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Andy Mukherjee

India Rues Its Own Belt-and-Road Debt Fiasco

IL&FS has extracted a heavy toll by playing on the nation’s desperation for infrastructure.

A country crying out for decent infrastructure.

A country crying out for decent infrastructure.

Photographer: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images


It was as a newspaper-office intern in New Delhi in 1992 that I witnessed the birth of India’s homegrown belt-and-road initiative. The program was midwifed by an up-and-coming lender that few had then heard of: Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd.

It wasn’t called belt-and-road, a term that would gain currency much later as a catchphrase for China’s opaquely financed global infrastructure ambitions. There’s a lot of scrutiny now of those energy and transportation projects, and a growing discomfort that Beijing may be ensnaring developing countries in a debt trap. So it’s remarkable that India — itself a vocal critic of belt-and-road — allowed a local financier to do something similar on home turf, with little accountability or supervision.