India has been clocking some fast-paced growth over the past few years.
As the world’s fastest-growing major economy, it is poised to displace Germany as the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund. By 2032, its economy is expected to grow to $10 trillion from the present $2.3 trillion.
In this backdrop, NITI Aayog, a policy think-tank that advises the Indian government, came out with draft recommendations last week to help stay on this trajectory and radically transform the quality of life of its billion-and-more citizens.
The report, titled Three-Year Action Agenda, envisages a fully literate India that also has universal access to healthcare. “India’s 125 crore citizens, the majority of which consists of the youth, increasingly aspire for greater empowerment and a better quality of life,” the think tank said in its report. “In this backdrop, the present document charts an ambitious, transformational yet achievable action agenda for the government during 2017-18 to 2019-20.”
Quartz looks at the top recommendations from the action plan.
Double farmer income
Farmers make up nearly half of the country’s workforce, the NITI Aayog estimates.
However, over the last few decades, their plight has been a cause of concern. Failed crops and high debt pushed over 12,000 agricultural labourers to commit suicide in 2015 alone. Many even quit farming completely.
The think tank has proposed enhancing agricultural productivity by introducing new technologies and shifting from low- to high-value activities such as horticulture, dairying, poultry, piggery, fisheries, and forestry. “We need to expand the scope of irrigation to increase crop intensity, improve access to irrigation, enhance the seed replacement rate, and encourage the balanced use of fertilisers,” the report said.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
The NITI Aayog pegs India’s unemployment rate at between 5% and 8% currently. But it believes unemployment isn’t the real challenge.
“Indeed, unemployment is the lesser of India’s problems,” the report said. “The more serious problem instead is severe underemployment. A job that one worker can perform is often performed by two or more…In effect, those in the workforce are employed, but they are overwhelmingly stuck in low-productivity, low-wage jobs.”
Taking a cue from countries such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and China, NITI Aayog wants the Narendra Modi government to aggressively push for domestic manufacturing under its Make in India initiative to create well-paid jobs for low- and semi-skilled labourers.
India is best poised to attract a large number of manufacturing jobs as companies shift base from China due to high wages and an ageing workforce there. “With its large workforce and competitive wages, India would be a natural home for these firms,” the report said. It recommends the setting up of two coastal employment zones on the lines of the Chinese strategy to promote exports and create jobs.
Safer roads, better infrastructure
Since coming to power, the Modi government has been aggressively focused on infrastructure – both physical and digital. It must keep the path, the report says, spending on key projects like roads, railways, ports, and civil aviation.
“The lack of inter-connectedness and synergies in the transport network prevents the efficient movement of people and goods,” the NITI Aayog report says.” It wants more rural roads and the creation of central and state level road safety boards to set and enforce safety rules. In 2015, over 140,000 Indians died in road mishaps.
It has proposed to bring down railway fatalities to zero by 2019, the setting up of a separate safety department, and the appointment of a national safety officer. In aviation, it wants air turbine fuel costs to be lowered to get more Indians to fly. ATF cost constitutes 40% of the flying cost currently.
In line with the government’s Digital India initiative, the think tank proposes to ramp up digital infrastructure.
It wants the government to ensure that citizens are trained in the use of the internet through school curricula and vocational education. Some 69% of Indians don’t use the internet because they don’t understand it, according to NITI Aayog. It has also proposed to speed up government initiatives to bring wireless and broadband connectivity to millions of villages through fibre cables, both underground and over power lines.
Become a global soft power
Since coming to power three years ago, this government has tried hard to project itself as a regional soft power.
The think tank now wants it to set up a comprehensive soft power policy that will “leverage India’s cultural and creative strength” across the globe. It also recommended the setting up of a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief agency that could provide assistance to less-developed countries. It suggests using India’s highly regarded doctors and healthcare professionals to provide assistance in Asian and African nations.
NITI Aayog has divided the country into four key geographies: the Northeast, coastal areas, Himalayan states, and the desert and drought-prone areas.
In the long-neglected Northeastern states, the think tank proposes ramping up infrastructure, while also bringing connectivity to neighbouring countries such as Myanmar. On the coasts, besides the need for infrastructure, it sees huge potential for tourism. “Beach holidays across the globe have grown by 18% over the last five years and remain the most important segment of leisure travel constituting 28% of all holiday trips,” the report said.
Meanwhile, across the Himalayan region, it has proposed increasing forest land and promoting animal husbandry, fruit and timber plantation, and floriculture.
Government and judiciary
Two of its key recommendations concern the Indian bureaucracy and judiciary.
India’s bureaucracy, acutely short of officers as it is, has long been blamed for red tape. Many of its officers are appointed through a national level examination, leaving the private sector out of policy making. “Today, the rising complexity of the economy has meant that policy-making is a specialised activity,” the report said. “Therefore, it is essential that specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry. Such entry will also have the beneficial side effect of bringing competition to the established career bureaucracy. ”
Similarly, NITI Aayog proposes to introduce a judicial performance index to track trials and tackle pendancy. “Such an index could be established to help high courts and high court chief justices keep a track of performance and process improvement at the district courts and subordinate levels for reducing delay,” the report said.
Over 30 million cases are currently pending even as the courts grapple severe shortage of judges.
Meanwhile, to improve policing, the home ministry has been asked to identify non-core functions that can be outsourced to private agents or government departments to reduce the police’s workload.
Skills and welfare
By 2020, India is poised to become the world’s youngest country with an average age of 29 years; by 2030, it will have the world’s largest working-age population of 962 million people.
However, India has also been struggling with the quality of school education. The report has asked the government to focus on foundational learning, conduct a national-level assessment to understand the quality of education to suggest corrective measures, and also give more autonomy to higher-education institutes.
NITI Aayog has proposed setting up an independent authority to oversee the various skill development programs of the government.
The policy think tank has suggested higher spending on health care. India spends about 1% of its GDP on public health, compared to 3% in China and 8.3% in the US.
“Over the course of the next three years, the health care system in the country must prioritise public health and shift from being curative to preventive,” the report noted. Key goals include reducing the maternal mortality rate to 120 deaths per 100,000 live births from the current 167, reducing the infant mortality rate to 30 deaths per 1,000 live births , and reducing the incidence of tuberculosis to 130 from the current 217.
India has 10 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.
To fix this problem, NITI Aayog has proposed a slew of measures, from ramping up public transportation to shifting from petrol and diesel engines to CNG and subsequently to electric vehicles over the next decade. To tackle the annual smog caused by crop burning in northern India – as farmers burn residue – it has proposed subsidising the Happy seeder, a machine that can plant crops using the residue.
NITI Aayog has also listed a roadmap for river linking and afforestation, besides suggesting other pollution-control measures.
This article first appeared in Quartz.