The 2014 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outlined how innovation, research and technology can transform India into a superpower by empowering, connecting and binding all stakeholders.
The decisive mandate given to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, in the general election marked a paradigm shift in the Indian political landscape; the people of India reposed their complete faith in Prime Minister Modi and his team.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley and his team must be complimented for taking forward the visionary BJP manifesto and turning it into actionable budget proposals, and also for setting the direction towards building a “Digital India” where innovation, research and technology will play a major role.
Rural broadband and e-highways
A pan-India programme called “Digital India” has been proposed in the 2014 budget to bridge the divide between digital “haves” and “have-nots”. This would ensure broadband connectivity at the village level, improved access to services through information technology (IT)-enabled platforms, greater transparency in government processes, consumption of local content and a host of other services. The railway budget proposed providing Wi-Fi connectivity at train stations, on premium trains and “Office on Wheels”.
An ambitious plan to integrate all government departments through an e-platform will create a business- and investor-friendly ecosystem in India, by making all business- and investment-related clearances and compliances available on a single 24×7 portal, with an integrated payment gateway.
An ecosystem for innovation: from ‘Sell in India’ to ‘Made in India’
India, since the beginning of civilization, has been a leader in science and technology. Lack of a favourable ecosystem for spurring innovation, however, has dented its position post-independence.
Today, India produces only around 2% of IT products that it consumes. This is having an adverse impact on its economy. The need of the hour is to make India an innovation-driven manufacturing hub from a consumption market, by creating an enabling ecosystem for nurturing product start-ups. Entrepreneurship needs to become part of the national culture instead of being the success story of a few.
The new government has recognized the need to create an ecosystem for fundamental research and innovation for India to become a global manufacturing giant with specific programmes for small entrepreneurs, start-up villages and incubation centres. The nationwide district-level incubation and accelerator programme can promote frugal innovation ground-up.
Special focus on software product industry
IT services will remain important for economic growth, but India needs new growth drivers as well. Global Indians educated in Indian universities, in Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management have used foreign soil to make inventions and innovations that have benefited the world.
With the right impetus, it is quite possible to create the next Google, Facebook, WhatsApp out of India. The budget makes a big start by launching a fund for promoting product-led start-ups, a much desired innovation in the thinking of the government.
E-Healthcare and e-Education
Much of real India, Bharat, still lives in villages. Unfortunately, the past government’s average spending on healthcare and education was just 1% and 3%, respectively, of gross domestic product. As a result, basic health and education infrastructure is in bad shape.
The budget does a great job in recognizing the enormous opportunity that lies in improving healthcare and basic education access by using IT. Use of telemedicine, virtual classrooms, open online courses and e-education can be the kick-starter to achieve size and scale to improve the primary healthcare network and basic education standards.
Content localization and digitization
India has more Internet users than English language speakers; as a result, regional language keyboards are vital for deeper Internet penetration. Local language content needs to get digitized. China has already successfully developed and standardized local language keyboards.
Government can help by providing the standard templates for every language that can then be commercialized by using the public-private partnership model.
Now it’s time to deliver.
Technology, needless to say, will play an important role in effective delivery of services, monitoring performance, managing projects and improving governance.
An Integrated Office of Innovation and Technology to achieve the same, and for problem solving, sharing applications and knowledge management will be the key to rapid results, given that most departments work in their own silos. Tracking and managing the projects assume significance because India has been busy spending money in buying technology that it has not used effectively or in some cases not even reached implementation stage. Sharing knowledge and best practices across departments need to be driven by this Office of Technology.
India needs interventions across sectors to become a global knowledge hub by 2022. The Prime Minister is a very technology-savvy leader and the country looks forward to his leadership to drive this next phase of revolution in innovation and technology with a renewed vision and vigour.
This article first appeared in LiveMint