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As India moves forward, it needs to learn from the past – Column: Active Voice

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unity in diversity

India is an elaborate mix of contradictions and complexities. It is rare to find other countries in the world that embrace such an extraordinary diversity of religions, a multitude of ethnic groups, a disparate assortment of languages, and a range of economic development levels within the society.

The contradictions can be seen in the outcomes of the economy that we see today as well. The country is a net importer of toothbrushes but is rapidly gaining an enviable competitive advantage in sending satellites into space.

These curious inconsistencies are a culmination of years of policy decisions that were akin to putting out one fire after another rather than based on strategic long-term development strategy. Indian economic history is full of such instances that have resulted in a situation where some parts of the economy perform exceptionally well while the rest lay in the dark. The origin of all present economic problems is commonly attributed to the adoption of the planned model of development soon after independence, which slowed economic activity under a complex web of quotas and licenses.

However, the idea that the state could plan to meet each and every demand and need of its citizen had quite a few takers in the post-War era, even if it might seem absurd today. It was not simply Nehru’s fascination with the idea of socialism that India went down that path as is often suggested. In fact, Nehru had invited the best and brightest economists of the time to India for insights on the viability of a planned economy.

I.G. Patel recalls in his memoir how a series of economists – Gunnar Myrdal, Ragnar Frisch, Jan Tinbergen, Oskar Lange and Richard Goodwin – came to India with a definite view that development could be plotted and planned till the last mile. The choice also does not seem out of place when seen in the context of the times. India had gained independence at a time when the socialist model was seemingly working in USSR while the capitalist world seemed to be crumbling under economic depression and wars.

The mistake, however, lay in persisting with the model even after its failures and inefficiencies became apparent. By the time of Nehru’s death in mid-1960s, the criticism of planned development were hard to miss. Gunnar Myrdal penned a telling account on the failures of development, Asian Drama, in which he remarked that “India’s promised social and economic revolution failed to materialise.”

The arguments of free marketeers led by Milton Friedman were also becoming dominant in the field of economics at the time. A few East Asian economies – mainly South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore – began opening up after becoming disillusioned with the central planning model. They adopted a unique approach of state-led capitalism with a substantial export-oriented focus. Over the next few decades, these economies entered a period of sustained high-growth phase that popularly came to be known as “The East Asian miracle”. Therefore, India’s continued fascination with the status quo becomes hard to defend after Nehru’s death. Instead of evolving with the times, India became even more closed and tightly state-controlled under Indira Gandhi.

A spate of nationalisations beginning from banks to insurance to coal were undertaken during her tenure; sectors which are reeling from corruption and inefficiencies until date. Her shift towards the left was less due to ideological reasons as was the case with Nehru, but more due to sheer survival in the Congress party where she found herself competing for space with the old guard; most significantly, Morarji Desai. It helped her cause to portray herself as the preserver of her father’s legacy, even though some of the actions were aspects that even Nehru had not deemed fit to pursue.

India hardly made any policy shifts even when China began opening up its markets under Deng Xiaoping in the latter half of the 1970s. The inaction persisted despite the fact that between 1960 and 1990 at least a dozen committees were set up to examine almost every aspect of the control economy, each of which unfailingly came to the conclusion that the system of industrial licensing was at fault. But, radical steps like moving away from the socialist model could cost elections. So, the intent of chalking out a long-term strategy was generally missing.

Only incremental changes were made through the eighties when Indira Gandhi returned for her final stint in office with Rajiv Gandhi following along similar lines. Eventually, it was the disastrous balance of payments crisis of 1991 that allowed the Indian economy to shed the arcane system of licensing and controls. The travails of central planning were finally put to rest.

The biggest success story that the economy has experienced in the post-liberalisation period – that of the IT boom – has also been a matter of chance rather than intent. India had a huge pool of engineers due to the establishment of higher education institutions during Nehru’s time who also had an added advantage of being English-speaking. The combination proved attractive to the developed world and the rest is history.

It should be said that these are sweeping generalisations that have to be made for the purposes of brevity in a column. But they are hardly refutable. We have dealt with the issue in depth in our forthcoming book, The Age of Awakening. In more recent times, there have been instances that reflect a shift away from this history of inaction and short-termism. But the tendency to revert to the old ways is extraordinarily high. The recent political obsession with farm loan waivers before elections is a case in point. In times like these, it is necessary to look back at history so as to not repeat it.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, senior researcher, Institute for Competitiveness, has contributed to the article. Their book, The Age of Awakening, is out for pre-orders at https://amzn.to/2GAulnz)

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Indo-Russian collaboration in AI, IoT to take-off in 2019: Zyfra CEO

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India-Russia relations

New Delhi, Jan 24 : Indo-Russia joint projects in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are expected to take-off this year according to the Finnish-Russian digital solutions provider Zyfra which has joined hands with Indian companies to provide IoT and AI-based solutions for the industrial sector.

In an e-mail interview with IANS, Igor Bogachev, the Chief Executive of Zyfra, which has supplied Indian manufacturers with AI and IoT-based solutions, as well as autonomous vehicles, said the Indian sectors with most potential to adopt such solutions are metallurgy, transportation, aerospace and petrochemicals.

“India is of great interest to companies in the field of the industrial Internet of Things and this year we hope to see first projects in this area being implemented jointly with Russia,” Bogachev said.

“Innovations should become a point of growth of Russian-Indian relations. We see significant potential for introduction in such industries as construction of machine tools, mechanical engineering, metallurgy, the chemical industry and the oil and gas sector,” he said.

Last month, Zyfra announced it has managed to reach $3 million in contracts with its Indian counterparts in 2018., and the company plans to reach the target of $50 million in India-related deals by 2021.

The company has already signed agreements with various Indian companies, including Spudweb, Abcon Group, Parivartan Automation, Agaram Infotech, Wimerasys, Nortech Trinity and Mascot Tools.

Zyfra is implementing 7 pilot projects in collaboration with its Indian partners and plans to launch five more joint projects including for production of farm machinery, as well as for manufacturing components for aerospace divisions of both Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

According to Bogachev, cooperation between Russia and India in AI and IOT will be much more than a buyer-seller relationship and will involve sharing best practices, knowledge and innovating jointly.

“We truly believe, that we will be able develop products with our Indian partners, probably with joint ventures, to export to third countries,” he said.

The company has already signed agreement with various Indian firms accounting for around $2.5 million in contracts, the Zyfra CEO said.

Last year, Zyfra unveiled its manufacturing data collection (MDC) plus system in India which performs real-time machine monitoring with customizable reports and charts that can be used to track jobs, parts, operations, work centres, scrap costs, downtime and people, he said.

Zyfra recently also released a report which ranks India among the most advanced countries in terms of development of AI technologies and IoT. The survey ranks the US first, followed by China, while India ranks 13th, after Canada.

The company has started the acquisition of the VIST Group, one of the industrial leaders in development and implementation of information technologies for digital mining.

“Through the acquisition of these assets, which will be finished by 2020, the company is planning to occupy a significant share of the global market and to compete with Catarpillar, Komatsu and other majors,” the CEO said.

According to Bogachev, who also chairs the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Subcommittee on the Digital Economy and Innovations, “there is tremendous opportunity for disruption in the industrial IoT and applied AI space, although it is still a nascent market to a larger extent.”

Founded in 2017, the private sector Zifra’s clients in Russia include giants like Gazprom, Chelpipe, NLMK Group and United Engine Corporation.

(Biswajit Choudhury can be reached at [email protected])

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Madhya Pradesh farmers hopeful of being ‘debt-free’ as loan waiver scheme kicks-off

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Earth Climate

Bhopal, Jan 22 : A week after the launch of the loan waiver scheme in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress government claims 19.54 lakh farmers have filed their applications in the six days till Sunday.

While the opposition BJP has been calling the “Jai Kisan Rin Mukti Yojana” a trick to cheat the farmers, the question is how the farmers of the state perceive the entire exercise.

Kailash Chaudhary, a farmer from Mandsaur district’s Babulda village, said: “About two years ago, six farmers sacrificed their lives for their rights in Pipliya Mandi. This is the beginning of the victory of their fight.”

“Forms are being filled for waiver of loans up to Rs 2 lakh. We feel that the government is taking our demands seriously,” Chaudhary told IANS.

Mandsaur was the centre of farmers’ agitation in 2017 when six farmers were killed in police firing in June, 2017. After the incident, the farmers’ movement had taken over the whole state, which then spread to the whole nation.

Farmer’s leader Kedar Sirohi said: “Farmers in different parts of the state are excited about the loan waiver. They are filing applications in large numbers.”

“To ensure they don’t face any difficulty in filing applications, leaders and workers of farmer organisations are helping them. Government officials is also alert to help out the farmers. Colour coding of application forms has made it easier for farmers to fill out the applications,” he said.

According to official figures, out of the 19.54 lakh forms filed till Sunday, around 60 per cent were green forms, 35 per cent were white forms and 5 percent were pink forms. The farmers are hopeful of becoming debt-free through this exercise.

As per the scheme, the farmers of the Aadhaar seeded list will have to submit green applications and the farmers of non-Aadhar seeded list will have to submit white coloured applications. Farmers have to submit a pink application to file an objection or claim against information provided in the green or white list.

However, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been accusing the Congress of misleading the farmers and terming the scheme a trick to cheat them.

Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said the Congress promise of a loan waiver won’t be fulfilled by a mere announcement.

“The Chief Minister (Kamal Nath) and Congress leaders are saying they have fulfilled their promise of loan waiver to the farmers. But the promise has not yet been fulfilled. An announcement does not mean fulfillment of the promise,” he said, adding the Congress was misleading the farmers.

Congress spokesperson Syed Jaffer responded that 55 lakh farmers will get their loans waived of under the scheme, for which the due process needs to be followed.

“No matter what charges the BJP makes, the truth is that farmers are happy and they trust that the Congress is fulfilling the promise that they made to them,” he said.

“Those farmers who are in debt, neither are they now receiving notices from the banks nor is their property being seized. Under BJP rule, farmers had to go to jail and lose their property just for not paying their power bills,” Jaffer told IANS.

Calling the scheme pro-farmer, farmer leader Shiv Kumar Sharma told IANS that political parties were creating doubts about the scheme.

“Farmers were reeling under debt which had increased manifold over the last one-and-a-half decade. Now they are getting waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh. The government is new and one should wait before making adverse comments,” he said.

Kamal Nath had signed the farm loan waiver file soon after taking oath as the Chief Minister. The filing of forms for the waiver started from January 15 and will continue till February 5.

According to the government, farmers will start getting the money in their loan accounts from February 22.

The Chief Minister had said that the scheme would benefit around 55 lakh farmers by waiving their loans worth Rs 50,000 crore.

(Sundeep Pouranik can be contacted at [email protected])

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Entertainment industry is run by a glamorous mafia: Pahlaj Nihalani

Dropping another bomb, Nihalani says he suspects the hands of some big guns in sabotaging “Rangeela Raja”.

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Pahlaj Nihalani

Mumbai, Jan 22 :Govinda, “Rangeela Raja”, Pahlaj Nihalani-backed comeback vehicle for Govinda, did not open well. Nihalani says it is because his film did not get the theatres required as the entertainment industry is run by a “glamorous mafia”.

“I am being targeted for my blunt views on the workings of censor board, and because of me, my leading man Govinda is being targeted. If you ask me, Govinda and I have the maximum number of enemies in the film industry,” Nihalani said.

Lamenting the lack of theatres for “Rangeela Raja”, Nihalani says he was refused a release in places like Bihar and Jharkhand.

“These are traditional strongholds of Govinda. And not a single theatre in Patna or Ranchi agreed to play ‘Rangeela Raja’. Why? Because my film is bad? Are only quality films released in theatres? And who decides that my film is substandard? A handful of critics for whom I did not have a press show, so they are upset with me and they are taking it out on my film,” he said.

Dropping another bomb, Nihalani says he suspects the hands of some big guns in sabotaging “Rangeela Raja”.

“I know who they are. I know the people who want to finish off Govinda and me. The entertainment industry is run by a glamorous mafia. They all sit, eat, sleep and make movies together. Solo producers like me with no corporate backing are being pushed out of the film industry in the name of corporotization,” he said.

But Nihalani says he isn’t going away anywhere.

“I belong to this industry as much as those who are currently monopolising the A-list stars. I will make another film with Govinda and prove he too is an A-list star.”

Nihalani says he has always believed in introducing new talent and will continue to do so.

“I introduced Govinda and Chunky Pandey. In ‘Rangeela Raja’ I’ve introduced Mishika Chourasia. I am confident she has a very bright future. Unless the industry will punish her for being Pahlaj Nihalani’s protege.”

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