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India Economic Summit



India Economic Summit

he annual jamboree of the World Economic Forum (WEF) (November 26-28) to discuss and debate the prospects of India’s future economic growth was well attended by industrialists, trade experts and chief ministers of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi. One of the early sessions envisaged three possible scenarios of India in 2025: (i) a ‘Bollywood India’, where a few sectors and regions will shine, (ii) an ‘Atakta India’, one that would see hesitant, even limping growth, and (iii) a ‘Shining’ or a ‘Pehala India’, where the country would see a high growth trajectory. The experts also identified six risks that could derail growth prospects – depleting fresh water resources, oil price shocks, demographic explosion, the backlash of globalisation, climate change, and also vitally, the threat of HIV/AIDS and TB. P Chidambaram, the union finance minister said all these risks could become opportunities with the right technologies and right public policies. Two of the risk elements – growing numbers and an energy crisis – need astute political leadership to convert them into opportunities.

There were plenary and parallel sessions on global and national risks and how to mitigate them, issues affecting the flow of capital, multilateral trade treaties, India’s competitive strength and the growth agenda, how “smart” growth can happen, and so on. Then there were sessions on the urban renewal mission in major cities, how to enhance rural livelihoods and farm incomes, fighting HIV/AIDS as well as on promoting innovations in academia, etc. But the sessions lacked either a framework or a consensual agenda.

In the 1990s, one of the UNDP’s Human Development Reports suggested five pitfalls that developing countries should avoid: (i) jobless growth;

(ii) ruthless growth, that aggravates income disparities and regional imbalances; (iii) futureless growth, which disregards environmental and ecological concerns; (iv) voiceless growth that does not foster empowerment of weaker sections; and finally (v) rootless growth that erodes values and the cultural foundations of society.

The current reforms to some extent have promoted ruthless growth by increasing regional disparities and promoting special economic zones, at the cost of thousands of farmers across the country. But the sessions did not touch on regional development issues and how farmers’ livelihoods would be protected. The sessions on rural development and water concerns lacked strategic content and direction. The CEO of Coca Cola India avoided referring to the water war his company has faced in Kerala and how corporations intend tackling the question of depleting water resources and the multiple users that depend on this increasingly scarce resource. The worst hit are the marginal farmers, but it appears, the corporate sector cannot think beyond water privatisation and price regulation.

A session on electricity was structured to analyse how to generate power to maintain the tempo of 8 per cent growth in the country. But there was no discussion on roads – India’s most critical infrastructure. The Deloitte study on public-private partnerships (PPPs) shared in the Summit, should have been discussed because we keep hearing about PPPs in different states. According to the study: “To achieve its targeted GDP growth rates, the country will need to invest approximately US $250 billion in infrastructure over the next five years”. How this huge investment will be mobilised and managed, given the poor track record of state governments, should have been

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discussed. The centre alone cannot manage infrastructure development. It was unfortunate to hear Vilas Rao Deshmukh, Maharashtra’s chief minister say – when asked by Infosys’ Nandan Nilekani how come we do not hear about the mayor of Mumbai just as we keep hearing of the great work done by mayors in New York and London – that the mayoral institution has been ineffective in urban governance. There is no way that state governments and their babus alone can handle the massive infrastructure that is required without PPPs, according to Deloitte. In fact, the state political leadership should think of various options available within PPPs not just to build infrastructure but also to deliver efficient public services to citizens. The industry leaders do not hear the voice of the poor and the marginalised and the politicians hear the voice of the poor (their voters) only just before the elections.

Finally, the Summit, unlike the earlier ones, did touch upon human development issues like fighting TB, HIV/AIDS, the global corporate citizenship initiative (GCCI), and honouring some NGOs as social entrepreneurs, which looked more like a public relations exercise by the WEF. Instead of just giving a certificate of appreciation to the social entrepreneurs, they should be honoured with a corpus fund by some corporate body so that they can continue their innovative social work. The majority of social entrepreneurs suffer from paucity of capital and the best award is a cheque than a certificate of appreciation!



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