Express Dialogues | Sustainable Goals, climate on G20 agenda: NITI Aayog CEO Kant

In a candid conversation with editors of TNIE, G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant speaks on a range of issues.
Express Dialogues | Sustainable Goals, climate on G20 agenda: NITI Aayog CEO Kant

India’s G-20 presidency, says former CEO NITI Aayog Amitabh Kant, who is the G20 Sherpa, has come amid several crises besetting the world, and these primarily concern the geopolitics in Europe, mainly stemming from the Russia-Ukraine war. India’s priorities are about accelerating the pace of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “It’s also about digital-led development, which India has demonstrated through its digital transformation,” he said. 


Shahid Faridi: What is the one big idea you propose that will make people remember India’s G20 presidency?
Kant: We have 12 working groups, and eight tracks on the finance front. We have several engagement groups, each working on 3-4 broad priorities regarding inclusive and resilient growth, green climate action, and accelerating the pace of life. To my mind, we should lead towards green development and get the backing of all countries. Technological innovations have so far come from the developed world. For the first time a developing country like India would be able to showcase its technology.

Preetha Nair: India has always been the voice of Global South. How are we going to position India?
Kant: The Prime Minister recently interacted with 125 countries belonging to the Global South. A lot of ideas came in. The important thing is that there should be far more sharing of the experiences of the developed world. Both sides need to learn from each other.
Another key challenge is the global debt that many in Global South face. We also have lending by China. All of them need to sit together to to solve it.w

Amit Mukherjee: The electrification of public transport is one of the 27 targets of G20. While the focus is on mass transportation, the stress is also on two and four wheelers. How do you think the two can harmonise?
Kant: India’s urbanisation has just begun. In the next four-five decades, we will see 500 million people getting into it. Our urbanisation has to be sustainable; it could involve cycling, walking, and public and mass transportation. For that, you have to upfront insert money into infrastructure transportation which is a very different model than what the US and Europe have built. Currently, 75% of the vehicles in the country are two-wheelers and three-wheelers. Either you electrify them or get them converted by 2025. They need to go electric, so battery and battery storage will be the key for city-to-city movement.  However, for long-distance electric buses, we must look at green hydrogen. 

Amit Mukherjee: Where will finance come from?
Kant: Is there a problem with financing? A lot of resources are relevant in the world even for climate action. It’s basically a structuring of projects. However, de-risking of projects is very important. 

Dipak Mondal: India has forayed into digital public goods like Cowin and EPI. So could we get a sense of what is the next big thing?
Kant: This year’s Budget talks about building a digital public infrastructure model across sectors, including agriculture. The objective is that we should first evangelise and then let the world know that our innovations are unique. It is different from what the Western world has created. The West has created a big-tech model, but all those innovations have come from tech giants. India has an alternative model of public infrastructure that competes with the private sector. Secondly, we should ensure the privacy of data while empowering citizens. A committee has been formed with me and Nandan Nilekani as chairpersons. It will discuss the way forward across all working groups.

Jitendra Choubey: How will India persuade the rich nations to offer finances to Global South’s transition to clean energy?
Kant: We will keep persuading all countries. The developed world has accepted the principle of just transition. India is not responsible for polluting the world. India has taken only 1.5% of the carbon space, while it is entitled to 18.5% of the carbon space. The developed world creates as much as 88% of pollution. They need to ensure climate justice. 

Kavita Bajeli-Datt: The health meeting of the G20 summit suggested strengthening cooperation in pharma. WHO has twice issued warnings on the adulteration of India-made drugs. Will it harm India’s position?
Kant: It does not damage our reputation. India has been able to provide low-cost medicines to the world. India is the vaccine capital of the world.

Kavita Bajeli-Datt: Amid the talk about women’s participation and women empowerment in the G-20 summit by the government, the situation in terms of creating jobs is different. Your take?
Kant: Women’s development is not just an initiative. It is a movement. We have seen in the Budget 2023-24 that 81 lakh necessities have been provided for the uplift of women.  Today 56% of the bank accounts are owned by women. We are examining strategies for women’s empowerment in the context of the G-20 summit.

Yeshi Seli: You have been professionally very active. Have you given a thought to joining politics?
Kant: No, I have no such intention…I want to read, write and play some games, and I have no inclination towards joining politics at all.

Santwana Bhattacharya: You already said the infra has been vitalised in our cities. Could you explain its present status?
Kant: Actually, we got a lot of support from state governments. Every city and state has done much work. Cities are being spruced up. Transformation is going on. We are partnering with all states.

Santwana Bhattacharya: How about Delhi?
Kant: Everyone is working as a team. You will see a good face of New Delhi by the time we have the foreign ministers ‘meeting.

Monika Yadav: Your assessment of PLI (production-linked incentive)...
Kant: Production is important, as well as the incentive scheme in the scale of manufacturing. In production, you have to look at the size and scale of things year after year. PLI is meant for a limited period of five years. It is not a solution for India. The solution for India is attempted by the PM: Make in India -- make India productively competitive and efficient economy. 

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