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A report titled ‘Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress’ by the US National Intelligence Council has many great things to say about India’s future. India has doubled its per capita income faster than most nations in the world; India will grow faster than China over the next five years; The biggest gainers from India’s strong growth will be its middle class; India will contribute a much larger proportion of the world’s GDP along with China; India’s rise will shift the momentum of economic activity eastwards; Southeast Asia’s biggest hope will be India’s ability to use its economic growth to drive trade and investment in the region; By cooperating more with immediate neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and others, India will lend more stability and prosperity in the region; Unlike China, India would massively benefit from 10 million workers entering its workforce every year'; India’s strong growth story will extract millions more out of poverty. In general, India is the future of the world. A shining India would lead to a better world.
But there are caveats to this rosy picture. The report notes that ‘New Delhi will be a victim of its own success’. That’s because India’s growing economic prosperity will complicate its environmental challenges. As an example, it says that India’s environmental woes could be exacerbated if it decides to bring electricity to the homes of 300 million Indians living without it, by building more coal- and gas-fired power plants. India is already living in an environmental nightmare whose gravity is yet to be comprehended by civil society and government alike. Central Pollution Control Board data released in 2015 shows that 275 rivers in India are termed polluted. Untreated sewage flowing into them makes them awash with human excreta and dangerous bacteria. A Greenpeace report released this week shows that no Indian city meets safe air quality standards as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its national capital is the world’s most polluted city.
Compounding these woes could be another phenomenon over which India has little control directly. The report states, “Climate change could lead to a faster-than-expected melting of the glaciers in the Pamir Knot, which feed the northern rivers of Pakistan and India. India and Pakistan are also vulnerable to a variety of extreme weather events. Major examples include massive floods that devastated Pakistan in 2010, unpredictable monsoons that decreased food security, and heatwaves in 2015 that killed over 1,000 in Pakistan and 2,500 in India.”
The report further notes that India’s economic growth could be hit if it fails to address problems plaguing its manufacturing sector. India’s growth is largely led by the services sector including Information Technology, but a failure to address infrastructure bottlenecks could reverse any gains.
More potential landmines are mentioned to India’s growth potential. The report notes, “The quality of India’s development will depend on addressing widespread poor public health, sanitation, and infrastructure conditions. The rate of malnourished children, for example, is higher in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Populism and sectarianism will intensify if Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan fail to provide employment and education for growing urban populations and officials continue to govern principally through identity politics.”
It also deals with a scenario of India being struck in a middle income trap. This is primarily because domestic demand would fail to pick up even as international trade declines. It says, “The most successful states will be those with governments that encourage research and innovation; promote information sharing; maintain high-quality education and lifelong learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; provide job retraining; and adopt tax, immigration, and security policies to attract and retain high-tech talent.”