Session 1: Environment, Energy, Urbanisation & Infrastructure (1)

The India Development Policy Conference’s first session, chaired by Sultan Hafeez Rahman (Country Director IGC Bangladesh), started with Professor Jacob Shapiro (Princeton) sharing updates and preliminary findings from his ongoing work with Oliver Vanden Eynde (PSE). The research team collected geospatial data on more than seven thousands new telecom towers (USOF), 350,000 km of new roads (PMGSY), three million projects providing households with drinking water (NRDWP), the Xth rural electrification plan (RGGVY) and 23,500 state-level infrastructure projects. While this dataset will soon be made publicly available to stimulate further policy-relevant research, it already allowed the researchers to answer a number of question that will affect the roll-out of future infrastructure programs. The available evidence shows that these programs were successfully targeted toward the regions most in need, but they encountered substantial implementation obstacles. First of all, Shapiro and Eynde showed that infrastructure provision cannot be successful without coordination between different programs due to complementarity between different services (e.g. Telecom towers and Electricity). Secondly, the efficient provision of infrastructure seems to encounter significant obstacles in areas where scheduled tribes account for a large share of the population and social unrest is more intense. Further work will shed light on issues of causality between conflict and infrastructure development, as well as the socio-economic impact of these infrastructure development programs.

The second presentation, delivered by Samuel Stolper (Harvard Kennedy School), looks into the issue of water pollution and it’s impact on health outcomes. This research was motivated by the evidence that Indian sewage capacity might fall short of the national needs by 70%, resulting in significant pollution of the country’s rivers which still represent one of the main source of water for a large share of the population. Using data from household surveys and monitoring stations covering 162 Indian rivers, the authors convincingly identified the impact of river water pollution on child mortality through IV estimation. Preliminary results show a strong impact of water pollution on child mortality, particularly significant on deaths occurring within the first month from birth. Moreover, this effect shows an high degree of persistence downstream, increasing the health cost of pollution’s externalities.

Arunish Chawla (Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India) closed the session discussing the two ongoing projects and stressing the importance of further collaboration between researchers and policy-makers on the field of infrastructure development, environment and urbanization.

By Andrea Smurra, Country Economist, IGC Myanmar