By Ashok Sharma and Aniruddha Ghosal | AP
NEW DELHI, India, 15 August 2020
India’s prime minister said Saturday his country has done well in containing the coronavirus pandemic and announced $1.46 trillion in infrastructure projects to boost the sagging economy.
The key lesson India learned from the pandemic is to become self-reliant in manufacturing and developing itself as a key supply chain destination for international companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
“The coronavirus epidemic is a big crisis, but it can’t stall India’s economic progress,” Modi said in a speech from New Delhi’s 17th century Mughal-era Red Fort to mark the 73rd anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. He wore an orange and white turban with a long scarf around his neck.
He also said that three vaccines are in different phases of testing in India and mass production will begin as soon as scientists give the green light. Modi said that “detailed plans are in place for large-scale production” of a vaccine that will be made “available to every Indian.”
India has confirmed more than 2.5 million virus cases, third behind the US and Brazil. Its death toll of over 49,000 is fourth in the world.
Modi also announced a national digital heath plan under which every Indian will get an identity card containing all health-related information.
The celebrations were curtailed on Saturday because of the pandemic, with invitations going only to 4,000 guests instead of the usual 20,000, media reports said.
The International Monetary Fund projected a contraction of 4.5% for the Indian economy in 2020, a “historic low,” but said the country is expected to bounce back in 2021.
Modi said the government has identified 7,000 infrastructure projects to offset the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Infrastructure will not be created in silos anymore. All infrastructure has to be comprehensive, integrated and linked to each other. Multi-modal connectivity infrastructure is the way forward,” he said.
He said that India saw a record 18% jump in foreign direct investment in the past year, a sign that international companies are looking at the country.
Modi didn’t refer to China directly, but India is trying to capitalize on its rival’s rising production costs and deteriorating ties with the United States and European nations to become a replacement home for large multinationals.
Referring to border tensions with China, he said Indian forces had given a befitting response in the mountainous Ladakh region where thousands of soldiers from the two countries have been in a tense standoff since May. India said 20 of its troops died in hand combat with Chinese troops on 15 June.
“Whether it’s terrorism or expansionism, India is fighting the challenges bravely,” Modi said in apparent references to threats from neighbouring Pakistan and China.