If I had to chart out a plan for India in 2004 on what we need to focus on, this is what it would be:
Enhance the Physical Infrastructure across the country: The government needs to spend money to ensure that the roads, airports and ports are friction-free. We are only as good as our weakest links. Building the expressways is a good start, but the roads leading to these 4- and 6-lane highways also needs to be adequately upgraded. The US did not build just a couple of freeways in the 1950s it built a whole network of them. Similarly, it is no good marketing the India brand and then getting visitors in to second-grade airports. If the government cannot do it, let the private companies be called in. It is the results which matter.
Provide Power, Education, Water, Food and Healthcare for all: Even after nearly six decades, we are not able to get the fundamentals of nation-building right. Why not look at solar energy or biomass as alternative sources of energy? Why cannot we ensure that every child gets into school and stays there? Why do we still have water problems even in good monsoon years? Why do our surplus foodgrains rot and people go hungry? Why are we not able to provide proper healthcare to our masses? Why do want to stay poor and underdeveloped given our dreams resources? India needs Missions to ensure we get the basics right. Without a strong foundation, we cannot build a stable structure for the future.
Construct the Digital Infrastructure: Three sets of actions need to be done simultaneously – the provisioning of high-speed wireless and broadband networks across the country (free from restrictions on what kind of traffic they can carry and where they can operate), the development of affordable access devices to bridge the gap between the phone which can do very little and the computer which is too expensive, and the creation of content and applications for homes, shops, businesses, governance, and education. Part of the challenge for entrepreneurs is outlined by Prof. Ramesh Jain as part of his vision of Folk Computing.
Focus on SMEs and Rural India: The two segments which need special attention are small- and medium-sized enterprises and the rural populace. Both are at the bottom of their respective pyramids and suffer from co-ordination failures. They need whole solutions so that they can leapfrog. India cannot develop if these twin engines of growth remain stalled. These markets are large. India has over 3 million SMEs employing about 50 million people. Rural India has 700 million residents in 600,000 villages. A combination of public-private partnerships are needed to ensure that the divides that these segments face not just in terms of technology, but also in terms of opportunities and incomes can be bridged.
Our generation needs to dedicate itself to building India right. We have the ability, resources, mindset, and the technologies to do it. The question is: do we have the Will and Vision? Can we work together as a team to put the collective benefits above personal gains? Can we stomach the sacrifices that will need to be made? On these answers individually and as a group hinges the fate of the Nation.
Wish you all a Very Happy and Prosperous 2004.
TECH TALK 2003-04+T