Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Opinion | India’s growth story is real but challenges remain

The govt’s focus should be on bridging the fault lines in school, varsity and technical education

Every time we head towards an election, people have this question: can we sustain this growth? I was recently at an event in Mumbai and my answer to this question was to look at what is fuelling our country’s ambition and what we need to watch out for to sustain this growth rate and make 8% the new rate of growth.

These words summarise India’s evolving growth story.

Today, India is probably one of the few large emerging economies where growth and development seem to be cruising along at the same pace, making it unique in many ways. Prudent monetary and fiscal policies, along with the implementation of several domestic structural reforms, have not only strengthened the macroeconomic fundamentals but also raised the reforms bar. The push towards accessibility and affordability has resulted in ground-level implementation of reforms.

At its heart, there are three distinct factors that are propelling India’s growth story. First, the impatience of the country’s youth has put tremendous pressure on the government to transform and perform, leading to greater accountability and quicker implementation of reform measures.

The blend of national programmes and state-specific policy reforms has helped craft unprecedented success stories for many Indian states, which have now become multimillion-dollar economies in their own right and have created an ecosystem of competitive federalism between themselves. Each state is playing on its competitive advantage with an ambition to turn itself into a regional powerhouse and a multibillion-dollar economy.

Second, the unprecedented rise in urban clusters across the country is driving the country’s urbanization story. As Indians continue to move from villages to cities, there is an increased push in reforms and higher investments in a bid to make Indian cities globally attractive for doing business. In my view, central government allocation to cities should be linked to financial independence and capacity building, which will lead to significant local reform. Needless to say, the great Indian urbanization run is certainly here to stay and will drive India’s future smart cities.

Third, the country’s startup ecosystem story is reflective of a startup attaining unicorn status. The country has provided an ideal platform to promote entrepreneurship right from an early stage to becoming potential unicorns. With more than 21 states having a startup policy and approximately 12,500 startups being recognized as unique by the government, the country undoubtedly has become one of the startup destinations of the world.

While the government is focusing on bringing structural changes across sectors, its ambition to become a $5 trillion economy in the next decade will depend on how governments, both central and state, steer development in the healthcare and education sectors.

While India’s healthcare system has made significant advances over the last decade, there is still a lot of ground to cover. The announcement of the ambitious Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana or National Health Protection Scheme has marked the dawn of universal healthcare in the country and is expected to fortify the overall healthcare sector. To deliver healthcare services at such a large scale, however, the system demands a strong medical workforce and a robust infrastructure.

India will need a massive expansion of professional education capacity, interplay of infrastructure, and adoption of technology over the next few years to achieve a meaningful increase in access to healthcare. The interplay of infrastructure and technology will play a crucial role in outreach, implementation and impact assessment. Adoption of technology would not only ease the pressure on the existing medical workforce but would eventually assist in increasing healthcare access and improving the quality of delivery across the country.

Education can be at the front line of accelerated development and a vital driver in the country’s economic, social, cultural, and technological progress. To remove all bottlenecks, it is imperative to improve the qualitative and quantitative output from our schools and colleges with preparedness of our young India to join the workforce. There is a need to bridge the gaps in education quality from two ends. While at one end of the spectrum lies our need to institutionalise an appetite for innovation and excellence, on the other lies the daunting task of mainstreaming the bottom of the pyramid into economic activity with the help of equitable quality of education.

Thus, the challenge is to reconcile these two vastly different, though not mutually exclusive, outlooks. The government’s focus should be on bridging the fault lines in school, university and technical education.

One could say that the timeline of experiencing change in India is happening very quickly and this, in turn, is providing the much-needed impetus to expedite the economic development process. However, the government has a dual task at hand—to live up to the expectations of young India by keeping its foot firmly on the gas pedal on its reforms implementation agenda and to provide last-mile access to quality public service to Bharat.

Nilaya Varma is partner and leader—markets enablement, KPMG in India.