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Forum of Realism

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The World Economic Forum on India saw delegates deliberate the prospects of an India that had promised a lot but failed to deliver. A refreshing aspect of the sessions was the focus on ground realities. Be it investment, transparency, governance, gender equality and foreign relations.

All debates had little or no hype. This Summit was about realism. While there is much to be negative about in India, most discussions focused on the way ahead. Constructive ideas dominated negativism.

The frankness and candour was seen when delegates criticized even the media for not being able to meet the demands of a growing country. Some felt that media would have to invest more in ground level reporting to do justice to an open democratic society.

The lack of consensus on economic growth in India was much the focus. The need to raise the level and capability of governance was seen as a critical need for India. There was a thought that the industry leaders would have to engage the social leaders for improving governance. “Any change much be done through the political system,” said Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO of Infosys.

This also underlined the industry’s concern about disruptive forces that are creating chaos, but are not being constructive. While corruption and crony capitalism were seen as a problem, independent autonomous institutions were seen as the key solution. The independence of constitutional bodies had to be protected. Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai said, “The era of taking brazen decision making behind closed doors is passing. Now government officials have to live with more openness.” Basic issues of gender equality, internet freedom and even road safety were on the agenda.

So far the sessions were on the growth of the auto industry. But this Summit debated the fate of people on the road who perish in accidents. There is an accident every minute and a death every three minutes in India. Industry and policy makers held a workshop to seek solutions. A key issue was design. “Indian cars may have become better, but the roads are designed to kill,” said Dinesh Mohan of IIT Delhi.

India still does not have a national road regulator. The central, state and local governments have created a mix of laws that lead to ill-designed roads and urban habitat. Some industry leaders sought government mandate to ensure that safety features are included in passenger and commercial vehicles.

The much hyped issues of allowing FDI in retail did not impress the delegates. Most felt that India needs thousand small reforms in governance and policy to return to its high growth path. One or two policy changes will not increase domestic growth.

The largely corporate event ended up discussing social issues more than investment issues. Perhaps the realisation has dawned that industry cannot progress without substantial investment in social infrastructure like health, education and gender equality.

(Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer. He can be contacted at [email protected])