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A Meeting with the Honorable Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh
On July 1, 2005, Nirupam Bajpai, Senior Development Adviser and Director of the South Asia Program at the Center on Globalization & Sustainable Development (CGSD), met with the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi to discuss how The Earth Institute can help India expand the delivery of needed services to rural areas. CGSD is part of the Earth Institute of Columbia University.
The Earth Institute: What was the purpose of your meeting with Prime Minister Singh?
Nirupam Bajpai : After more than a decade of economic policy reforms, India is experiencing tremendous economic growth. CGSD is working with India’s government to research and advise on new opportunities for economic and social development. Prime Minister Singh invited me to this meeting to discuss ways to scale-up government services in rural India. We also talked about financing and reform of India’s health sector, the major challenges that India faces in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as ways to enhance India’s foreign assistance to Africa.
Q:What are some of the rural services that India’s population needs and how will these services enhance the country’s economic growth?
A: There are five key areas in rural India that need much higher levels of public investment. They are: access to safe drinking water, primary health, primary education, and availability of power and rural roads, especially to the regional markets. Fortunately, there is a vast amount of economic reform that can be carried out to improve conditions in rural India, particularly in the Gangetic valley. I believe that the key step in the hugely populous, mainly rural, and inward-oriented Gangetic states, especially Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, is to improve the most basic infrastructure so that the people can take part in more rapid national economic growth. They will do so through increased exports to coastal states, and greatly improved productivity for local production.
Rural India needs a new social contract in which there will be a reliable infrastructure supplied at commercial prices rather than given for free. The Government’s commitment, both at the national and state levels, should be that every village will be assured basic physical and social infrastructures; but also that every village will be responsible for covering the commercial costs of those services (with the exception of populations below the poverty line) on a normal user-fee basis. It is very encouraging to find that Prime Minister Singh’s government has taken on this huge challenge and is working hard to achieve these goals.
Q: Are these same services related to achieving the Millennium Development Goals?
A: Most of these services also figure into the MDGs, however, in some areas the goals set by the Government of India are more ambitious than the targets set in the MDGs. While India is making great strides toward the first of the Millennium Development Goals, reducing extreme poverty, it is likely to miss several of the other goals related to hunger, disease and environmental sustainability.
Q: What is India’s role and responsibility in providing foreign assistance to Africa?
A: India is one of the fastest growing economies and by all accounts is likely to emerge as a major player in the world economy by 2020. The experiences of India’s development over the decades, especially in rural South India, can suggest lessons for sub-Saharan Africa. I believe India can offer a lot to Africa, not necessarily in financial terms, but with its vast expertise and experience in the areas of agriculture and Green Revolution, agro R&D, rural small-scale industry, non-conventional energy, and information technology.
Q:How was your meeting with the Prime Minister received?
A: The Prime Minister said that he welcomed our insights on improving governance in rural areas and looked forward to CGSD's project report, which we plan to present to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in November.
Q:What was it personally like to meet with the leader of the largest democracy in the world and the second most populous country in the world?
A: I have had the high honor and privilege to serve informally as an advisor to the former Prime Minister of India, the Honorable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from October 1999 through May 2004, and subsequently to Prime Minister Singh since June 2004. Being that India is the largest democracy in the world, I believe that the job of the Prime Minister of India is one of the most challenging and demanding for any political leader in the world today. Personally, the last six years of advising the Prime Ministers of India has been a great opportunity for me to contribute in small ways towards India’s growth and development. India is extraordinarily lucky to have Dr. Manmohan Singh, a world-respected development economist as its Prime Minister. I believe under Dr. Singh’s leadership, India will continue to grow even faster in the years ahead and that will help the country to rapidly reduce poverty and to eventually eradicate it.
To learn more about CGSD’s South Asia Program, visit: http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/cgsd/advising/india.html
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.