Monday, June 2, 2014

Some Reasons Why India Keeps a Slower Pace in Technological Development!

Yesterday I was listening to a TV interview of one well known political personality who is now a new cabinet minister of the Modi government. He is now holding three important portfolios, namely, the media and broadcasting, environment and parliamentary affairs. 

The minister seemed to be very clear about his future priorities especially with regard to his agendas regarding the government owned radio and TV and also with regard to environmental clearances to various projects. Unlike his predecessors, his concepts seemed to be unambiguous and straight forward. I think that is indeed a good sign  for India.

But growth and development of a nation cannot take place only by having some improvements in some areas only. Of course, the vision and determination of the political leadership of the government is of prime importance, that alone cannot bring about much desired results quickly. A wholesome integrated approach is necessary.

For example, a good driver alone cannot make the vehicle to run smoothly. The vehicle needs all its hardware in perfect order done by a competent mechanic wholeheartedly. It also needs good quality fuel and other consumables. And finally, the vehicle, its mechanic and its good driver are of no use, if there is no one who wants to use and take advantage of all these.

For that wholesome approach for bringing the nation to top gear, it is necessary that we know all the inherent problems and the root causes that hinder our efforts for achieving progress.

Being associated with the Indian industry for more than three decades, I have experienced the effect of many inherent problems that cause our nation to limp and lag in progress as compared to the developed nations.

In any system where supply of any goods or services are scarce, a few persons could subvert the systems with unfair means for their advantage while making the nation as a whole to much disadvantage. This fundamental has to be understood while we venture in to any activity to make improvements. In such a situation, we may observe spectacular growth and development in isolation while also observing pathetic situations elsewhere. The overall situation is high imbalance resulting in an average that is not so enviable.

Let me elaborate a few examples where Indian planning has gone wrong.

Education is one field. While allowing the private players to set up top class education facilities, we neglected the existing public owned educational facilities in both urban and rural areas. This deprived the underprivileged class to slip and fall back to a situation worse than that had been existing. India failed to improve its literacy levels any where near to many other nations.

Without analyzing the real employability potentials, Indian planners have allowed mushrooming of thousands of higher education institutions offering engineering education. While doing this, they forgot the necessity to allow equivalent training and development of skilled man power various engineering trades. While engineering graduates, post graduates and PhDs increased in enormous numbers, the Indian industry felt the acute shortage of skilled masons, surveyors, electricians, welders, plumbers, mechanics, riggers, turners, machine operators, engineering field supervisors, draftsmen and the like. 

As a result, most of the Indian engineers lost the opportunity to practice what they learnt. India as a whole could not develop enough opportunities to employ all these young engineers who pass out from these engineering colleges by spending huge sums as fees with high personal efforts to learn the various engineering topics. The talent waste that has been happening in this area has become a matter of unconcern as many fresh engineers kept getting employment in unrelated areas such as banking, IT and IT enabled services, marketing, market research, etc. What the employers look for seems to be their comparatively better IQs rather than the engineering fundamentals that they have painstakingly learnt!

With this kind of a situation comes another problem. The engineering faculties keep losing their real interest in teaching engineering subjects as they realize that their bright students may not be pursuing their careers in the engineering field. Again, as the people keep realizing the real situation, the demand for engineering learning slows down.

With the best talented Indians no more get opportunities to practice engineering and technology related jobs in their home country while advanced technological innovations keep happening routinely elsewhere, India would keep maintaining its status at the most  as a technology user rather than a technology inventor. The nations which supply technology to India keep doing it for a high price! India would move to 2G and 3G technologies, when other nations move to 4G and 5G. Effectively, India would never ever overtake any nation in technology even while its leading citizens wish otherwise!

What really keep India going is its vast natural resources- its people, its minerals and its fertile lands. But without enough technological self sufficiency, India would be forced to discount its wealth for higher margin technology which it has failed to master of its own.

What are the areas where India is lacking in skills? I think the following areas in this context:

- Equipment design and engineering
- Equipment manufacturing
- Machine tools manufacturing
- Mining, mineral exploration and processing
- Production of special alloys and materials of construction
- Aviation equipment , avionics and spares
- Computer chips and hardware
- Electronics and communication
- Advanced construction technology
- High speed rail rolling stock
- Medical engineering equipment and diagnostic equipment
- Precision machine tools and equipment
- High resolution optical glass and equipment
- Energy conversion and production equipment
- Fuel cells and bio fuels
- Waste recycling and reuse
- Water and waste water technology and engineering
- Alternate building materials and low cost housing
- Innovations and inventions
- Fundamental and Industrial research
- Food production, processing, storage and distribution
- Technology for rural production and development
- Health care
- Education and employment generation
- Practical and innovative management
- Effective organizational management
- Town and city planning and management
- Sports and recreation
- Travel and tourism

You might add many more. It is not that in all these areas India has not achieved any thing. But the point I want to make is this: India is not a market leader in any of these areas! India remains an average performer.

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. Unfortunately, opportunities do not get converted to comparable benefits in India.

For example, India has a huge demand for rail transport for both passengers and goods. But Indian railways keep lagging behind to en-cash this great market opportunity to the advantage of the service provider and the users.

India's need for electricity is growing in geometric proportions. But India is lagging behind in implementing its energy fulfillment plans.

India has tremendous potential for business by equipment and plant suppliers specializing in pollution control water and waste water treatment and engineering, etc.But such companies do not have the confidence to enhance their business organizations with more people because their potential customers do not have the requisite level of understanding to realize the benefits of such technologies.

Indian political and bureaucratic leaders keep dilly dallying with decision making, especially when some aspects of it is a matter of some commercial advantage to some private players. This is because, India does not have proper systems to evaluate project proposals with regard to their commercial potentials coupled with the lack of guidelines on profiteering. 

Indian contracting and public purchase procedures are too complex and difficult to adjudicate or arbitrate. This is because of the lack of knowledge and competency of the people who draft and interpret such documents.

There are many contradictory laws in India. There are also many areas where there is an absence of any law. Both are not conducive for development as it gives enough opportunity for nuisance creators to take the shelter of law to create irreparable damage to both public and private investments.

Land reforms is another area of concern.

Conflicting interest among various governments and government departments create another major problem coupled with the perceived scare the decision makers have on various kinds of inquiries that might give them sleepless nights some time in the future. This forces many in the bureaucratic and technocratic chains to adopt safe actions to 'pass on the ball' ( passing the files with irrelevant suggestions and opinions to unconcerned authorities) indefinitely. Irresponsible or technically not-so-capable watch dog agency authorities could make the situation worse.

Environmental regulation is another area which make things much more complicated. Some people when posted to the regulators become so biased and over reactive that they start behaving as if every action is environment unfriendly. The Indian media is known to make things worse by irresponsible reporting of the issues involved.

One example which come to my mind is the 'environmental controversy' centering the western ghat areas of Kerala in the inhabited areas around Munnar. The over enthusiastic environmental scientists of the country preferred to keep these areas out of bounds to human habitation by disallowing any commercial development in these lands owned by people living in those areas for decades. These areas are not prone to environmental hazards such as the high mountain regions of northern Uttarpradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal or Jammu and Kashmir. Yet for some, the environmental issues could well become useful tools to banish some regions from the rest in some convenient manner as they deem fit. Here, science and technology become biased and lose their rational outlook and reliability.

Division of power among the union and states according to the Constitution in a fractured Indian society is another thing which causes developmental imbalances. To offset this, the nature of Indian bureaucracy needs overhauling

There are many such issues which need to be addressed in India. It is difficult but not impossible. If the head of state wants it to happen, it would definitely happen.

That is what a good majority of people of India are now hoping. They earnestly hope that Mr Narendra Modi has the will and capacity to do it!

What do you think?

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