Need for SDG-linked outcome budgeting in India: A case of Assam

Open Budgets India
6 min readMar 8, 2024

Assam has been a front runner to prepare SDG linked outcome budgets that would help in strengthening budget accountability in the State.

— Shuchita Rawal[1] and Mitali Gupta[2]

“Sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.’’ — Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015

Despite directed developmental efforts towards addressing priorities such as employment, economic growth, food, water and energy security, disaster resilience and poverty alleviation, India is being confronted with the emerging challenges. These include the impacts of climate change, increasing inequities, and lagging human development indices. The post 2015 UN Sustainable Development Agenda framework provides an opportunity to renew and integrate efforts to meet, to a significant degree, national and global aspirations in a defined time frame. However, the achievement of these goals is largely subjected to their adequate and effective prioritization in the national planning, budgeting, and accountability frameworks.

Financial resources are a key driver to developmental outcomes. Therefore, ensuring timely availability of optimum financial resources is one of the initial steps for achieving the post-2015 development agenda. Government budgets are an important instrument towards this end. It is important to have outcome-oriented budgeting in the country to nurture an open, accountable, proactive, and effective style of governance.

The concept of Outcome Budgeting was introduced in India in 2005 which mandated that the ministries and departments (M/Ds) at all the levels should be involved in a meaningful way in the implementation processes of the developmental schemes across the country. Since then, various M/Ds at different tiers of governance have been encouraged to follow outcome-oriented budgeting by transitioning from mere ‘outlays’ to the result-oriented ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’ through their Outcome Budget Statements (OBS). This helps in aligning government policies, strategies, and budgets towards the achievement of SDGs.

Around eleven states have started following the practice of formulating their OBSs in the past few years[3]. Assam being a front-runner in adopting SDGs and preparing SDG linked Outcome Budgets at the sub-national level in India, has been discussed in detail in this article.

Outcome budgeting in Assam

Assam has been the first Indian State to adopt SDGs in 2016. It became the maiden State to adopt budgeting focusing on SDG outcomes as outlined in Assam Agenda 2030. Following this, in 2018–19, Assam introduced the Outcome Budget Statement alongside the State’s annual budget. The prime objective of this document is to present State’s commitments to SDGs and their corresponding targets in quantifiable terms. In conjunction with detailing the financial allocations for schemes/programmes, the outcome budget document also encompasses projected outputs and outcomes of the reported schemes/programmes.

In order to align the outcome budget with the SDG framework and their associated targets, it has been formulated in close collaboration with Assam’s SDG Cell. Hence, it adheres to the principles of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. It is noteworthy that Assam has been categorized as a ‘Performer’ state, as per the report on SDG India Index 2020–21 by NITI Aayog.

In the endeavour to ensure meaningful OBS, the Finance Department, of the Government of Assam, has taken several initiatives from time to time. Regular capacity building workshops have been organised for state officials to sensitize them about the framework. The sessions have been conducted focussing on building awareness around how departments should set realistic and measurable targets for every activity they plan to carry out in the upcoming financial year. Support from expert agencies (including Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA)) have been sought in this direction.

Not only this, efforts have been taken towards systematic compilation of the statement and all the inputs from different departments are updated through the help of the Financial Management Information System of the State. This ensures uniformed and timely inputs by all departments.

It is noteworthy that the OBS of Assam has improved over the years in terms of its format, quality of reporting, and number of departments reporting under it (refer to Table 1).

Table 1: Improvements in Assam’s Outcome Budget Statement

Source: Taken from Assam Outcome Budget Statement 2024–25.

In the budget for the upcoming financial year (2024–25), Assam Government has gone a step forward in terms of grouping State’s 51 departmental schemes/interventions linked to their respective SDGs under thirteen carefully identified thematic areas. This is to promote overall welfare and development in the State and achieve Assam Vision 2030. The figure below depicts the thirteen thematic areas and SDGs linked:

Source: Taken from Assam Outcome Budget Statement 2024–25.

There is still a lot of scope to strengthen the outcome budgeting process in the State. A few aspects that can strengthen OBS include (i) capacity building of the district officials will help in improving the accuracy of reporting, (ii) providing state and central share of outlays separately will help in increasing transparency, (iii) publishing statement bilingual will increase its reach and uptake, (iv) providing details of target beneficiaries will make it more meaningful, (v) specifying time allotted for the completion of goals will help in monitoring the progress, and (vi) adding actual achievements of last year will provide a monitoring framework and helps in ensuring accountability.

Moreover, it is crucial for the Government to regularly monitor the departmental performance based on commitments outlined in the outcome budget, ideally on a quarterly basis.

Concluding Remarks

The importance of outcome budgeting is well established. However, still most of the States in the country are not following this practice. The ones following also need substantial improvement either in the process or the reporting format (or both) to make it more meaningful.

Some of the major challenges which pose a hindrance in linking the SDGs with the Outcome Budgeting in India pertain to: (i) the lack of understanding/awareness of these at the district level and below, (ii) unavailability of disaggregated data pertaining to measurement indicators as well as performance indicators, (iii) difficulty in accurately aligning/mapping SDGs to schemes/programmes due to unavailability of relevant indicators and the ‘Indivisible’ (rather more appropriately expressed as ‘multi-dimensional’) nature of SDGs, and (iv) inefficient coordination among the various M/Ds at the national and sub-national levels to be able to adequately and appropriately capture them. In lieu of this, most of the M/Ds end up either in mapping their budgets against the most relevant SDGs in a consolidated manner. Instead, the ideal approach should have been to use achievement of SDGs as a yardstick to evaluate the performance of the overall budgetary allocation and expenditure towards attaining socially desired outcomes in India. Despite this, the outcome budget provides an opportunity to strengthen the practices of ‘Better Budgeting’ at the national and sub-national levels in the country.

[1] Ms. Shuchita Rawal is a Thematic Lead: Policy Engagement and Outreach at Center for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi.

[2] Dr. Mitali Gupta is a Senior Policy Analyst at Center for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi.

[3] Based on Annexure 3 of the Working Paper on Reimagining Budget Codes for Greater Public Engagement: Insights from Better Practices available here.

Note: This article was originally published in Down to Earth and can be viewed here.

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