Home / Economy / The 10 things India got right—from mid-day meals to UPI

Life in the fast lane

Road transport, which accounts for about 87% of the country’s passenger traffic and 60% of its freight traffic movement, has zoomed ahead in the last two decades.

From unpaved single-lane roads, two-lane highways and no expressways, India today has four- and six-lane express highways as part of the country’s Golden Quadrilateral built by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

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The total length of national highways (NHs) was about 21,378 km in 1947, and has now risen to more than 140,000 km. The length of national highways with four lanes or more has nearly doubled from 17,000 km to 35,000 km in March 2022.


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India’s road network at 6.33 million kilometres as on 31 March 2019 is second only to the US, which had 6.65 million km in the same period, according to the ‘Basic Road Statistics in India-2018-19’ report released by the government on 20 July 2022. China, with about 5.2 million km of road as of 2020, comes third.

The right energy mix

The country has come a long way in its quest for energy security. Its low per-capita energy consumption is expected to grow as India’s economy embarks upon a high growth trajectory. The focus is on creating a green economy to become self-sufficient.

Given that India imports around 85% of its oil and 53% of its gas requirements, the task is tough but not impossible.

India has seen early success, with our green energy economy receiving substantial foreign direct investment.

A major credit for this goes to India’s solar and wind energy space, with plans now to leverage it to generate green hydrogen, which can potentially reduce energy imports and buffer us from geo-political uncertainties.

The approach has been two-pronged—reducing imports and cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2070.

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On speed dial


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From a little over 80,000 analogue phones with rotary dials in 1947 to over 1,000 million cellphones, including smartphones that can not only make calls but also allow you to listen to music, watch videos, make payments, and even do banking, India has come a long way in the telecom sector.

We have the fifth lowest data rates in the world. The recently concluded 5G auctions will increase the debt of telcos but add 1.5 trillion to the government’s coffers. India is also building an optic fiber network taking internet connection to rural areas under the BharatNet project.

Telcos such as Airtel are expanding internet connectivity in remote areas through low earth orbit (LEO) satellites (with OneWeb).

Telcos not only offer data centre services, direct-to-home (DTH) television and streaming video, but also double as payment banks, and have subsea cables to connect internet hubs.


Vaccines for all

Immunization, notes the World Health Organization (WHO), is one of the most successful public health interventions. Despite being a developing economy, India has made tremendous progress in this space. The country, for instance, once accounted for nearly half of the total number of polio cases globally and there were an estimated 200,000 cases of polio every yearin 1978.

In 2014, India was certified as a “polio-free" by WHO. Our universal immunization programme, launched in 1985, is one of the largest in the world under which vaccines are provided free of cost to all citizens. Eradicating small pox has been the programme’s biggest achievement. India also took the lead in fighting the covid-19 virus by producing Covishield (with AstraZeneca) and locally developing Covaxin. More vaccines are in the pipeline. As on 7 August, India’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage has exceeded 2 billion doses, which includes the first, second and precaution (booster) doses. Through its Vaccine Maitri outreach, India has also donated and supplied 66 million vaccines to countries across the world.


Morning lessons and hot meals


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In 1956, Tamil Nadu was the first state in India to roll out a scheme under which students of all government primary schools would get a nutritious, cooked lunch in school —updating a scheme that was piloted in the 1920s.

It served two purposes —to incentivize poor parents to send children to schools, and to act as a nutritional safety net for children. On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court mandated all state governments to follow suit. As a result, India’s mid-day meal scheme is one of the largest school lunch programmes in the world today, providing hot, cooked meals to 118 million government school students from Class 1 to 8.

Last September, the government rebranded the project as the PM POSHAN (Poshan Shakti Nirman) scheme. It had then said that the nutrition scheme will also cover the 24 lakh children studying in balvatikas—the pre-primary section of government schools.


India’s largest green rail


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It may be the second-oldest metro after the Kolkata Metro, but the 20-year-old Delhi Metro is the country’s largest and busiest metro rail system and a blueprint for all metro rail services in India. In December 2015, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was handed the contract to build Mumbai’s metro networks, of which three lines are now operational.

Today, the Delhi Metro network in the National Capital Region is spread over 390 kilometres and has 286 stations. Its network covers Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, and Gurgaon and Faridabad in Haryana. DMRC even has autonomous, driverless metro rail services on its Magenta Line, making it part of the 10% of the world’s metro rail networks that can operate autonomously.

The metro network is also helping lower pollution in the state, and the United Nations certified it in 2011 as the first metro rail and rail-based system in the world to get carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

UPI and the India Stack


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India’s flagship digital platform Unified Payments Interface (UPI) clocked over 6 billion transactions in July— the highest ever since its inception in 2016. Operated by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and launched on 11 April 2016, any UPI app can use payments and transfer funds from and to UPI-enabled banks and third-party apps such as Google Pay, PhonePe, Paytm, MobiKwik, Amazon Pay, and Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM). Innovations such as the UPI and India’s unique digital identity card, Aadhaar, are encompassed by the moniker ‘India Stack’ that are a set of open application programming interfaces (APIs) and digital public goods used to build technology platforms and frameworks for identity (Aadhaar), data (Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture, or DEPA), and payments (UPI) to serve entire populations. India’s National Health Stack, incidentally, leverages the India Stack.

The race for space

This August, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s maiden small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) flight failed due to a sensor fault, but it brought India a step closer to becoming a hub for global satellite launches.

The journey began with the Aryabhata in 1975. Since then, we have launched 115 official satellites and 13 student satellites. The upcoming space policy is tipped to be a shot in the arm for India’s satellite goals. India has always been innovative in space. Chandrayaan-1, India’s first lunar mission in October 2008, cost around $76 million — a fraction of global missions like Japan’s Selene ($480 million) and China’s Chang’e 5 ($187 million).

In September 2009, its instruments detected signs of water inside the lunar surface. India’s first space telescope, the AstroSat, was not just inexpensive, but also the only one in the world that could observe three wavelengths of the light spectrum. India’s future missions include a probe to the sun with the Aditya-L1, and a manned space project, Gaganyaan.


From IT to unicorns


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Spurred by the success stories of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Ltd., founded in 1968, and Narayana Murthy-founded Infosys Ltd in 1981, the cumulative revenue of the Indian IT industry touched $227 billion as of 31 March 2022, according to Nasscom. Much of its success as a forex earner is due to the abundance of engineers (1.5 million engineers graduate in India every year) and software developers (estimated to be over 3.5 million) in the country. The industry also cumulatively employs over 5 million people, excluding the millions of ancillary workers. While the IT industry’s growth is plateauing because of its size, India has seen thousands of startups mushroom across sectors such as fintech, edutech, healthtech, agritech, e-commerce, retail tech, and software-as-as-service (SaaS), to name a few, over the last six years. Many of these have become unicorns, or startups valued at $1 billion or more. Mobile adtech firm InMobi became the country’s first unicorn in 2011. India is currently the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world with more than 65,000 startups, of which nearly 10,000 are technology startups.


Culture power

Bollywood films and yoga have been the cultural ambassadors of India’s soft power.

Much before Shah Rukh Khan, there was Raj Kapoor who enthralled audiences in the former USSR, never mind the language barrier. Between the 1970s and 1980s, stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty had a massive fan following in Africa and Europe. It’s a trend that continues. Overseas markets contributed 2,700 crore to of the total 19,100 crore business Indian films did in 2020.

Yoga was popularized by the Beatles when they ended up at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh in the 1960s. BKS Iyengar too developed yoga schools globally. With the UN declaring June 21 as International Yoga Day, millions of people around the world roll out their yoga mats to celebrate the Indian tradition, spurred by an enthusiastic Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India has won its place in global tourism too, benefitting from 36 UNESCO world heritage sites.


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