Panel discussions

India in 2047: The Amazing Rise of a Modern Nation

Read Time:21 Minute
MMA-KAS with the support of Read Write Productions organised a discussion on the book “INDIA in 2047: The Amazing Rise of a Modern Nation” authored by CA V Pattabhi Ram and Dr Anbuthambi Bhojarajan, Head – Strategy & Partnerships – L&T Edutech.

Hon’ble Dr Justice Anita Sumanth

What struck me, as I read India in 2047, was that this book is a repository and a ready reckoner of dreams. We must identify those dreams that align with our sensibilities, gather our resources and make sure that they don’t remain just on paper; we must make them a reality. I would like to share a small anecdote which has its genesis in a couplet in the Upanishads. It has been elaborated in great detail in the seventh chapter of the Panchadasi by Vidyaranya.

The story goes like this. Ten men, during their travel, crossed a river and took a head count to ensure that all in the group had reached safely. The first man counts one to nine and then he says, “Oh my God, one of us is missing.” Each one of them counts and comes to the same conclusion. While they were all in a state of panic, a wise man comes along and asks, “What’s the problem?” They reply, “Look. We were ten to begin with and now one of us is missing.” He takes a quick count and says there are ten people. As they don’t agree, he suggests that one of them does a head count again. The person who counts again says, “See, we told you there are only nine.” The wise man turns his hand to the person counting and says, “Thou art the tenth man.”

This is vedantic, advaitic thought. What is its relevance here? This is a philosophy that is espoused by all Indic religions and faiths and some Abrahamic faiths as well. The authors of the book have touched on various areas of the economy that call for development—from technology to infrastructure; education to agriculture; and fitness to employment. There is one overriding feature that is necessary to catalyse and enable all those dreams. That feature is ‘us’ or ‘the individual.’ That individual or self must be one of unshakable integrity, full of empathy and fairness and conforming to a set of superior values and principles. It is the development of the self that is going to be critical to ensure that the other dreams happen.

Selling the concept of mediation to society

The institution of justice delivery is one of the elements which is critical to the development and maintenance of the society at an optimum level. I was elevated after practicing for about 22 years. I look at justice delivery as a service. With that elevation, my focus became more broad-based and I tend to look at the ills that plague the system and see what we can do to reduce them. Two of those would be the docket explosion and the inexplicable pendency of matters that we have today. The volume of cases pending before the courts is mind-boggling. One of the very effective remedies that one looks at as a countermeasure to that is alternate methods of dispute resolution, particularly mediation. There is a Mediation Bill on the anvil, and it is important for ensuring that disputes are resolved in an amicable fashion.

But as a concept, how do we sell mediation to society? We as a society look at litigation as a means to win fully, absolutely, unconditionally and without compromise. That is the anti-thesis of what mediation requires. Mediation is an effort which requires the parties in conflict to be able to sit across the table with a neutral negotiator and work out a remedy which would satisfy all of them, not just one of them. Each individual must rise to the occasion. This is the relevance of the vedanta story.

Many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and when we summon the will, they become inevitable. Let us summon that will. India and Bharat will converge into one unified, invincible, indivisible force.

Panel Discussion

Raghuvir Srinivasan: I would like to look back from 1947 to 2022 and separate it into three quadrants: 47-72, 72-97 and 97-22. In the first 25 years, we put man on the moon and explored the outer reaches of space. We invented the jet engine which could fly us across the world in hours. The next 25 years (72-97) saw the computer being put into mass commercial use. It has transformed people’s lives and economies. The quarter from 1997 to 2022 has been the most mind-blowing period. Who would have thought that the mobile phone would be invented and that it would take over our lives? It has ushered in a communication revolution. Who would have thought that software would become the driving force behind the development of every industry including medicine?

With the advent of battery storage, electric vehicles have threatened fossil fuels, which has till now been the uncrowned king. Could any of us imagine that something called WhatsApp would dominate our lives completely? Technology is driving everything and there’s nothing that can be done without a computer or a microchip. In the last few months, the shortage of chips has affected the output of everything from cars to computers and consumer durables to cell phones.

How do you see the financial services sector transforming itself to meet the challenges of the next two decades? How do you think that banking and insurance will evolve in the next two decades? 

Akhila Srinivasan: I come from the financial services industry and I have about 35 years of experience both in the financial services entities as well as insurance. According to me, we can increase our national income, national output and GDP growth by laying emphasis on non-corporate, small businesses of India. Banks and asset financing companies are into financing of big assets. The fact is, small businesses in India constitute 6 crore business units. 90% percent employment is created by this sector, which is also called the non-corporate sector or the unorganized sector. It contributes to 52% of the GDP of our country, whereas the so-called corporate sector contributes only 12% of the GDP. This humongous fact has been ignored for decades. About 46 crore people are employed in this sector, out of which 26 crores are self-employed. This sector includes micro, small units and traders. There is a body called the Confederation of All-India Traders’ Union and it has six crore traders as members and 20,000 State Associations all over India. About 60% of them are SC, ST and OBCs. But only 4% of their financial needs are met by the banks.

We have Banks, NBFCs, Regional/ Rural and Cooperative Banks. The way forward should be the creation of small business financing entities which are a little different from the traditional NBFCs. Banks will have to route their funds to NBFCs, who in turn will route it to Regional Cooperative Banks. The last mile deliverer will be the micro enterprises who can deliver funds to the marginalized trader who needs funds at reasonable rates of interest. Otherwise they land in the hands of the money lenders. South Korea and China have created something on these lines. Columnist Mr S Gurumurthy has been talking about a rainbow model of financing, because India is such a diverse country with diverse business enterprises, requiring diverse kinds of credit at very reasonable rates of interest.

The present government brought in Mudra. But in my opinion, Mudra is a reclassification of loans that were already given to the priority sector. Nothing new has been created. When the insurance industry opened up, IRDA was created as both a regulatory and development agency. Like IRDA, a small business financing agency should be created, which should focus on the development of finance to small traders of this country. By doing that, this sector will get a huge fillip and unimaginable growth can be achieved.

The government must solve the credit needs of small businesses. The rich easily get loans and even manage to get away not repaying them and escaping to other countries. It is the small man on the field who doesn’t have access to credit. My heart goes out to the millions of poor people in this country who are marginalized and whose villages have no access to roads, electricity, basic education and health care. But we always talk about urban India where the intelligent and educated elite have a say on the matters. India is a rural economy and an agrarian economy. 50% of the Indian population consists of women and out of that 48% live in rural India. If we keep those 48 percent of the rural India poor and illiterate, then India can never grow.

As development happens, there is a constant clash between development and environment. Very often, development takes precedence over environment. As India is rapidly industrialising, how can we ensure that environment doesn’t become a casualty? For instance, we need a second big airport for Chennai but the location chosen can displace many poor farmers who have cultivable lands. How do you draw the line between these two?

Unnikrishnan: The first and foremost thing that we need to look at is urbanisation. We are right now around 30%, and it is expected to become 45% by 2030. Urban planning is not one of our strengths and as a country, we need to recognize that. I’m happy that in the recent budget, a small amount has been set aside to work on urban planning. It’s a good step. Institutions, large organizations and architects need to work on that and come out with a good model on urban planning. There are already very good codes and standards on green / sustainable buildings. We see a lot of electrification of mobility with EVs coming in.

By 2070, India has committed to be carbon neutral. This has to be aligned to many sectors. The management practices must percolate down to the last person in the organizations. In Saint Gobain, we have an objective that by 2050, we will be carbon neutral. It doesn’t matter if we are in France, Germany, India, China or US. What we do in the next four to five years in our business, in our investments and technology will determine whether we will achieve that objective in 2050. Cities and States must put in the right policy framework and enable that. India as a country is still poor and we need development. There is no doubt on that. We have less than $2000 per capita income.

Can we have economic development without disturbing the environment? It is very much possible thanks to many countries that have done all the mistakes in the past. We can learn from them. China is now tightening on the environment norms. Not 30 years back. Their norms today are much tighter than what it is in Europe or US.

ESG is now widely spoken about as a big deal in organizations. It is nice to preach but we should also practise. In our Sriperumbudur factory, nine months of our operations are run from rainwater collected from the roof. We don’t take any water from the ground. We have over a lakh trees planted over there. We have enough roof and we have put solar modules to have renewable power. There are things that we can do at home and we should do that. Some of these will be a little costly to start with.

We need a lot of skilled people as we go forward to achieve our dreams—be it in technology, manufacturing or services. You come from an engineering background. What do you think we lack in terms of skilling? What do we need to do to take India forward in producing the right kind of engineers, architects and planners? 

Dr Gopalakrishnan: Education is a knowledge-based industry. We are not focusing on skills because it’s a kind of a pyramid. We have school education. When we go for higher education, there is a huge drop. After the higher education, people go for post-graduation and doctorate. At every level, there is a drop. There are two kinds of jobs—blue collar and white collar. There is a big competition for white-collar jobs than blue collar jobs. If you take engineering and compare it with the diploma, the diploma holders will get a placement easily because their focus is more on skilling and laboratory work. We must focus on activity-based learning; that is, learning by doing. The new National Education Policy 2020 talks a lot on this learning by doing and there is a chance for giving more importance for T type of learning. We call it as horizontal exposure and vertical expertise. That is missing now.

There are 43 subjects in engineering. If I get some 170 credits, I will be an engineer. Unfortunately, the deep dive in any one subject is missing. It is not about blaming. The faculty’s role, particularly during the Covid, changed a lot. We have realized that. Their role in future will be totally different.

So, in education, transformation is highly needed. Now it is all about imagineering. In technology, we first talked about IOT. Later, it became the Internet of Everything. Now, it is AIOT (artificial intelligence of things). For all these developments, content for teaching is available. To handle that content, faculty members should be enabled and for that, we need a lot of support from the industry. In the US and other developed countries, the education industry is governed by industries. Example: Stanford and the Silicon Valley. Training and placement is the buzzword everywhere. We talk about dream packages and super dream offers. But a skilling officer is missing. Students are not able to meet the expectations of the core industries, though IT industries can make up for this gap.

Apart from training and placement, we must also emphasise on students becoming entrepreneurs. To become an entrepreneur, money is not the only factor. More than that, students should be highly skilled. For that, a lot of incubators are needed. So more than making them employable, we must also make them employers, for which, again, skill-based education is highly demanded. Forget about 2047. Even after five years, we don’t know what changes will happen in the industry. We are discussing SpaceX and Hyperloop. We must incorporate all these in our syllabus. My submission to the government is that more number of autonomous institutions should come. That will make some difference. 

The greatest disruptor is technology and that’s also the foundation of everything as we go forward. Are we investing enough in research and development in India? We find that most of the scientists fly abroad and they do better than what they would do in India. What should we do to ensure that we become a hub of R&D and advancement in technology? 

Lakshmi Narayanan: There are many people in the past who thought about things that are making a difference now. Satyendranath Nath Bose, a famous scientist, talked about Boson, the fundamental particle that makes matter. He just theorised it. It was proven only a few years ago through experimentation. Likewise, Einstein dreamt of gravitational waves. That is being proven. Alan Turing in the 1950s talked about artificial intelligence. They evolved the test called Turing Test, which says, artificial intelligence would have arrived when you cannot make a difference between a person and a computer in logical, rational thinking and not emotional thinking. This was formulated in 1950 when computers were not popular at all. It is expected that by 2030, the Turing Test will be proved.

Homi Bhabha in our country talked about three-stage nuclear program. The third stage of thorium-based nuclear power is now underway. The fuel has been formulated and it’s undergoing tests. So there are many people who made predictions with good knowledge. They not really dreamt but had some fundamental knowledge and did a lot of research.

Coming to genetics, people said it would take many decades to do the entire human genome sequencing. Now it’s done. In 2002, it was predicted that brain mapping would be very difficult. Brain mapping will tell which part of the brain contributes to which kind of emotion, memory and intelligence. In the next four or five years, we will have an entire map of the brain, so much so that it is possible to replicate a human brain or simulate the human brain on a computer. We have heard of digital twins for machines. Very soon, we will have digital twins for individuals like us. Our personal identity will be in the digital form, which you can keep under lock, and key, as there’s so much of information that we use and leave in the net. The digital twin can track human habits. For example, if you’re regularly buying a particular type of toothpaste every 20 days, in future, your digital twin will take care of that. The challenge is that someone may create a deep fake.

Many of the new creations like the blockchain and cryptocurrency are all things that were created by people under 35. They have nothing to lose. They are fearless. They don’t carry any baggage. If we look into the future, we must take care of a few things. They always say that the purpose of an education system is to shift the burden of education to the individual. They have to take ownership and responsibility and learn. Digital learning is helping self-learning in the areas of critical thinking.

There are so many changes that are happening thanks to computing devices and the computing power that is at the hands of the people and the communication devices that are there. Nobody would have imagined about the Google Maps and the Google Earth. There are already about 6,000 satellites in space. This number is expected to increase to 1 million in the next 20 years. Companies are worrying about how to avoid collision of satellites and traffic jams. The US is preparing to put 5 million drones in space by 2027-2028. There is a system evolved by NASA that will give priority to the drones. It will have an ambulance zone and clear the way for medical emergency drones.

In such a scenario, we in India are in a very good place, going by just two or three data points. We are no longer a poor country, based on a study published by UNDP. They looked at 10 different parameters like nutrition, school going years, child mortality, sanitation, cooking fuel which adds to climate change, etc. They have said that from 2005 to 2015, 415 million people have come out of poverty in India.

The future is going to be better and faster. Computing power is going up so dramatically. The AI algorithms that people develop are doubling every three or four months. In another five years, the rest of our population can come out of poverty.

Regarding R&D investments, it is the highest in high growth industries. If we can find a way of storing energy for long periods of time, we would have cracked the climate change problem and it is possible. There are people who are using ice batteries that store usable energy. Apart from renewable energy, a lot of research is going on in the areas of space, aviation, computing and healthcare.

You talked about the unbanked—the financially excluded. Don’t we have microfinance companies that are doing this job pretty well?

Akhila Srinivasan: Given the size of the country and the underserved population in terms of credit, the number of microfinance entities are very, very less. There are both well-run and poorly-run microfinance institutions. Considering the population, the penetration that has to be achieved is really big. When formal credit is denied, people go to money lenders who charge very high interest rates. Reading history, we can see that during the period of Raja Raja Cholan who ruled in the south India, they had a system whereby the poorest of the poor would get access to credit at very less interest rates, because they wanted to preserve the dignity of the people. Water management was also at its peak at that time. We all talk about technology, advancement in education and so on. But I would also think that by 2047, are we going to be a happy people?

Talking about energy, a lot of money is being put into solar. Wind power has been there for many years. Do you really see these renewable sources replacing fossil fuel anytime in the future? What do you have to say about the hypocrisy that we are witnessing in the west? When they are in a crisis, they throw away their climate goals and go back to reopening of closed nuclear and coal-fired plants, because gas is not available.

Unnikrishnan: Countries are a replica of human beings. We behave in one way when we are in a comfortable situation and very differently when we are under stress. Regarding renewables, I think the stars are aligned for India. We have a lot of sun. Our overall installed capacity in India is less than 50 GW. This is nothing compared to our objective of 300 GW by 2030. This industry has caught the imagination of different stakeholders starting from the government to investors to everybody. Thanks to certain right investments and policies, the market has discovered a good price level. Today, a viable solar renewable power can be obtained under 4 rupees per unit.

By 2026, 100 percentage of the electricity that we use in our manufacturing facility which runs into many megawatts will be renewable. We are already in that path and we have now reached 40%. So for a country too, it’s very much possible and also a necessity. Thanks to renewables, the energy is closer to the users and this overcomes distribution problems. Also, on hydrogen, it is good that India has identified it as a key source of energy.

We have three issues: affordability, security and economic impact. We spend Rs.6 lakh crores on importing energy. Big businesses are investing large amounts of money on R&D in usage of hydrogen as a fuel. One challenge here is transportation because of the explosive nature of hydrogen. It is an opportunity as well. We are working on converting some of our manufacturing plants to use hydrogen. It is not easy though and it requires decades of work.

When we look at universities in the US, the linkages with industry are very strong and mutually beneficial, whereas in India we don’t see that happening. Is that a reason why we are churning out graduates who are unemployable and who need further training? How do we change this? 

Earlier we were talking about employability. Now, it is about deployability. Our faculty should go to the industry. We call it as sabbaticals. It may be for a week, a month or six months. We have a scheme called—‘one faculty, one industry.’ The faculty should have contact with the industry. We have more than 25,000 alumina working in different industries who can be approached. We also make internship as mandatory for six to eight weeks. In a year or a semester, students should have at least 40 hours of industrial relevance. Third, to make the students industry ready, we must bring the industry culture to the institution. We can set up a Center of Excellence. People with industry experience can join our faculty as adjunct faculties. They can be on the board of educational institutions. And finally, earlier we were talking about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. Now it is going to be trans-disciplinary. You should have the flavour of industry in the institution for that. The faculty should be highly connected with the industry and collaboration should happen.

Will technology lead to displacement of jobs?

Lakshmi Narayanan: It may destroy jobs but it will create new jobs too. In the last 25 years, formal employment in the country has not reduced at all. If anything, it has increased and unemployment has come down, both due to the growth in the new opportunities as well as informal sectors moving to formal sector, etc. So the myth that automation will increase unemployment is long forgotten. Even the trade unions don’t buy that argument anymore.

The demand for skills is the challenge. Because of open innovation, if I innovate something today anywhere in the world, it becomes available to the rest of the world at that same moment for them to exploit. That’s the level of collaboration that’s happening. It is one of the reasons why millions of people are coming out of poverty. Globalization means free flow of capital, ideas and people. As long as we have globalisation, free trade and entrepreneurship, we don’t need to worry about employment.