Mitigating the impact of pollution and congestion in our cities; enabling financial inclusion and encouraging innovation are essential to enable India to realise its ambitions. And tech companies can be the catalyst for all three.
Budget 2018 stood out for me on a few fronts. We saw the first big step being taken towards universal health coverage. There was acknowledgment and action aimed at improving farmer incomes. And there was a sense of re-committing to the task of banking the unbanked. All of this is critical if India is to achieve what the Prime Minister articulated at Davos—making the country a $5 trillion economy by 2025. This means India will have to nearly double its GDP in eight years. The task then is clearly cut out. For India to realise its potential and actualise the GDP growth it yearns for, three sets of interventions, all of which fall within the larger framework of the themes outlined above are a must. These are mitigating the impact of pollution and congestion on our cities; enabling financial inclusion and encouraging innovation.
Mitigating the impact of pollution and congestion on our cities
Since liberalisation, India has seen rapid urbanisation, further fuelled by rural migration to urban areas. Expansion of cities—some planned, some not as much —has led to congestion and pollution. To help save our cities, it is important to reimagine urban spaces through better traffic management, urban planning and innovation in transportation. That the government is thinking on these lines is evident from its allocation of `2.04 lakh crore for the 99 cities selected under the Smart Cities Mission. Ridesharing technologies can play an enabling role to quicken the pace on this. Studies show that a shared car has the potential to take between 9 to 13 cars off the road. Encouraging more people in fewer cars can help cut congestion, bring down the need of private car ownership and create flexible income opportunities. All of this means, you won’t always sit in a world that looks like a moving parking lot and breathes like a gas chamber.
Enabling financial inclusion and access to economic opportunities
We have also seen a sustained effort from this government to bring the previously unbanked population of India into the banking mainstream. Direct transfer of subsidy and benefits and making digital payments (UPI & BHIM) accessible have been the key drivers. But to make this truly sustainable, financial inclusion must go hand-in-hand with economic opportunities. The outlays for improvements in telecom infrastructure and provision of 5 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots in rural areas is therefore a welcome step. The thrust on the MSME sector by reducing barriers to entry and allotting `3794 crore for lending in FY19 will also help boost entrepreneurship opportunities. Building a nation of “job creators instead of job seekers” as the guiding principle will help us all to positively utilise our demographic dividend.
Innovation over protectionism
In what can be termed his boldest reference yet, the Prime Minister cautioned global leaders at Davos against growing protectionist voices. There was further reaffirmation of India being open to business as he hosted heads of 10 ASEAN states during the Republic Day celebrations. But the job of attracting capital is not limited to the central government. India’s states will have to play their role as well. There is a clear case for competitive federalism in attracting businesses, generating hundreds of thousands of economic opportunities and creating hotspots for innovation.
The finance minister demonstrated this government’s keenness to embrace technology and innovation when the Budget signalled the introduction of blockchain technology in government activities and an interest in artificial intelligence. When states begin to simplify archaic rules and draft forward-looking policies that can encourage the next cycle of innovations, talent and technology can prosper.
At the federal level, this will mean clearing the ambiguity around pending legislations. For instance, the recent ordinance closing the loop on wilful defaulters under the insolvency and bankruptcy law constitutes a paradigm shift and is already rebuilding faith in corporate affairs management. Clearing other crucial bills in the pipeline including the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016 can ensure a heightened emphasis on road safety and a timely recognition of the ridesharing industry.
As the Prime Minister has said, it is time that businesses stop and ask the question —what is it that they can do for India. Technology companies are probably best placed to answer this. Given the unique and diverse demands of India, innovations for India have the potential to be replicated and scaled across the globe.
By Amit Jain
The writer is president, Uber India and South Asia