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FEATURE STORY October 24, 2017

India Country Engagement Dialogue 2017-18 (Multi-stakeholder Consultations in Bhubaneswar)

The World Bank Group (WBG) is conducting its first Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD)for India. The SCD articulates the Group’s analysis of the principal challenges facing India today, as the country seeks to consolidate its status as a middle-income economy. 

In the months to some, the diagnostic will provide the analytical base for the WBG’s Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for India. The CPF is the roadmap that will determine the Bank Group's engagement with the country over the next four years.

To steer this process forward, the WBG has planned a series of consultations with a broad range of stakeholders. Consultations provide a platform for the WBG to tap into the rich experience and knowledge of stakeholders and listen to their insights about the challenges facing India today, as well as how the WBG can best support the country’s development agenda. 

Summary of multi-stakeholder Consultations, Bhubaneshwar, 20 Sept 2017

The multi-stakeholder consultations began with a brief welcome address by Dr Achutya Samanta, Founder of KIIT university which hosted the meeting. He spoke on education as the most effective means for eradication of poverty and gave the example of the tribal school he had founded. This was followed by the World Bank’s presentation on the India SCD.

Participants found the presentation quite informative and were in broad agreement with the conclusions drawn. Several participants sought further clarifications on some of the points and many wanted to know the World Bank’s perspective on the possible solution/s to the challenges. Some of the discussions are outlined below:

Participants identified two overarching challenges that cut across and impacted all sectors and themes in the World Bank presentation: (1) Lack of an integrated planning regime and (2) Governance.

The need for integrated planning: Several speakers mentioned that the most vital cross-cutting link in the whole narrative was the need for integrated planning, which impacted critical sectors like land, water, energy, agriculture, transport etc. However, integrated planning, which was vital for sound development, seemed to be missing at all levels though there was a lot of goal-setting and targets driven by a plethora of schemes. Mention was made of lack of clarity in urban land use. It was pointed out that decisions were made in terms of “parcels” of land with no overarching policy outlining land use over the longer term. It was also said that land-use conversion was ad-hoc and poorly implemented, even though the demand for land was rising exponentially due to the rapid growth of towns and cities.

The need for improved governance: It was pointed out that “governance”, the main function of the state, was not getting adequate attention in the plethora of government schemes which ought to be focused on results and measurable outputs. Moreover, participants said, as accountability and governance were impacted by a tendency on the part of policy-makers and implementers to please the electorate rather than take sound and sometimes tough decisions for public good. The example of education was cited wherein a large number of schools and other physical assets were created but the quality of teaching staff remained poor. In fact, it was said, finding qualified teachers was a real problem which led to induction of under-qualified persons as teachers. It was generally agreed that without factoring in “governance” no policy or initiative could yield the expected outcome. It was added that public service delivery had been poorly managed; public services needed to be looked at as citizens’ due rather than as a dole. To improve governance, it was suggested that interaction between government functionaries and citizens be promoted through formal mechanisms.

Creating suitable jobs: It was said that converting the demographic dividend into productive human capital should be made a priority for the country and should be flagged as such in the Bank’s SCD. There was a discussion on whether women were actually dropping out of the labor force as participants felt women were seen to be successfully entering fields like medicine, management, media, etc. in large numbers. It was said that the aggregate figures showed a negative picture as women were leaving agriculture and not taking up other employment. In fact, the employment scenario in general generated active discussion. It was felt that while no specific sector could be easily identified as a provider of future jobs, agricultural growth could contribute to job creation with proper forward and backward linkages. Participants agreed with the SCD premise that the development of dynamic cities held considerable potential for job creation. Employment in the rural non-farm sector, it was suggested, would also likely gain from the growth of small towns.

 Improving the lives of the differently abled: There was some discussion about the need to look at the needs of the differently abled with more sensitivity as “the world of disability was not homogeneous”. Participants also said that this aspect needed to be covered in the SCD as it involved a large segment of population. It was also pointed out that there were practically no private players in this sector, nor was there a policy to improve the skills of differently abled to improve their employment prospects and integrate them into the mainstream. The issue of the security of elders was also flagged.

The role of NGOs: The role of NGOs was discussed and it was generally agreed that NGOs were doing vital development work through service delivery, information gathering and advocacy, and in the area of accountability.  

Odisha’s trajectory: A participant stated that Odisha was doing better than many thought as the state was a preferred business destination and the VAT collections of the previous year were a good indicator of flourishing business. He further stated that the large segment of self-employed/small entrepreneurs was also a part of this success story but as there was no data on them they remained largely invisible and their contribution unrecognized.

Preserving traditional skills: Odisha’s famed weaving industry was also discussed as participants mentioned its decline and how children of weavers and artisans were leaving their family profession for other avenues.

In conclusion, the Bank team stated that it was looking for a more leveraging role and would rather contribute to a growth roadmap prepared by the state Government than take up isolated projects in various sectors.