Infrastructure is one of the key factors in creating jobs and growth. For India it has been a pressing challenge and a drag on its efforts to tackle poverty. The population pressure of 1.2 billion people on utilities is acute: The transport systems are strained beyond capacity, and urbanization is putting intense pressure on water, energy and other resources. The infrastructure investment needs are great and the government seeks $1 trillion spending by 2017 (in five years). This scale of infrastructure spending presents itself as an opportunity for overseas investors (rating agencies have forecast a strong growth for India at 7.5 per cent the next few years, the highest among the G20 economies). While growth has slowed down in many developed countries, G20 has launched major investment initiatives in emerging markets like India and China with priority to infrastructure investment.
India has made commitments and pursues the SDGs as an over-arching framework that guides and shapes its development agenda to end poverty and social challenges. The SDGs (Agenda 2030) are a step up from the earlier MDGs as they integrate and inter-link vital elements of sustainable development, economic growth, social inclusion and environment projection.
Drawing emphasis on SDGs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging the G20 at various occasions to align themselves to the SDGs. At the G20 working lunch on development and climate change in November 2015, he said “G20 must align itself with the SDGs. In doing so, we will also stimulate faster and a broader based economic growth. India’s development goals are aligned with the SDGs”. In this context, the international civil society has also been critical of the G20, that it lacks coherence between its various tracks and thus is ‘out of sync’ with the SDGs. The SDGs promote a ‘systems thinking’, a broad -based interdependence in the fulfillment of individual SDG goals.
The G20 receives a large chunk of advice from the OECD (group of 34 advanced country members), especially for infrastructure development. A closer look by an hbs Washington commissioned study draws attention to OECD failing in its G20 advice to comply with economic, social and environmental standards for infrastructure.
The study is relevant for policy makers, activists, researchers and advocacy campaigners that have a stake in advancing and implementing the SDGs, good governance, ethical investment and infrastructure. There are multitudes of mega-infrastructure projects in the country that have been controversial from an environmental and social point of view and have faced the wrath of the communities, regulators and the courts. It is thus better to have a prudent outlook at the outset and nip the controversial elements in their framework documents.