Lohani hopes Asian Development Bank to participate in the country's plans for skill development, smart cities, clean energy and climate change mitigation
New Delhi: Asian Development Bank (ADB) wants to do more in India as the lender’s capital increases and the government sets a bigger agenda, says Bindu N. Lohani, vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development.
The bank hopes to participate in the country’s plans for skill development, smart cities, clean energy and climate change mitigation. Lohani also takes note of the positive mood in the country after last year’s general election brought a new government to the Centre. He ruled out entering India’s northeastern region stating that the bank does not wish to go to areas where there are disputes. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How exactly is ADB looking at its association after the new dispensation in India?
Association with India has been excellent. It is our largest borrower, which means to become largest borrower and to be providing large amount of investment, the partnership should be good. With this new leadership, there are more opportunities in infrastructure space which, particularly, may be in smart cities. We are very strong in urban development. In India, we have worked in Rajasthan and in Karnataka. So, that experience we have built over the period as well as our relations in working with them—it makes it easier for us to get into this new space.
India’s desire to go big on solar power from 20GW to 100 GW by 2022—it is a big target. Climate change, renewable and clean energy is a big priority of the bank, and of $15 billion a year, we already do $3 billion for clean energy and climate change space. We, in future, want to do even bigger, as our capital increases in future.
If we have a bigger agenda proposed by the government, it will be nice to do it because we know how to do that. India is also very keen. We had worked many years ago in Gujarat where the prime minister comes from—many successful projects were done there, including solar.
So, we understand some of the thinking behind the leadership here. Certainly, we can do more. Everybody is so positive in India. At the end of the day, it’s the people who need to be energized as well and we are very energized.
There were also reports that ADB is ready to increase the lending to India to $8-9 billion.
India is already borrowing $2.5 billion approximately on an average per year. But $8-9 billion would be over a period. We have a country programme for a 3-4 years period. So, we have four-year slice. Some years it could be $2 billion; some years it could $2.5 billion.
Is ADB willing to increase the investment keeping in view the targets and programmes of the new government, especially the solar plan?
Immediately increasing the funding by five times won’t be there; we don’t have the budget.
I think shifting the priority is possible if the government wants it. Please do more of this, please do more of that—that is always possible. Usually, the government leads that kind of thinking that they want you to move into some areas. Maybe in two years’ time, we are hoping our lending ability could become $30 billion from 15 and obviously, at that time, we could revisit this discussion with the government.
Sometimes, it is also the government they may not want too much. Nearly one-fifth of funding is already going to India.
How are you looking at participating in the smart-city programme of the government?
Discussions are already taking place. As I said, we are already working in the urban space in Rajasthan, Karnataka and other places. When you say smart city, you can say OK, let us think this city and see how we can make green, clean, smart, liveable city.
I believe, personally, India also needs to create additional smaller satellite cities. Lot of people are probably going to move to urban areas. So, if you create that kind of space, it’s easy to accommodate them in those areas right in the beginning. So, basically, it is about supporting towns and supporting cities.
Apart from major initiatives like smart cities, climate change and sustainable development, is there any other area you are looking at?
We are doing a little bit of skill development at the moment. It is a new area, there is new ministry, a new focus. There has been some work in past by ADB. But we again need to revisit in context of new ministry whether there are more needs, more space. The other one we are talking about is bilateral cooperation. The ADB is very strong on regional cooperation. I think it (regional cooperation) had moved slower than the other region, in South Asia. Now, with current leadership of the prime minister, I think that is looking much, much better than ever before. The power trade between countries is being discussed.
Have you finalized anything to participate in the skill development sector?
They (India) have been looking at technical, vocational kind of thing in past. We need to revisit this issue by talking with skill ministry—where they are wanting it. Certainly we are open to changing focus if government wants. India needs to have that skill which you can use to be competitive regionally and globally, just like you have IT sector.
Similarly, you have to look at several such products and services where you can be globally competitive. For which you need a stronger workforce or you need to have an open policy like Singapore where they say they don’t mind where people come from as long as they are smart and they create GDP (gross domestic product) for me. But I think India is not there as yet.
India was facing a lot of policy paralysis in past few years. Have you noticed any change?
I think things are improving, on ground also. I think the message from the top is useful in that context. Globally, everybody is seeing the momentum, energy and a sense of hope after a long time. I think young people should be seeing a lot of hope.
There has been some controversy regarding ADB not being very comfortable in funding projects in northeast India especially in regions which are called disputed?
India’s needs are so huge. Why get into areas where there are more difficulties. There a lot of things to do. We don’t want to get into areas where there are disputes. ADB is too small to handle such problems. There is so much to do here.
What are three things you would like to see in India in next one year from a lender’s perspective?
India is the third-largest shareholder in the bank. We want to wish India all the luck to be able to move quickly and be at the top of the growth curve and be competitive in the region as well as be a global player. Secondly, investment needs of India are huge and as I said, ADB is a small player. With proper dialogue between the country and ourselves, we should do (work) in areas where we add value such as solar, climate change, risk mitigation of climate. I think if it is not value-added people will ask you what is the difference between you and any other money provider. They must feel that these guys can value-add.
Third part, equally important to ADB, is to add value, you need knowledge. I hope we can have more dialogue with India. India has a lot of smart people but we also need to think that there are also a lot of smart people globally and therefore, local minds have to say we must be open to global best practices and ADB’s job is to bring those global practices—knowledge sharing. That’s one of jobs we can do. Why fall behind? Why be globally not competitive? On the knowledge area, you should be open globally which is currently limited.
What is one change you want to see in India?
I was at the Gujarat summit and I liked what Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi said—that we need to change mindsets. I think mindset is very important and I also like his Make in India plan.
In my opinion, there is a lot more improvement that could be done in the manufacturing sector. If you have that mindset change—the open mind and be flexible—then it will take you to the next century.
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