At the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in 2020, the World Bank played a key role in supporting India’s immediate health needs and helped the country extend food and cash support to a large number of poor people. It continued to work with India to protect its micro, small and medium enterprises.
Currently, the World Bank’s support to India is spread over 127 active projects with a combined worth of over $28 billion. In the next phase of the partnership, the World Bank is set to help India build a sustainable and resilient economy. The legacy of the partnership between the two goes decades back – to pre-independence India.
The World Bank Group has been associated with India right from the beginning. India, then still under colonial rule, became one of the World Bank’s founding members in 1945. Later, it was India that first suggested the creation of a special body to aid developing nations, an idea that bore fruit with the establishment of the International Development Association.
India took its first World Bank loan—for the development of the Indian Railways—in 1949. This was also the World Bank’s first loan to an Asian country.
In the 1950s, with India industrializing itself, the World Bank helped in procuring the foreign exchange needed to set up its first power and steel plants (including Bokaro, Durgapur, Tata Iron, and Steel Company). World Bank projects also helped India upgrade the ports of Calcutta and Madras, and supported Air India to expand and modernize its fleet.
While World Bank projects supported India’s nascent capital goods industries, including the manufacture of heavy electricals and commercial vehicles in the 1960s, the major focus was on agriculture. When successive droughts led to chronic food shortages and India imported foodgrain to feed its rapidly rising population, the World Bank worked with the country to set the stage for its landmark Green Revolution.
In the 1970s, the World Bank helped the country increase the availability of high-yielding seeds and fertilizers and supported the Food Corporation of India in building facilities to store food grains. The World Bank also had the unique privilege of taking India’s Amul model of milk cooperatives from Anand in Gujarat to the rest of the country.
Following global oil shocks, India sought indigenous sources of energy in the 1980s. The World Bank supported the development of oil and gas extraction facilities at Bombay High and the Cambay Basin and assisted with the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in the Krishna Godavari Delta. With the advent of containerized cargo, projects also supported the development of India’s largest container port at Nhava Sheva near Mumbai.
In the 1990s, when India launched groundbreaking economic reforms, the World Bank helped the country build institutions for managing critical sectors of a newly globalizing economy. These included PowerGrid, India’s national power transmission utility, and the National Highway Authority of India.
The World Bank also helped India pioneer path-breaking reforms in the rural water supply. World Bank projects also helped eradicate leprosy, reduce cataract blindness, combat polio, malaria, and tuberculosis, and improve the nutrition of women and children. India has been polio-free since 2014.
In the 2000s, the World Bank supported the country’s nationwide Education for All program, the national push to bring an all-weather road to every village, improvement of rural livelihoods by empowering poor rural women, and inclusive growth in general. At the same time, a pivotal Bank project helped ease traffic congestion in Mumbai. Bank projects also helped the country build back better after the devastating 2001 Gujarat Earthquake and the 2004 Tsunami.
In the next decade, the World Bank engaged in a series of next-generation megaprojects, including the construction of India’s first electrified rail freight corridor, the revival of long-defunct inland waterways, and assisted the shift to multimodal transportation networks.