Op-Ed: India's Triumphs and Challenges

January 10, 2011

Robert B. Zoellick Hindustan Times

A year is not a long time in the life of a country, much less a civilisation such as India. But India has over the past year, surged back from a dip in its growth caused by the global economic slowdown. The resurgence is testimony to the strength of India’s evolving economy, sound policies, and the energy and enterprise of its people.
India’s sustained growth, and the promise of revitalisation it holds for the world economy, has helped make it a major player on the global stage.
Its voice is heard at the G20 table. India also played a key role in Cancun in December to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries.
The voice of India carries weight. There are development lessons to be learnt and shared as India seeks to meet the aspirations of a billion people, by putting in place better infrastructure and social services. The aim is to be inclusive, while not intrusive on the environment.
India’s experience is a magnet to others. Take food security and food price volatility, a subject of vibrant debate in India. Dairy farmers from Zambia and other African nations have learnt from farmers at the Anand cooperatives about India’s “White Revolution” in milk production.
India’s “green revolution” of the 1960s increased food yields through new seed varieties, fertilisers, and irrigation. Today we need to reach beyond these “white” and “green” revolutions to address food security and food price volatility with increases in productivity and technological innovation — areas where the World Bank is partnering with India and others.
The World Bank Group also has drawn from India’s experience in other areas: our new access to information policy draws on freedom of information laws in India and the United States.
The World Bank’s innovation with India offers experience for others. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has given 20 million children an education through creative initiatives such as schools on boats. Some 90,000 people in Mumbai were resettled constructively as part of a project to build new roads through the densely-populated city.
While India can rightly take its place on the global stage, the country still faces a need for a trillion dollars of infrastructure investment to ensure economic growth overcomes poverty.
Almost no Indian city has water 24 hours a day, seven days a week; long-standing infrastructure and service delivery bottlenecks stand in the way of creating more inclusive cities.  About 40 percent of Indian villages have no access to electricity. Twenty nine percent —about 100 million city-dwellers — still live in slums. These statistics highlight just how the country needs unparalleled resources to accelerate its response to its development challenges.
Money alone is not enough. As the World Bank has seen around the world, and as India has been recognizing, the bigger challenge is ensuring that public money is spent well. Efficient and transparent project management, continuous monitoring, greater accountability of institutions, and a focus on long-term sustainability are required to support high and inclusive growth. These transformations often encounter obstacles and sometimes face resistance. But India is developing a shared vision, clearer policies, and skilled people to achieve that goal. Investing in high quality education for all Indians will be critical for broadening opportunities.
To integrate sustainability concerns with its growth strategy, the recent debate in India has highlighted the need to identify and assess more explicitly the environmental costs of some development plans.
Rapid and sustained economic growth can make heavy demands on natural resources, such as land, water, and forests.  The associated impacts on people's health and well-being are often underestimated. Environmental degradation can hurt poor people, making the management of environmental risks an important part of any responsible growth strategy.
The debate on the environmental dimension of economic policies is good for a democracy, and India is the world’s largest. Your democratic debate will bring solutions to light: clearer norms for quarrying or mining in tribal or forest lands; better river-basin planning for operating hydropower projects; guidelines for building roads close to protected areas -- all initiatives to foster better development.
There are, of course, challenges to ensuring the environment is explicitly taken into account in developmental strategies and policies. Resources are also needed to ensure that people affected by a developmental project can share in its planned benefits. These are investments in the future, in inclusive growth that will draw on the energies and capabilities of all Indians.
As India builds on its success and turns to the challenges ahead, the WB Group will share our experience  to help build better, smarter and “greener” infrastructure for this and future generations.  And we will, in turn, share India’s experience with others. Ours is a lasting and deepening partnership.
The writer is on a four-day visit to India