Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Montek Singh Ahluwalia

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Montek Singh Ahluwalia
Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Government of India
New Delhi, India, March 2010

Montek Singh Ahluwalia (born November 24, 1943) is a prominent Indian economic policy-maker. He was a Member of the Indian Planning Commission in the NDA Government from 1998. He became the first Director of the Independent Evaluation Office, International Monetary Fund (IMF) on July 9, 2001. On June 16, 2004, he was appointed as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission by the UPA and was reappointed to the post by the Government on June 5, 2009 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Indian commitment to MDGs

The role of Government in giving access to people to essential services

We are committed to our goals. MDGs is an UN terminology; if you want to describe our goals as MDGs that is a different issue. I'm making this distinction because in our program we acknowledge the importance of MDGs but we don't call this a commitment because of MDGs... this has been a been part of our planning process for years. Across the world some governments are commitment some our not; in India also some state are committed and some are not.

Indian Public Programmes and MDGs

Ultimately in a democratic environment whatever a government does is because that is what the people who elected it wanted it to do... because if the government recognizes that if carries on doing this it won't be elected again, it won't do it

What are the factors which generate poverty? Low productivity, low access to resource, not having education and the economy not generating productive jobs. This is what underdevelopment means.

The Factors Generating Poverty

In a broader sense resources includes human resources, natural resources, land resources and to the extent the government has to play a role it has to be financial resources, since the government has to spend money. A system that has a lot of resources in the private sector, a financial system that delivers the resources where they can be most productive and a government that can generate resources through the fiscal system... put together can put in place a lot of programs that can address the factors which create poverty.

Poverty is not to be just defined in income earning possibility, it is also access to essential service… like health, electrification, clean drinking water, sanitation. These are very important part in the efforts to remove poverty and the Government is involved in all of them.

How to implement efficiently development programmes

Delivering results is much more complex than designing Government schemes - social participation is required
In a democracy we need a participated approach to development

No scheme is perfect, it is impossible to have a scheme which has zero leakage. When you say that they don't reach at the bottom do you mean that the leakage is 100... absolutely not! Leakage are high, even as high as 30%, but 70% is reaching at people. The other reason people think that the schemes are not having the effect that the effect that were expected, is that the challenges are very complex one... you can have very good schemes but you don't deliver the result. (Gives example of education) and says that Pratham brings out a report every year and saw that 37% percent of children in class 5 cannot read a text for class 2. Now if you say that therefore the benefits are not reaching the target population, in a sense you are right. But what can the government do? It sets up schools, it higher teachers... we say that you need to have more parent-teacher involvement, you must have local communities enforcing accountability, teachers must be made to teach. These are things that are not just done by governments, these are things done by social pressure, social awareness, social mobilization and it would not surprise me that it takes time. It is not true that nothing is happening, lots is happening!

Difficulties in achieving Human Developments Goals in a Democracy. You must not think of setting right defects as a mechanical task. Many of the human development goals can be achieved top down in an Autocracy, because you can just enforce things. In a democracy you cannot do that. The other way you do that is social mobilization and social pressure. That requires participation, empowerment, capacity building and social homogeneity.

What is the relationship between "Global" and "Local" agendas and responsibilities?

India as Donor and Aid Receiving Country

India is both a donor and an aid receiving country. We have always felt that we have some capacity to help people. Globally we are among the poorest country so we accept aid... but we also want to show that we can use some of our resources in other to help other countries where possible.

The decision of involving the NGOs has to be taken by the local authorities

When good NGOs get involved they improve the quality of implementation and we encourage people to involve good NGOs. But the central government cannot interfere: it is the local authority that chooses the NGOs at local level.
The problem is that if local authorities don't want change, they will surely not choose the NGOs that can make a difference.

Do you think cultures should dialogue more for better understanding or dialogue less to preserve their cultural identities?

The value of diversity and the value of interactions and exchanges
The concept of a static identity is a huge mistake

The concept of an identity that is static is a huge mistake. Any effort to preserve identity is backward looking, static and frozen. The global environment is increasing the possibilities for countries and cultures to interact and i would strongly in favor of anything which increases that interaction.

But I'm not a supporter of the idea of all cultures merging into a some pre-digested - homogenized mush. I would like to see an interaction of cultures where cultures absorb things from outside, contribute things to the outside but yet remain distinctly different.

The ambiguity of the concept of "global citizenship"


There is a concept that each citizen much conduct himself in a manner in which his country is seen as a country to be a good global citizen. But in my view if you don't have global taxation you don't have global citizenship. So the argument that there is global citizenship is an exaggerated claim. You can only be citizen of one government, so if you ever had global citizenship then everybody would be a citizen... the question is whether he would be a good citizen or a bad citizen. Ultimately individuals are citizens of the country they belong to. There may be global values, universal values but each citizen must operate in the confinement of the country he or she is a citizen of.

What is "global citizenship ?"

If you are moving towards a world which is more peaceful and more prosperous somehow, somewhere, on the whole yu may make a difference to everyone in a positive way. But linking what you do to the poorest in the world is romantic idea but it does not translate itself into anything practical. In my present position i can definitely make a difference to the poorest in India... i may not succeed but can argue for policies in India which can do that. Rather than distract myself with some global objective let us concentrate to do something in India.

"There is certainly a concept that we are a global community. There is a concept that each citizen much conduct himself in a manner in which his country is seen as a country to be a good global citizen. There may be global values, universal values, but in my view if you don't have global taxation you don't have global citizenship."