India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world with significant Government investments in infrastructure. According to estimates by WTO and OECD, as quoted in a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India: Probity in Public Procurement, the estimated public procurement in India is between 20 and 30 percent of GDP.
This translates to Indian government agencies issuing contracts worth an estimated US$ 419 billion to US$ 628 billion each year for various aspects of infrastructure projects. Ideally, in contractual agreements no disputes would arise and both sides would benefit from the outcome. However, unexpected events occur and many contracts end in dispute. Contractual legal disputes devoid project benefits to the public as time and resources are spent in expensive arbitration and litigation. As a result, India’s development goals are impacted.
I moved to Bangladesh 3 years ago with a lot of excitement as I considered it a sort of mini-laboratory for development theory and practice.
My task was to oversee the Bangladesh portfolio from a social perspective. From day one, there was one issue that came up in almost all projects: land acquisition and resettlement. Once can expect this, given high population densities in a small country. Surprisingly, while there is a lot of debate about shortages of power and electricity for Bangladesh development, little attention is paid to the land issue. But all infrastructure has a footprint and access to land is complex.
This huge challenge was matched by a dearth of professionals to manage social risks. While the market for such services is growing, there was no institution to train people in those disciplines in the country. I could have continued to hire foreign consultants, but that didn’t seem very smart in the long run. So I thought: “let’s establish a course in a local university that would create that capacity over time and train a cadre of professionals capable of conducting a serious social impact assessment, carry out a good consultation process or design a solid resettlement action plan”. My intention was to fill a systemic gap. That could only happen over time, and it could only happen via local institutions.
And so I did.