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It's payback time, dear IIT-ians!

By Shoby E Jose
December 11, 2006 18:40 IST
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The times are exciting in India. All around there is hullabaloo about the amazing GDP growth rate, skyrocketing Sensex, booming foreign direct investment and numerous other factors. All indicate India's rise in stature in the global scheme of things.

When such enthusiasm pervades the ambience, the PANIIT meet of 2006 convenes to focus on the contribution of IITians towards nation building. It is apt and required to put in perspective how the most powerful brand, this country has produced, the 'IITians', testimony to which needs no mention , can catalyse and contribute in the endeavour.

The 'iota iota tau' fraternity has led the way for the Indian Inc. and created a stir the world over. Numerous names spill over the goblet if one were to take account of those who have been the benchmark for others with their grooming in leadership and innovation. Now when the Indian economy is warming up and has begun to gallop towards new heights, it is up to this fraternity to take on the onus to lead the country and unfasten the chains tending to hold us back.

A diagnosis of our economy does herald a vibrant and vivacious India but a closer and keener look beneath this veneer of prosperity, one would identify numerous issues. Many of these issues need immediate and urgent attention in our quest to become a developed country, moreover a happy one. One of the stark realities that render all this sweet talk of growth sour is the humungous disparity in the growth pattern. There is inequitable distribution of wealth.

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Statistics say that still about 25 to 30 per cent of our population is below poverty line or roughly around 250 to300 million people. Literacy rate is around 65 to70 per cent. This renders all this partying and festivity meaningless because the benefits are being reaped by a few while a majority of our countrymen are languishing behind, bereft of the benefits this growth is bringing around. To be a powerful knowledge economy education is one of the keys.

Though India is doing pretty well in the area of tertiary and vocational education and does churn out a decent number of people with scientific and technical education but the number is a small percentage of our total labour force. The quality of technical education also isn't much to write home about apart from a few institutes.

Even in the primary and secondary education, India witnesses a woeful enrollment and a high dropout rate. The IIT clan should try to fund NGOs and start new ones especially as an extended arm of their business enterprise so that they are better monitored and effective.

One of the criteria to achieve equitable growth is that the GDP should grow at more than 8 per cent which we are achieving. The manufacturing sector is booming at more than 10 per cent and we aren't failing there either. But what is holding us back is the lack of growth in agriculture, on which depends the majority of our population. Agriculture is one thing which might not normally beep on the radar of an IITian's mind screen but one in which definitely a huge contribution is needed and can be made.

Agriculture is one sector on which almost 75 per cent of our population depends but many would not find lucrative enough to invest. It is also highly improbable that it would attract large FDIs. All the more agricultural growth needs fillip if our economy has to mature and alleviate poverty.

Dr B L Mungekar, member, Planning commission, in an interview to Frontline has said that for viability to come to this sector, it needs technology, management, marketing, packaging and advertising. All this cannot be managed by the farmers and the state and requires the industry to jump in to make its contribution.

Proper initiation of contract farming and corporate retail in agriculture along with a proper financing model are the need of the hour. IITians as leaders in the industry can infuse resources and strategy to spark a spurt in agricultural growth.

The recent Nobel prize for peace has been to the efforts of Muhammad Younus of Bangladesh for his microfinance model. Though microfinancing has definitely lent a new lease of life to many, it is more of a survival strategy. It doesn't really lead to accumulation of wealth and improve in the quality of life.

Many IITians are names to reckon with in the realm of finance and they with their prodigious ingenuity can persevere to pioneer a more robust and sustainable credit model which would cater to the problems plaguing the Indian agricultural sector.

Closely linked to agriculture is the village cottage and handicrafts industry. This industry also needs a proper stimulus in the form of proper marketing and awareness for it to charter a course for growth. Also the manufacturing sector booming in India presents opportunities to create immense employment opportunities to the surplus labour from the unorganized sector and agriculture.

All this needs to be done with certain sensitivity to environmental consideration, which often tends to be overlooked in pursuit of economic growth.

All these are key areas which many would despise as less lucrative but need urgent attention both in terms of money as well as designing a blueprint for action. IITians with their entrepreneurial bends and innovative wits can articulate a growth strategy which is in synergy with the aspirations of the people it affects most. For, who are better equipped to do it than the people who have been the toast of the nation.

It is payback time!!

(The author has been working as manager, operations, Tata Steel (hot strip mill) since July 1. He graduated in 2006 with BTech in materials and metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur).

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