Few people know, for example, that the first mainframe computer to come to India was provided by UNDP, upon request from an Indian government that was already saying, back in the 1970s, that “computers are the future of India.” But the computer itself was just a tiny seed. It was the hard work and dedication of the Indians themselves that has nurtured that seed into the “tech mecca” that India has become today.
The UNDP approach
Bring any two development workers together in the same room, anywhere on earth, and they’ll start to tell tales of huge development projects gone wrong. The dam that aimed to provide jobs and electricity but displaced thousands of families; the CSR project that trained 50 tailors in one small town but failed to consider who was going to hire so many of them… The list goes on. Whether it was due to unforeseen challenges around local availability of building materials; cultural differences; or projects that for a myriad of reasons weren’t embraced wholeheartedly by the communities they aimed to serve, too many such stories exist. But how, then, to tackle India’s massive development challenges – challenges that affect huge numbers of people and must prove effective within a context of extreme diversity?
The answer may be in projects like BERI (Biomass for Rural India), a UNDP-supported pilot project that aims to reduce greenhouse gases emitted through fossil fuel while, at the same time, providing energy to some of the 60% of rural households in India that still lack access to electricity.
Projects like this one aim to test the viability of the system put into place, within the landscape and culture and community it’s meant to serve, before investing large quantities of time, money and other resources. In the case of the BERI project, this system spans all the way from the tree seedlings planted to provide fuel; to the workers feeding agricultural residue and wood into the gasifier; all the way to mothers, who uses the two precious hours she saves on cooking each day to make money growing jasmine flowers. Once the system has been proven to work, then it may be scaled up to meet the needs of a larger percentage of the population.
In recent history, important inroads were made by the Indian government with UNDP support and advocacy and achievements covering a vast range of areas crucial to India’s development. UNDP has played a major role in supporting the Ministry of Rural Development operationalize India’s landmark Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) by financing a Technical Cell to help run the project, a national series of programme evaluations, and a variety of programme-related pilots.
Contribution to RTI
Similarly, UNDP is credited with being the first international development partner to recognize the importance of India’s Right to Information movement. It “broke new ground” by underwriting cross-state exchanges and international workshops of activists, elected representatives, and government officials, as also widespread governmental training once the Act was passed.
Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangthan and Convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information said in a report, “UNDP’s key contribution was in the run-up to the passage of the Right to Information (RTI) Act between 2000 and 2005.
UNDP supported the participation of government officials from across India in public hearings in Rajasthan, a pioneer in providing a public platform for these discussions. State officials that had travelled to Rajasthan watched the public hearings during the day and in the evening, we were able to engage in follow up discussions with them. These officials then started adapting what they had witnessed in Rajasthan in their individual states. UNDP also helped commission a series of studies that examined public hearings across different states.”
“As a result of these efforts, public hearings in states such as Odisha received a big boost. The National Institute of Rural Development built upon these processes and took the debate further. This same documentation process was undertaken in Bihar and Rajasthan and so it became an important platform for learning and action. UNDP also used its position as a UN agency to help organize a crucial meeting in Delhi before the Delhi RTI Act was passed with the Chief Minister of the state. UN agencies can make a difference in that they provide a platform for different people to talk and ideate together. Participants came from states such as Goa which had just passed the ACT, Rajasthan which was a pioneer and the Delhi government. Their inputs helped the Delhi government improve its draft RTI Act. UNDP provided small but crucial financial support, which ultimately made a lot of difference,” he said.
The birth of UNDP
UNDP or the United Nations Development Programme was formed by merging the United Nations Special Fund (to assist developing countries in identifying large economically feasible development projects) and the EPTA (that provided technical assistance to developing nations).
It works in more than 170 countries and territories, helping to achieve the eradication of poverty, and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion. They help countries to develop policies, leadership skills, partnering abilities, institutional capabilities and build resilience in order to sustain development results.
Presence in India
UNDP has worked in India since 1951 in almost all areas of human development, from democratic governance to poverty eradication, to sustainable energy and environmental management. UNDP’s programmes are aligned with national priorities and are reviewed and adjusted annually. The partnership between the Indian Government and UNDP India continues to engage everyone as change agents of their own development to help achieve the future we want.
Timeline of milestones in India
As far back as 1966, UNDP provided research and training assistance to ONGC’s Institute of Petroleum Exploration. Sixteen oil fields were discovered by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation during the course of this project.
A year later Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station, Ahmedabad came into being — with UNDP support — to provide training and experience in design, development and operations of an earth station for communications and broadcasting. ESCES is now part of the Space Application Centre which played an important role in real time flood monitoring, drought assessment and mapping of landslide hazard zones.
The Nuclear Research Laboratory (NRL) at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute was set up in the late 1960s as part of a joint programme on the peaceful application of nuclear research in agriculture by UNDP, another UN agency called the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the International Atomic Energy Agency. NRL contributed to research on water use efficiency, post – harvest storage etc.
UNDP provided technical assistance to ‘Operation Flood’ – one of the largest of its kind, aimed at creating a nationwide milk grid.
Film and technology
UNDP supported the large-scale advent of television technology in India by revamping the Film Institute of India to create the esteemed FTII in Pune. Support also helped establish a division dedicated to television training.
The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment began with UNDP assistance. It was nationwide experiment aimed to create capabilities for television broadcasting using satellite facilities. UNDP also began a series of initiatives in tax reform that included training in tax administration, double taxation, tax fraud etc.
National Informatics Centre was set up with UNDP funding purchased a mainframe computer, one of the first steps in India’s vision of a technology-based future.
UNDP began an assistance programme with CEERI (Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute), Pilani to build its semi-conductor technology capabilities. The Institute has gone on to build high speed thyristors for Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) used to increase the efficiency of Indian Railways and develop prototypes for colour TVs.
Civil Aviation Training Centre, Allahabad and Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi: UNDP began a series of assistance initiatives in the civil aviation industry including modification of a civil aviation flight testing unit and incorporating international civil aviation standards in IGRUA.
UNDP helped evolve the two-year postgraduate programme in industrial design at Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay back in 1978. An interesting fact you may not know is that the new Rupee symbol was designed by an IDC graduate.
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – UNDP funded the set-up of the Transfer of Knowledge through the Expatriate Nationals Programme at CSIR to attract Indian scientists from abroad – a reverse brain drain strategy to attract talent back to India.
UNDP supported a first-of-its-kind initiative with the Department of Electronics to create expert R&D in the area of networking and internet in the country. This led to the birth of ERNET, the largest nation-wide terrestrial and satellite network that supported the networking and information needs of educational and research institutions.
UNDP assisted in setting up Modern Cartographic Centres, equipped with state-of-the-art digital mapping technology, to process digital cartographic databases required for planning and developmental activities.
Environment and biodiversity
UNDP assisted the Wildlife Institute of India in improving wild life management training courses and strengthening research capacities to conserve and manage India’s vast wildlife resources.
National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan – UNDP supported the preparation of the Plan which contributed significantly to the development of the National Biodiversity Action Plan.
UNDP initiated a pilot in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra – where more than 50% forest cover had been affected by forest fires — to put in place systems to prevent, detect and suppress such fires. Eight years later, the pilot led to a scheme by the Ministry of Environment and Forests called the Modern Forest Fire Control Methods.
As India introduced the new seed policy to facilitate seed imports to meet rising need, UNDP supported the development and strengthening of plant quarantine stations to combat the threat of pests and pathogens.
Reduction in greenhouse gases – through a UNDP initiated biomethanation project that explored waste-to-energy processes to reduce GHGs.
Sea turtle conservation – UNDP and the Ministry of Environment and Forests began a sea turtle conservation Project to locate the migratory route of Olive Ridley Turtles; devices are used in fish trawlers to curtail turtles dying in fishing nets.
Models of biodiversity governance – UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change collates 300 models of biodiversity governance of which 50 outstanding models are awarded by the Ministry.
Smoke-free biogas plants – UNDP partnered with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to explore renewable energy for rural electrification in villages in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand. Biogas plants now provide smoke-free environments and children can study after dark.
Artisans and small industries
UNDP initiated efforts with KVIC (Khadi Village Industries Corporation) to enhance the performance and competitiveness of the handmade paper industry in India.
TATA Council for Community Initiatives – UNDP supported the nodal agency comprising heads of over 50 TATA companies, resulting in the creation of the TATA Index for Sustainable Human Development.
UNDP launched National Leather Development Programme, one of the largest assistance programmes globally, with the Government of India to boost training in design and manufacture of leather goods such as the mojari, and to artisans and small clusters.
The agency launched a large scale effort to revive R&D and diversify the jute sector in 1992 providing US$ 23 million in assistance to the National Development Programme.
The UN agency collaborated with the government to set up the Small Farmers Agri-Business Consortium.
Utilization of hydro resources in the Himalayan region first happened through a UNDP supported hilly hydro project that aimed to develop a national strategy and master plan for utilizing small hydro resources in the Himalayan region.
UNDP assisted Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in setting up the Cultural Informatics Unit to virtually recreate India’s heritage and preserve manuscripts and books through digitization.
Support to national and flagship schemes
UNDP supports the Ministry of Rural Development to improve efficiency, accountability and inclusiveness of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGP) and National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) at national and state levels through policy advice and technical assistance. UNDP is also instrumental in incremental green results for programmes such as MGNREGP, NRLM and Indira Avas Yojana.
Alternative building material and technology for rural housing – UNDP demonstrates use of alternative and affordable building material and technology under the aegis of Indira Avas Yojana. The central and the state governments commit to scale up and promote locally appropriate technologies in rural housing.
Capacity building for strengthened local governance and improved service delivery – UNDP supports state governments in capacity building of district frontline officials for citizen-centric service delivery. UNDP also provides guidance to state governments on developing participatory integrated planning processes for local governments, towards effective fund utilization and improved rural basic service delivery.
UNDP supports the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the state governments’ initiatives undertaken through the National Mission for Clean Ganga by providing technical assistance on improved sanitation, sustainable solid and liquid waste management through enhanced local capacities and linked livelihoods.
Partnership with NITI Aayog
Some of UNDP’s highest impact projects have been with the Planning Commission which will now continue under the leadership of NITI Aayog. UNDP continues to support the central and the state governments towards bridging inequalities and strengthening capacities for decentralized planning. UNDP supports SDG roll-out to states and continues to provide catalytic support in achieving the SDGs.
Support to SDGs – 2016 to 2030
The concept of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in 2012. The objective was to produce a set of universally applicable goals that balances the three dimensions of sustainable development: environmental, social, and economic.
At the Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015, UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. It is a plan of action for the people, planet and prosperity.
UNDP is supporting India, both at the federal and provincial levels, in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in three different ways, through the MAPS approach: mainstreaming, acceleration and policy support. Thus UNDP will support Indian government to reflect the new global agenda in national development plans and policies, to accelerate progress on SDG targets, and provide expertise on sustainable development and governance available to the central and state governments at all stages of implementation.
The past decades have marked a period of massive change, both for India and for global thinking about development. At India’s Independence in 1947, the idea of promoting development had just begun to take a place on the global stage, with the success of the Marshall Plan that helped reconstruct Europe in the aftermath of World War II. In a sense, India, global thinking about development and the UNDP have all grown together, with each deeply influencing the others.