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Special Content

Issue no 12, 17 - 23 June 2023

Contribution of Cooperatives in India's Sustainability Mission Sanjay Kumar Verma India's cooperative movement has long been guided by a set of principles that embody democratic values and promote socio-economic development. These principles have played a crucial role in fostering community participation, empowering marginalised sections of society, and contributing to the country's Sustainable Development Goals and environmental objectives. By adhering to these principles, cooperatives in India have become instrumental in achieving socio-economic progress while safeguarding the environment. The formation of the Ministry of Cooperation in July 2021 has significantly bolstered the cooperative movement in India, leading to groundbreaking initiatives such as the digitisation of Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS), the formulation of a National Cooperative Policy, the establishment of new multi-state cooperatives focused on exports, seed production, and organic farming, and the development of a National Cooperative Database, among others. The cooperative movement in India is built upon the foundation of autonomy and voluntary association. Cooperatives are autonomous organisations formed by individuals voluntarily coming together to fulfill their economic, social, and cultural needs. This principle ensures that cooperatives are driven by the interests and aspirations of their members, promoting a sense of ownership and responsibility. A distinguishing feature of cooperatives is their democratic governance structure, where each member enjoys equal voting rights in decision-making processes. Unlike traditional private enterprises, cooperatives empower their members, giving them a voice and agency in shaping the organisation's policies and direction. This democratic principle promotes inclusivity, social equality, and community engagement within cooperatives. Of significant importance is the principle of "Concern for Community." This principle, closely aligned with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasises the cooperative movement's commitment to the wellbeing of local communities and the broader society. By prioritising the needs of the community, cooperatives contribute to achieving SDGs such as poverty eradication, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry and innovation, reduced inequalities, climate action, life below water and on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals. Cooperatives in India have made substantial contributions to sustainable development and environmental conservation. Through their socioeconomic character, they promote environmentally friendly practices and address pressing ecological challenges. Cooperatives have played a vital role in sustainable energy generation, climate action, preservation of natural resources, waste management, and the protection of biodiversity. These contributions align seamlessly with India's environmental objectives, which include promoting renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving natural habitats, and mitigating the effects of climate change. The principles guiding India's cooperative movement act as a guiding force, ensuring that cooperatives uphold ethical practices, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. By emphasising democratic governance, community welfare, and sustainable development, cooperatives in India have become beacons of inclusive growth and environmental consciousness. Cooperatives and SDGs In September 2015, UN Member States adopted the 2023 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs encompass 17 objectives that serve as a roadmap for peace and prosperity, both for people and the planet. These goals include eliminating poverty, eradicating hunger, ensuring good health and wellbeing, promoting quality education, achieving gender equality, providing clean water and sanitation, delivering affordable and clean energy, fostering decent work and economic growth, encouraging industry, innovation, and infrastructure, reducing inequalities, taking climate action, preserving life below water and on land, promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions, and fostering partnerships for the goals. Cooperatives play a vital role across all areas of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Two key SDGs with substantial implications for the environment and sustainable development are 'affordable and clean energy' and 'climate action.' A notable example of cooperatives contributing to sustainable energy is the Biomass-based power cooperative in Karnataka. Additionally, the Dhundi village in Kheda district, Gujarat, has established the world's first solar energy cooperative named Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali Ltd. This cooperative provides power for irrigation pumps, water supply to farms and cattle, and even sells surplus energy to the grid, generating income for farmers. The Indian Farm and Forestry Development Cooperative is another excellent example of cooperatives contributing to environmental preservation. This cooperative has transformed wastelands into forests in states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. Ragpickers' Cooperatives are also noteworthy, as they significantly contribute to environmental cleanliness. SWaCH, a cooperative of self-employed workers, provides waste management services to the citizens of Pune. Cooperatives also play a crucial role in addressing the SDG of eradicating poverty and generating employment opportunities. Cooperatives in India, such as dairy, fertilizers, credit, and sugar cooperatives, make significant contributions in poverty alleviation and employment generation. AMUL, IFFCO, and KRIBHCO are shining examples of cooperatives empowering farmers to improve their living conditions. Primary Agricultural Cooperatives in villages support farmers by providing them with fertilizers, seeds, warehousing facilities, and irrigation support, enabling them to double their agricultural income. In a noteworthy initiative, the Government plans to establish additional 2 lakh PACs in uncovered villages and panchayats to increase farmers' income and eradicate poverty. Cooperatives also contribute to gender equality by promoting increased women's participation in cooperative activities. An excellent example is the SEWA cooperative in Ahmedabad, where women serve as users, managers, owners, and leaders. Through this cooperative, women achieve self-reliance through employment opportunities. SEWA bank is another remarkable example of a cooperative established by poor self-employed women, which effectively addresses their credit and economic needs. The rising and active participation of women is a key factor in the success of dairy cooperatives in India. Vasudha Dairy Cooperative in Gujarat boasts the highest number of women milk cooperatives in the state, with 1238 women members and 8 women serving on the board of directors, including the Vice-Chairman. Cooperatives also support the goal of quality education by establishing educational institutions and emphasising cooperation as a subject in schools, colleges, and universities. Cooperatives provide quality technical education to ensure young graduates secure promising employment opportunities. The Post Graduate Diploma Programme in Agri-Business Management in Pune is highly regarded for providing youth with excellent career prospects. The Pravara Engineering College, established by the successful sugar cooperative Pravara, exemplifies a cooperative providing specialised technical education in Maharashtra. The Government is also planning to establish a Cooperative University as a Center of Excellence to offer quality education in the cooperative sector, encouraging youth to take an interest in cooperatives at the bachelor's and postgraduate levels and promoting high-quality research in this field. Cooperatives make a significant contribution to healthcare, another Sustainable Development Goal. Cooperative hospitals, particularly prevalent in Kerala, provide affordable healthcare services, primarily targeting the poor and middle-class segments of society. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these cooperatives actively addressed the challenges posed by the rising number of cases and the shortage of oxygen cylinders. Moreover, cooperatives play a crucial role in ensuring access to clean water and sanitation services. For example, the Satara Water Cooperative in Maharashtra is diligently working to alleviate water shortages in Panvan village by constructing wells and improving the water table, filling the gap left by failures in both the public and private sectors. This understanding of the guiding principles of India's cooperative movement and their alignment with SDGs and environmental objectives demonstrates the pivotal role that cooperatives play in driving positive change. By continuing to foster cooperation, inclusivity, and environmental sustainability, cooperatives will continue to be catalysts for transformative development in India and contribute significantly to the nation's pursuit of a more equitable, prosperous, and environmentally sustainable future. Moreover, with India assuming the Presidency of the G20, cooperatives in India have a unique opportunity to position themselves within G20 task forces and engagement groups such as B20 and C20 to showcase their potential contributions to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. (The author is Director, Public Relations, National Cooperative Union of India. He can be reached at svvermas318@gmail.com) Views expressed are personal.