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India: Country Strategy Consultations in Delhi

June 26, 2012


Discussion Highlights:
  • The three strategic pillars listed by the Bank were found acceptable. As this was not a state level discussion, the comments and suggestions concerned policy and national level implementation issues.
  • Children's issues, the disability sector, agri-business and the elderly, apart from inclusion of marginalized communities were identified as sectors which required specific mention in the strategy. Concern was expressed about the fallout of rapid urbanization and the resultant deepening of disparities in urban areas.
  • Governance issues, particularly the need to fight corruption and improve coordination within the government, were a major area of concern. There was concern regarding the shrinking space for civil society and their "disconnect" with the people of the country. Increasing government regulation of the voluntary sector was also identified as a serious issue.

Details of Discussion

The discussion was structured around the following three questions:

  • Does the World Bank's proposed strategy capture India's development priorities?
  • What are your concerns regarding the development challenges highlighted in the strategy?
  • What role do you see the World Bank Group playing in helping India to meet these challenges?

Does the World Bank's proposed strategy for 2009-13 capture India's development priorities?

Overall most participants agreed that India's development priorities had indeed been captured in the Bank's presentation for CPS 2013-2016. At the same time, several participants highlighted specific development issues that did not appear in the presentation.

Rapid and inclusive growth
There was general consensus that the "rapid and inclusive growth" pillar was critical for the country in the coming years. This implied a focus on agricultural sector reforms as well as job creation in the manufacturing sector. The Bank's strategy converged with the Government's 12th plan draft document which also highlighted higher and inclusive growth.

One participant opined that the World Bank should first focus on the most backward regions. The eastern region of the country was suggested as a priority as it had the lowest productivity and was the most impoverished. Among sectors, agriculture, water and sanitation and primary healthcare should be on top of the agenda. Growth should be "agriculture driven" and the development of markets for agricultural produce and the creation of one-stop facilities for farmers should be a priority. The proper management of the country's water resources was another matter of importance.

Several participants expressed their views on 'inclusion'. One participant mentioned that the urban poor living in large cities without basic amenities needed special attention. This was more so for the children who were probably the most excluded and needed health and education facilities. The need to include the dalit and other marginalized communities was also highlighted as they were at a disadvantage in the present job market where they faced social discrimination.

Several participants expressed apprehension that rapid urbanization, especially through rural- urban migration, was creating pockets of urban poverty. This would deepen disparities unless special attention was given to the development of the skills of migrants to improve their employability. Working children and the disabled were identified as sections that needed special support to ensure their inclusion in overall growth. In fact, a representative of the disability sector made a strong case to include disability as an "independent pillar" in the Bank's strategy as the sector did not have enough support and there was little public concern for the issue.

Some participants debated the nature of inclusion. They felt that service delivery to all sections of population through innovation was the main challenge. One person even suggested that 'inclusion' should be included as a separate theme in the World Bank strategy so that the Bank's thinking on the subject became clearer in public perception.

Some missing themes/areas
A participant mentioned that the elderly population of 60-plus years had been missed out in the Bank's presentation. Senior citizens needed special focus as they were being overlooked as economically unproductive and excluded from most development programs. Further, in many rural areas the youth were migrating to urban centers, leaving behind the elders to fend for themselves without any support system. A reputed NGO had worked with SHGs of the elderly poor with very positive results, and there was scope to scale up their efforts. It was observed that senior citizens in India would number about 340 million by 2050 as per a UN estimate. Unless there was a clear agenda to address this issue seriously there was bound to be a major problem in future.

Another missing area related to occupational health. This was a cause of concern in the country and there was little in terms of support systems or awareness building in this area.

Food security and the Public Distribution System (PDS) were also missing. The PDS was the only mode of providing food to the poorest at affordable prices and was vital for the poor. The promotion of agri-business all the way from production to marketing should also be spelled out in the Bank's strategy. Livestock, particularly dairy and poultry farming, was noted as another area that had not been reflected in the presentation.

Some participants highlighted the environmental cost of high growth and the "downstream management of resources". It was stated that control of pollution and waste had to be planned simultaneously with development projects. Moreover, programs to promote growth had to factor in environmental justice and the needs of a rights-based society. It was felt that the Bank would need to spell out in greater detail how it planned to balance environmental compulsions with development imperatives including ensuring a mature response to the climate change agenda. One participant argued that a holistic approach to environment and ecological health was imperative and should be the focus of programs rather than just wealth creation or economic uplift.

A participant expressed concern over the Bank's agenda to support energy and urban infrastructure. It was suggested that the Bank clarify its approach in these sectors keeping in mind public resistance to big dams, etc.

The need for inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination within the government was highlighted. It was felt that the Bank could provide expertise in this area. It was also suggested that an agency to coordinate between government, private sector and civil society was needed in such a large country.

Some participants expressed disappointment with the "telegraphic" nature of the Bank's presentation and wanted more details of how the Bank planned to move forward on its agenda. It was also stated that some mention should have been made of the Bank's own learning curve over the years and how the strategy was different compared to previous years.

Implementation of Programs

On matters of 'voice', several participants felt that civil society and NGOs no longer had a strong and effective voice. Often civil society's agenda was set by large well-funded, donor-driven NGOs. The government also appeared to be regulating the NGO movement much more than in earlier years. It was felt that the Bank should envision an active role for civil society, including grass root NGOs, and ensure their inclusion in the Bank's programmatic framework. At the same time, a participant felt that it was important to distinguish between people's movements and the agenda put forth by the Planning Commission. A comment was made that there was more acceptance of civil society's space by the government currently than ever before. The participant highlighted the achievements of people's movements. For instance, the RTI enactment was much more of a people's movement than a cause led by formal civil society organizations. Some current movements were cited as examples of people's movements. One on-going movement related to "pre-legislative consultation" that suggested that people had to be consulted before a draft bill went to parliament and not later, when vested interests often took charge of the issue. Another movement was seeking old age pensions for the elderly poor who had no other means of support. It was generally agreed that the World Bank's final strategy document should clearly mention the role it envisaged for civil society in the country's development.

There was also some debate about how far NGOs or CSOs could claim to represent a section of the population considering the bewildering size and diversity of the country. One participant suggested that the private sector should be considered a part of civil society and motivated to fund programs for social causes as it used to do many years ago. It was agreed that the voluntary sector needed to introspect and improve their contact with the people.

Governance issues were also highlighted as being critical to the success of projects and programs. Some of the weaknesses in the financial sector, particularly with reference to tax reforms, were pointed out by a participant. It was mentioned that despite tax reforms, there had been no change in the tax administration system. It was stated that the proposed tax on goods and services would need a very different system and high level of efficient administration. Participants brought out the importance of strengthening PRIs, particularly as this was the only institutional encouragement to women's political empowerment in the country. It also reflected robustness in local governance and bottom-up planning. The need to build the capacity of PRIs for district level planning was also brought out by some participants.

A participant urged the World Bank to look into financial sector reforms, including taxation, and help to change the mindset of funding agencies that treated NGOs like "contractors". It was stated that while basic fiscal discipline and monitoring was necessary, the tax shelter enjoyed by NGOs and CSOs should not be under threat, as it now appeared to be in certain instances. Changes in this area would in fact improve the voice of the NGOs, it was noted.

On gender issues, one participant stated that the present strategy did not reflect this concern as strongly as was seen in the World Development Report of 2012 on Gender and Development. It was suggested that gender should be built into the Bank's programmatic framework.

A participant mentioned that structural inequities were a constant hurdle for NGOs working in the area of elementary education and land rights, and this problem had to be addressed.

Some concern was expressed on how the Bank would resolve the inherent contradiction of its position with regard to policy and capacity building at the local level. For example, the Bank wanted to help the process of decentralization, but as it worked primarily with the central and state governments, the basic movement of ideas/concepts remained top-down. This flow would not change unless a feedback and correction process was institutionalized. A participant also pointed out that the World Bank needed to draw lessons from small successful models around the country which were not necessarily amenable to scaling-up. Social entrepreneurship was an area where several such success stories could be found.

Interestingly, while some opinions were in favor of pushing for more de-regulation and less state control, a few participants felt that no one could do what the government could do and it had certain duties as an elected government from which it could not shy away.

There was also a suggestion that the Bank needed to consider the Rights-Based Approach in its programmatic framework, as this was increasingly found acceptable by the Government.

The World Bank's Role

Several participants mentioned that the Bank should play a strong facilitator's role and help enhance capacity at all levels for better planning, right up to implementation and monitoring. Technical assistance and managerial knowhow were also vital in several areas. There was consensus that the Bank's vast experience of development across the world was a vital value addition to its program of support. Capacity building, especially of regulatory agencies was also identified as an important area where the World Bank could play a role.

A participant suggested that the Bank should be cautious about consultants coming in who had no experience or understanding of India. Better coordination among the different divisions of the Bank was also required to improve its institutional memory.

It was suggested that the Bank, while operating within the policy framework of the Government, should improve its own communication lines with the people of the country who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of development programs.

World Bank Response

The World Bank team emphasised the Bank's long association India and mentioned some of the milestones. It was stated that learning was a natural corollary of this long association and the Bank had picked up many lessons along the way.

It was pointed out that the Bank's total support was miniscule compared to India's development sector budget and thus it had no macro impact. At the same time, the Bank was present in areas that were critical and going through transformation, and that was the true significance of its presence in India.

For instance, some three decades ago, the Bank supported public sector enterprises as they formed the backbone of the country's economy. In fact, almost every prominent public enterprise had availed of a Bank loan at that time. This phase was now over. After that, for instance, the Bank went into supporting primary education in a big way, particularly in backward districts with low enrolment and poor infrastructure. Now that India was well on its way to achieving universal access to primary education, this was no longer the core concern. The new issues to be addressed were equity, improving retention, and enhancing quality.

Access to water was another core area where a Bank funded pilot project in Karnataka had provided 24-hour potable water to residents of a poor neighborhood who were used to extreme water shortages. Bank projects were therefore bringing change and changing lives. But as the country moved forward it was necessary to examine new development challenges and new ways of support.

It was emphasized that the World Bank was keen to listen to views from all sectors and interest groups. Nevertheless, formulating a strategy in the context of India would remain a complex and painstaking exercise, particularly as resource constraints made prioritization inevitable.

Comments and suggestions can still be sent at the following email address: consultationsindia@worldbank.org

City-wise Consultations

Raipur, Chhattisgarh - May 23, 2012
Guwahati, Assam - May 29, 2012
Bangalore, Karnataka - May 31, 2012
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh - June 13, 2012
Delhi - June 26, 2012