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BRIEF October 19, 2021

Celebrating 75 Years of World Bank-India Partnership

Since independence in 1947, India has been on a remarkable development journey.  Today, this once low-income nation has attained lower middle-income status and is home to over 1.3 billion people and a nearly $3 trillion economy.  The country has also graduated from being a major recipient of concessional lending to emerge as a donor in its own right.

As the World Bank completes 75 years of partnership with India, we look back through the decades at some iconic landmarks along the way in which the World Bank was privileged to take part.


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Highlights of the Partnership



No story can be complete without the voices of the people who played a seminal role in it. Junaid Ahmad, Country Director for the World Bank in India, therefore, spoke with six reform leaders who were catalysts of change at various times along  India’s path to development.

He asked them to reflect on the Bank’s contribution to India’s development, the lessons that India’s experience can provide to  the rest of the world, and how the Bank’s role will need to change as the country moves from the lower end of middle-income status to a higher level.


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Junaid Ahmad in conversation with Reform Leaders on 75 years of World Bank in India


Landmarks in India’s Development


  • 1945:  India, then still under colonial rule, became one of the World Bank’s founding members. Later, it was India that first suggested the creation of a special body to aid developing nations, an idea that bore fruit with the establishment of International Development Association.

    1949:  Not long after the country gained Independence in 1947, India took its first World Bank loan - for the development of the Indian Railways – one of the largest such networks in the world. This was the World Bank’s first loan to an Asian country and the first to be signed by a woman, Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

  • 1950s: As India began laying the foundations for a modern industrial state, the World Bank helped in procuring the foreign exchange needed to set up its first power and steel plants (including BokaroDurgapurTata Iron and Steel Company). So critical were these plants for the fledgling nation that they were often called the “Temples of Modern India”. Projects also helped India upgrade the ports of Calcutta and Madras – as Kolkata and Chennai were then known – and supported Air India, the national airline, to expand and modernize its fleet.  

  • 1960s: When successive droughts led to chronic food shortages  and India imported foodgrain to feed its  rapidly rising population, the World Bank worked with the country to set the stage for its landmark Green Revolution. Projects helped bring more land under cultivation and, in course of time, this once import-dependent nation transformed into a global agricultural powerhouse and a major exporter of cereals.

    Projects also supported the country’s nascent capital goods industries including the manufacture of heavy electricals and commercial vehicles.

  • 1970s: As India intensified its focus on agriculture, the World Bank helped the country increase the availability of high-yielding seeds and fertilizers and supported the Food Corporation of India in building facilities to store food grains.

    The World Bank also had the unique privilege of taking India’s Amul model of milk cooperatives  from Anand in Gujarat to the rest of the country. This remarkable movement – known as Operation Flood or the White Revolution - transformed the chronically milk - deficient country into one of the largest producers of milk and milk products in the world.

  • 1980s: Following global oil shocks, as India sought indigenous sources of energy, the World Bank supported the development of oil and gas extraction facilities at Bombay High and the Cambay Basin, and assisted with the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in the Krishna Godavari Delta.

    With the advent of containerized cargo, projects also supported the development of India’s largest container port at Nhava Sheva near Mumbai.

  • 1990s: When India launched pathbreaking economic reforms, the World Bank helped the country build institutions for managing critical sectors of a newly globalizing economy. These included PowerGrid, India’s national power transmission utility, which has since emerged as one of the world’s largest such institutions, and the National Highway Authority of India that has transformed highway construction across the country.

    The World Bank also helped India pioneer pathbreaking reforms in rural water supply where, for the first time, local communities were involved in the planning and management of their water supply systems.  Today, some 30 million people in over 30,000 villages have gained better access to drinking water

    Projects also helped eradicate leprosy, reduce cataract blindness, combat poliomalaria and tuberculosis, and improve the nutrition of women and childrenIndia has been polio free since 2014

  • 2000s: When India launched a massive drive to bring every child into school, the World Bank supported the country’s nationwide Education for All program – one of the world’s largest. India has since brought record numbers of children into elementary school and almost all India’s children now have a primary school within walking distance of their home. 

    The World Bank also supported India’s national push to bring an all-weather road to every village. Since then, the Bank program alone has helped build almost 48,000 kilometers of rural roads, many of them in remote parts of the country.

    When India outlined its vision for inclusive growth, the Bank also pioneered a unique approach for improving rural livelihoods - by empowering poor rural women. Since then, Bank programs have contributed to India’s National Rural Livelihoods Mission and helped bring over 77 million women into self- help groups. The approach continues to bring deep-seated change to India’s poorest regions.  

    At the same time, a pivotal Bank project helped ease traffic congestion in the mega-city of Mumbai by upgrading the suburban rail infrastructure and opening up east-west roads.  

    Projects also helped the country build back better after the devastating 2001 Gujarat Earthquake and the 2004 Tsunami.

  • 2010s: Over the past decade, the World Bank has engaged in a series of next generation mega projects, including the construction of India’s first electrified rail freight corridor, the revival of long-defunct inland waterways, and assisted the shift to multimodal transportation networks. These projects are helping India reduce its high logistics costsbind it into a single market, and move it onto a greener growth path

    With India taking the global lead in solar energy, projects are also supporting a range of clean energy initiatives, from large scale solar parks to rooftop solar installations

    The World Bank also extended support for India’s landmark initiative to end open defecation by promoting sustainable behavior change in rural areas. 

    In addition, the  Bank is continuing its support for rejuvenating the iconic Ganga river and moving its management to a more comprehensive river basin approach. 

  • 2020: In 2020, when Covid-19 unleashed a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, the World Bank supported India’s immediate health needs, helped the country extend food and cash support to large numbers of poor people, and worked with it  to protect micro, small and medium enterprises.

    In the next phase of partnership, the World Bank will help India build a sustainable and resilient economy.

    Currently, the World Bank’s support to India is spread over 127 active projects with a combined worth of over $28 billion. Even so, the World Bank remains a small player in India’s nearly three trillion-dollar economy and lends less than one percent of the country’s GDP.


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VIDEO

In Conversation with Montek Singh Ahluwalia


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In Conversation with K P Krishnan


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In Conversation with N K Singh


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In Conversation with T Vijay Kumar


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In Conversation with Vini Mahajan


MULTIMEDIA

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In conversation with Reema Nanavaty


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