What can keep Digital India rolling? Amazon's Amit Agarwal wants stable policies

India needs to fix skills gap; there's a need for partnerships between industry-government-academia as well as a focus on education and science, says Agarwal

Amit Agarwal, Senior Vice President, Amazon Amit Agarwal, Senior Vice President, Amazon

India's digital economy appears to be on a role -- the start-up ecosystem is buzzing with nearly 30 unicorns or companies with over a billion dollars in valuation. There are reforms such as GST and payment innovations like UPI. The fibre-to-the-home connection through BharatNet is expected to link 100,000 gram panchayats this year. While there is lot of clarity of vision and purpose in Digital India, the success, thus far, cannot be taken for granted, Amit Agarwal, Senior Vice President of Amazon and Country Manager India, warned. He was speaking IAMAI's India Digital Summit in Delhi on Wednesday.

Agarwal pointed to five issues India got to fix to ensure that the digital applecart keeps rolling.

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First, the country needs to fix the skills gap, he said. There is a need for partnerships between industry-government-academia as well as a focus on education and science. The road to jobs, particularly better paying jobs, runs through better skills. In the Budget, the government proposed to provide about Rs 99,300 crore for the education sector in 2020-21 and about Rs 3,000 crore for skill development. One could argue if that is enough.

Second, India needs a focus on grassroots entrepreneurship, Agarwal said. "They are ready to blossom. The small businesses are adaptive. They need to be empowered with the right tools," he added.  India has a much lower level of formal entrepreneurship on a per-capita basis when compared to other countries. Entrepreneurship is particularly missing in India's districts. This has a significant bearing on both wealth creation and jobs. The Economic Survey 2019-2020 pushes for privatisation of education, more flexible labour regulation, as well as better connectivity to villages to fast-track entrepreneurship at the bottom of the administrative pyramid.

Agarwal also pointed to women's low participation in the workforce, which impacts the country's GDP. The Economic Survey underlined that while women account for almost half of India's population, their participation in the labour market is almost one-third as well as declining. There is a need to drive equal opportunity programmes.

The fourth area to concentrate on is Artificial Intelligence (AI), Agarwal highlighted. Removing human judgement in many processes can bring in efficiency. AI is also a great lever to solve problems at scale.

His last point had to do with India's policies and one that every investor and entrepreneur demands - the country needs stable policies to attract long-term and large investments. The government's focus, Agarwal hinted, should be on removing frictions and not on controlling or monitoring innovation. "Let the magic happen," he said.

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