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May 5, 2000
The Rediff Business Special/Jeffrey D. Sachs, Nirupam Bajpai
India's Decade of Development
While presenting the Union Budget for 2000/01, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in his introductory remarks said, "I propose to put India on a sustained, equitable and job creating growth path of 7 to 8 per cent per year in order to banish the scourge of poverty from our land within a decade. The next 10 years will be India's decade of development."
We concur that India has a chance for a tremendous breakthrough in economic development this decade. There are several reasons for this view. India's political system is more than ever in consensus about the basic direction of reforms. The current government enjoys a strong electoral mandate. A decade of opening of the economy has produced new dynamism, most dramatically in the information technology sector, but in others as well.
The world is waking up to India's crucial role as the largest democracy and as a dynamic economy, if still a low-income one on average. The new technologies (especially information technology and biotechnology) give new opportunities for economic and social development.
All of these positive realities suggest that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should announce specific major national goals of development. These goals will help to galvanise domestic public opinion in support of the objectives of development, provide a gauge against which to judge the progress of policies, and help the world community to appreciate the efforts underway, and support them through increased flows of foreign investment.
The goals would be akin to the "New Deal" announced in the 1930s in the United States: a rallying cry for the public, and a political base for the reforms. If the government succeeds in achieving the ambitious goals, it would become a lasting political legacy of support.
In this regard, we suggest at least two broad goals that the government of India may like to set for itself:
First, by the year 2010, the per capita income of India would be doubled. Income doubling within a decade requires annual growth in per capita income of 7 per cent per annum.
Second, by the year 2010, there would be universalisation of education until Class VIII, with a special effort for girls and disadvantaged groups.
Additional targets could well be set regarding health conditions and access to basic services, such as sanitation, clean water, telecommunications, power, and so on, particularly in rural India.
It is interesting to note that with regard to education, President Clinton announced national goals along these lines in his State of The Union Address on January 27, 2000. Since the US is often portrayed as a free-market society with very limited government in the domestic sphere, it might be supposed that the government would shy away from specific domestic goals as smacking too much of "central planning". To the contrary, the President's speech offers a big vision of American society in the 21st century.
President Clinton's address is filled with goals relating to education, public health, commitments to eliminate child poverty, widespread use of the Internet, more resources for science and technology, and disease control, and so on. It sets broad goals, and explains how they can be met.
In many places, it literally calls on the individual states to meet certain performance standards as in education, reflecting the fact that the US, like India, has a federal structure in which the central government may set goals, while the implementation rests mainly with the states.
In his address, the President said, "To 21st century America, let us pledge these things: Every child will begin school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed. Every family will be able to succeed at home and at work, and no child will be raised in poverty." He went on to say, "First and foremost, we need a 21st century revolution in education, guided by our faith that every single child can learn. Because education is more important than ever, more than ever the key to our children's future, we must make sure all our children have that key. That means quality pre-school and after-school, the best trained teachers in the classroom, and college opportunities for all our children."
In the Indian context, comparably bold but achievable goals should be enunciated. India too needs a revolution in education, aimed -- finally -- at literacy for all, and a high-level of school attendance for all children in India's vast and differentiated society. And as President Clinton enunciated goals in health, technology, economics and other areas, so too are comparable goals necessary, and achievable, in the Indian context.
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