Urban India alone generates an estimated 1.3 lakh metric tonnes of solid waste daily, which is dumped on our highways, streets and landfills. Our approach to address this will be critical. In the fairly extensive work that I have been involved in, in Bangalore, we know that bulk generators, like offices, academic institutions, hotels, hospitals, offices, large residential complexes, etc, generate about 70 percent of urban garbage. A simple idea is to make it mandatory for bulk generators to recycle waste; a small investment with very attractive paybacks. A few do it voluntarily with excellent results and lower cost. Once implemented, it will reduce the garbage that municipal corporations have to deal with by 50 to 60 percent.
‘Make India’ also requires making the people of India healthy and capable. The World Bank estimates that India loses 2 to 3 percent of its GDP due to lower productivity, where the underlying cause is poor health and nutrition. In other words, economic growth and social development must be synergistic for the quality of life to improve. We just don’t have the resources to provide dignified living to people if we continue to grow our population by 22 million every year. The proof of this is in our inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals, especially as they relate to maternal and child nutrition.
Here again, what needs to be done is known, and some of the infrastructure and programmes exist, like the primary health centres, Integrated Child Development Services, anganwadis, rural health missions, ASHA (accredited social health activists) workers, etc. The execution and governance structures have failed us. Take the marriageable age specified as 18 for girls. Despite this, over 50 percent of girls in rural India are married before that with no adverse consequences for anyone, except the adolescent girl, who then enters the vicious cycle of being undernourished and experiencing multiple pregnancies that produce underweight babies. A country where one-third of the children are underweight at birth cannot hope to convert its population into any economic dividend. The programme of planning families in a responsible manner needs greater emphasis.
In rural India, the burden of health care delivery is on the ASHA workers who are inadequately reimbursed and often insufficiently trained. Health care, as a sector, needs greater attention, both by way of financial resources as well as people and training resources. Before we start a new AIIMS, we must make the existing infrastructure work effectively and efficiently, including ‘Swachh Municipal and Government Hospitals’.
‘Make India’ is directly related to how we educate and skill the people of the country. Accomplishing the transformation agenda requires the availability of the right people, with the right skills and knowledge. Great institutions spend an inordinate time planning for people and capabilities as the test of any strategy or transformation is in its execution. The travesty is that in a country of so many people we are unable to meet our knowledge and skill gaps. Unless there is a rigorous effort to create a people and skills plan to support the various initiatives that have already been announced, we will fail on execution. We have the paradox of high unemployment and the shortage of qualified people in virtually every profession.
Finally, ‘Make in India’ should also embrace a strategy called ‘Come to India’ that enables us to attract more tourists and business travellers. Compare the approximately 7 million inbound tourists to India with Thailand’s 26 million and China’s 57 million.
The ministry of tourism and culture has a vital role to play in ‘Make in India’ but there is no specific plan yet. What makes India distinctive is the rich heritage and culture that lives in its monuments, crafts and performing arts. These need a boost too and this has the unique potential to generate employment and livelihoods at the local level.
With muted corporate performance in the second half of last year and no significant increase in investment-driven growth so far, the time has come to prioritise the low hanging fruit and take tangible operational actions on priority areas that the PM has talked about, while working through some of the more enduring mindset and structural issues. The people of India should not be made to wait any longer.
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(This story appears in the 29 May, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)