Hon'ble Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh ji, Smt Gursharan Kaur ji, Dr. D Subbarao, Prof Raghuram Rajan, Shri T N Ninan, Mr Manzar Khan, authors and contributors to this festschrift volume, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Representatives of the Think Tank community, private sector, civil society, and the media, I offer a very warm welcome to all of you on behalf of ICRIER and OUP.
This is a very special occasion when we felicitate our Prime Minister on the release of the second and updated edition of the book, India's Economic Reforms and Development: Essays for Manmohan Singh, as an Oxford India Perennial.
As many of you know, this book was first published in 1998, a year or so after Dr Manmohan Singh laid down office as Finance Minister. At that time, he had successfully steered India away from a major economic crisis and put the economy firmly on the path of faster growth which would make easier the task of inclusion, poverty alleviation and improvement in the standards of living of our people.
None of us thought that he will get an opportunity again to play a major role in shaping India's economic and social future. Some of us thought that we should celebrate his contribution to India's economic and social development by producing a festschrift. I approached Prof I M D Little, who was Dr Singh's thesis advisor for his Ph D thesis at Oxford in the early 1960s. Prof Little was very enthusiastic about this project for his most distinguished student. We approached 15 economists who knew Dr Manmohan Singh and who were actively engaged in following the course of India's economic and social development. All of them readily agreed to write on different aspects of India's economic reforms and development. The book was released by then Prime Minister Shri Inder Kumar Gujral in December, 1997.
Four months ago I received a call from Mr Manzar Khan, Managing Director of Oxford University Press in India. He told me that our book has been selected by OUP as one of 4 Oxford India Perennials, a new series launched on the occasion of celebrating OUP's 100th anniversary in India. The book would therefore be printed in a second edition. I seized the opportunity offered by OUP to reach out to our authors to check if they would like to revisit their contributions on the Indian economy and provide us with short postscripts. To my delight, most of them readily agreed despite their extremely busy schedule, and kept their promise. Prof Ian Little and I have written an epilogue which provides our retrospective overview of the past decade and a half. The result is the volume that we present to Dr Manmohan Singh today.
Three of our 15 authors, Dr Raja Chelliah, Prof Amaresh Bagchi and Prof Suresh Tendulkar have passed away in the 14 years that have gone by. Prof Amartya Sen, Prof Jagdish Bhagwati, Dr C Rangarajan and Prof T N Srinivasan are not able to join us on this occasion. I would like to announce the names of the 8 authors who are here and would urge you to join me in giving them them a hand when I am through. Lord Meghnad Desai, Shri Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Dr Ashok Gulati, Prof Vijay Joshi, Prof Ajit Singh, Prof Deepak Lal, Dr Kirit Parikh, and Dr V A Pai Panandikar.
There is one more matter relating to this book that I would like to share with you. From the royalty payments we received from the sales of the book, Dr Manmohan Singh Trust has been funding two scholarships for the two best students of M A (Econ) at the Delhi School of Economics since 1998-99. The fellows are selected by the Delhi School faculty at the same time that they select scholars for the All-India Merit Scholarships and the Delhi School Merit Scholarships.
The only time we accepted a supplementary contribution to the Fund was in 2002 from Mr Narayan Murthy so that we could raise our scholarship to avoid being overtaken by a larger scholarship being offered to the Delhi School of Economics by a multinational company. As it turned out, the multinational company discontinued its scholarship after a year, and another such company did the same after giving a scholarship for 3 years. I am happy to say that the Manmohan Singh fellowship has continued, and remains the highest scholarship at the Delhi School of Economics. We are now able to provide Rs 5000 per month to each scholar. In addition, OUP provides an allowance of Rs 7500 per year per fellow for books published by OUP.
I am also happy to report that our students receive their first cheque for the quarter within three days of learning that they have been selected. So far, over 25 students have received the scholarships and some of the Manmohan Singh Fellows are present in the hall today. Will the Manmohan Singh fellows please stand up and take an applause?
We have a very distinguished panel here to speak on the challenges of economic reform in India at the present juncture. I would just like to highlight some facts and some major challenges for the reform process going forward.
When the book was first published in 1998, the Indian economy recorded an average growth rate of about 5.5 per cent per annum in the 6 years after the launch of the economic reforms in 1991. Today, the growth rate of the Indian economy is over 8 per cent per annum if we look at the past 6 years. In other words, growth has been a good 2.5 percentage points higher even when we faced an adverse external environment in the global slowdown. But the 2.5 per cent faster growth doesn't feel so much better because aspirations have grown faster and we need to make the growth more inclusive.
Indians born in 1991 are 21 years old in 2012. Half of India's population today is below the age of 25. This half of our population started life in India with 5.5 per cent growth which accelerated slowly and steadily to 8 per cent as they grew up. They are restive for more, not less. No wonder, a 7 per cent growth is seen as a collapse.
Turning to poverty, the picture is one of improvement, and at a faster pace, but that is not enough. During the period from 1993-94 to 2004-05, the percentage of population in poverty declined at the rate of 0.75 percentage points per year. In the subsequent period from 2004-05 to 2009-10, the decline has been twice as fast. This decline is established no matter where we draw the poverty line. However, given the large magnitude of the problem of poverty which remains with us, this improvement should certainly not lull us into complacency. Of course, with faster growth and rising aspirations, the acceptable level of poverty must be redefined.
At the same time, we must accept the fact that faster growth has been associated with faster decline in poverty, and faster growth is necessary for winning our battle against poverty. Faster growth has made it possible at long last to begin to address the challenges of inclusion, social protection, education and health.
The danger today is that we seem to take faster growth for granted. But growth is currently under threat from a deteriorating macro-economic environment and a downturn in the investment climate. If growth slows down, we will lose instruments that enable us to bring about inclusion, provide social protection, and help eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
In writing a retrospective of the past decade and a half for the new edition, it became very clear to us that we face some new challenges to the growth process itself. These include fiscal unsustainability, incomplete financial sector reforms, problems in infrastructure reforms including those relating to regulatory frameworks, macro-economic management in an uncertain international economic environment, and also challenges of overall governance. Our authors have covered these issues from different perspectives. Also, I am sure our distinguished panellists will go over these issues. I would only like to highlight two new challenges that I see emerging.
The first is the challenge of urbanisation. This was one issue which was not on the agenda in 1998. I had the privilege of chairing a Committee on Urban Infrastructure and Service Delivery for the Government of India. Our urban population has increased from 286 million in 2001 to 377 million in 2011. Even so, only 30 per cent of Indian population is urban, much less than in most other developing countries including China. It is projected to increase to 600 million by 2031. JNNURM was a pioneering national mission for the urban sector. Its lessons must be incorporated in the design of the new JNNURM which should begin soon and be implemented in the spirit of implementing the 74th Constitutional Amendment which has placed this responsibility on the local governments.
Increasingly, more and more cities will have to become the engines of national development. In order to foster the economies of agglomeration and minimise the diseconomies of congestion, we will have to bridge the deficit in urban infrastructure, find ways of financing new investments, improve governance within a decentralised framework so as to significantly improve the state of urban service delivery for all, plan for our cities with focus on public transport and affordable housing so as to make them slum-free, and develop capacities to bring all this about.
India cannot afford to get its urban strategy wrong. To get it right, it is extremely important to bring about a fundamental shift in the mind-set which separates rural from the urban.
On the second major new challenge, it is worth noting that again, in 1998, nobody was talking of skill deficit. It took only 10-12 years of growth at 7.5 to 8 per cent per annum to show how unprepared we were with respect to the demand for skilled manpower. The challenge is to convert our much talked about demographic opportunity of a growing proportion of working age population into a growth dividend by empowering our youth with the skills that are in demand.
Finally, I would like to say that when any society is going through structural transformation associated with rapid growth of the kind that the Indian economy has experienced in the last 20 years, institutions take time to adjust. The process of turbulence is there for all to see in an open democratic society such as ours. It is often termed as collapse of governance, but the strength of a democratic system with its checks and balances is that we must strive for institutional reform within an open and transparent framework.
A significant achievement of the economic reforms launched by Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991 is that 20 years later, many apprehensions have been allayed as India's transformation from a slow growing economy to one of the fastest growing economies in the world has been achieved. While we argumentative Indians discuss and debate the means to attain and sustain high growth, inclusion has emerged as a central concern. Democratic forces are at work to ensure inclusion in the process of development. Aspirations are rising and the young population is on the move. We shall overcome.