I have always believed that communities are like musical instruments. You need to tune them properly to hear their divine music. I actually heard this music from rural communities in India. And their song, which still resonates within me, is something I will now take back to my own country.
In May 2017, my colleagues and I from the World Bank’s Azerbaijan Rural Investment Project were on an exposure visit to India to see firsthand how self help groups and cooperatives were impacting the lives of rural people.
In my years of work in rural development, I have found that the unique feature we as human beings have is the ability to share skills, values and experiences. As we travelled across six states, this proved to be true in all the people we met, be it in large commercial companies or in remote rural communities.
The people told us that transparency and honesty were an essential factor in their success. I also found that the spirit of cooperation was clearly present. Cooperatives belong to all members, they said, and the managers were there to serve the members. The leaders of self help groups, producer organizations, cooperatives, and micro enterprise groups also told us that they must be party to the risk taken by the group, and should lead by example in order to motivate others.
In Brazil, where I come from, we are crazy about football, so I grew up listening to football matches. At the end of a match, the reporters would interview the main scorer of the day, who would often say that he was just lucky to receive the ball at the right place.
The commentator would then say that “good luck is a combination of ability and opportunity”. This story comes to mind when thinking of India’s economy over the past two years.
India has been lucky indeed. In the fiscal year ending March 2016 (FY16), the sharp decline in oil prices generated what economists call a positive “terms-of-trade” shock, which lifted growth.
A terms-of-trade shock means that the things you buy suddenly become cheaper relative to the things you sell, allowing you to buy more things.
In the fiscal year that just ended, CSO data that was released recently shows that the good monsoons helped agriculture propel growth. Notwithstanding disruption from demonetization, agricultural wages have continued to grow, along with their purchasing power as rural inflation declined.
But India has also implemented good policies, which allowed it to take advantage of the external shocks. The government took advantage of declining oil prices to eliminate fuel subsidies and hike taxes on carbon-emitting petroleum products, a win for the environment and a win for the exchequer.
The World Bank is releasing its flagship report highlighting the state of the Indian economy, its future growth prospects, the impact of the recent currency exchange on the economy, and the benefits that the progress on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will have moving forward.
Thirty-year old Vijaya (name changed) spent 10 years of her life not talking to anybody. Her parents were daily wage laborers, scraping together a sparse living in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Unaware of any treatment, and afraid of being stigmatized or shunned by their community, they did not disclose their daughter’s illness to anyone. Instead, Vijaya suffered in silence, confined to the house, and hidden from public view.
It was only when the Tamil Nadu government’s Mental Health Program (TNMHP) reached out to their community that Vijaya’s life underwent a dramatic change. After six months of working with the program’s community facilitators, Vijaya’s parents took her for treatment, and within a year, the young woman began interacting with others more frequently.
Poor mental health places a huge burden on individuals, families, and society. From developed countries to emerging market economies, mental disability – ranging from common mental disorders such as depression to severe mental illnesses and retardation – has profound impacts on people’s economic and social well-being.
In a previous blog we related how South Asia as a whole had improved the performance of its container ports since 2000 but had still struggled to catch up with other developed and developing regions. But within that picture, some ports did better than others.
For example, Colombo in Sri Lanka, the fast-expanding Mundra and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in India and Port Qasim in Pakistan all improved the use of their facilities in the first decade of this century. India’s Mumbai and Tuticorin were among those that fell behind. Colombo also improved its operational performance by almost halving the share of idle time at berth, while Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kolkata (India) had the longest vessel turnaround times in the region.
Knowing how specific ports perform and the characteristics of ports that perform well and those of ports that perform poorly helps policymakers design interventions to support underperforming ports.
In the report “Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports” we identified three interrelated policies to improve the performance of the container ports, a key element in one of the world’s fast-growing regions: increasing private participation in ports, strengthening governance of port authorities and fostering competition between and within ports:
Many countries, developed and developing, that want to become more competitive in global markets tend to jump to a quick conclusion that they need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in transport sectors like ports. But while many regions, including South Asia, do face important infrastructure gaps, massive new investment is not the only way to improve regional competitiveness. Countries should realize that they also have significant potential to make more efficient use of the infrastructure they already have.
Building megaports all along the coast might reduce a country’s trade costs, but it also requires hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Improving the performance of existing ports, enabling them to handle higher levels of cargo with the same facilities and in a shorter time, can be a far more cost-effective approach to reducing transport and trade costs. Closing the infrastructure gap does not just require more infrastructure, but also better infrastructure, and better use of existing infrastructure.
The report Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports, which we launched today, provides the first comprehensive look at the 14 largest container ports in South Asia, which handle 98 percent of the region’s container traffic. It focuses on port performance, drivers, and costs.
“We want teachers to come to school and educate our children.”
“When the Anganwadi worker doesn’t turn up for work, we don’t pay her salary.”
“I have set up a grievance redressal mechanism to make public services accountable to villagers.”
These were some of the statements made to us by Anita, a once-diffident village woman in rural Jharkhand. What struck us most was the confidence and deep sense of empowerment with which Anita spoke to us. She had started out as a member of a village SHG and now headed the Masaniya village Gram Panchayat (local government) where she worked with other women members to protect the interests of her community.
We - a World Bank team led by Junaid Ahmad the India country director - were visiting rural Jharkhand, one of the poorest parts of the country, to see the work done under the Bank-supported National Rural Livelihood Project (NRLP). As we listened with rapt attention, the women poured out their stories, telling us how their lives had changed thanks to the resolve and positivity that the project had instilled within them. Time and again we heard how it was now possible for them to think of escaping the clutches of poverty and chart out a new future for themselves and their families.
The World Bank is releasing its first-ever comprehensive study of container ports in South Asia, examining the competitiveness of major ports across the region and suggesting ways they can work more efficiently to boost trade.
The report, to be formally launched on April 27, examines the performance of the ports, which handle about 75 percent of the region’s trade by value, and assesses the role that the private sector, governance, and competition have played in their development.
Trade has been key to South Asia’s remarkable economic average annual growth rate of about 6.7 percent since the beginning of the century, the second-highest in the world after East Asia.
By improving the transport infrastructure, including ports, and easing bottlenecks that hinder the flow of goods, the World Bank is helping South Asia lower its high logistics costs, capture a bigger share of the global market and create more jobs, supporting its progress toward becoming a middle-income region.
In several economic infrastructure sectors, India enjoyed a strong track record of harnessing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Private sector investments in infrastructure more than tripled from the 10th Plan Period (2002-07; INR 2 trillion) to the 11th Plan (2007-12; INR 7.3 trillion). Between these plan periods, private sector share in infra investments increased from 22% to 38%. For a considerable period of time, on the score of mobilizing infrastructure investments through private participation among developing countries, India ranked 1st in Energy and Transport sectors and 2nd in Telecom (behind Brazil).
This erstwhile success of India’s PPP program is attributable to well-crafted reform efforts by the government, and ably executed by the private sector, banks and other financial intermediaries. Following the economic liberalization initiated in the early 1990s, the government has created an enabling environment for private participation through several sector-specific and cross-sectoral initiatives, e.g., relaxing entry norms, tax concessions, independent regulation in telecom and power, mobilization of additional revenues through tolls and cess on fuel, establishment of a viability gap fund mechanism and India Infrastructure Financing Company Limited, etc. The financial intermediaries, too, quickly moved up on a steep learning curve to cater to this new and challenging mode of delivering infrastructure services. Private sector responded enthusiastically and seized these opportunities to develop their own capabilities and progressively build larger and complex projects. Today, private sector operators are serving more than 90% of the mobile phone users, owning ~40% of the power generation capacity, built and operating a substantive portion of arterial network of national highways, besides world-class airports in four metros and container handling facilities at many ports.
Reviving an institution to its past glory of being among the best in the country can be a tough task. But after fifteen years of administrative and educational reforms with financial help and guidance of the World Bank and the government, the 160-year-old College of Engineering Pune (COEP) has emerged among the top 25 in the country. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has ranked COEP at 21 out of the top 100 engineering colleges in the country, in the first ever ranking exercise undertaken by it. Even in private sector exercises by various periodicals, COEP, which boasts a heritage building and a workshop complex which reportedly undertook armament manufacturing during the World War II, scores over some of the prestigious IITs and NITs.
Much more than just funding by the World Bank under its Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) has clearly helped COEP not just arrest the slide in academic standards but also reemerge among the top ranking engineering colleges in the country where both the faculty and the students take pride in being meritorious.
Trophies and certificates of merit can be seen displayed not just in COEP director Prof Bharatkumar B. Ahuja’s airy room in the restored heritage building, which houses the administrative office, but in many other workshops and main halls of the college. Prof Ahuja states with pride that after IITs, it is the first choice of students from the state.
In an environment where industry is known to be critical of most engineering colleges, COEP has received Rs. 1 crore worth scholarships for students this year. Many of the industries are coming forward to help the college set up labs for promoting innovation. Having got autonomy, a precondition under the World Bank project, COEP is striving to achieve university status to push ahead with its programme to introduce more specializations and research. It boasts of 118 PhDs among its 217 faculty members.
During a recent visit, unmindful of the high temperature in the tin roofed workshop of the yore, enthusiastic students could be seen engaged in club activities like robotics, racing car, 3D printing, etc. The college has over 30 clubs including a satellite club, where like in a relay race projects are started and taken forward by next batch of students. On the fourth floor of one of the buildings, in a makeshift station the satellite club members monitor and communicate daily with the communication polar satellite Swayam ( the fourth student satellite from India) when it passes over Pune. The club is now working on a new satellite - Solar Sail - with research funding from ISRO.