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Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Time for Technology-Driven Smart Governance

For this, the new government will need to move away from over-regulation to a system of self-regulation

Published: May 28, 2014 06:12:14 AM IST
Updated: May 22, 2014 03:24:18 PM IST
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Time for Technology-Driven Smart Governance
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw Chairman & Managing Director, Biocon. She heads India’s largest listed biotech company. Under her leadership, the Rs 3,000-crore Biocon has evolved from an industrial enzymes firm to a biopharma powerhouse

The winds of change are blowing through India and one does not need opinion- or exit polls to gauge the mood of the voter. The country wants to usher in the kind of political governance that is accountable, transparent, and performance-oriented.

The lacunae in our present governance and economic models have thwarted the aspirations of a billion Indians. Runaway inflation has eaten into the savings of the common man, lack of meaningful economic reforms has hurt business and industry and a slowing economy has led to job losses. Basic needs like health, education and a clean environment have remained unmet.

The Indian economy needs a complete overhaul and the No. 1 priority of the new government will be to navigate India towards a path of sustainable economic growth. It will have to embrace the aspirations of the common man and work on narrowing the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

To accomplish these goals, the new government will have to come up with new and innovative solutions to tackle the current challenges and create an enabling ecosystem that supports the development agenda.

Smarter Regulation
To begin with, the government will have to focus on regulatory reforms that will improve the ease of doing business, reduce transaction costs and expedite approval timelines. We need to move away from over-regulation to a system of self-regulation. The regulatory process should be re-engineered to replace the inordinately lengthy, tiered approval system with time-bound ‘deemed approvals’ and ‘automatic approvals’. There is also a need to make regulations unambiguous and transparent so that their interpretation is uniform across the land.

FDI requires an environment of fast-track project clearance and unambiguous tax and compliance regulations. These measures alone can attract and augment FDI that can contribute to GDP growth.

Push E-Governance

It is time for a paradigm shift in administrative governance through increased application of smart IT platforms for e-procurement, e-tendering, e-documentation, etc. Several schemes to address myriad challenges have failed in the past because of a fundamental shortcoming: The governance mechanism to deliver these schemes is mired in inefficiency and unaccountability. This needs to be rectified. A good example is Tamil Nadu’s IT-enabled drugs procurement model that has ensured that its citizens get access to affordable, generic essential drugs. Such a model should be replicated throughout India.

Similarly, there is a need for a wider application of the Aadhar unique ID programme. Aadhar has the potential to provide a strong platform for e-governance and e-healthcare. The next government has the opportunity to build on the 600 million Aadhar cards and create a unique e-delivery model across a plethora of services.  

Incentivise Innovation
Science and technology is of strategic importance to India’s future leadership. India needs to step up its investment in research and translational innovation. We must identify key areas in which to build world-class scientific and technological excellence, for example, genomics, nanoscience, analytics, synthetic biology, information technology, space technology etc. 

Incentivising innovation and IP creation is important for India’s future growth prospects. Enabling entrepreneurs to propel ideas into sustainable businesses will add value to our economy in the long run.

The government should give R&D a boost by providing a 10-year tax holiday on products developed indigenously, provide tax breaks for venture funding, and allow zero duty on R&D equipment.

Promote Green Tech
The new government needs to leverage the power of biotechnology in promoting green technologies.

Energy independence must become a driving mantra to reduce our precarious balance of payments, which is so vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel resources. If Brazil could achieve this through sugarcane-based biofuels, we can also aim to do so through newer forms of renewable energy, including solar, wind and biofuels that can light up energy-starved rural India.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Time for Technology-Driven Smart Governance
Image: Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters
The unique ID system has the potential to provide a strong platform for e-governance and e-healthcare

Sanitation is another big challenge for India where only half the population has access to toilets. We need rapid and large-scale solutions based on bio-toilets that can eliminate the need for sewers, sanitation treatment plants and water. Innovative bioconversion systems can convert solid waste into renewable energy and fertilisers, eliminating landfills.

Water scarcity continues to threaten drought-like conditions, posing grave challenges to our agrarian economy. India has a perennial source of fresh water from the Himalayas, most of which remains unharnessed and wasted. The next government must set up a high-powered ministry that plans for optimal management of water resources.   

Healthcare a Priority

The new government will have to address ‘Right to Health’ through a universal healthcare programme which hinges on affordability and access. In attempting to fulfil the needs of ‘affordability’, ‘availability’ and ‘access’ for its citizens, the new government has an opportunity for creating a system of universal healthcare. Additionally, other healthcare-related issues need to be urgently addressed:
FDI in pharma: The FDI policy on pharma needs to revert to the UPA-I regime that allowed automatic infusion of foreign equity of up to 100 percent in both greenfield and brownfield projects, so that it is not left to the government’s discretion to introduce riders for clearing investment proposals.

IPR: India must clearly enunciate the rules governing patentability for pharma products. Our stand on IP laws that discourage ever-greening of patents is gaining acceptance. We have also adopted a thoughtful pre-grant patent opposition which should serve to protect us from frivolous patents.  However, we must ensure that we demonstrate our commitment to legitimate patent protection.  

Pricing policy: The unilateral demand on the Indian pharma industry to bear the full burden of making medicines affordable is untenable. The imposition of price control on a large number of essential drugs has seen the replacement of a number of Indian bulk drugs with Chinese imports. This policy needs urgent amendment if we are to restore our supremacy in drug manufacturing. It is imperative that the government increases public spending on healthcare to at least 3 percent of GDP in order to fund schemes that can offer basic healthcare to all.

Clinical trials: If India is to pursue drug research and drug innovation, the present moratorium on clinical trials must be removed. Additionally, the proposed regulations and strictures around conducting clinical trials need to be revisited. Most of the regulatory recommendations are impractical and will severely disadvantage Indian drug research.  

Incentives to R&D: To spur investment in research and development in life sciences, the government should extend the current benefit of 200 percent weighted tax deduction on all in-house R&D spends, including those attributable to international patenting and overseas clinical development as well as any licenced technology required for drug innovation.

Push for indigenous manufacturers: The Indian government has done little to allow advantage to indigenous industry over foreign competition in government tenders. It is well known that MNCs have always adopted predatory pricing in developing markets through cross-subsidising the higher prices they enjoy in protected western markets. The government must provide preference to indigenously manufactured pharma products and, in fact, mandate local manufacturing as an eligibility criterion as is the norm in many countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Russia. The government practises this in the case of vaccines but needs to extend this to drugs.

Development Politics
The fundamentals of the Indian economy are strong. However, our economic engines of growth have been throttled by wrong policies and regulations in the past.

The new government needs to exhibit strong political will to implement bold economic reforms, create world-class infrastructure, usher in overdue tax, labour, land and regulatory reforms, address the power deficit and roll back unfriendly business regulations.

The mandate for change must translate into a more enlightened and development-oriented political discourse in India that rises above partisan politics and instead focuses on putting the nation on the path to robust, inclusive and equitable growth.

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(This story appears in the 30 May, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    Your plea: "Incentivising innovation and IP creation is important for India’s future growth prospects. Enabling entrepreneurs to propel ideas into sustainable businesses will add value to our economy in the long run" is timely Madam. In a broader sense, innovation is important to the advancement of society around the world. New and innovative products can increase the standard of living and provide people with opportunities to improve their lives. Breakthroughs in medicine and technology have significantly improved living standards around the world. Innovation has also lead to significant improvements in the way businesses operate and has closed the gaps between different markets. Innovation in engineering: Innovation in engineering is much more than research and development. It encompasses an end-to-end process, such that it extracts value through implementation. Innovation involves: • creating or generating new activities, products, processes and services • seeing things from a different perspective • moving outside the existing paradigms • improving existing processes and functions • disseminating new activities or ideas • adopting things that have been successfully tried elsewhere Innovation covers the area from minor quality improvements to ‘cutting edge’ products and services. “If we can’t find ways to inspire a generation of engineers with varied skills, this is going to be a principle obstacle for growth in our slowly recovering global economy” said Lidia Brito, Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity Building at UNESCO. “A recent UNESCO Engineering Report shows a marked shortage of engineers in many countries. Although the general number of engineering students is increasing worldwide, the proportion who enroll in engineering, as compared to other disciplines, is concernedly dropping. We need hands-on challenges like Fly Your Ideas to motivate young innovators about the potential of engineering in helping to find practical solutions to issues the world may face in the near future.” Such innovation may be under threat from a skills gap that could be hitting the economy hard. It will see high tech companies face a shortfall of 40 million of the skilled workers needed by 2020 and beyond, with aerospace likely to suffer, along with motor and the medical equipment sectors. Charles Champion, Executive Vice President Engineering at Airbus and Fly Your Ideas Patron, says: “These future-focused and disruptive concepts prove that engineering isn’t just about technical skills – it’s about having an innovative mindset and a creative approach. But for our industry to succeed in making aviation carbon neutral by 2020, we need a constant source of fresh and inventive ideas from the innovators of today and those of tomorrow. Our future solutions are here right now – and through projects like ‘Fly Your Ideas’, we are helping them to become a reality for the future.” Innovation is extremely important to a country like India as it is closely related to productivity. Although there are a number of avenues to increased productivity, innovation is the most significant factor. Creativity is seeing what everyone sees and thinking what no one else has thought before,Invention is transforming those new thoughts into tangible ideas Innovation goes even further, involving preparedness to mix with the commercial world to turn novel ideas into products . The expertise of the engineering profession is vital to convert innovative ideas into reality for common use. Many of the comforts humankind enjoys today have been the result of innovative engineers. Examples include electrical appliances, transportation, buildings, telecommunications and urban infrastructure. Innovation and technology have become two inseparable words in the annals of human history. Engineers drive technology and are therefore at the forefront of innovation. In India there were efforts to harness the talent and innovative spirit among people by organisations like National Innovation Foundation(NIF),National Research Development Corporation(NRDC),TePP etc. besides some private initiatives(Spark the Rise) etc. In a vast country like ours these are piecemeal. I am glad to read the news item in January this year: Rs 5000 Crore Innovation Fund in India “National Innovation Council Chairman Sam Pitroda today said a Rs 5,000 crore fund to support innovations would be launched soon. "We have an innovation fund that we are launching... a Rs 5,000 crore innovations fund with focus on affordability, scalability and sustainability," Pitroda said on the sidelines of an event here. "The real innovation has to come from the bottom of the pyramid," he added.” The amount spent for innovation should help to shape the beneficiaries as entrepreneurs. I have a project: Innovation Centres in Engineering Colleges: Engineers are best suited to innovate. Unfortunately most of the Engineering Colleges like Infrastructure facilities(like Good Workshop, Electronics Lab etc). A Project,” INNOVATION CENTRES) in Engineering Colleges can be started under the Rs 5000 Innovation Fund. Selected Colleges can be provided to start a good workshop and Electronics Lab. This way the Students can undertake innovative projects and come out with good gadgets. Later they can patent them and go for commercialization. This is the best way to spend Innovation Fund so that there will be productivity and promotion of Entrepreneurship. Creativity, Innovation and Invention are the Pillars of Progress. Today in Industry, INNOVATE OR PERISH is the MANTRA. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    on May 30, 2014
  • Marankrishnamurthy

    That's right. And this is the time to rejuvenate all those things to enrich. And this govt has to elaborate the Aadhar card further to ensure this as nation's identity.

    on May 29, 2014