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Need for 'Change Agents' to Change India

Rajendra K Misra
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Rajendra K Misra
When I was 11 years old, my parents had to shift between two small towns in Uttar Pradesh and I had to change my school, mid-session. So I was sent to my paternal village, in Sitapur district, and was put in the local village school till my admission in the town school got finalized, which did not happen for the next 15 months. Two teachers would teach for about 3-4 hrs before they returned to their agriculture or cattle chores. We wrote on ‘Takhtis’, wooden writing pads that were made to shine with a mixture of soot chalk solution. This may sound like a nostalgic story from early 20th century, but this was 1975. After my schooling I joined IIT Kanpur and, following the trends of IITians those days, upon graduation went abroad for my higher studies and settled down with a well-paid job. Later I started my own entrepreneurial ventures and worked in both Japan and the U.S.A. I moved to India in 1995 and founded 2 Internet and telecom ventures with successful exits.

Over the years, I had provided monetary support for the development of my village and one day while visiting the village school I was struck by what I saw. Though there was a brick building, notebooks, pens, and pencils and kids looked happy as in the good old days, the number of hours spent on teaching remained the same; quality and means of education had not changed at all. This bothered me a lot. How can we think of competing with the best in the world when most of India is still primitive in imparting basic education?

The realization dawned upon me that if I wanted change, I had to be a part of it. Hence, in 2005, at the age of 40 I gave my corporate life a rest and moved on to do something that would bring a socio-economic change in India. The result is the Change India Movement.

Today I work with several state governments and central government as a public policy advisor towards the development of both rural and urban India. The industrial policies and liberalization have drawn much investment in the urban areas, making them the growth centers while increasing infrastructural chaos. In these urban centers, which are the wealth creators and employment generators, the essential need of the populace is not finding a job but rather reaching the place of the job. The need of the hour for sustainable urban growth is the infrastructure and forward-looking industrial policies.

India’s GDP is growing at close to nine percent and is expected to reach ten percent. India overtook Japan this year in the number of billionaires, with 36 billionaires worth a total of $191 billion, while Japan's 24 billionaires were worth $64 billion. This is a good news! But it is also important to note that the majority of our population lives at less than Rs. 20 per day, mostly in rural India. Benefits of growth and prosperity are not reaching rural India and it is spiraling towards increased poverty. The question we need to ask is ‘why is rural India poor?’ Majority of our rural population is dependent on agriculture for its livelihood. While the contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP has declined from 59 percent in 1950-51 to a mere 18 percent in 2005-2006, number of people in rural areas dependent on agriculture has grown three fold in the same period to more than 700 million now. Agriculture can no longer provide sustainable livelihood for our rural population. The result is that the villagers are migrating to the cities (urban areas) in large numbers in search of a better living. Once in the cities they may start earning a steadier income, ensuring they do not go hungry but are unable to afford the basic requirements like shelter, safe drinking water and sanitation. The result? Formation of slums that add more chaos to the already choked urban areas.

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