India: Double-digit growth possible

As India’s leaders gear up to boost the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to a dizzying 10 per cent per annum, analysts warn that although double digit growth is achievable the country’s problems of endemic poverty, unemployment and agrarian distress are unlikely to disappear in a hurry.

On October 18, presiding over a meeting of India’s Planning Commission, PM Manmohan Singh said 10 per cent economic growth “is an ambitious target, but I do believe it is a feasible one”. His remarks came just after the commission approved the “approach paper” to India’s Eleventh Five-Year Plan that starts on April 11 next year. The document states that India would aim for an annual growth rate of 9 per cent over the 2007-12 period, with the economic growth rate touching the 10 per cent mark in the last two years of the plan period. If these targets are met, India’s growth rate would become comparable to that of its bigger neighbour China. Singh, a former World Bank economist regarded as the architect of India’s liberalisation, predicted that India “would be finally emerging into the front ranks of fast growing developing countries”.

Whereas India’s manufacturing industry as well as its burgeoning services sector — including the much talked-about computer software and information technology-enabled service businesses — have been growing at over 10 per cent a year, the agricultural sector has lagged at a niggardly two per cent annually.

The share of the farm sector in the country’s GDP has come down from 40 per cent to 20 per cent over the past decade or so, but the share of the population dependent on agriculture has hardly reduced — from roughly 70 per cent to around 60 per cent — over this period.

The approach paper to the Eleventh Plan has set a 4 per cent target for the growth of the farm sector. It talks of doubling the country’s per capita income by 2017 and the creation of 70 million new jobs over the next five years. The paper sets 2009 as the target year by when clean drinking water would be provided to all Indian citizens. The approach paper states that the Indian government intends to reduce the drop-out rate of children in primary schools from 52 per cent at present to 20 per cent by 2012. By then, the literacy rate is slated to rise to 85 per cent from around two-thirds of the population at present. By the end of the Eleventh Plan, New Delhi hopes to bring down the infant mortality rate to 28 per 1,000 births and the maternal mortality rate to one for every 1,000 births. India’s sex ratio is also expected to improve from 935 by 2011-12 to 950 five years later.

On physical infrastructure, the Indian government states that there would be electricity in each of the country’s 600,000 villages by 2009, a telephone line by November 2007 and broadband connectivity by 2011-12. By 2009, the government is hopeful that there would be proper road connections to every village with a population of 1,000 or more.

The approach paper states that there would be considerable improvement in the country’s environment by 2011-12. Green cover would be 5 per cent of the total land area, all urban waste water would be treated before being discharged into rivers and the air quality in major cities would be on par with standards laid down by the WHO. — IPS