India at 60: Can technology lead India to be a developed country?

Date:   Tuesday , September 04, 2007

Independent India is 60 years young! And it is time to look back and reminisce on all we have accomplished. This is also the perfect time to review the highs and lows, and more importantly introspect, to undertake a self-evaluation, and think of where we march on from here.

60 years is a short time in a country’s history, but we have much to be proud of:
* One of our biggest achievements is remaining democratic and secular against all odds and powerful challenges. The world’s second most populous country with a Hindu majority can today boast of a Sikh prime minister from a political party led by a Catholic woman leader, a woman president (till the other day a Muslim president), and a chief justice of the Supreme Court who is from a so-called untouchable caste – that is as inclusive and praiseworthy as it can get!

* The Green Revolution not only put India on the agriculture map of the world and helped us attain self-sufficiency in food production, but also ushered in an era of industrialization by virtue of lateral development.

* The White Revolution helped us move out of an era of massive shortage of milk and milk products and made India the largest producer of milk in the world.

* It makes us proud to have a reasonably good growth rate shooting up from three percent in the 1960s and ‘70s to 8.5 percent plus at the present, generating new economic forces which have the potential of making India the third largest economy in the world by 2050. Our exports have increased from $1 billion to $125 billion over the past three decades. The economy is changing dramatically with agriculture now accounting for just about 23 percent of the GDP as opposed to over 50 percent in the 1950s. We have emerged as one of the world’s largest upcoming middle-class populations, creating an immense market of potential, and also building a talent pool for the world’s enterprises.

* We can also feel proud of having doubled life expectancy in the past three decades.

As we list out the successes and accomplishments the ‘new India’ can be proud of, we also have to ponder over areas where we have to do a lot better.

* We need to manage the unabated population explosion that will soon take our population to 1.7 billion mark, before stabilizing. It may give India human resources to fuel the economic growth, but it puts a severe strain on our already weak infrastructure, natural resources, and environment.

* 75 percent of our population doesn’t have access to even basic medical facilities, and we have one of the worst malnutrition statistics in the world. India also ranks among the countries that have a large number of HIV/AIDS infected people.

* We have 350 million illiterates and our primary education infrastructure is in a terrible shape. Even our higher educational institutions produce largely un-employable graduates, due to the bad curriculum planning.

* Almost 75 percent of our people earn less than $2 a day. Over 70 percent of the population continues to rely on agriculture that produces declining yields and are at the mercy of monsoon.

* India still ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world.

* Our infrastructure is in a deplorable state and badly hinders our economic growth.

* Over 25 percent of our population still lacks supply of drinking water, while electricity production also leaves a lot to be desired.

Silver lining in the sky: India’s technological prowess

At 60, India’s technological prowess proves to be a feather in her cap. Even with limited resources we have done extremely well in space technology, pharmaceuticals, IT, and telecom sectors among others.

India today has evolved into a global provider of software and business process services. By the close of fiscal 2007, the IT industry is expected to generate $47 billion in revenue, at a growth rate of 30 percent p.a., employing more than 1.6 million people. There are several R&D startups that are performing cutting edge work, changing mindsets, and infusing a risk-taking culture. PE investors and VC funds are lining up and have pumped in investments of $7.5 billion in 300 deals last year. The Indian telecom sector too has made an imprint on the global industry. India has almost 200 million telephone lines making it the third largest network in the world after China and the U.S.

Technology can make us a developed country

In the past six decades, we met some of our challenges with solutions developed in the west. But many of our challenges today are unique and actually need indigenous solutions.

Technology has been at the forefront of our recent economic resurgence and I strongly believe that in technology lies the answer to many of our challenges. So let’s challenge our scientists, technologists, and business leaders to find solutions to our most deep-rooted and challenging problems. Let us inculcate a mindset that believes in the possible and let us challenge ourselves to do the following:

* Let us leverage technology to bring down the cost of medical test equipment and delivery mechanisms to create a robust healthcare system that reaches all sections of our population. Why can’t our emerging pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry develop inexpensive drugs for the masses? Let us also develop innovative and inexpensive methods of family planning that can help effectively control the population.

* Let us effectively use Information Technology and the rapidly evolving communication backbone to develop creative and effective e-learning tools to eradicate illiteracy and turn our youth into employable professionals.

* Let us leverage our innate strengths in science and technology and create indigenous high-yield crops, better breeds of fruits and vegetables, and better fertilizers that not only improve food production, but also help farmers enjoy economic success.

* Let us use information technology to create tools and processes that improve transparency, reduce bureaucracy, and control corruption.

* Let us develop cost effective sources of alternative energy and harness environment friendly energy sources like solar power, wind energy, etc. Let us improve water management, develop cost effective desalination technology, and use rain harvesting for our current and future water needs. Let us develop new materials and more cost effective designs to meet our physical infrastructure needs.

In the early days of our struggle for independence, Mahatma Gandhi initiated a ‘science for people movement’, highlighting the need to harness science to spur growth in rural India. Seven decades later, it is only appropriate to utilize science and technology to help lead the country into the next century.