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Strong growth, warts remain
- Vision 2020 paper sees water crisis, greying population, rise in incomes

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The BJP government plans to unveil a Vision 2020 policy document sometime next week whose stated objective will be to chalk out a plan to make India the fourth largest economy globally.

However, the document, which is slated to be presented to the Prime Minister and placed in Parliament, will not be a rosy picture painting of the Indian economy to hang around election time.

It will instead frankly take into account problems that India in 2020 is likely to encounter — a severe water crisis, near doubling of carbon mono-oxide in India’s air, a huge greying of the population with relatively fewer teenagers around, the fact that TB, AIDS and malaria will remain big time killers, the need to create some 200 million new jobs, migration of some 16 per cent of its population from farms to other jobs — to name just a few.

On the plus side, the document visualises a four-fold increase in per capita income and reducing the percentage of people living below the poverty line to just 13 per cent. Although the population will be constantly rising, Indian farming is expected to be able to meet the projected food demand through a second Green Revolution which will diversify agriculture in North India and increase productivity in eastern and southern India.

Infotech and telecom revolutions will continue with among other things the number of fixed-line telephones multiply ing seven-fold in the next 18 years. The country as a whole is expected to “evolve into an information society and knowledge economy.”

However, the biggest problem will be the population mix. The total population itself is not expected to grow tremendously — it is expected to be around 1.3 billion people in 2020, compared with just over 1 billion now. But while this will be achieved because the birth rate is expected to fall further, the downside will be that with life expectancy going up, the number of people above 60 years of age will double.

The document emphasises that this means India will have to gear up to spend far more on health care, pensions and old age support. Things which the country hardly spends on right now.

Now, with further nuclearisation of families, this spending will become a must as the age old tradition of younger people tending to old folks in their family may not remain a strong cultural value.

The number of people in the under-15 age group will, however, remain more or less the same which would mean increased spending on education, an improvement in school enrolment and quality of education in the country.

Consequently, the report authored by a committee of experts drawn from various fields and chaired by plan panel member S. P. Gupta, says, “Achieving 100 per cent enrolment of all children in the 6-14 age group is an achievable goal for 2020.”

The report sets a goal of doubling education expenditure from a current 3.2 per cent of the GDP by 2020.

Large parts of the fresh money infusion will, however, go towards another plan chalked out by the report — converting the entire higher education curriculum into multimedia, web-based format, so that Indian school college graduates will be able to continue leveraging the country's infotech gains in the global marketplace.

But with more people being added to the labour force even as there remains a huge backlog of jobless (at last count some 7.5 per cent of the population), merely to keep this number at near 7 per cent, India will have to create some 200 million jobs during this period.

While the service sector, including tourism, infotech, health and financial services, housing and construction, is expected to contribute in large measure to new jobs which will be created, many of the new jobs will have to be created in industry, with small and medium scale enterprises a favourite. The reason being that many of these new jobs will have to be unskilled or semi-skilled as some 16 per cent of India's working population is likely to shift from farming to other areas.

If these jobs do not come about, planners feel, Indian polity could well face tremendous upheavals. In fact the report recommends, the country readies to make employment a constitutionally guaranteed right. This obviously means the state will have to spend hugely on unemployment dole for the millions for whom it is unable to find jobs for.

The year 2020 is also likely to turn out to be a urban planner's nightmare. The country's urban population is expected to nearly double from a current 280 million to 520 million by 2020.

Growth will however, the vision statement feels, be concentrated in 60 to 70 large cities with populations of one million plus. Smaller district towns may see population shifting out to larger cities.

With rising population and power demand from both farming and industry going up, total power demand will rise 3.5 times to 2.9 lakh megawatts, the document predicts. At the same time, demand for coal will double while that for oil and gas will triple.

Besides, the fact that this will push up India's energy and fuel bill many times more, it will mean India will have to find huge amounts of money to fill up its energy infrastructure gaps. In fact this alone is expected to be the main driver for foreign direct investment in India going upto 3.5 per cent of GDP compared with a miserable 0.1 per cent now.

To cut costs, India will of course have to fish around for many more viable alternative energy projects.

The country's water crisis is expected to exacerbate. Consumption is expected to rise by 40 per cent while water reserves remain static at best. India currently has 16 per cent of the world population against just 4 per cent of the global water resources.

One of the ways out being suggested is a revival of the 1970s garland of canals project linking major rivers, which could break the cycle of simultaneous drought and floods in various parts of the country and open up new areas to farming.

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