Millennium Post

Way forward for India to bloom

The Financial Express of 1 June reported ‘India’s economic growth remained below the five per cent mark for the second year in a row at 4.7 per cent in 2013-2014, mainly due to a decline in manufacturing and mining output. The manufacturing sector declined by 1.4 per cent in the fourth quarter as against growth of three per cent a year ago and contracted 0.7 per cent in the financial year compared to a growth of 1.1 per cent in 2012-2013. Mining and quarrying contracted 0.4 per cent in the January-March quarter as against a decline of 4.8 per cent in the same period of 2012-2013. During 2013-2014, the sector’s output shrank 1.4 per cent compared with a 2.2 per cent dip in production in 2012-2013.

 This is the crux of the matter, and singularly a massive challenge before the new government since manufacturing and mining outputs are complementary to each other and drive several ancillaries which in turn drive the job markets and wealth creation. Add recession pressures on infrastructure and construction markets and a whole downward spiral of economy stares at the future.  

A stable government and one which is rearing to go at the Centre would do wonders to the growth of economy if it were to fast-track projects: be it infrastructural, or hotel or e-commerce or whatever. Quick and hassle free environmental clearances and simple tax regimes with single window clearances, all possible with the introduction of e-governance that reaches the cutting edge would be the steps to follow. Bureaucratic delays may hamper but a pro-active prodding will ensure success.
 Business Standard on 21 May reported that top companies added employees at three per cent CAGR from 2003-2004 to 2013-2014, while revenues grew at 18 per cent in the last decade, an onerous position to correct.

Estimates peg insufficiencies of 500 million unemployed youth by the year 2020. The dial is moving slowly but certainly, and the year 2020 coincides with the year when the millennium’s first 20 year olds will be looking for their spring; to see how they come on board with what is happening on the streets and alleys around them.

The Indian nation has more than 1.25 billion people; more than a sixth of the world’s population. We are projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2025, surpassing China. With a population growth rate of about 1.5 per cent where more than 50 per cent population is below the age of 25 and more than 65 per cent below the age of 35, we are poised to be the youngest nation in the globe. The challenges indeed before the new government are many but the will and commitment to deliver should see them through. A clinical and studied execution of identified priority areas will turn the disenchantment into a win-win for both the government and its subjects, not to speak of the global positioning that will happen for a great nation on the move.  

Where do we begin? Technology and education have a massive role in facilitating new job markets. Innovative methodologies and targets set for universities and educational czars to deliver can create opportunities and aid in job creation. Newer markets need to be developed.

A lot of funding has been happening in our premier institutions towards research and development. Though they do aid in incremental addition to the body of knowledge, do they help in job creation and does this paradigm need to be revisited? Thousands of PhD’s per annum certainly need to be promoted but with mandated research that helps the industry deliver. A clear mandate for the CSIR/DRDO labs, IIT’s and other identified institutions needs to include innovations that aid in job creation. 

Several IPR – Patent – Entrepreneur cells in every one of the above institutions need to be funded and nurtured. This adds to the research potential as well as connects with the national agenda. Promotion of niche technology areas like oil exploration, mining, agriculture, power, water resources and infrastructure should be high on priority and should receive the best of funds. Promoting sustainable development for environment, climate change and protection through innovation in energy, bio sciences, bio engineering and genetics need to be the next level of priority in a global context. The entire development eco-space needs to be nurtured for job creation by driving several downstream activities in each of the areas enumerated.

Massive investment is made and probably will be made in the defence sector. This will be thoroughly looking at the strategic positioning India needs to make to be seen and be counting. The premier institutions have a role to play here as well. Systems approach to defence related equipment manufacture/indigenisation and import substitution of equipment like combat recovery vehicle, un-manned aerial vehicle, snow mobiles, bullet proof jacket, automatic weapon systems etc., through collaborations with EME schools, DRDO labs, premier institutions and selected industries is a way forward. A system like combat recovery vehicle can be discretised into mechanical, electrical and control sub systems. An identified institute and a handpicked industry can recreate the subsystem to our specifications. An integrator can amalgamate the subsystems to create the substitutions that we need.

A nation as large as ours has been growing albeit in spurts and bits and pieces. Technology is a great integrator and a force multiplier. In order to harness the benefits of this tool, we need clear policy directives and roadmaps. A suggestion would be setting up at least five research and policy institutes in the country to forecast technology growth, foster innovation and indigenisation, conduct research in guarded areas that are important to India with daylight collaborations, with the best in the world like CSU, MIT, and Stanford, Imperial College, Humboldt University, Helmholtz association etc. A serious attempt will be needed to create Fraunhofer - Gesellschaft like research centres around the aforementioned institute in a chosen few cities in India. This would give a great fillip to focussed research that aims at self reliance, provides inputs for productisation and process improvement and consequent job creation in all three primary, secondary and tertiary employment markets.

The entire process has immense potential to create newer jobs not to speak of a great saving in foreign currency and a thrust towards a new confidence in the local capabilities and self reliance for then will we be able to live and strive for the unity and welfare of the world, and stand before the world as a self-confident, resurgent and a mighty nation.

An egalitarian society where the focus is on social reform, economic upliftment of the downtrodden and the protection of cultural diversity of the natives in India is expected to benefit all. This is truly possible only when every child in this country is educated and eventually finds a meaningful job.
 India’s employment market is characterised by part-time and seasonal workers, underemployment and factors that restrict many women from joining the white collar, blue collar or even pink collar labour force. Over 90 per cent continue to work in the informal sector, in small, unincorporated and unregistered enterprises that lack basics like valid job contracts, mandatory leave facilities, social security, access to trade unions and lack of recourse to legal remedies. MSME sector that has a great potential however needs massive reforms to overcome these perennial fallacies to become vibrant and part of a formal market for jobs.

The dogma that bothers our society where skills may find jobs but are not acceptable as an alternate means to good living, since they are terminal in nature and not necessarily progress to diplomas and degrees is an absurdity that our society nurtures. The inability of our conventional education; facilitating diplomas and degrees does not necessarily find employment is a great curse and a paradox that our existing systems have imposed on us. We need to find ways out of this impasse and MHRD and AICTE’s framework of integrating skills and education at multiple levels is a great way forward.

Skills enhance the employability opportunities. Finesse acquired by a beginner who does not go through a formal education, would indulge in a means of self employment or prove fortuitous for employment in the formal sector. Focused skill development, with employability as the maxim, is the need of the day. The mission should be to create at least one division of 100 students in every AICTE approved college and a school government or private across the country to conduct VET. This will massively increase GER, entrepreneurship and consequent growth in economy, employment, GDP that aids in wealth creation

We need to waste no time in exploiting the available opportunities and in fact create and innovate new ones. We need to not only make a road that allows fast transport but also make a vehicle that is faster, safer and trendier. Above all, we need to remember to strengthen the existing systems and compose ingenious innovations for creating new ones that have respect for rules. The government has all the ingredients for this potpourri and everyone should count to make this happen.

The author is Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education 
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