A changing global order, energy transitions and climate change and rapid technological advancement – India’s next government has the difficult task of steering the country through an interesting and crucial time. India 2024: Policy Priorities for the New Government, is a compendium of policy briefs from scholars at Brookings India, which identifies and addresses some of the most pressing challenges that India is likely to face in the next five years. Each policy brief is based on longer, in-depth and academically rigorous publications from the scholars.
For a fast-growing large democracy, human capital will be the driving force behind future growth. India must significantly invest in health and education to leverage its demographic dividend. Ayushman Bharat is a big step towards easing the healthcare burden on poor households. But to improve health outcomes, equal emphasis must be placed on the scheme’s other objective —of improving primary health infrastructure at the local level. Scaling up this initiative would require expanding and strengthening primary health infrastructure, enforcing quality standards and conducting periodic audits.
While effective and affordable healthcare is on top of the agenda, education – at both the primary and higher levels – deserves close attention as a priority. Data shows that in India, unemployment is highly concentrated among the most-educated in the society. Nearly 35% of those with post-graduate degrees are unemployed, as opposed to only 6.2% uneducated young workers. This raises questions about the gap between skill and educational degrees. Against this reality, we analyse India’s higher education sector and find that the government must make significant efforts to expand capacity, incentivise research and ease the regulatory burdens that bind educational institutions to small scale and low quality.
In modern India, cities have emerged as the engines of growth and opportunities. For people to thrive, cities must thrive as well. An increasingly urbanising country needs to address its crisis of affordable housing supply in urban centres. Empowering metropolitan bodies for better governance, boosting rental housing and funding urban local bodies emerge as some of those solutions.
On the global stage, India has a significant role as the world’s largest democracy. Containing Pakistan, deepening partnerships with existing allies, and balancing Eurasia continue to be priorities. But the biggest external challenge India faces right now is China’s rise and assertiveness. New Delhi’s focus must be its neighbourhood, finding ways to open up to smaller countries and shape their long-term incentive structures to favour India. We must ask ourselves, what can India do to become a credible alternative to China? Does the solution lie in New Delhi improving its aid delivery and implementation in the neighbourhood, currently riddled with gaps?
Our foreign policy experts examine this in detail and suggest that India must adjust its strategies and structures in accordance with the new reality. Any reforms in this sector, however, are contingent upon building sufficient internal capability. The government must expand foreign services’ intake, train manpower and allot adequate resources for public diplomacy and outreach initiatives. Our experts also argue for urgent defence reforms —a strong, secure India needs defence self-reliance and indigenisation.
The third pillar of this compendium deliberates India’s transition towards a nation that balances its energy needs with sustainability. Brookings India scholars have long grappled with the choices and opportunities this transition presents, writing extensively about how it affects sectors such as coal, natural gas, renewable energy and power. A consensus that emerges is the need to manage resources more effectively. One suggestion, to attain this objective, is the consolidation of the various ministries into a single Ministry of Energy and Environment – a single decision-making body that will shape policy. Simultaneously, there is a call for the government to step away from some of its current activities in energy production and distribution, to reboot the Discoms (distribution companies) and introduce independent and empowered regulators.
There have been significant gains through schemes such as the Saubhagya Yojana. It has ensured electricity access in the most remote areas of the country. The question now is: how can India further improve its electricity supply to each household? Similarly, while we have made great strides in renewable energy which is cheaper and cleaner than coal, but moving forward we have to ask: what about the systems-level costs that it imposes? India has set ambitious targets for electric vehicles, but how will it resolve the challenges of battery technology and costs? These are some key questions raised by our experts, who also provide some specific policy recommendations to address each problem statement.
The last several years have witnessed the emergence of India as the fastest-growing large economy in the world. The next five years in India will be a window of opportunity to push further policy reforms for sustained long-term growth. India has succeeded in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last 28 years, and now the focus of the government must be to ensure inclusive sustained development for the future. This compendium from a team of scholars at Brookings India provides specific policy recommendations to attain some of these targets.
India 2024: Policy priorities for the new government | Edited by Dhruva Jaishankar & Zehra Kazmi
DEVELOPMENT & GOVERNANCE
FOREIGN & SECURITY POLICY
ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY