The progress of India as an economy over the past two decades has been well documented. GDP growth rates, however, are not an end in themselves; rather, they are the means through which a nation can strive to enable progressively better living standards for its people.
In fact, in this context, India has managed to cover considerable ground. Poverty levels declined sharply from 37.2% in 2004-2005 to 22% in 2011-2012. India’s growing middle class has been viewed as a boon by multinationals seeking high-growth opportunities. According to Deloitte, India will be home to the world’s largest middle class consumer market by 2030, with an aggregate spending of about US$ 13 trillion.
This notwithstanding, it is imperative to understand that India needs smart and timely interventions in a number of areas such as education, healthcare, financial inclusion, agricultural productivity and governance to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth. A critical factor, which favours India as it makes these interventions is the leverage potential of 21st century technology.
A case in point is the potential of mobility devices and improving Internet connectivity towards achieving development outcomes and integrating the masses into the mainstream. India has a wireless subscriber base of around 873.36 million (as of June 2013) and a projected smartphone user base of 382 million by 2016. With 367 million connections, India is expected to be the world’s second largest mobile broadband market by 2016.
The US$ 50 Aakash tablet, for instance, won widespread acclaim as the cheapest tablet globally. It is the basis of a massive project launched by the Government of India to connect 25,000 colleges and 400 universities of India in an e-learning programme. This programme can play a game-changing role in India’s progression as a knowledge superpower by providing universal access to quality education, and the government plans to provide the tablet to 2.2 million students in another 7-8 years.
Significantly, Aakash has also been made a part of a few pilot projects in American schools. A similar smart intervention that leverages technology for better governance is the government’s National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project, which aims to connect 250,000 villages using optical fibre networks, and is expected to be completed by 2015. Applications launched through the NOFN can greatly enhance the government’s ability to successfully implement schemes like NREGA and PDS, besides offering the potential for development of numerous useful applications in areas like healthcare, education, agriculture and commerce. As the project reaches completion stage, one can expect a greater contribution from the private sector towards this application ecosystem.
The progress made by India’s pharma industry has also been transformational in the arena of affordable healthcare. India was recognized by UNICEF’s Supply Annual Report as the largest global supplier of generics in 2012, and has been lauded for its efforts towards supplying life-saving medicines to developing countries at low costs. Indian pharma companies have successfully brought down the annual cost of HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa per patient from US$ 12,000 to less than US$ 400.
A critical factor that has enabled such timely interventions has been the development of a nurturing ecosystem for thriving partnerships between the government and the private sector. These interventions are expected to play a key role in driving inclusive development for India, and could also possibly serve as vital blueprints for achieving similar outcomes in other parts of the globe.
Image: Kishan S.S. runs in his school in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. REUTERS/Jagadeesh