NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant in NY: “For India story to truly matter, 7 states and 200 districts must thrive”

The India story is woefully incomplete until the country's seven states and 200 districts that are lagging behind thrive, until their children are healthier and enjoy more robust education standards NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said in New York Saturday while making an energetic pitch for more equitable India growth path which does not reward only the Western and Southern states which are pulling away from other regions.

National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog is India's premier government think tank.

Speaking at a weekend Festschrift at Columbia University to honour former NITI Aayog vice chair Arvind Panagariya, Amitabh Kant laid out the broad brushstrokes of the Modi government’s overall push to make states compete for a place on the national pecking order.

Kant said the recent move to name and shame states on performance criteria will ratchet up several notches to become a model where outlays are linked to performance. Not right now but eventually, yes. “Why not? Voting patterns must move towards roads and infrastructure and health and education as the deciders. If a state does not perform, vote that government out,” Kant said.

Just for background here, the 14th Finance Commission had recommentded 49% share of central funds to states but many states claim their shares have actually dropped even as the Centre’s treasure chest bloats on account of higher specific excise duties. On the political side, probably more critical here, is the BJP's 'saffron' beltway that is spreading across the country.

Coming back to the themes Amitabh Kant chose to highlight to a room full of economists poring over India’s economic growth on a weekend in the US East Coast, India’s underperformance in education and health, thinking about urbanisation in a sustainable way, monitoring outcomes more aggressively and frequently and the Modi government’s move to dismantling knotty regulation were dominant.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant in NY: “For India story to truly matter, 7 states and 200 districts must thrive”

Amitabh Kant at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs

Top quotes from the Amitabh Kant keynote, lightly edited, are below:

“What does India need to do to grow at much higher rates for the next few decades? India has made itself a very complex and complicated place to do business in over the last three decades. India needs to make itself a simpler place to do business. We have to become a place where we make it easy to create wealth.”

“In the last three years, the Modi government has scrapped 1200 laws. You can register a company in one day now. We are cutting out layers and layers of middlemen and bureaucracy. Those are astonishing numbers for India.”

“Much of the acton is in the states. This (Modi) Govt is making states compete. The first time we ranked states, Gujarat came out on top. In the next year, Telangana and Andhra knocked out Gujarat. Ranking states and naming and shaming helps. We are doing it across sectors, including education, sanitation, water etc.”

“India’s foreign direct investment has grown by 61% where world FDI worldwide has fallen by 16%.

“How will India manage its process of urbanisation? By 2050, over 500 million rural Indians would have moved to the cities. When the West urbanised, they had the luxury of creating cities customised for gas guzzling vehicles. Challenge for India is that our urbanisation is happening at a time of shrinking natural resources. India has been a reluctant urbaniser. How to urbanise in a sustainable and innovative manner is a fundamental challenge before us.”

“The mandate ( Modi’s, in 2014) was for change. The government has pushed through major structural reforms. Everybody wants India to grow. Emphasis in government has shifted to outcomes. Nearly 47% of India will soon be middle class. We need a remodelled education and health system for India. We cannot do that (health reform) with a corrupt Medical Council of India (MCI). We need many more teachers. Our school level performance for reading and math is far below where we need to be. How can we grow at high levels with this kind of math performance in our schools?”

"In the next two months, we will have a ranking across states on education, followed by one on health."

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Updated Date: Oct 29, 2017 02:25:09 IST

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