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Face to face with Country Director for India, Junaid Ahmad

Nandita Roy's picture

The Lighthouse India is a platform to facilitate knowledge flows across states within India and to create strategic partnerships with other countries to share and transfer knowledge and experience, which would inform development policies, scale up good practices and innovations. We caught with our Country Director, Junaid Ahmad, for an in-depth understanding of this initiative of the World Bank.

What is Lighthouse India?

Development is best catalyzed when people learn by doing. The notion of lighthouse is that you are a beacon for someone. An Indian state innovating on how local government programs are run, say in West Bengal, can be a source of information for other states, say Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka, which are also trying to figure out how to strengthen local governments. In a federal system like India, the potential for learning from each other is vast especially where innovation is constantly happening. The problem is that the lessons from these innovations and the information about them is not moving smoothly across borders. Lighthouse India is based on the Bank's unique position to facilitate these exchanges and link them to actual implementation.

It is not only about exchanges between states in India. As India moves along the development trajectory towards high middle income, the nation itself is transforming. The lessons of this transformation are going to be critical for other countries. The Bank can also proactively broker these exchanges between India and other countries as India acts as a “lighthouse” for others.

It is important to stress that Lighthouse India is not just a passive exchange of best practices. It is an active exchange of practices and approaches where the expertise and experiences of India can be leveraged by another country. And as always, these exchanges are never one way: as India shares, it will gain from the development experiences of others.

Importantly, Lighthouse India will change the way we do analytical and advisory services.  The latter will be built around operational issues and offer the analysis to understand better implementation challenges.

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How is Lighthouse India important for Bank’s strategy in engaging with India?

First, Lighthouse India is essential in supporting the strategy of scaling up development impact. Let me take the example of livelihood programs. We’ve been working in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha supporting the creation of self-help groups of women and facilitating their access to micro credit and economic activities. We could respond to every state that requests our assistance for this kind of activity. On the other hand, if we have worked in three or four States, we can then leverage their expertise and experience to support others. In this context, the World Bank can act as a broker of exchanges where states learn from the experience of each other. And this could be in any area such as local government strengthening or in solar power generation.

Second, Lighthouse India will play an important role in the delivery of global goods. For example, in the case of climate change, if we support the collective efforts of nations to de-carbonize their growth path, we may be able to achieve the objectives set out in COP18 in Paris. India has set for itself the aspiration of delivering 175GW of renewable energy in the coming years. Not only will India’s energy strategy help in delivering the global goal of sustainable development, its experience with scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency will support the collective efforts of other countries to achieve their own objectives in the energy sector. This is where Lighthouse India can play an important role of leveraging India in the achievement of global goods.

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How a silent revolution in rural Bihar is empowering women to be agents of change

Farah Zahir's picture


Women in Bihar, India
Women are agents of change in Bihar, India. Photo: World Bank 

Empowering women in a society is essentially a process of uplifting the economic, social and political status of women and the underprivileged. It involves building a society wherein women can breathe without the fear of oppression, exploitation, apprehension, discrimination, and a general feeling of ill-treatment that symbolized a woman in a traditional male-dominated society like the one in India.

With the implementation of gender quotas since India’s 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, the percentage of women in political activities at the local level has risen from 4-5% to about 35-40%. Reserving one-third of seats for women in the elected bodies of rural local governments in India has unleashed a silent revolution.

For the first time, rural women began to participate in local governance to improve their status and acquire a decisive say in matters crucial to their livelihoods. This decision to ensure the participation of women in local government is perhaps the best innovation in a grassroots democracy, contributing to improving the well-being of rural women.

Control over local government resources and the collective power of women have helped women discover their own self-respect and confidence. In the recent discourse on women empowerment in the 62nd session of the Commission on Status of Women, the government of India has said gender equality and emancipation of rural women is a key driver of inclusive growth.

Delivering rural justice through community-owned courts in Bihar, India

Jorge Luis Alva-Luperdi's picture

In June 2017, a long-running land dispute was settled in just six days in a community-owned court in Bihar.
           
Returning to his village after many years, Ramashish had received a rude shock. His cousins had deprived him of the 5.90 acres of land he’d inherited. Over the last 20 years, Ramashish had approached villagers, policemen, and civil court judges to resolve the dispute, but without much luck. Ultimately, Ramashish approached Pushpanjali Singh, the woman Sarpanch (head of the village) of the Wari Panchayat.
 
This was no easy case, but Pushpanjali summoned the 3 disputing parties — Ramashish and his cousins’ descendants — to the Gram Katchahri (Village Court - a judicial forum for resolving disputes locally). Pushpanjali helped the parties realize how much money they were wasting on their legal squabbles, and convinced them to withdraw their cases against each other. With the help of her husband, she measured the disputed property and allocated plots to each party. After 6 days, the parties agreed to her proposal. 
           
Though this case might be one of Pushpanjali’s more recognized achievements, she has settled more than 100 cases over the last two years. While ensuring speedy justice, Pushpanjali is known by the locals as a fair Sarpanch

Managing climate risks in South Asia: A “bottom up” approach

Poonam Pillai's picture
Surma river between Bangladesh and India
The Surma River that flows between Bangladesh and India. Photo Credit: Poonam Pillai

Being from Kolkata, I have always been used to floods. Prolonged flooding typically meant schools and offices closed, traffic jams and a much-needed respite from the tropical summer heat. However, it was during a field visit to the flood prone northeastern border of Bangladesh, where rivers from India flow downstream into Bangladesh, that I fully appreciated the importance of disaster early warning systems and regional collaboration in saving lives, property, enabling communities to evacuate and prepare for extreme weather events.

Disaster early warning systems, along with other information services based on weather, water and climate data (sometimes known as “hydromet” or “climate services”) play a key role in disaster preparedness and improving the productivity and performance of climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture.  Along with investments in resilient infrastructure, risk financing strategies and capacity building measures, they are a key part of a toolkit for strengthening disaster and climate resilience.  Research shows that for every dollar spent on disaster early warning systems, the benefits range from $2-10.  In South Asia, these are particularly important given the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate risks and staggering socio-economic costs arising from extreme weather events.

A tipping point for solar energy?

Joaquim Levy's picture
Manik, a solar pump operator for Nusra works near the solar panels in Rohertek, Bangladesh. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Manik, a solar pump operator for Nusra works near the solar panels in Rohertek, Bangladesh. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

​Solar energy is poised to transform low-income economies, many of which are in the world’s sunniest regions. Solar’s growing share of the energy mix is being driven by better storage capacity and attractive generation costs. Large solar parks are now competitive with most alternatives; their average cost is below 5 cents per kilowatt-hour in some developing countries. Smaller-scale solar grids are also getting more competitive, opening new paths to financing this clean energy source. With rapid improvements in energy efficient lighting, refrigeration, water pumps, and other technologies for households, solar may soon be as game-changing as mobile phones have been in the last decade.

Solar’s potential is evident from its quick growth in India, where installed capacity recently topped 20 gigawatts (GW), putting the country closer to its ambitious target of 100 GW from clean energy by 2022 (an amount comparable to total installed capacity in the United Kingdom). Solar offers key advantages: facilities can be built quickly, do not need fuel to be transported to power plants, and can eliminate transmission costs where mini-grids or off-grid units are built to serve local communities. 
 

Removing the stigma of mental illness in India

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
A report on the economic burden of mental illness argues that depression and anxiety disorders cost the world nearly $1 trillion annually. Conversely, every dollar invested in mental health contributes $4 to the economy. Photo credit: TNMHP

April 7 marked the 70th anniversary of World Health Day. This was an opportunity for the global community to redouble its efforts to ensure that all people can improve their health, including their mental health.
 
When his father died, Gopi, a carpenter in rural Tamil Nadu, India was overwhelmed by an enormous mental and financial burden.

Gopi became depressed, left his job, and isolated himself.

As his condition worsened, Gopi’s two younger sisters dropped out from high school to take on farming jobs to support the family.

However, thanks to medicine, counseling, and livelihood support from the Mental Health Program (TNMHP), Gopi eventually rehabilitated himself and got back to carpentry a year later.

With time, he even took out a Rs. 20,000 loan to start his own carpentry business.

Gopi’s experience—and many others’—illustrate how mental health is integral to well-being.

The World Bank recognizes mental health as a key challenge to sustainable development.

A report on the economic burden of mental illness argues that depression and anxiety disorders cost the world nearly $1 trillion annually. Conversely, every dollar invested in mental health contributes $4 to the economy.

Accordingly, the World Bank-supported the Mental Health Program in the state of Tamil Nadu, India that incorporates best practices in mental health from around the world.

The project is an important instrument in addressing the magnitude of India’s mental health challenges, and provides a successful model for the implementation of the national mental health policy and improve mental health infrastructure and care in Indian states.

By closely involving the community, the project reduced stigma and prejudice attached to mental illness and empowered vulnerable people with mental disabilities to gain respect in their communities.  

People with mental disabilities are diagnosed and treated and provided livelihood support through vocational training, self-help groups, job cards, and identity cards to access social benefits.

India’s remarkably robust and resilient growth story

Poonam Gupta's picture

India has achieved much in the last decades. Yet an economic deceleration in the past few quarters has generated worried commentaries about India’s growth potential.  However, our analysis of nearly five decades of data finds that India’s long-term growth process is steady, stable, diversified and resilient. Does this lay the groundwork for a more sustained 8% growth in the future? Yes, possibly, but more is needed. Let us elaborate.

First, India’s long-term economic growth has steadily accelerated over a fifty-year period, without any prolonged reversals. Thus, while growth averaged 4.4 percent a year during the 1970s and 1980s, it accelerated to 5.5 percent during the 1990s-early 2000s, and further to 7.1 percent in the past one decade. The acceleration of growth is evident not just for aggregate GDP, but even more strongly for per capita GDP. The average pace of per capita growth was 5.5 percent a year in the last decade. Interestingly, when compared with some of the world’s largest emerging economies, this steady acceleration of growth stands out as being unique to India.

Second, India’s rate of growth has become more stable. This is partly due to the stabilization of growth within each sector – agriculture, industry and services – and partly to the transition of the economy toward the services sector, where growth is more stable. Particularly interesting is the sharp increase in the stability of GDP growth since 1991. Before this, growth accelerated episodically, was punctuated by large annual variations, and often failed to sustain. Thus, growth has not just accelerated post liberalisation, it has also become more stable.

Third, growth has been broadly diversified. Growth has accelerated the fastest in services, followed by industry, and less so in agriculture. Over the long run, India’s growth has been driven by an increasing share of investment and exports, with a large contribution from consumption. Growth has also been characterized by productivity gains – both in labor productivity as well as in total factor productivity.

Finally, growth has been broadly resilient to shocks, both domestic and external. The resilience of India’s growth can be attributed to the country’s large and spatially diversified economy, as well as to its diversified production structure that is not dependent on a few products, commodities, or natural resources. It can also be attributed to India’s diversified trade basket and broad range of trading partners, wherein a slowdown in any one part of the world will not result in a large impact on India.



The resilience of India’s growth process was on display in recent years when the country recovered quickly from the impacts of two major policy events – demonetization and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), an important indirect tax reform. We argue that the deceleration to growth rates below 7 percent between Q3 2016–17 and Q2 2017–18 was an aberration, attributed to temporary disruptions in economic activity as the economy adjusted to demonetization and businesses prepared for the implementation of GST. At present, there are indications that the economy has bottomed out and, in the coming quarters, economic activity should revert to the trend growth rate of about 7.5 percent. We project GDP growth to be 6.7 percent in 2017-18 and accelerate to 7.3 percent and 7.5 percent respectively in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Interest rate caps: The theory and the practice

Aurora Ferrari's picture

Ceilings on lending rates remain a widely-used instrument in many EMDEs as well as developed economies. The economic and political rationale for putting ceilings on lending rates is to protect consumers from usury or to make credit cheaper and more accessible. Our recent working paper shows that at least 76 countries around the world, representing more than 80% of global GDP and global financial assets, impose some restrictions on lending rates. These countries are not clustered in specific regions or income groups, but spread across all geographic and income dimensions.

Enabling digital financial inclusion for rural women: emerging findings from India

Shobha Shetty's picture
"Pehle to bank jaane se bhi dar lagta tha, aur ab hum bank wali didi ban gaye hain’’ (Earlier I used to be afraid of stepping into a bank branch but now I am called a bank representative!). These are the words of Nidhi Kumari, aged 24 who hails from a Baheri Village in Darbhanga district of Bihar. You cannot help but notice the pride and new-found self-confidence behind her wide smile.

Nidhi is one of over 1500 Banking Correspondent Agents (BCAs) under the World Bank’s (IDA $500M) National Rural Livelihood Project (NRLP) in India that supports the Government’s National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 13 high poverty states.
 
 Jeevika.
Nidhi Kumari at her BC Kiosk serving customers in her village. Photo courtesy: Jeevika.

Agent-based branchless banking in India is not new and has been around for over a decade. Given that there are over 650,000 villages in India and that less than 10 percent of villages have bank branches[i], an ICT-enabled alternate channel is now a dire necessity to enable greater financial inclusion. This agenda got a further boost when the Government of India launched the  Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) in 2014 to boost financial inclusion. To date, over 310 million PMJDY bank accounts (basic savings bank accounts) have been opened with 53 percent of these accounts now being held by women.

Encouraging more women to take part in regional trade

Mandakini Kaul's picture

Across South Asia, women represent a hugely underutilized source of growth. In fact, the South Asia region has some of the world’s lowest rates of female labor force participation - only 36%. Even where women work, they are mostly confined to less-remunerative low-skill jobs, and remain excluded from most trading activity. To make it easier for more women to work in all fields of endeavor, World Bank projects in the region have begun to look at development projects through a more gender-focused perspective.
 
One such area is regional trade and connectivity. After a long hiatus, the political momentum for cooperation within the eastern region is growing, especially in the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) corridor.  The Indian government’s Act East Policy, combined with the new Motor Vehicles Act that allows vehicles to cross the BBIN border with ease, represent a unique opportunity to reimagine inclusive growth by enabling more of the region’s women to benefit from this corridor.
 


Accordingly, the South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP), an Australian government-funded program being implemented by the World Bank, seeks to improve the conditions for women to trade between these nations and to create more remunerative livelihoods.


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