When India got its freedom in 1947, it was an amalgamation of more than 550 princely states and thousands of zamindari estates covering 40 per cent of the land area and 23 per cent of the population. Today, India, after 75 years of freedom, has come a long way.
Over the past seven decades, India has seen several ups and downs. Today with a $3.17-trillion economy, India is the fifth-largest economy in the world. This has been a remarkable journey. Just about one Indian out of five was literate in 1950. Today, the literacy rate is close to 80 per cent. There are over 1,000 universities imparting quality education. Improvement in the healthcare ecosystem has resulted in the average life expectancy of males to increase from 37 years in 1951 to 68 years today. For females the improvement has been even better—from 36 years to 70 years. Infant mortality rate has dropped from 140 at the time of independence to 30 in 2019. It gives a sense of pride of what we have accomplished as a nation in the past 75 years. In technology-intensive areas like space and nuclear programmes we have made significant headway and are counted amongst the leading nations. The economy has transformed itself from a closed agrarian economy to an open economy led by services.
However, the development has not always been uniform. There is still a wide gap in the economic prosperity of the states with the per capita income ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 4 lakh. The literacy rate also varies from 62 per cent to 94 per cent. Access to basic amenities like water, electricity, education and healthcare continues to be a challenge for many districts in parts of the country. While continued focus by the government and investment by the private sector has resulted in India becoming a hub for IT services, we are still not perceived as technologically oriented and innovative across a larger spectrum of industries.
India today is at an inflexion point from where we can accelerate our development and leadership journey significantly. Geopolitical events have resulted in India becoming a country of choice for multinationals looking at de-risking their supply chain. In this decade we will surpass China as the most populous nation. India has a demographic dividend window of the next 10-15 years with 1 million people being added to the workforce every month. India also has an advantage of lower wage rates. The government’s focus on strengthening the manufacturing sector through the PLI schemes and ‘AatmaNirbharBharat’ is a step in the right direction. Investment in manufacturing yields the best returns for an economy as every rupee invested generates Rs 1.35 in indirect economic activity. Manufacturing also provides employment over a broad spectrum of skill levels.
Yesterday was difficult, today is better. However, tomorrow should be the India of our dreams. If we were to envision the India of 2047, we would see ourselves as the second-largest economy in the world. India would be an upper-middle income country with per capita GDP of more than $12,000. The states in the eastern part of the country would play a significant role in this growth journey. Basic amenities should be guaranteed to everyone. No one should go to sleep hungry. No life should be lost because of lack of access to or affordability of healthcare. The quality of life should see a significant uplift with India being ranked at par with the global best on key human development indices like happiness, life expectancy and access to education. This will need more public-private-partnerships in health and education to touch all segments of society materially. The India of 2047 should be a leading voice and thought leader in the global arena and play a significant role in shaping the geopolitical order.
For India to achieve the goal of being a developed nation, we need to harness the full potential of our current demographic dividend. Today, India’s gross enrollment ratio in higher secondary education is around 50 per cent. It means we are only unleashing half the potential of our youth; the other half is not being skilled through formal education. This needs to change significantly. Mere efficient utilisation of natural resources through cheap labour will not be sufficient. Pioneering a knowledge economy—a system of consumption and production that is based on intellectual capital—is the need for a better tomorrow. The knowledge economy can be a huge enabler going forward to drive growth.
The economy of 2047 would be more balanced with a higher share of manufacturing. India should have attained leadership in key segments like renewable energy, electronics, chemicals, textiles, automotive and pharmaceuticals. India should lead the way through a focus on high quality and application of cutting-edge technology and design. While we think of national-level goals and enablers, it is also important for the mining and metals industry to achieve its true potential. The steel industry in India today largely caters to the growing domestic market. Despite having the key raw materials required for steelmaking, we are not one of the top exporters of steel and related downstream products. China, Japan and South Korea are the top exporters of steel globally despite having raw material disadvantages. This is an opportunity which we could capitalise on. We need to also work towards breakthroughs in sustainability practices. We have an opportunity to not only grow but to lead the green transition.
We have had some unique challenges throughout our history but have always overcome them and thrived. We have displayed unparalleled tenacity and resilience. We have done this consistently despite our incredible diversity of culture, language and geography. In fact, these have been our strengths and there is a bond of “Indianness” that binds us together. We have exhibited this for the past 75 years with success, and we will continue to do so. A vibrant democracy is what makes India. This is what will build the India we wish to see at 100.
The writer is CEO and Managing Director of Tata Steel
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