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India

Exploring Digital India's transformative plans

Rajendra Kumar's picture
In August 2014, the Government of India approved Digital India, an ambitious national program aimed at transforming India into a knowledge economy and making government services more efficient and available to all citizens electronically. Over the next three years, the program envisions a national optical fiber network will connect thousands of India’s most distant gram panchayats — village-level governments — with a total population of more than 800 million.

This infrastructure will support government reform and change the way services are delivered. It is also expected that the program will help create thousands of new IT jobs, give a boost to the domestic manufacturing of electronics and, as a spin-off effect, lead to emergence of new services and flourishing e-commerce.
 
India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) is the agency that help develop and now is driving the implementation of this transformative agenda. We asked Dr. Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary for e-Government, to tell us more about Digital India, the challenges this program is meant to address and the solutions that are envisaged. Read Dr. Kumar’s selected responses below, and click here to download the full version of the interview.

Digital India, the ambitious initiative of the Indian Government, aims to bridge digital divide and bring high-speed Internet and government services to the rural and underprivileged parts of the country by 2019. What are the key development challenges that Digital India is addressing and why was investment in ICTs chosen as the main solution?

India is sitting on the cusp of a big information technology (IT) revolution. We have to leverage our massive Indian talent and information and communication technologies (ICTs) as growth engines for a better India tomorrow. This is embodied in the following statement: IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow).

Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia

Sanjay Kathuria's picture



Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.

To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.[1]

At the end of this process, the expected output is a paper meeting rigorous academic standards and at a stage suitable for presentation and debate in academic seminar/workshops/conferences. In particular, the insights from the research are expected to be presented and discussed during World Bank sponsored events.

This call is open to PhD students who have already completed their Ph. D. coursework and young economists who have recently completed their PhD (by 2010 or after).[2]  

The criteria for the grant are as follows:

At the current rate, female participation in India’s labor force is unlikely to increase

Janneke Pieters's picture
Despite rising economic growth, fertility decline, and rising wages and education levels, married women’s labor force participation in urban India has stagnated around 18% since the mid-1980s. In a recent paper, we investigate what can explain this stagnation of female labor force participation (FLFP).

Will South Asia make the most of cheap oil?

Markus Kitzmuller's picture

The world economy today presents itself as a diverse canvas full of challenges and opportunities. Advanced economies continue to struggle towards recovery, with the US on its way to tighten monetary policy as the economy picks up while a still weak Eurozone awaits quantitative easing to kick in. At the same time, plunging oil prices have set in motion significant real income shifts from exporters to importers of oil. Astonishingly, amidst all this turmoil, South Asia has emerged as the fastest growing region in the world over the second half of 2014. Led by a strong India, South Asia is set to further accelerate from 7 percent real growth in 2015 to 7.6 percent by 2017, leaving behind a slowing East Asia gradually landed in second spot by China.



While bolstered by record low inflation and strong external positions across the region, the biggest question yet to be addressed by policy makers in South Asia will be how to make the most of cheap oil.
All countries are net oil importers as well as large providers of fuel and related food subsidies, therefore bound to benefit from low oil prices. However, the biggest oil price dividend to be cashed in by South Asia is one yet to be earned, and not one that will automatically transit through government or consumer accounts. The current constellation of macroeconomic tailwinds provides a unique opportunity for policy makers to rationalize energy prices and to improve fiscal policy. Decoupling external oil prices from fiscal deficits may decrease vulnerability to future oil price hikes – something that may very well happen in the medium term. Furthermore, cheap oil offers a great opportunity to introduce carbon taxation and address the negative externalities from the use of fossil fuels.

The World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus (April 2015) titled “Making the most of cheap oil” provides deeper insights regarding South Asia’s diverse policy challenges and opportunities stemming from cheap oil.
A first major realization is that the pass through from oil prices to domestic South Asian economies is as diverse as the countries themselves, thanks to a variety of different policy environments across countries and oil products. This is also reflected in recent dynamics, seeing India taking determined action towards rationalizing fuel and energy prices, even introducing a de facto carbon tax and beginning to reap fiscal and environmental benefits. Other countries have so far shown less or no enthusiasm towards reform, in spite of significant and/or increasing oil dependency (particularly in electricity generation, one of the region’s weak spots). 

Public spaces - not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
The benefits of public spaces in the poorest parts of the world
Source: World Bank Staff

We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.

Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.

Despite their importance, public spaces are often poorly integrated or neglected in planning and urban development. However, more and more research suggests that investing in them can create prosperous, livable, and equitable cities in developing countries. UN-Habitat has studied the contribution of streets as public spaces on the prosperity of cities, which finds a correlation between expansive street grids and prosperity as well as developing a public space toolkit.

Agriculture as Enterprise: An Evolution of Thought and Perspective to Increase Outcomes for India's Farmers

It started with data!
 
In 2007-08, an evaluation by Catalyst Management Services of a tribal livelihoods initiative for the State Planning Commission of Madhya Pradesh showed that agriculture as a livelihoods option was unproductive and  for small tribal farmers; leaving them without a profitable livelihood option. But it wasn’t because of prices, or barriers to entry. Instead, it was because crucial services and government schemes were not reaching those who needed them most.
 
According to the data, only 10-12% of small producers were able to access vital extension schemes and a mere 7-8% of other government schemes. The evaluation found that large farms were crowding out the smaller farmers from accessing key subsidies and benefits. So the State Planning Commission posed a challenge: find a way to reach these marginalized tribal farmers in Madhya Pradesh. 
 

What is the secret of success in social inclusion? An example from Himachal Pradesh

Soumya Kapoor Mehta's picture
 
We started with a standard warm-up question as Gangi Devi, our first respondent, sat in anticipation. “Tell me a little bit about your society. What is distinctive about the Himachali way of life?” A smile lined up a face creased otherwise with wrinkles. “We are a peaceful society,” she said after thinking a little. “People here are good to one another, we stand by each other.” A person sitting next to her added for good measure, “We Himachalis are very innocent people.”
 
For those working in the development space in India, the state of  Himachal Pradesh, a small state ensconced in the Himalayas with a population of 7 million, is an outlier for many reasons, not least of which is Gangi Devi’s near puritan response.
 
Gangi Devi lives near a tourist centre close to Shimla, the state capital, which has seen increasing tourist footfall in recent years. Even as her community is debating the costs and benefits of increased activity around their village, Gangi Devi and her neighbours trust that the state government would keep people’s interests in mind and address adverse impacts, if any, of increased tourism on the environment.
 
Their belief in the government is supported by real actions. Himachal Pradesh is the first state in India to ban the use of plastic bags. Smoking in public spaces in the city of Shimla is punishable by law.
 
Governance in Himachal Pradesh looks doubly impressive when considered against an enviable development record

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