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The Atmanirbhar Abhiyan from a technologist’s viewpoint

  • The plans under the campaign have the potential to create opportunities for technical institutions to use their expertise in developing products that can be used to meet market demand.

On 12 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the nation the mantra of the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’. Since then, different stakeholders and experts have been analysing the economic stimulus. However, there is also a need for a technological analysis of the stimulus in the context of technical institutions.

Recently, while addressing a young audience on the role of state-funded technical institutions in rejuvenating micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), an issue remained beyond our scope—the capital distress situation of the past decades. To my surprise, and a pleasant one, Modi’s speech emphasised on ‘be vocal for the local’ message to boost local manufacturing along with the announcement of a 20 trillion economic package. As we fix our goals to mandates such as indigenously developing technologies, creating a market and capacity building for this sector, the emergency credit line of 3 trillion provided in the stimulus would enable MSMEs to recover from their current financial status and resume operations, while the equity infusion of 50,000 crore would complement our objective of capacity building through technological and human-resource enhancement and industrial innovations. Further, the revised classification in terms of investment and annual turnover will encourage MSMEs to opt for such upgradation without the fear of losing the scheduled benefits.

A positive trend has been witnessed in mobilizing the MSMEs to meet our health and hygiene requirements to counter covid-19. The lockdown has given us enormous opportunities to get into action in a focused manner, developing indigenous technologies and transferring them to industry for production. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) came up with innovative designs of personal protective equipment (PPE), which start-ups have successfully delivered, thus meeting market demand. More such technologies are in the pipeline such as low-cost ventilators, testing kits and sanitization systems. To hold our fort against covid and other threats, it is imperative that we develop a robust research and development-backed industrial ecosystem, with technical institutions, MSMEs and the capital goods sector forming its lead players, and powered by quick decision-making as well as government policies that are appropriate to manage this global disaster.

The detailed announcement by the ministry of finance was even more holistic, especially the proposal of a new central law to allow farmers sell their produce freely and negotiate prices, along with a package of 1.5 trillion to boost infrastructure and logistics. These are welcome and much-needed moves, coming after 70 years of independence. As a technologist, the idea of selling through online platforms, as proposed in the new policy, intrigues me beyond the leakages in supply chain and artificial pricing. Technical institutions and their alumni can develop exhaustive online marketplace applications, which can facilitate the establishing of connections between demand and supply points, provide information updates regarding the finances available, government and banking notices, market situation, and latest technologies, thus creating an economic model.

On the livelihood front, an additional 40,000 crore was allocated for the rural employment guarantee scheme to provide jobs to migrant workers returning home. We have a proven track record in this area through the national mission project ‘National Initiative for Design Innovation’. Under this, IIT Kharagpur has automated manual functions and existing rudimentary systems to reduce drudgery and improve productivity, leading to a manifold increase in rural earnings. It has also led to capacity building for rural and cottage industries, improved product quality, increased employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities in rural areas. Technical institutions can study the skill sets of the returning migrant labourers and propose solutions to state governments for creating employment avenues, and the mapping of skills of migrant workers along with their skill development training requirements.

Lastly, from the perspective of an educationist, the launching of online courses by the top 100 universities of India will democratize quality education and increase its reach in leaps and bounds. The IITs and the Indian Institute of Science already have expertise in this area. The inclusion of more institutions will enrich the content available, although there is a great need for dedicated software to conduct e-classes for large student bodies as well as improve the audio-visual presentation of lectures. With the emphasis the ministry of human resource development is placing on online courses, the scope is huge, particularly in regular degree programmes. Coupled with it is the inclusion of AM radio, community radio and podcasts for education. While the Indira Gandhi National Open University has facilitated the radio platform of Gyanvani for decades, customization of course content of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning can also be explored on radio formats, which can help overcome the limitation of internet bandwidth and non-affordability of smartphones.

The economic package has presented us with extensive opportunity to ideate projects covering a gamut of public welfare areas. As public institutions and responsible citizens, responsibility lies with us to come forward with constructive proposals, without waiting for administrative bodies to formulate plans and launch schemes. We have digitization on our side, which has been successfully tested during the covid lockdown. Let us put digitization and automation to optimal use within our varied capabilities and transform the unprecedented difficulties of the current times into pathways leading us further into the 21st century towards an ‘atmanirbhar Bharat’.

The author is director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

These are the author's personal views.

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