World Development Report 2017 Summary

The World Development Report (WDR) is an annual report published by the World Bank since 1978. The reports talk about specific aspects of economic development. This year’s report was released in February at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The theme of this year’s report was ‘Governance and the Law’. It discusses economic drivers and the implications of poor governance. It also includes insights on why certain laws and policies work while some fail.

World Development Report 2017 India

The highlights of the Report with respect to India are given below:

  • Slums and exclusion in India’s cities: The report blames poor alignment of public investments with the needs of various urban constituents in India for problems in urban spaces like sprawling slums where citizens are deprived of basic services, poorly designed cities, limited connectivity, unaffordable transportation, and utilities, etc. It says uncoordinated urban development has led to cities not growing up to their potential. “India has grown, but it cannot control the propagation of slums.” The basic problem has been identified as a lack of coordination between urban planners, local politicians and real estate developers.
  • RTI: The report credits the Right to Information and the Right to Education Acts with helping the poor citizens demand better services and education for their children.
  • The report talks about inequalities between countries and also within countries. For instance, in India, the poorest 20% lag behind the richest 20% by about 25 years.
  • It says that compliance in rules will increase if there is participation and ownership in the design of rules. It gives the example of Tamil Nadu where public irrigation systems are managed by the local community and it plays a vital part in avoiding inefficient water usage.
  • Apart from local involvement, it also talks about legal pluralism as a means to advance development. The examples of the states of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh are given. In these states, advocacy groups have established Nari adalats that provide an alternate avenue for giving justice to women who face domestic violence. Here, apart from state laws, human rights and community norms are used to deliver justice.
  • It also talks about social sanctions over legal sanction. This is the reason why in India certain practices are followed despite there being legal sanctions against it. This explains the prevalence of gender-based violence, sex-selective abortions, dowry payments, etc. despite there being strong and clear laws against them. It also says that law as a means of change can happen because of the incentives the law gives to new adopters. For example, reserved seats for women were initially frowned upon by conservative people, but repeated exposure to the same has made people’s perceptions of women’s abilities better.
  • The report also talks about the PIL system in India which has enabled the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of disadvantaged groups.
  • It says that increased government spending on services like health, education and welfare has caused a decrease in the prevalence of riots among the people.
  • The report also talks about the license raj earlier in India and that the loosening of these laws has led to increased industrial efficiency by as much as 22%.
  • The report discusses political clientele and capture as two problems that can hamper a government’s ability to deliver. Apart from these, absenteeism also mars development and the provision of services. Absentee rates of health workers and teachers in government-run facilities are high in India leading to issues in service deliverance.
  • The report cites that the political representation of disadvantaged groups like women and scheduled castes and tribes are effective in reducing poverty.
  • It says that female elites and female leaders lead to decreased corruption and more inclusive policies. The 1993 constitutional amendment in India that reserved 1/3rd of the local council seats to women has reduced the incidence of corruption according to a study.
  • The report claims that decentralization of government is a means of having more policy innovations. It compares India and Bangladesh and cites India’s decentralized system (more regional parties apart from the national parties) with Bangladesh’s more centralized system (two parties dominate), and says that India had a greater range of policy innovations as a result of this. It also said that local innovation can lead to nationwide reforms through local leaders who win power at the national level. It gave the example of Narendra Modi who first demonstrated apt leadership and performance at the local level before going on to become a national figure.
  • The report talks about citizen activism as a means of a collective action agency. It gives the example of the RTI which was enacted after a ten-year struggle. The importance of collective citizen power in offsetting the gains political lobby makes in ignoring the citizen collective is discussed. More citizens must organise and increase their bargaining power.
  • The report also talks about the role of the media as a watchdog. In India, it says, government spend on local needs was more in areas with a wider newspaper circulation.

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