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Analysis

India can’t be complacent on innovation

There is simply no time for complacency for India when it comes to matters of innovation.

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Innovation-Growth

The New Year is upon us. It has been 17 years into the 21st century and if one word has to define this period, ‘innovation is bound to reign supreme. Technological innovation in every field has taken place at such a rapid pace over the last two decades that most of it is taken as given.

It is hard to imagine that a world obsessed with acronyms like AI, VR, and EV was still very much dependent on the post office barely 17 years ago. It is unfathomable and potentially scary from some aspects as to what the future holds for mankind.

With the world innovating at breakneck speed, no country wants to be left behind the curve. China is the latest kid in the block. It is no longer the low-labour-cost country that makes it the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. Now, the country’s manufacturing strengths lie in its strong supply chain networks and advanced production knowhow. In fact, in its 13 Five Year Plan that began in May 2016, China laid out a roadmap to become an “innovative nation” by 2020 and an “international innovation leader” by 2030.

Even before these goals were set, the country had doubled its spending on R&D between 2000 and 2016 from 0.9 percent of its GDP to 2.1 percent. It is no surprise then, that the greater Shenzhen-Hong Kong area finds itself ranked second in terms of global inventive clusters as measured by patents.

It is clearly time for India to adopt innovation as a paradigm and a long-term principle to be competitive on the world stage. Like China, it is critical that India works upon building an enabling conducive environment for innovation to take place. This includes, but is not limited to, access to technology required for scaling, availability of funding, leadership and skill, and also a market for all this.

As per the Global Innovation Index, India has shown consistent improvement since 2011 and its performance has been ahead of the average lower-middle- and upper-middle-income countries of the world. However, the India State Innovation Report 2017 has brought out some interesting highlights on the state of innovation in India.

First, on a national scale India lags considerably behind the major economies of the world. As of 2015, India spent 0.88 percent of its GDP on R&D while Brazil, the US and Japan spent 1.2, 2.8 and 3.4 percent respectively. As for patents, India had filed 17 per million people while Brazil, China, the US and Japan were at 34, 541, 910 and 3,716 respectively. Finally, the India’s share of global publications stood at 4.2 percent while China and the US were at 20.2 and 25.3 respectively. Therefore, there remains a vast gap for India to cover if it to catch up with the global economies in the field of innovation.

It is not a preposterous argument to make that the economy which stays ahead in the race for innovation will dictate global dominance. As things have panned out over the last year, USA seems to have been ceding that ground to China. Denying realities like climate change to support industries of yesteryears like coal and closing doors on the very people who built the country seem inimical to the innovative spirit that has come to define America. A huge vacuum will probably be left behind, and India needs to grasp the opportunity while the time is ripe.

Second, coming to the sub-national level, India shows a very mixed performance. Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra were the most innovative states in 2017. A three-way categorisation was also done based on the classification for developmental stages of economies by Michael Porter, considered the guru of competiveness. Delhi, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh turned out to be the leading states in their respective stages.

A striking feature of the state performance on innovation is that there is a clear demarcation running across India where the western and southern belt of states score considerable better than the rest of the country. This belt of states also performs economically well than the rest of India, but per capita income explains only 60 percent of the innovation scores. Higher industry presence and better prevalence of institutes of higher education along with improving linkages between the two has a substantial impact making the environment conducive for innovation across these states.

However, there are a multitude of challenges faced even by these states in undertaking innovation. The first and most basic one is that the university system in India lacks focus on research and innovation. Inadequate funding dedicated to education does not help in building adequate facilities for research either. Second, the patenting process is quite cumbersome in India and significant amount of resources need to be devoted towards it, something which the industry typically lacks. Finally, India lacks stringent regulations and IP laws, which hinder any innovative activities. It is a telling fact that in the International IP Index released by the US Chamber of Commerce, which ranks 45 economies based on patents, trademarks, copyrights, enforcement and international treaties, India ranks 43.

There is simply no time for complacency for India when it comes to matters of innovation. The country has a perfect opportunity to get onboard the innovation train that is swiftly chugging away beyond its reach. Almost 15 percent of the start-ups in Silicon Valley have been founded by Indians. We clearly have the capability to do the same in India. Only the enabling factors are lacking.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, researcher at Institute for Competitiveness has contributed to the article)

Analysis

Haj 2018 likely to be costlier, but not because of subsidy abolition

Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday announced the abolition of Haj subsidy from this year.

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Haj 2018

Haj 2018 is likely to be costlier than last year but not because of the abolition of subsidy that the government announced on Tuesday.

The cost is likely to go up thanks to rise in expenses incurred in Saudi Arabia during the Haj such as accommodation, transport, food and the like. Notably, the government subsidy did not cover these expenses and was limited to the airfare.

Haj Committee of India (HCI) Chairman Mehboob Ali Kaiser told IANS that it was bargaining hard with Saudi authorities to keep the cost in check but local factors may result in the rise of Haj expenses this year.

In 2017, the HCI charged Rs 200,000 for Haj with ordinary accommodation (Azizia) and Rs 234,000 for deluxe accommodation (Green), which is closer to the Haram in Mecca.

Image result for haj 2018

“Over the last year, the electricity tariff in Saudi Arabia has shot up three times. Also, the petrol prices have doubled. The accommodation cost is also going up. These factors may result in a hike in the total Haj cost this year,” Kaiser said.

At this point, it is difficult to predict the final cost to each pilgrim for Haj 2018, he added.

“It will be unfair to expect the same costs for everything in Saudi Arabia after a threefold rise in electricity prices and doubling of petrol prices. Secondly, the Saudis are cussed bargainers and we have to really haggle hard with them for every riyal.

“Nevertheless, we are trying our best and bargaining hard with them to ensure that the cost does not go up drastically,” Kaiser said.

Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday announced the abolition of Haj subsidy from this year.

Kaiser said that the HCI “knew it was coming and were sort of mentally prepared for it”.

“In any case, the withdrawal of subsidy will not affect the airfares from major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru — but fares from smaller embarkation points such as Srinagar, Gaya may go up. But people from these states may now embark from any other place from where fares are low, such as Mumbai, Delhi or Ahmedabad,” he added.

However, in the coming years, the Haj cost is expected to come down as the Indian government is already working in the direction of reviving the sea route to Jeddah.

Naqvi said that the government has already taken active steps in this direction and once it is implemented, the fares would come down drastically.

Giving the genesis of the Haj subsidy, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that it started in the 1980s (when Azad was a member of HCI) when the ships which were used to ferry the Haj pilgrims started ageing.

“The government was not disposed to spend money to buy new ships due to budget constraints. So, it was decided to fly the pilgrims to Jeddah. But the airfares were four times higher than the ship’s fare. So the government decided to cover some of the cost through a subsidy,” Azad said.

The sea route was discontinued in 1995.

(Mohd Asim Khan can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

A cauldron of discontent

Every 18 minutes, a Dalit is attacked in India. However, the conviction rate is only 28 per cent. UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and MP have witnessed a hike in atrocities against Dalits.

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Bhima-Koregaon violence

Politics is a hard taskmaster. Politicians may manipulate public sentiment and reap electoral victories but time has a way of making them accountable. We have witnessed a slew of impressive electoral triumphs of the BJP but recent eruptions of discontent among the relatively prosperous Patidars in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra and Jats in Haryana are ominous, for, historically, upper-caste denominations have consistently supported the BJP. Dalits across the country who have been targeted by a mindset which traditionally has been intolerant of them, have also sporadically expressed their frustration and growing discontent. Added to this is the divisive agenda of both the RSS and the BJP. This is evidence of both the incapacity and inability of this government to make a real difference in the lives of people.

The inability to sustain themselves because of the agrarian crisis is the common thread that runs through the growing discontent amongst Patidars, Jats and Marathas. Pre-independence, they were industrious farmers, hired as tenants and post-independence when tenants were granted ownership rights, they owned large tracts of prime agricultural land. They consolidated their position with the green revolution, advent of new crop varieties and modern farming tools. Prosperity made large numbers migrate to cities and take up businesses. As a result, only 10 per cent of Patidars own more than 10 bighas. The rest are marginal farmers caught in the midst of the agrarian crisis.

The urban Patidars find it difficult to get admission to educational institutions allegedly because of reservations for OBCs. Lack of remunerative prices for their produce and recent groundnut crop failures are reasons for the growing angst among them. The rise of Hardik Patel is attributed to both factors. Demonetisation and the flawed implementation of GST hurt even the most prosperous Patidars. This along with a sluggish economy and lack of job opportunities is at the heart of expressions of discontent and demand for reservations. Similarly, Maratha discontent is deep-rooted. The massive protests and outpourings may or may not be spontaneous but do represent livelihood concerns. Around 80 per cent of Marathas are subsistent farmers.

Lack of access to quality education and job opportunities resulting in massive social protests are symptomatic of the alienation setting in. With prosperity touching only a few, they are unsure of their future and hence they too demand reservations in government jobs. Jats, on the other hand, are regarded as backward in both Rajasthan and UP. But in Haryana, despite being politically dominant, they too clamour for reservations. Comprising around 29 per cent of Haryana’s population, they own three-fourths of agricultural holdings in the State. Jats have never been absentee landlords who lived off tenant cultivators.

However, over the years, their earnings from agriculture have declined along with fragmentation of holdings. A five-acre average holding gives a monthly income of not more than Rs 20,000. These incomes have been further hit because of drought, hailstorms and pest attacks in recent years coupled with a crash in prices of cotton, basmati and guar. Inward looking, they have been slow in adapting to an urban cosmopolitan environment. Not being educationally advanced, they have lagged behind in employment opportunities. Hence, the demand for reservation in educational institutions and employment. Recent violent agitations and destruction of private property in Haryana are also the result of loss of political power, with a non-Jat as Chief Minister.

On the other hand, Dalits, who have been the beneficiaries of reservations, find themselves being targeted. Recent attacks on Dalits are the result of deep-rooted prejudices and caste fault lines. Dominant castes still practice untouchability and the upward mobility of Dalits is not taken too kindly. Rohith Vemula’s tragic end and the response of a prejudiced mindset is a classic reflection of this. This inbuilt prejudice is exacerbated in recent years by lumpen upper caste elements who find an excuse in attacking Dalits for their traditional vocation. The senseless lynching of Dalits in Una exemplifies this. Dalits also become targets of violence if they happen to marry into the upper castes. The burning of Dalit children in Haryana and similar incidents of violence are not uncommon. The recent eruption of anti-Dalit sentiments in Maharashtra evidenced by the outpourings of Marathas who allege misuse of the law by Dalits has sent tremors of unease within the state. The empowerment of Dalits and their upward mobility over the years has led to a churning within the community, which is finding its expression in their recent mobilisation and assertion. They wish to break away from tradition to which they are chained. Yet a majority of them continue to be burdened by the same tradition. This has brought about societal unrest.

Every 18 minutes, a Dalit is attacked in India. However, the conviction rate is only 28 per cent. UP, Rajasthan, Bihar and MP have witnessed a hike in atrocities against Dalits. Rajasthan with 6 per cent of the country’s Dalit population accounts for 17 per cent of crimes against them. Anger and frustration within the community are palpable and the state has failed to protect them.

Minorities in India are equally insecure. Communal situations are engineered to polarise society for political dividends. Increasingly isolated, their traditional vocations are also under threat. Dealing with buffalo meat is hazardous and life-threatening. Many have been targeted and killed. Campaigns of love jihad and ‘ghar wapsi’ have added fuel to the fire.

India cannot be managed by a divisive agenda. An aspirational India is crying for change. This government is clueless about solutions. Without them, electoral triumphs may turn sour.

This article is published in DNA on January 15. 2018

The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and a senior Indian National Congress leader. Views expressed are personal.

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Analysis

Saudi Arabia: Transforming the face of a Kingdom

The plan involves changing the education curriculum, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and investing in the entertainment and tourism sectors to create jobs for young people.

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Mohammed bin Salman

There is a huge buzz throughout Saudi Arabia as the hitherto conservative Kingdom — seen as the religious font of Islam and home to its holiest shrines — gets ready to welcome women into its sports stadiums Friday.

The women of Saudi Arabia have entered 2018 with hope unlike ever before, for now they will be allowed greater freedom and perhaps play select sports — and drive. These efforts to bring gender parity are among a series of sweeping social and economic changes being orchestrated by the young Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to bring Saudi Arabia into a global leadership role in the 21st century.

The year 2017 was transformational for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a series of initiatives designed to improve gender equality, promote economic diversification, root out corruption and make it more open and attractive to visitors.

Behind a vast majority of these path-breaking initiatives was Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the world’s youngest defence minister, who, at 32, was elevated to the position of Crown Prince last June. Initiatives he has taken form part of the “National Transformation Programme 2020” and the Kingdom’s “Vision 2030”, guidelines of which he outlined last year.

The most momentous of these have been on gender equality. For the first time, girls in public schools will be allowed to play sports and get physical education. The women of Saudi Arabia will be allowed to enter some of the country’s sports stadiums, earlier an all-male preserve, while a royal decree issued last September will allow women the right to drive in the country, beginning June.

In further social transformations, the municipality of the holy city of Madinah will be run by women. The women-only branch of the municipality will provide all the regular services offered by municipalities, including issuance of licences for commercial activities and construction permits, inspection campaigns and investment opportunities, among others.

These measures gained international recognition and Saudi Arabia was elected in 2017 to the UN Women’s Rights Commission for a four-year term.

Other than the major social impact, shrewd economic thoughts are behind these measures, as increasing women’s participation in the workplace will boost the economy and combat corruption.

The “National Transformation Programme 2020” aims to capitalise on the Kingdom’s youth dividend by opening up the country to more employment opportunities through sports and entertainment and to empower women. Opening the country to more entertainment, allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event (a three-day festival of anime, pop art, video gaming and film-related events last year) was part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society and restore what Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the “moderate” face of Islam.

The plan involves changing the education curriculum, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and investing in the entertainment and tourism sectors to create jobs for young people.

Equally far-reaching are efforts to open up the Kingdom to outsiders, by offering tourist visas for foreigners, from this year, and creating facilities to promote the country as a tourist destination. The Red Sea project, which aims to offer an unparalleled tourist destination, will be developed along with leading global hospitality firms and will not be subject to the Kingdom’s conservative rules.

Over 18 million foreigners visited Saudi Arabia last year, almost all on pilgrimage to Mecca. As tourism is the country’s second-most important sector, the Red Sea project will spearhead the diversification of the Saudi leisure industry.

Meanwhile, an ongoing nationwide anti-corruption drive culminated last November with the detention of four ministers, high-profile entrepreneurs and 11 princes, including a son of former King Abdullah and multi-billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal.

This not only consolidated the Crown Prince’s authority, but clearly sent out a message that the royal family was not immune from facing the law, hitherto unthinkable in the Kingdom where the descendants of Ibn Saud were seen as a law unto themselves. That members of the royal family could no longer take their privileges for granted became more apparent when princes, protesting a cut in their water and electricity consumption payments, were taken into custody in the first week of 2018.

“Vision 2030” outlines the Crown Prince’s intent to make the country the centre of the Islamic and Arab world, a hub connecting three continents and an economic and investment powerhouse.

That Prince Mohammed bin Salman is King Salman’s chosen successor and heads the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, which oversees the Kingdom’s economic affairs and also shapes its political and security policies, indicates that manifold measures he has initiated will be carried through.

After taking over as Crown Prince in June 2017, Mohammed signalled his intent to fight radicalisation and combat terrorism, spearheading a boycott of Qatar over its alleged support to terrorism. In October, the prince said the return of “moderate Islam” was central to his plans to modernise the Kingdom.

After a horrific terrorist attack killed over 300 people in Egypt, Mohammed declared a “war against terrorism” at the inaugural meeting of the 41-member Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh in November saying, “We will not allow such elements to tarnish the image of Islam.”

With global climate change measures intensifying moves towards less dependence on fossil fuels, the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 aims to drastically reduce the Kingdom’s reliance on oil while reforming, diversifying and privatising the economy.

The Crown Prince plans this year to sell about five per cent government stake in Aramco, the national oil company. He intends to create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, worth up to $3 trillion, with money generated by partially privatising Saudi Aramco.

He also plans to create a $500 billion business and industrial zone extending to Jordan and Egypt. The 26,500 sq km city, known as NEOM, will focus on industries including advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, energy, entertainment, food and water. It will be powered entirely with wind power and solar energy.

The country has also announced plans to build a massive entertainment city in Riyadh. The 334 sq km city, almost the size of Las Vegas when ready, will offer cultural, entertainment and sporting activities. The Al-Qiddiya project will be part of Saudi Arabia’s diversification drive and boost economic development by creating major job opportunities for local men and women.

The project perhaps best captures Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s intent to radically transform the face of the Kingdom.

(Nilova Roy Chaudhury is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at [email protected])

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