It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” said Charles Dickens about the dichotomies in 18th century Europe in his book, A Tale of Two Cities.
India’s dichotomy, espoused by its growing wealth and persistent poverty, is strikingly similar. On one hand, the country has been witnessing a 7 per cent GDP growth underpinned by various social and financial inclusion initiatives, structural reforms, simplified tax system as well as increased government spending in infrastructural sectors, and continues to have the fastest growing economy in the world. On the other hand, the gap between the rich and the poor shows no signs of lessening, with close to 73 million Indians still living under extreme poverty.
As India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day milestone, it is time to review how the country can meet the growing aspirations of its 1.2 billion people to ensure more equal distribution of the benefits of growth and wealth.
We list down five priority areas of focus to drive sustained, equitable and inclusive growth and ultimately achieve the vision of ‘New India 2022’ set by the government.
High-tech manufacturing: The ‘Make in India’ initiative which aims to increase contribution from manufacturing, boost foreign investments and job creation has begun to show results. The next step should be to move up the value chain and focus on high-tech manufacturing. Often, this is mistaken to mean more technology and fewer jobs. Instead, it means adopting the latest cutting-edge technologies as well as leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve processes, boost efficiency and increase profits. A better skilled workforce creates a virtuous cycle of more investments and advanced technologies.
Secondly, more efforts should be made towards private and public-sector partnerships and joint ventures to benefit from investments and technology transfer and increase skills among workers to make them more employable.
World-class talent: India’s growing economy, focus on technology-intensive sectors and the changing nature of employment will drive demand for high-quality talent. With certain jobs becoming more automated, the skills required for employment will gradually shift, increasing demand for quality vocational training. To be able to meet its domestic demands and also to become the world’s skill capital, ensuring the existing workforce stays apace of employer demands will be a good starting point. Technology-driven education and training will be important to equip the large population of youth with employable skills. Older workers also deserve the attention of the government and employers to ensure relevant skills for a growing economy. For example, Microsoft is working with government’s Atal Tinkering Labs across 25 schools in the country to empower students and teachers with technology skills.
Additionally, major reforms in the education sector coupled with international collaborations, increased focus on research, building of industry-relevant curriculum and aligning courses to international requirements will help to support this ambition.
Digital technologies: The ‘Digital India’ initiative is another key area to leverage; bringing in sweeping reforms across crucial areas such as healthcare and agriculture. India already has a growing base of internet subscribers, smartphone and social media users and this presents an opportunity to drive digital-enabled inclusive and equitable growth. Even those without access to technology can benefit when the public sector deploys technology for the common good.
For example, custom built technologies can equip farmers in India with technical know-how in areas such as crop planning and management, weather forecasting and crop and soil monitoring to enhance productivity and profitability. Another sector that can benefit significantly from investments in technology is healthcare. Leading-edge technologies can be leveraged to deliver affordable and universal healthcare to all Indians. Insights from the data collected by healthcare units can be leveraged to deliver intelligent diagnostics and healthcare services wherever required, or forecast healthcare trends to enable preventive healthcare efforts.
Infrastructure: India's rapid population growth and economic development will put ever greater demand on existing infrastructure. While the government has embarked on various nationwide programmes, including ‘Smart Cities’, airport and port modernisation and the national highway project —which is expected to cover 50,000km by 2019 — the challenge lies in ensuring timely completion and avoiding investment gaps or funding issues.
Boosting infrastructure investment and establishing joint ventures with Indian or foreign partners to carry out these massive programmes spread across the length and breadth of the country will become essential. One great example is Singapore’s partnership with the state government of Andhra Pradesh to build the new state capital, Amaravati, as a smart city.
Green India: As India continues to focus on economic growth, it needs to ensure that it develops sustainably without risking environmental damage which carries long-term costs that can cripple advancement. Unbridled growth carries risks. Disciplined growth creates sustainable societies.
There must be an emphasis on pro-active policies and measures, awareness campaigns on climate change and environmental protection as well as investments in technologies. For example, India has been leveraging technology for real-time monitoring of pollutants from industries, availability of natural resources as well as for wildlife conservation. Additionally, international collaborations at the bilateral and multilateral level for the protection of the environment will be imperative.
The list is not long and daunting. The country has the potential, ingenuity and ecosystem to enable this vision efficiently and equitably. By creating large infrastructural programmes, more partnerships for co-creation opportunities, a highly-skilled talent pool, adopting technology intelligently and by moving up the manufacturing value chain, India, by the year 2022, will be closer to its aspirations to realise its true growth potential and successfully.
(The writer is president, Rolls-Royce, India & South Asia)