The following is the text of this speech of Shri N.K. Singh, Chairman, Fifteenth Finance Commission at the 2nd International Workshop on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, being organised by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in New Delhi:
“It is indeed an honour and privilege that the National Disaster Management Authority has asked me to address the inaugural session of the International Workshop on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. I consider it an event of great significance and interest, both personally and professionally.
I can claim a close association with economic policy-making in India for the last three decades. During this period, I have seen India’s economic transformation from a country struggling with its sluggish growth to one of the fastest growing economies in the world, an economy which is vibrant, competitive, and open. We now confidently engage with the world, participate in global negotiations on a wide range of issues, and seek to influence important development frameworks. The initiative of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure clearly reflects India’s commitment to address a key priority through a partnership with so many countries, international agencies, and eminent knowledge institutions. I derive a huge personal satisfaction when I see India change from just a recipient of external assistance to a country which confidently identifies strands of risks and suggests long-term solutions in a multilateral setting.
I see this initiative as very timely and relevant for several reasons. First, as several speakers here have pointed out, there will be a spurt in investment in infrastructure sector across the countries, requiring trillions of dollars in investment. When I visit various states in India, I clearly see a determination on the part of state and urban governments to not just increase the extent of infrastructure, but also improve its quality and service. These improvements cannot be brought unless we lay down internationally accepted standards and regulations and enforce them. Second, as we have seen in recent years, these investments require credible public-private partnerships, based on a framework of judicious risk allocation and accountability. These partnerships would work much better if we can set up risk pools to deal with various kinds of risks. Third, we also struggle with increasing demands from the states for enhanced allocations for recovery and reconstruction, when disasters batter their infrastructure. We need policies and measures which reduce such losses and improve the quality of infrastructure recovery. I look upon the Coalition as a much-needed initiative to engage closely with improved quality, standards and regulations, and the need for long-term recovery in infrastructure sector.
India has seen a rapid expansion of the insurance sector. Such an expansion can be attributed to policies which supported opening of insurance sector to foreign direct investment, improving the supply side, and a change in the structure of Indian economy and employment, which is gradually becoming more formal, thus improving the demand side. The 2018 Economic Survey clearly points to increased insurance penetration in India, though it still needs to be improved further. The Coalition clearly makes a strong case for increased insurance coverage, particularly for infrastructure sector. I am very hopeful that the activities supported by the Coalition will pave the way for setting up large risk pools for infrastructure assets. We need to set up these pools at the national level, and then seek access to global reinsurance pools.
The word resilience finds a great resonance these days. We need to be a more resilient economy and society, which to me is not just about recovering and bouncing back, but equally about strengthening the pillars of our finance and economy. The term ‘resilience’ thus has both an external and internal dimension. So, when we speak of infrastructure resilience, we need to apply a broader meaning and context. We need to support a system-wide resilience, which includes improving our databases, conducting risk assessments, improving standards and regulations, and calibrating our risks through insurance and risk pools. When we address these key priorities through a well-defined initiative such as the Coalition, we speak directly to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change action and Sendai framework.
I can assure you that within the Finance Commission, we are deliberating these issues with a great sense of earnestness and commitment. Formally assigned the task through the Ministry of Finance, we are looking at all the constituents of resilience, thus diversifying the discipline of disaster management and allocating resources on the basis of a matrix of risk and vulnerability. We are equally concerned about an asset maintenance framework so that our enormous public investments in infrastructure deliver long-term results in terms of better service, longer life-span, and lower maintenance costs.
We therefore have a convergence of objectives in promoting the Coalition. It provides a unique intersection—infrastructure, standards and regulations, resilience and sustainability, which also brings a great cast of external partners and collaborators. With two key national institutions—the Finance Commission and Niti Ayog—appropriately represented in this inaugural session here, we can assure the Coalition of the fullest expression of our support. We congratulate Dr. P.K. Mishra and Mr. Kamal Kishore, who have guided this initiative with such vision and savvy and wish the NDMA and all the partners here the very best for such a far-reaching global initiative.”