The World Bank yesterday said that its lending operations last year had remained within the $5.8 billion ceiling enforced by the Ford administration, but sketched out for itself, with the blessing of the Carter administration, a much enlarged future role.

In its Annual Report, the bank said that it made 161 loans amounting to $5,759,000.000 to 54 countries in fiscal 1977, an increase in money terms of $782 million over 1976.

For the World Bank group as a whole, including the International Development Association (soft loans) and the International Finance Corp. (private sector stimulus), lending and investment commitments together were $7,273,500,000, up $396 million over fiscal 1976.

Allowing for inflation, however, the World Bank group's activity showed an erosion of 0.7 per cent, with a very large decline - 26.4 per cent - in real lending by IDA.

The $5.8 billion limit imposed by the Ford administration, primarily at the insistence of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, had been bitterly resisted by bank president Robert S. McNamara. But supported by a few other large countries, Simon won out, arguing that the bank was getting over-extended.

The Carter administration has taken a different view of the situation, choosing to rely on both the World Bank and the international Monetary Fund to channel much of its aid and balance of payments assistance to the rest of the world.

At a meeting of the bank's executive directors earlier this year, the U.S. agreed to lift the Simon-imposed ceiling, moving the projected lending level to $6.1 billion for fiscal 1978.

Although it is not mentioned in the report, there is a tentative understanding that the lending total will expand to $6.8 billion in 1979, and that there will be a further annual increase of about 7 per cent.

Implicit in this expansion would be a general capital increase to enable the bank to undertake a more generous lending posture. The executive directors said they hope to reach agreement on an increase by June 30, 1978. Again, this is a step that had been blocked by the Ford administration.

In May 1976, the U.S. and other member countries had agreed only to a "selective" increase of $8.4 billion in the bank's capital to $41 billion. McNamara had proposed doubling the bank's capital to around $60 billion.

The Annual Report said that discussions within the bank on a general capital increase "will initially concentrate on the future role of the bank and on the range of financial options which may be needed to support that role."

Bank sources say that new emphasis may be placed on "people-type" loans, or human needs, as distinguished from traditional infrastructure loans for electricity, roads, and so on.

The Annual Report makes the point, in considering possible new directions for the bank, that the benefits of economic growth "cannot be assumed to 'trickle down' automatically; to ensure that development benefits the poorest, it must be deliberately directed to the poorest."

Increasingly, the bank is directing its monies to "new style" projects, financing of small enterprises, and experiments of a non-traditional kind, all subject "to the same rigorous tests of economic and financial soundness" the banks says it demands of traditional projects.

The report forecast that some 7 to 10 per cent of total bank and IDA commitments would go to "program lending," designed to ease the new burdens placed on developing countries since the OPEC price boosts of 1973. Because of expanded IMF resources to take care of short-run balance of payments problems, the report said the bank should concentrate on long-term help in loans of this kind.

After long discussion, the report said, 26 donor countries agreed to a $7.6 billion fifth replenishment of IDA, for the three years that began July 1, 1977. Of this, $7.2 billion came from traditional donors, including $2.4 billion from the United States.

Despite much pressure by McNamara, Saudi Aradia agreed to lend only $250 million, of which 10 per cent is in convertible funds. Money loaned to IDA is on concessional terms. Recently, the Saudis loaned $2.4 billion to the IMF's new "Witteveen Fund" at commercial market rates.

As in past years, agriculture loans topped the bank's list in fiscal 1977, accounting for 33 per cent of combined Bank-IDA commitments. "Agriculture," the report says, "is clearly the key to improving the living standards of the bulk of the poor of the developing world."

On the question of poorer nations' external debt - a subject that will be high on the agenda of the joint annual meeting of the Bank Group and the IMF starting in Washington Sept. 25 - the report said that the public indebtedness of 84 poorer countries increased $20.8 billion in calendar 1975 to $121 billion. (When undisbursed balances are included, the debt increased $26.2 billion to $174 billion.)

The report had no figures going beyond 1975. But a report by the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy, issued yesterday, said the total LDC public debt is now estimated at around $200 billion.

The bank's figures showed that through 1975 the bulk of the $121 billion disbursed debt, or an even $100 billion, was owed by 75 non-oil producing poor countries. The biggest debtors appeared to be Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Korea.

But the major problems among debtor countries may be concentrated among smaller countries in the Middle East, North African, sub-Saharan and South Asian regions, with very low percapita income. The combined public debt of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia, for example, was almost 25 per cent of their combined national income in 1975, according to the report.

An analysis of major development issues, in consultation with the IMF, is under way (under direction of bank vice president Hollis Chenery), with a draft report scheduled to be turned over to the Development Committee, under Sir Richard King, in fiscal 1979.