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'No holding India back now'

BS Economy Bureau in New Delhi | November 18, 2004 10:41 IST

World Bank President James D Wolfensohn on Wednesday appreciated India's high economic growth and poverty reduction efforts in the last decade and had a word of praise for Indian corporates, but sounded a word of caution on fiscal deficit.

"India has remarkable progress. The country's GDP has gone from $410 billion in 1996 to $540 billion," Wolfensohn said at a seminar 'India: Opportunity & Challenge in a Globalised World'.

Wolfensohn said that when he first visited India a few decades ago, half the population was below the poverty line. Literacy, he said, had also improved in the last few years.

"It's a more confident India, more outward looking, signing free trade agreements with other countries. There is nothing to hold the country back," he said.

Wolfensohn commended Infosys, Tata Motors, Asian Paints and Ranbaxy for demonstrating entrepreneurship and becoming global players within a short span of time. He said India was central to global stability in terms of population, environment, regional stability and entrepreneurship.

"While the Chinese growth experience has been more dramatic, India has done well in a different way -- in a democratic and diverse set-up. To move a country of this size and scale forward, one needs to work at the local level", Wolfensohn said.

As for his luncheon meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the World Bank President said, "I asked the finance minister to take care of fiscal deficit."

Wolfensohn, who is on a two-day visit to monitor projects funded by the multilateral agency, committed over $3 billion a year in financial assistance for infrastructure and social sector programmes over the next few years.

"We are talking at the moment, of $3 billion a year over the next few years in aid to India. I don't think money is the way to judge the issue. You have a lot of money (in foreign exchange reserves). The projects we'll be engaged in are in infrastructure and filling gaps in national programmes," he told reporters.

The Bank's loan sanctions are expected to be about $2.5 billion this fiscal, higher than little over $1.5 billion in 2003-04. He is discussing ways to step up lending to the country, and also met President APJ Abdul Kalam.

He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission on Thursday.

Wolfensohn also lauded the The National Common Minimum Programme saying it was a fantastic document and captures the objectives of the country -- social harmony, enforcing law without fear of favour, protecting the interests of farm labour, the interests of women, equality of opportunity for education to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and unleashing the productive potential of entrepreneurs, in a corruption free, transparent and accountable manner, he added.

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