Vision or Reality? The Choice is Ours

Vision or Reality? The Choice is Ours


Envisioning India's future 20 years hence is a daunting task in this uncertain world "where one knows not even the step in front," as Sri Aurobindo described our blindness concerning the future. In 1980 who could have foreseen that the Berlin Wall would fall, the Cold War end and the USSR disappear within a decade? What visionary could have imagined the sudden emergence and explosive growth of the Internet 15 years later? Who could conceive that India, whose software exports were just a few million dollars at the time, would emerge as a software superpower by 2000? Looking beyond the obvious and immediate to grasp the nation's greater possibilities is the challenge which the Planning Commission took up in formulating its Vision 2020 report.

There has been significant praise and some scorn for the Vision 2020 report since its release on January 23rd, but most of the commentary is quite superficial and overlooks its central purpose and most vital content. This report is neither a prediction of what will happen or a comprehensive package of remedies for present ills. It is an attempt to identify the most promising opportunities and pressing challenges which the country will face over the next two decades. It endeavours to indicate the magnitude of the potential for accelerating India's development, provided it fully utilizes these opportunities and boldly addresses these challenges.

The report poses and answers questions which should be of interest to every thinking Indian: How fast and how far can India develop over the next 20 years? Will the country be able to produce sufficient food to feed a still expanding population? Will there be sufficient employment opportunities for tomorrow's youth? Apart from the software export potential, how can India's strengths in information technology be leveraged for more rapid development within the country? What will be the impact of development on the country's energy consumption and dependence on imported fuels? How will tomorrow's cities manage the ever increasing motor vehicle traffic? What changes will occur with regard to politics and governance? How can India enhance its security against external and internal threats?

This is no fatalistic report that claims to have all the right answers to these questions. It aims to foster constructive and informed debate on these important issues. Indeed, there can be no ‘right' answers, only more or less thoughtful and analytic approaches to understanding the factors and forces that will determine the eventual outcomes. The central message of the report is that these outcomes are not a question of fate at all, but of the choices that we make now and in future. Its argues that India as a nation has the power, if it has the will, to determine its own future. It acknowledges that the country confronts some formidable challenges, but refutes the notion that it is helpless or incapable of overcoming them.

The report breaks with a coveted myth about the role of money in development. Too often planning consists of drawing up a wish list of desirable projects and then comparing it with available financial resources. Vision 2020 comes to the startling and insightful conviction that "financial (capital) resources will not be the key factor that decides the course of our future progress. If we fail, it will be mainly for want of a vision of what is possible, knowledge of how to realize it, belief in ourselves, commitment to achieve, will for the effort or skill in implementation - not for lack of finance."

Will India be able to sustain or exceed the six percent growth rates achieved during the 1990s? The report concludes that growth rates of eight or nine percent, which China achieved over the past 20 years, are definitely within reach. It notes the increasingly important role being played by non-material, knowledge-based resources in the development process-information, technology, organizational expertise, education and productive skills. If properly harnessed, these catalytic factors, which are more readily available and accessible than in the past, will enable India to develop faster than ever before, making possible a quadrupling of per capita GDP by 2020.

Will population growth add significantly to the already heavy burden of feeding and educating an ever-expanding population? The report concludes that twenty years hence the people of India will be better fed and educated, healthier and more prosperous than at any other time in the country's long history. Total population will expand by another 30 percent during this period, mainly due to the large number of young people entering reproductive age. But rapidly falling fertility rates, at least in the southern states, are already approaching the level needed to ensure zero population growth in the long run. The size of the under 15 years age group will remain constant, reducing pressure on expansion of the educational system. The elderly population will increase due to longer life expectancy, requiring improved means of providing for the aged.

Will India be able to produce sufficient food for its growing population? Rising farm productivity will not only produce sufficient food to feed all India, but also generate significant surplus capacity to make India a major exporter of farm produce. At that same time, providing food security for all will depend on the capacity of people to purchase it. Here, argues the report, lies the most critical challenge before the nation in the next 20 years - to generate sufficient employment opportunities for its growing population.

Education and employment are the two central pillars on which the Vision strategy is built. The report calls for a massive effort to rapidly upgrade the nation's formal system of education to encompass the large percentage of youth who drop out of the present system and to raise the quality of general education to international standards. Quantitatively, the report sets the goal of achieving 100% enrolment of all students in the 6 to 14 year age group. Qualitatively it calls for a shift from rote memorization and passive learning to methods that foster children's capacity for critical thinking and the ability to learn on their own. The report advocates the use of computers as a means to accelerate learning at all levels and proposes a radical revamping of higher education, fully utilizing the capacity of computers and the Internet to delivery top quality, higher education to all youth that aspire for it. To be continued.

Vision 2020 part 2

Full Employment: Challenge & Response

The most significant contribution of the Vision 2020 Report is on the question of employment. No challenge looms so great in the minds of Indian planners as that of creating sufficient job opportunities for all job seekers. The numbers are indeed formidable. India's labour force is expected to grow by an additional 160-170 million persons by 2020. Added to the present estimate of 35 million unemployed, this means that in order to achieve full employment the country needs to generate approximately 200 million additional employment opportunities over the next 20 years.

Huge as they are, it is not the numbers that make this challenge seem so formidable. It is, rather, the widely held misconception that employment growth is the result of forces over which society has at best very limited control. It is the sense of helplessness that makes the challenge seem so daunting.

The report refuses to be distracted by a numbers game. Rather it insists on starting with the question, "How important is it to us as a nation to create employment opportunities for all?" Then itself gives the answer: "It is extremely important. It is as important to create job opportunities for all citizens in a market economy as it is to provide universal suffrage to all adults in democracy. Access to employment is an essential component of freedom of economic choice. It argues that the question of employment is so vital, that India's vision for 2020 must be founded on the premise of gainful Jobs for All. Access to employment should not only be a top priority of the government but a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human right."

But, every reader will ask, is it possible to achieve such an ambitious goal in the framework of a non-subsidised, market economy? Here the report reminds us of a nearly forgotten fact that the type of economy India builds over the next few decades will be the result of choices the country makes, not some irreversible logic of economic science. It then goes on to highlight some of those choices and the opportunities for stimulating job creation on a far larger scale than previously recognized.

First, it argues, we need to shift emphasis away the public and private organized sector to as a source of employment. Together they provide only 7.5 percent of total jobs. The private organized sector which is the principle beneficiary of free market policies constitutes only 2.5 percent. Even if this sector grows by 30 percent per annum, it can contribute only a few percent to total job growth.

In contrast, international comparisons reveal that small and medium industries (SMEs) create the majority of jobs in almost all countries. In the USA, nearly half of the private workforce is employed in small firms, of which 60% have less than five employees. In Japan 78 percent of jobs and in Korea 69 percent of jobs are in SMEs. Policies need to be modified to level the playing field, improve availability of credit, increase productivity, and enhance competitiveness of this sector. Employment in registered small industries, which has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, could generate an additional 36 million jobs by 2020.

Despite achieving surplus food production capacity, agriculture can continue to be an important engine of economic growth and job creation. Watershed development, expansion of irrigated cultivation, and diversification into cash crops, especially vegetables and horticulture crops, could generate upwards of 20 to 30 million new on-farm employment opportunities within a decade. Development of India's degraded forest lands could generate 10 to 15 million additional jobs within five years.

India's energy consumption is expected to triple by 2020. This rising demand can be converted into a major stimulus to job growth and a lucrative market for the country's farm sector, while reducing India's dependence on imported fuels. Conversion of degraded wastelands into energy plantations for biomass power production and bio-fuels such as jathropa could generate 30 million year-round job opportunities while producing 100,000 MW of farm-based power. Coupled with aggressive development of ethanol-based fuel oils from sugarcane and less water-intensive sources such as sugar beet, maize and tapioca, could dramatically reduce dependence on imported fuel oils.

By far the greatest potential for job creation lies in the service sector. Rapid growth is possible in a wide range of services including computer-related research and development, IT-enabled services, financial services, real estate, advertising, printing and packaging, sales and marketing, retail and wholesale distribution, transport and telecommunications, audio-visual, engineering and construction, all levels and types of education, health care and medical research, entertainment, recreation, travel and tourism. Reducing drop-out rates and raising the quality of education will require an additional four million teachers. Tourism alone could generate more than 20 million additional jobs within a decade.

But creating job opportunities is not sufficient to ensuring full employment. Equally important is developing a workforce with adequate employable skills. In fact, it may be more accurate to say that if India can provide the range and quality of employable skills required for the nation's growth, that will be sufficient to create the necessary jobs. Here past performance has been poor. Only 5 percent of India's labour force in the 20-24 year age group have undergone formal vocational training, compared with 28 percent in Mexico and 96 percent in Korea.

Although India has over 4200 industrial training institutes, which together with other vocational training programmes, cover 17 lakh persons per annum, this is still far from adequate to meet the nation's need. Rapid changes in the nature of vocational skills together with the huge number of young job seekers demand new approaches. Here the report sets forth a comprehensive strategy that includes a large role for the private sector and for alternative means of instruction, especially TV and computerized vocational training. It proposes a nationwide network of 50,000 computerised vocational centres run as private, self-employed businesses similar to STD booths and Internet cafes that can deliver low-cost, high quality training to 10 million workers every year on a wide range of job-related skills. To be continued.

Vision 2020 part 3

Realising the Vision: Launching a National Prosperity Movement


The Vision 2020 report paints an inspiring vision of India, but can it be realized? A vision that originates in the truth of things achieves more than it has envisioned. What then is the truth on which our vision of India in 2020 should be founded?

An achievement of this magnitude cannot be based on imitation of economically advanced nations or even by emulation. Such an approach over the past 55 years has only led to a slavish, uncreative mentality, rather than a mentality capable of original thinking and initiative.

Nor can it be realised by a sense of dependence on foreign aid or even foreign capital. The accomplishments of a nation depend on its social will. Social will issues out of self-esteem and self-confidence. How can a nation occupying the 134th rank on the Human Development Index have self-esteem? How can a nation that seeks foreign aid have self-confidence? Freedom means self-reliance, not dependence on foreign aid. Foreign aid tends to undermine a nation's self-reliance, except when given in the form of training and technical assistance.

Nor can such rapid and dramatic progress be achieved by reliance on the initiative of government. No government can develop a nation. A nation's progress depends on the people's awareness of their latent capacities, the strength of their aspiration for higher accomplishment, the intensity of the energy they are able to release into innovative, their capacity to organize for constructive action, and the quality of their productive skills. Government policies and programmes have a role to play in removing obstacles, providing essential infrastructure and encouraging pioneering initiatives. But government initiative can never be a substitute for private action. Government can at best act as a spearhead, catalyst and facilitator of the development process. The prime mover must be the people. All that the government needs to do is to provide the infrastructure -- roads, storage, refrigerated vehicles, information, etc. -- so that energy released by the people can be organised into material results. A popular movement for national prosperity will do the rest. The secret of Prosperity lies in man wanting more and developing his capacities to work for that more. Millions of men and women demanding of themselves higher comforts and higher education is the creative force for national prosperity.

There is ample scope for a new round of economic reform to more fully liberate the public from the constraints imposed by anachronistic policies, constrictive bureaucratic procedures and unaccountable officials. But what India needs most of all today is a widespread, grass-roots, public movement for national prosperity akin to the Freedom Movement of yesteryear. Standing on the shoulders of those who fought a political revolution against colonial rule, it is time to usher in another revolution, a revolution that abolishes poverty. Such a movement can accomplish more for the country's development over the next five years than an investment equal to that contemplated in the next five year plan.

The essential purpose of a Prosperity Movement is to generate awareness of the country's untapped opportunities, latent strengths, and undeveloped potentials, to foster self-confidence in India's future, create a sense of urgency and fuel enthusiasm for action, unleash fresh constructive initiative in all fields and celebrate successes wherever they occur. Development is fundamentally a human process driven by people's awareness, aspirations, expectations, knowledge, skills and values. A prosperity movement can directly address this central requirement, utilizing every means at its disposal.

This calls for a massive programme of public education. Television, print and electronic media can play a vital role in highlighting opportunities and achievements as well as imparting practically useful information and skills. Public debates on development strategy, publicity programmes to focus on opportunities, and awards for social innovation can all be used to fuel the movement. A national foundation can be established to disseminate information on opportunities and technologies, conduct and commission studies, prepare documentaries and reports, establish models and demonstrations, provide assistance to pioneers, study and publicise successful policies and systems, both within India and abroad.

What is necessary to achieve this glorious vision?

  • A comprehensive knowledge of the country's possibility and potentials.
  • An indomitable will that exceeds in intensity the strength of will that achieved Freedom.
  • A clear pronouncement of the policies that can achieve it.
  • Total commitment to achieve the indispensable.

Beyond this there is another element. The achievements of other nations do not inspire. What will inspire Indians are representative achievements within the country. Let us create a MODEL the size of one district and experiment with all our enthusiastic endeavours in the model. The real purpose of the model is to inspire other parts of India. It will serve a great purpose if all the problems which the nation will face in future can be met and overcome on these pilot projects. This will serve as field for testing the validity of ideas full of future potential.

Vision 2020 anticipates a quadrupling of India's per capita income, which means that within two decades an average family of five will have an annual income of more than rupees two lakhs. The result may be several-fold greater if the following approach is adopted for implementing the model. Choose a district where no political leader has a vested interest and by an ordinance suspend the operation of all encumbering laws and procedures there for the project period. Provide the project a corruption-free administration. Implement in this concentrated area all the presently available schemes. Draw up new schemes to utilize the maximum potentials for all existing organisations - banks, universities, voluntary agencies, insurance companies, newspapers, etc. This alone is capable of raising the GDP 25-fold.

In the model area, make the essentials of development such as universal education, deep ploughing, recharging the aquifer, and guaranteed employment compulsory by law. Let all the essential physical and social infrastructure such as roads and phones be created there to the saturation point. Give vast scope for the most talented. Admit no foreign aid to operate in the project area. Let the productivity of land be raised as high as possible, not so much for increasing food production but to lessen the percentage of population in agriculture. Encourage all private initiative. Break the vicious cycles and initiate virtuous cycles wherever possible. Replace competition by cooperation. Impart to the population-at-large a wide range of practical work values such as punctuality, orderliness, cleanliness and systematic organization, which are expressions of spiritual principles in life. Implement all known strategies to achieve full-employment in the district. Do not try to create jobs; rather create conducive conditions for productive activity. Saturate the model area with vocational institutes offering training on the entire gamut of vocational skills. Institute legislation requiring major industries in the area to establish such institutions on a commercial basis. To be continued

Vision 2020 part 4

Spiritual Basis for Indian Prosperity

A nation's strength lies in building on its rich inheritance. The revolution to usher in prosperity must begin by ruthlessly casting away all the attitudes of our colonial past. It must replace them with a new set of mental beliefs born out of the Indian soil, just as in the past the methods utilized to achieve freedom were derived from Indian social culture.

As India's freedom fighters were proud to draw on the country's inherent strengths to organise the freedom struggle, now the country should not be shy of awakening its native Spirit to fight for prosperity. India's strength lies there. Anything else is Shankara's maya. But this should not be mistaken as a reversion to a life of austere sannyasa or traditional behaviours appropriate to the distant past. Those are only the forms of the past, not its essential truth. The future is built on the Essence of that past, not on the old Forms. Give up the Forms of the past, while cherishing its Essential Knowledge.

To awaken the dormant Spirit of India means to heavily draw upon the rich wisdom of the past accomplished civilisation to solve the present problems and fully utilise the opportunities, rather than borrowing alien models which lead to dismal failure here. The explosive expansion of India's software exports was possible mainly because that movement unconsciously drew upon the nation's anciently inherited capacity for mathematics, which represents only one thin strand of India's enormous latent endowments. A conscious appreciation of all the nation's age-old inherited capacities will naturally awaken the activities of India on all fronts. This is the vision to be arrived at and it requires a commensurate will for action.

Spirituality is common to all religions. It does not divide people from each other and it does not clash with the secularism of the nation. In the 1950s when former Madras Presidency was suffering from drought, Rajaji, as the then Prime Minister of the State, gave a call to the people to pray for rain at the temples, mosques and churches. The leftist opposition chided him. Rain came down copiously to the relief of all. It is a spiritual principle that whatever you pay attention to will grow to abundance. Maximum utilisation of water is attention to water. Recharging the aquifers and rain-water harvesting, measures good in themselves, are expressions of a spiritual principle that in action will wipe out water scarcity.

We are not shy of using the mind and being intelligent in our work. Spirit is, like mind, a higher principle. Let us not be shy of being SPIRITUAL. The rural side is naturally replete with a wisdom which the people are not conscious of. All life can be spiritual. Acting spiritually, efficiency rises. Utilizing all available resources and opportunities is a spiritual principle. For example, there are dozens of financial services prevalent in the West, such as various types of insurance, that can be adapted to local conditions here. Extending insurance to fields such as education and agriculture will go a long way towards making the country prosperous. Each such approach should be demonstrated in the MODEL.

A spiritual approach also tells us that further progress can only be made when the existing potentials are exhausted and that enormous creativity surfaces by integrating each organisation with every other existing organization. Integration of different services will yield far greater results than successful individual activities.

The greatest spiritual principle is self-reliance, which can only emerge when foreign aid is refused and our own resources are fully drawn upon. The future of India lies in following the Inspiration of 1947. India resorted to soul-force rather than armed struggle to win freedom. She did so out of her superior strength, not out of weakness. This approach should be applied by the military, administration, trade, commerce, education, culture, finance, internal harmony and every conceivable walk of life. More than half a century after attaining freedom, people are bodily free but still enslaved by ideas and attitudes acquired from others that do not bring out India's native strengths. Once the country wins back this freedom of Mind, it will be free to borrow anything from others as mental adults, not as subservient beings.

A few decades ago, people spoke about ‘economics as if people mattered.' The West, having built up a modern civilisation, is in danger of losing its mental freedom to limited, dehumanised economic conceptions of its own creation and India is in danger of following where they lead. Dr. V. Kurien, who pioneered the White Revolution, illustrated the obvious fact that all economics starts with people when he exclaimed, "It is the man who made the cow yield more milk. What is the idea of praising the cow?" Life is for man. Our economics must be human-centred. This makes both common sense and Spiritual sense.

For this vision of 2020 to be realised, the centre of that vision must be the human being. Man should not be subordinated to outer circumstances. These circumstances can be brought under our control, provided we choose to exercise our free will. Circumstances should be made to evolve around people, for people and with people at the centre and as the dominant force. Such an approach will release the school student from the tyranny of rote memorization, man from the thraldom to money, and the citizen from subservience to society. In the process India will not only prosper but give rise to a higher type of individuality and show a way for other nations to follow.