Our Focus on SDGs, Transgender Rights, Healthcare: UNDP India's Isabelle Tschan to News18 on Bihar Visit
Our Focus on SDGs, Transgender Rights, Healthcare: UNDP India's Isabelle Tschan to News18 on Bihar Visit
UNDP is working with government officials in India to ensure vaccination for vulnerable sections such as children and women, cold storage facilities for vaccines and agriculture, livelihood opportunities for the poor, etc, said Tschan in the exclusive conversation

Isabelle Tschan, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India, met senior officials of the Bihar government this week to discuss continuing cooperation in areas like achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), boosting healthcare systems, and improving the lives of marginalised sections such as the transgender community.

Under the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) launched the National Portal for Transgender Persons in 2020. This portal facilitates the seamless issuance of Transgender (TG) Certificates and ID Cards and provides access to welfare measures under the SMILE (Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise) scheme. However, as of October 2023, the portal received only 19,000 applications out of a total transgender population of approximately 400,000, with about 15,000 TG Certificates and ID Cards issued. This reflects a low coverage rate of around 4% of the transgender community under the SMILE scheme, underscoring the need for systematic mobilisation efforts.

To address this issue, the UNDP is collaborating with community-based organisations (CBOs) to plan and organise camps for community mobilisation and registration on the national portal. Over the past three months, the project has successfully mobilized 107 transgender individuals for registration on the portal. Therefore, UNDP and DOSTANASAFAR organised this engagement to facilitate more registrations of transgender communities on the portal.

In an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18, Tschan also spoke extensively on the various focus areas of her visit. Edited excerpts:

What are the primary objectives of your visit to Bihar, and how does it align with UNDP’s broader mission in India?

Our primary objective is to meet our partners to discuss how we continue to work together. UNDP’s main objective is to support the government of India and the population of India to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are the development organisation of the United Nations. Now, particularly in Bihar, we work on health, and access to vaccination for the most vulnerable. I visited one hospital to see how the vaccination is administrated and stored in this hot climate. So, we are supporting the government of India in the cold chain administration of vaccines and also make sure that pregnant women and young children get vaccines, there is monitoring for their outreach. This is all done for the beneficiaries in a dignified way. This is one area. Another area of our work is for the population’s livelihood. As we know, 75% of Bihar’s population is dependent on agriculture. So, we are helping through so-called cold storages. These are solar power cold storages to maintain agricultural production which helps to increase the revenues of farmers in Bihar.

UNDP has been active in various initiatives in Bihar. Could you highlight some of the key projects currently being implemented here and their impact on the local community?

One is vaccination. The impact is the quality of vaccination being administered to pregnant women and young children. There are 700 hospitals in Bihar where these vaccines are available. Another one I mentioned is the cold storage for the farmers. The impact is that it makes sure that their products are not perished in this hot climate, they can keep it for longer and they can sell the products at a higher price. Another important area of our collaboration is where we are present today and that is for our transgender community. We are in the ‘Pride’ month and we are working with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The theme is Smile and we are helping the community in Bihar to mobilise all the transgender population registering on an online platform that helps them to get ID cards and which also helps them to have access to welfare schemes provided by the government.

One of the focus areas of UNDP is to support marginalised communities. How is UNDP working to improve the lives of transgender individuals in Bihar?

For the transgender, we work on different levels. From UNDP’s perspective, we are working on the principles of ‘leaving no one behind’. Everybody should profit from the very fast development trajectory and everybody should live with dignity and a livelihood. For the transgender population….they also have special needs. There are excellent schemes available at the national level but what is important is that we need to raise the awareness of the transgender community. They should have access to identity cards and they should know about the benefits available to them at the national as well as state level. For their livelihood, skill development should be there to live a dignified life. Generally, we need to work for the wider community to raise awareness of the rights we all have independent of gender identity. So these are the things we do to overcome the discrimination that still exists for the transgender community all over the world.

How is UNDP assisting Bihar in strengthening its healthcare infrastructure, particularly in reaching remote and underserved populations?

This is the partnership we have with the Ministry of Health nationally and in the state of Bihar. Our support is UNDP, UNICEF, and WHO. These are the three agencies in India working together with the government. We are working on the digitisation of the cold storage of the vaccines. In remote areas, we make sure that these vaccines are available. We also make sure that these vaccines are maintained in cold storage at the right temperature. It’s all digitalised and there is a system where Asha workers and nurses can follow up on this temperature and make sure that there is the safe storage of vaccines. This means that in all corners of Bihar, everybody can go and have access to these vaccines. On the other side, we are also focusing on pregnant women and young children.

As you look ahead, what are some of the strategic priorities for UNDP in Bihar, and how do you plan to address the state’s unique development challenges?

In the state of Bihar, UNDP has been supporting the multidimensional poverty analysis. It is very interesting to see that the state of Bihar has made the biggest efforts in lifting people out of multidimensional poverty. It’s about 80 per cent over approximately five years, which is a huge achievement. We are working at the national level and the state level, on how we can further analyse which are interventions and support needed to reduce multidimensional poverty and to lift people out of poverty. We have been talking about health, and access to vaccines, another area is also the air pollution we are working on. We are in collaboration with the pollution control board in Bihar and we are looking for the main causes of air pollution and what are the solutions to address air pollution. We have an impact of air pollution on the health of the population. All these elements to reduce poverty and make progress in development, we need to look at different areas.

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