines, but from all areas of vital decision making that influence economic and social progress, nationally and internationally.
They acted not in their national roles but as individuals; and as they worked, nationalism and the artificial divides between “industrialized” and “developing”, between East and West, receded. In their place emerged a common concern for the planet and the interlocked ecological and economic threats with which its people, institutions, and governments now grapple. They created platforms to allow thousands of people all over the world to contribute to the work of the Commission.
Can we put together governments and institutions that have broad participation and a clear majority of members drawn to reflect the world realities?
Can we put together people with wide experience, and from all political fields, not only from environment or development and political disciplines, but from all areas of vital decision making that influence economic and social progress?
Can we put together people whose working will address our common concern for the planet and the interlocked ecological and economic threats with which its people, institutions, and governments now grapple? Can we create platforms to allow thousands of people to contribute to decision process of the government?
Can we put together a common understanding and common spirit of responsibility so clearly needed in a divided world?
Do we have a choice if we are serious about sustainable development?
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or the individuals quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph
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