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View from India: Technology is fulcrum of government’s vision

India is the world’s sixth largest economy. To a large extent, technology has been the biggest determining factor in the development and progress of the country’s economy. It can connect the unconnected and bring the unknown into mainstream. It creates jobs and functions as the backbone of government-led initiatives and services.

Technology is the fulcrum of a host of Government of India (GoI) initiatives like Digital India, Skill India and Make in India, Goods and Services Tax (GST) Smart Cities and digital payments. This year, many GoI programmes have been rolled out nationally through a combination of technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and Internet of Things, among others.

Electrification for rural masses

Challenges like electrification are being addressed in order to connect the dots between rural and urban India. The country has embarked on a rural electrification drive, executed by Rural Electrification Corporation (REC). As India’s largest power sector lender and nodal agency, REC has electrified all of India’s 597,464 census villages. As the villages light up, the next logical step is to power households. A pan-India household electrification scheme is expected to be in place by 31 March 2019. GoI aims to provide electrification to all rural households and metering them for reliable power supply under its Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana scheme (Saubhagya).

Making electricity available to the rural population is not the final answer. There are other hurdles to overcome, such as the quality of the power supply and the price users have to pay for their electricity. Tech-based cost-effective solutions should be implemented on a large scale to make this a reality. Furthermore, households below the poverty line need particular schemes in order to avail the full benefit of being ‘powered.’

Gas projects kick off

Socially and economically marginalised households need to be uplifted for rural India to become part of India's growth story. This belief has led to the development of a gas-based economy. The foundation stone of City Gas Distribution (CGD) Projects has been laid in New Delhi.

As of now, 129 districts are being mapped, and it is on the cards is to implement CGD projects across 400 districts of the country. In a phased roll-out, over the next two to three years around 70 per cent of India’s population will be connected with the CGD network. As a long-term perspective, piped natural gas (PNG) is expected to be channelled to one crore (10 million) households in the next five years. The number of LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals will be increased to strengthen the gas infrastructure in the country. Nationwide Gas Grid and City Gas Distribution are being worked together simultaneously. Old terminals are being modernised and new LNG terminals are being established.

In an effort to achieve a gas-based economy, the government is also working on clean energy projects. A move in this direction is compressed biogas (CBG), which is produced from agricultural waste and biomass. Five thousand CBG plants will be established in the country in the next five years under this campaign.

These plants will reduce agri-waste and increase the income of the farmers. Besides converting biomass to bio-fuel, 12 modern bio-refineries will be initiated at the cost of Rs 10,000 crore (£1.1bn).

Opportunity knocks for MSMEs

The spotlight seems to be on smaller businesses, as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has announced the launch of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) Support and Outreach Programme. A 12-point package for MSMEs has been chalked out. This is much needed, because ever since demonetisation came into effect in November 2016, removing all high-value notes from circulation, it seemed to have taken a toll on the sector. The package is designed to increase cash flow, besides creating a favourable business atmosphere. As part of the offering, small pharmaceutical companies will be congregated under industrial clusters. GoI plans to bear 70 per cent of the cost. Let’s hope the MSME initiative encourages the growth of the holy trinity of Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship for All

The Government of Karnataka (GoK) has initiated a unique programme titled Samruddhi. This is a rural entrepreneurship programme for the disadvantaged sections of society. GoK intends to partner with private organisations to design a rural employment and skill development programme. Rural youth will be exposed to technologies like AI and machine learning as part of the training. Around 500 start-ups will also be part of the scheme.

Defence technology projects

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is responsible for developing technology for the military, has been allocated a budget of Rs 18,000 crore (£2bn) for 2018-2019. About 25-30 per cent of the allocation has been set aside for new projects: missiles, fifth-generation twin-engine aircraft for stealth application and surveillance related issues are the upcoming areas of concern. 

Fintech

Maharashtra’s capital Mumbai is India’s finance hub and home to the Bombay Stock Exchange, the oldest in Asia. It’s understandable that Maharashtra is preparing to integrate new-age technologies to strengthen its position in the finance and banking sectors. Around 500 well-funded start-ups will be the lucky ones to guide and assist the state government to leverage artificial intelligence, blockchain and machine learning in its initiatives.

IoT for Smart Cities

Technology at scale is transformative. A case in point is Internet of Things (IoT), as indicated in ‘IoT Beyond the Obvious’ (IoT BtO), a 2018 white paper from NASSCOM-PwC. “IoT, is expected to be a 3 trillion USD global market by 2020. India’s player landscape with 120 IoT firms, of which over 60 per cent are start-ups, has the necessary technical and technological skills to power the IoT revolution,” said NASSCOM president Debjani Ghosh in the white paper.

India has, at the same time, taken up a mission to rejuvenate its cities through various mission programmes. “The Smart Cities Mission is the most prominent among them and is aimed at transforming the urban experience through infrastructure and ICT interventions. Deployment of IoT devices on the field is a key aspect of the ongoing ICT interventions in these cities,” added Ghosh.

Nevertheless, adopting IoT alone as the technical strategy ceases to be considered as a competitive advantage. As an independent technology, it attracts little attention. Its economic and social value is fully realised when IoT is coupled with other emerging technologies like augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) AI and ML. A combination of these technologies creates a value proposition for multiple public and private sector organisations.

Against this background, NASSCOM has announced the launch of its Centre of Excellence for Internet of Things at Gurugram. This 2018 initiative is part of a nationwide collaborative initiative involving Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, state governments and NASSCOM, in line with the government’s focus on strengthening the IoT infrastructure in the country as well as providing high-end technology capabilities, data, expertise, thought leadership and curated programmes to augment capabilities.

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