Booth Onstage At Delhi Center Debut

When the University of Chicago Center in Delhi formally opened its doors on March 29, no one was more enthusiastic than Luis Miranda, ’89, who along with other prominent Chicago Booth alumni, had advocated for a university presence in India for at least five years.

Miranda was among several hundred members of the university community who gathered for a three day opening celebration, marking the occasion with academic panels, a formal ribbon cutting, and social events.

The Center in Delhi is designed to be a home for research and education for university faculty and students working in India and South Asia, as well as Indian researchers and students. Business, economics, law, and policy represent one of the center’s three broad program areas, along with science, energy, medicine, and public health; and culture, society, religion, and arts.

“It is important for Booth and the university to have a strong presence in India,” said Miranda, chairman of the board of advisors for the nonprofit Centre for Civil Society, and senior advisor for Morgan Stanley Infrastructure.

Akshay Sethi, ’07, president of the Booth Alumni Club of India and director of his family-owned real estate development company, Stellar Group, said that India’s rapid growth guarantees that the nation will be a hub for fresh ideas and challenges. “Having a foothold in the country is really important,” he said. 

For the past two years, Sethi has organized the increasingly popular Pan India Booth Alumni Retreat (PIBAR), which he plans to locate at the Center in Delhi this year. The new location will enable the club to reach out to faculty from across the university and schedule events at the time of their visits.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer opened the celebratory weekend on March 28 at The Taj Palace Hotel, hosting a panel discussion, the Presidential Forum. “The Center in Delhi, together with Centers in Beijing and Paris, is an important step in bringing a much greater global perspective to the university and to enhancing our ability to support our faculty and students’ work as they incorporate a global perspective into their own work,” he said. Dean Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, who has been conducting a long-running study of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), discussed reasons for inefficiency in the public sector.

Inefficiencies in the delivery of public goods can occur at various times, she said—at the policy selection stage, when elected politicians favor policies for their private monetary or electoral benefits, or at the policy implementation stage, when civil servants and service providers perform poorly. Since citizens are poorly informed about politicians’ actions and decisions, there is lack of political accountability.

Greater accountability is needed, she concluded: “You have to trust that if you give people information they will act on it to take politically responsible action.”

Miranda argued that to improve productivity, India needs to create institutions and policies that encourage economic freedom, increase competition, and facilitate building larger scale companies. He presented data from the port, education, and automobile sectors to illustrate this.

At the beginning of his presentation, Miranda showed a slide of a rundown hut on the Indian side at the high-altitude Himalayan border with China and a high-tech observatory in an adjacent area comprising state-of-the-art telescopes operated from Bangalore. Using the juxtaposition to explain the efficiency gap between various sectors of India's economy, he said, “It is interesting that you can have telescopes managed from Bangalore, but cannot make a phone call from a house nearby!”—Madhur Singh and Judith Crown