India is destined to be a global leader in years to come. As it moves to its due place in the comity of nations, it has to take advantage of opportunities and bravely face challenges. India needs to be vigilant enough not to develop the arrogance that has become the characteristic of many economically developed countries of the past and present.
Human resources are the most important asset that India has. As many as 770 million Indians are below 35 years of age and 19 million persons are added every year. Indians are young and, if trained properly, they can be global providers of goods and services. Their knowledge of English language is an added advantage.
However, a wide mismatch between the skills in demand and educational institutions’ supply leads to simultaneous occurrence of unavailability of quality manpower and high unemployment. The challenge is to create high-performing institutions of education and training that dynamically and proactively meet the changing manpower needs of different institutions of society. The inadequacy of educational infrastructure, in quality and quantity at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels for both basic and professional education, requires urgent attention.
India has a large endowment of natural resources such as land, water, forest, minerals and energy. However, some of the resources are being used on narrow financial consideration in an unsustainable manner that leads to loss of biodiversity, loss of top soil and increase in salinity, pollution of water bodies and salt water ingress to freshwater aquifers. There is need for nutritional food, water and energy security. All the resources need to be judiciously used for sustainable socio-economic development of our people.
About 29% of rural and 26% of urban people live below the poverty line. Most of these people are unorganized sector workers and small producers, and their low income is due to poor purchasing and bargaining power. They are physically malnourished and carry the additional burden of social backwardness. It will be a challenge to remove not only the economic backwardness but also the socio-physical weaknesses of such a large section of population.
Poor health infrastructure and an expensive formal health-care system are reflected in higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy at birth and lower longevity for socio-economically backward sections of our population. Privatization of health services, in the absence of social security, is putting a tremendous strain even on middle-class families. Providing an affordable health-care system for all is a challenge today and will be more severe in future. Government must play a key role in primary health-care services and develop innovative public-private partnerships at the secondary and tertiary level. Health care and education cannot be left freely in the hands of the private sector.
Democratic governance is the greatest strength of India. More than half a century of peaceful transition of governments at the state and national levels has strengthened India’s capacity to resolve differences peacefully. Every effort needs to be made to strengthen institutions that are the pillars of democracy. Sustainable development will be possible through democratic governance.
Expensive and time-consuming legal procedures are coming in the way of having faith in our judiciary. The information explosion has exposed the weakness of the administrative and judicial system in delivering justice. It is not uncommon to find that powerful and wealthy people get the patronage of the system, while the weak and the poor languish in the hands of the state. Hence, one sees the emergence of groups that are often considered “terrorists”. It will be difficult to understand their growth and patronage without seeing the underlying economic and socio-political deprivation. It will be a challenge for us to reach the status of a civilized society where the preamble of our Constitution is respected both in letter and spirit.
Lack of functional accountability from public institutions in service delivery is hampering growth and development in the country. Developing institutional mechanisms for accountability will be a challenge for the future. While the Right to Information Act is an important step in the right direction, its compliance will be a challenge. Democratic and decentralized governance with a high level of accountability will help in building effective and efficient institutions. Such a set-up will bring instruments of development in the hands of the people. More and more people, especially the underprivileged, will automatically join such institutions when they see that timely justice is delivered.
The federal structure of the country can survive if there is fairness in resource allocation among different regions. Excessive political considerations in deciding major investments, setting up of national institutes and allocation of resources lead to a sense of exploitation by one region over another. Hence, one sees calls for autonomy from the existing structure at the local, state and national levels. Inter, and intra-regional inequality in economic development is a challenge that needs to be handled in a fair and transparent manner. Equity needs to take precedence over growth and societal interest cannot be inferior to individual interest. In the name of growth it will be unacceptable if a significant section of the population remains at subhuman levels.
Broad-based production and service delivery systems will lead to involvement of the masses against the dominant trend of a few controlling large market shares. Some of the basic facilities such as education, health and utilities that have empowering potential need to be controlled through either ownership of the means of production and delivery and/or regulation.
The Amul model of dairy development has shown how landless, marginal, small and big farmers can be brought into the fold of the cooperative system while maintaining high levels of efficiency and strong bargaining power of the producer-members in milk-collecting, processing and marketing enterprises. It has also led to fair compensation for value addition at different stages.
In contrast, some of the “innovations” in the form of “farmer groups” by agribusiness companies for “agricultural production only” lead to marginal gain at best and exploitation at worst. Privatization of existing public sector enterprises is not an answer for improving their performance. The challenge is how to revitalize while maintaining the public status.
India belongs to all Indians. Not listening to the majority voice will be an option for disaster.
V. Kurien is the founder chairman, NDDB and the father of India’s White Revolution.