With 1.2 billion people and the world’s third largest economy in purchasing power parity terms, India’s recent growth has been a significant achievement. Since independence in 1947, a landmark agricultural revolution has transformed the nation from chronic dependence on grain imports into an agricultural powerhouse that is now a net exporter of food. Life expectancy has more than doubled, literacy rates have quadrupled, health conditions have improved, and a sizeable middle class has emerged. India is now home to globally recognized companies in pharmaceuticals and steel and information and space technologies, and enjoys a voice on the international stage that is more in keeping with its size and potential.
Today, historic changes are again unfolding, unleashing a host of new opportunities to forge a 21st-century nation. India’s burgeoning young workforce is the largest and youngest the world has ever seen. At the same time, this vast nation is in the midst of a massive wave of urbanization, the scale of which has few parallels in history. How India shapes its significant human potential and reimagines its mushrooming towns and cities will largely determine the shape of the future for the country and its people for years to come.
India now stands at a critical juncture. It needs massive investments to create the jobs, housing, and infrastructure to meet its people’s soaring aspirations. Growth that lifts all boats will be key, for more than 400 million of its people–or one-third of the world’s poor–still live in poverty. And, many of those who have recently escaped the direst deprivation remain vulnerable to falling back.
In addition, inequity in all dimensions will need to be addressed. Poverty rates in India’s poorest states are three to four times higher than those in their more prosperous counterparts. Disadvantaged groups will need to be brought into the mainstream to reap the benefits of economic growth, and women—who “hold up half the sky”—empowered to take their rightful place in the socioeconomic fabric of the country. In particular, the nutrition of India’s children - whose well-being will determine the extent of India’s much-awaited demographic dividend – will call for concerted attention.
Although there are few blueprints for development on such a large and diverse scale, India has pioneered a host of bold new initiatives to address these and other challenges. For instance, the country’s flagship ‘Skill India’ initiative seeks to equip India’s growing young workforce with the skills needed to compete in today’s rapidly changing work place. The skills program is complemented by the ‘Make in India’ initiative, as well as with efforts to ease the process of doing business. Both these programs aim to ramp up the jobs available to meet the aspirations of the vast numbers who enter India’s job market every year.
Next, with urban areas being the fountainhead of jobs and a better quality of life, the Smart Cities and AMRUT programs focus on creating dynamic urban centers in towns and cities across the country. At the same time, India aims to put an end to open defecation – one of its most intractable challenges - by implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) nationwide. In addition, the country has renewed its focus on cleaning and rejuvenating the iconic Ganga which stitches together the northern heartland and which is home to some 400 million people.
To ease transport bottlenecks, a string of inland waterways are being revived, and modern facilities and navigation systems installed to handle complex logistics operations. The Indian Railways, that stalwart of the transport sector, is also being modernized, and transformational changes – such as the western and eastern dedicated freight corridors - being created to revive the railways’ competitive edge. In addition, many of India’s states are notching up successes in a range of development sectors, lighting the way forward for the rest of the country.
In short, as India works to improve the quality of life for its citizens and lays the foundation for a prosperous future, ‘Lighthouse India’ is generating many lessons on development which hold relevance for both India and the world.